Pigskin Pursuit

An eight year odyssey across the backroads of America during the ultimate College Football roadtrip.

Tag: 2012 (page 2 of 3)

Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame – Catholics vs. Conestoga’s…

Sitting in a plywood shack in Elbert, Texas my index finger gently caresses the cold trigger of a matte black AR15.  Thirty rounds of screaming hot lead wait to be hurled towards my prey hiding in the mesquite and oak scrub beyond.  I flash the infared light intermittently at the feeder, illuminating the target in a red glow as I peer through the laser dot on the scope.  Hog vision can’t detect light at this spectrum.  My father and I chat away in the shanty while we wait, a rare opportunity to spend time hunting together.  An hour before, I’d stalked within fifty yards of a herd of twelve white tailed deer, an easy kill shot for any marksman.  They carelessly munched on tufts of grass, taunting me, almost as if they knew deer season wasn’t open for another week.  The hogs prove more elusive this evening, and, after a couple of unproductive hours, Dad and I call it quits as darkness sets in over the Texas sky.

I’m in town with my father for the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma game up in Norman.  Visiting close friends Bryce and Kate in Fort Worth, we’d all circled this game on the calendar years ago.  While trips for Notre Dame to Oklahoma are exceedingly rare, the Irish have enjoyed an 8-1 all time record against the Sooners and have never lost in Norman.  As if two historic juggernauts colliding weren’t enough, the surprise undefeated Irish enter the contest with an unblemished 8-0 record and lofty #5 ranking.  Squaring off against an 8th ranked Oklahoma team, this clash is certain to have BCS implications.  ESPN further adds to the hooplah, as their ESPN Gameday crew showed up for the 7pm primetime showdown on the plains.

We’d spent that Friday morning at Pecan Lodge in Dallas, getting an appropriate fix of Texas Barbecue before heading out for the afternoon hunt.  Touting an elusive five star rating from the head honcho at Full Custom Gospel BBQ, waiting lines at the tiny storefront inside the Dallas Farmers Market have swelled to prolific proportion.  Patrons wait up to two hours for a few velvet morsels of their black barked brisket.  Smoked over mesquite wood, it’s Pecan Lodge’s unique departure from traditional central Texas barbecue, which exclusively espouses post oak smoke.  We descend on a heaping platter of the “holy trinity” of Texas barbecue: pork ribs, sausage, and brisket.  As if the protein fortress weren’t enough, I add a few Jurassic sized beef ribs to our burgeoning tray, giant bones of silky beef enveloped with a pristine red smoke ring.  This is, quite simply, the best barbecue Dallas has to offer.  Second place isn’t even close.

(Read the full review of Pecan Lodge here)

Saturday morning we pile into Bryce’s truck with a payload of provisions, heading due north up I-35 from Fort Worth, over the scarred, rocky, treeless hills of southern Oklahoma.  We stop only once, pulling off the interstate in Marietta, Oklahoma at Robertson’s Hams.  Chugging out smoke since 1946, the storefront features a wide selection of house smoked hams, jerky and sausages.  We sling a few of their country ham sandwiches stacked on rye bread into the cooler and speed off.  Pulling into Norman, the place is thick with game day traffic.  Grills spew columns of blue smoke into the sky while crimson OU flags wave in the gentle prairie breeze.  We find free parking in an empty grass lot a mile south of the stadium, poised alongside the grassy shoulder of Jenkins Avenue for a quick getaway later.  With a brilliant clear sky overhead and 7pm kickoff, it’s a perfect lazy afternoon for tailgating.

Before cracking my first beer, I trot to the stadium to upgrade our student tickets at Memorial Stadium Gate 7.  With prices for the historic matchup fetching $300 and up on Stubhub, I’d unearthed a set of 4 student tickets on Craigslist for $150 apiece and had them FedExed to Fort Worth.  For $50 bucks more I upgrade them at the stadium to general admission seats as the woman carefully places a “Student Guest” sticker onto each ticket. With the open seating policy in the student section, the four of us will now be able to sit together.  Not an ideal option to be standing 4 quarters amidst a sea of hammered drunk 20 year old OU students, but assuming I get equally marinated, it should at least be tolerable.

Returning back to the tailgate, a few empty cans already rattle around the pickup bed. Bryce, Kate and my father have jumped out to an early head start.  The cooler is brimming with a cross section of regional microbrews from around the country.  Ommegang from Cooperstown, New York, Clown Shoes from Massachusetts, and some rocket fuel from the Scottish brewery Brew Dog Brewing Company dubbed “Tokyo”, which tips the scale at nearly 20% alcohol and tastes like straight kerosene. My personal favorite is “Nitro” from Left Hand Brewing Company, a jet black Stout that pours like used motor oil.  In between beers, my father and Bryce swap pulls of Crown Royal, while Texas country songs from Randy Rogers Band howl out the open rear window of the truck.  It’s a fine afternoon.

With kickoff approaching an hour away, we stuff our pockets with a few walking beers and begin the trek to the stadium.  While certainly outnumbered by crimson OU shirts, the Notre Dame contingent is well represented in Norman, handfuls of folks yell hearty cheers of “Go Irish!” as we pass by.  Entering the stadium, portals to the grandstands are mobbed, backed up with a serpentine line of students.  It’s a mad house, people clambering over one another like lines of red ants.  We shuffle skyward up the steps, climbing to row 62 before I finally locate four open spots.  Surrounded on all sides by OU students, we’re smack in the middle of the beating heart of OU fandom.   I’ve been to Oklahoma a few times before, but never as a visitor, and I don’t know how these inebriated red shirts are going to respond to a group of infiltrators.    The crowd erupts on all sides of us when the Sooners take the field, exploding in a deafening roar as fireworks shower across the dusky orange sky.  Tear gas couldn’t quell this blustering melee right now.   My father shoots a nervous glance my way with that “are you sure you know what the F you’re doing?” look.  Kate gives me the same.

The game kicks off ominously at first, as Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones slings the ball down field in their high tempo, no huddle offense.  The crowd bursts with each completion, exchanging high fives and feeding off the initial onslaught.  They feel a rout on their hands.  But the stout Notre Dame defense stiffens up in the red zone, holding the Sooners to a field goal and surviving the initial wave of momentum.  As the Irish offense takes the field once again, Sooner fans reach their zenith, roaring loudly in support of their defense.  Two plays later, the crowd hushes to an eerie silence.  Notre Dame tailback Cierre Wood streaks 62 yards for a touchdown.  86,000 Sooners are stunned.  With one play, the roiling stadium turns to a church.

It stays that way for nearly three quarters, as the impenetrable Irish defense baffles the Sooner attack.  Their high powered, gun slinging offense is stymied. Squeaking out a few field goals, they enter the 4th quarter with exactly 0 yards rushing.  The crowd comes to life briefly, when, midway through the 4th frame Oklahoma grinds in a touchdown to knot the score at 13 apiece.  But the gutsy Irish respond immediately, once again, when quarterback Everett Golson connects for a 50 yard completion deep into Sooner territory.  The crowd is hushed once more.  Being bullied in Memorial Stadium is a foreign concept for Sooner fans, and they stand gape jawed and silent in the dry night air.

An interception and a few touchdowns later, the Irish assume a comfortable 30-13 lead as the fourth quarter draws to a close.  With a minute left and contest decided, the aluminum bleachers begin to empty as crimson clad students cascade towards the exits.  We stay behind, savoring every remaining second of the improbable win.  Irish victories in Norman don’t come around often, the last one occurring in 1966.  Remaining Sooner fans are gracious in defeat, helping us capture the moment in a handful of photos, exchanging handshakes and well wishes for the rest of the season.  To a man, they’ve been polite hosts.

I can only hope we show them the same courtesy next year in South Bend.  Courteously escorting the Sooners to the exits of Rocks House amidst their flowing tears of anguish and defeat…

Thank you to my Sooner friend Heather for the gameday guidance, and hopefully we can connect next time I make it down to Norman.

Special thanks to Bryce and Kate.  As always, great to catch a game with you guys, and look forward to a few adventures next fall!

Thanks again to Dad for joining my tour again this fall, and glad we could finally get you a taste of some proper Texas Barbecue.  I’ll make an Irish fan of you yet…

 

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Podnahs Pit BBQ – Finding a real pit in the Pacific Northwest…

As this season has taken me to new corners of the country, and largely out of the great barbecue geographies, it’s been a challenge to keep up my recommended daily allowance of ribs, brisket and sausage.  Trips to Florida and the west coast reveal great vacuums of proper BBQ on the coasts, and I endeavored to find something truly worthy of my discerning palette.  Surely the city of Portland with its vibrant food scene and counter culture motif would be able to deliver the goods, right?

Enter Podnahs Pit BBQ  Founded by transplanted Texan Rodney Muirhead in 2006, Podnahs appears to be the only authentic Texas BBQ joint in the Portland area.  Confirmed by Daniel over at Full Custom Gospel BBQ, it quickly became the only logical BBQ stop during my Oregon State Beavers football weekend.   They claim to smoke exclusively over oak, using the same painstakingly slow and low methods common to greats of Central Texas.  There are even pictures of Smitty’s Market, the Lockhart, Texas BBQ legend, tacked up on the walls of the restrooms.  With eager appetites, my cohort Colin and I sauntered in for Sunday lunch before my departing flight out of PDX Airport.

An amply pierced waitress shows us to our seats, her shaved scalp embossed with colorful tattoos of flowers and stars.  In Portland, you don’t even look twice at this kind of person.  Placing the menus in front of us, she fetches my Hub Brewing Company Survival 7 Grain Stout, a porridge thick obsidian microbrew from one of the scores of breweries in town.  I love great beer towns, and Portland is among the best.  An obligatory glance at the menu and my decision quickly settles on the “Pitboss Platter”, a hearty sampling of sausage, ribs, pulled pork and brisket.

My food arrives quickly, a quivering mountain of aromatic meat, enticingly smoky and all of it delightfully void of sauce.  The sausage has good snap to it, but a powerful breakfast-ey taste that doesn’t quite work for me.  Pulled pork is a solid offering, drizzled in a light vinegar sauce to give it a Carolina feel to it, helping to cut some of the dryness that often plagues pulled pork.  Brisket is well cared for here, with an enticing black crust and deep smoke flavor it clearly has the right foundations of a first class brisket.  But the fat was still a bit chewy and unrendered, so the beef would certainly benefit from a few more hours in the smoker.  Pork ribs were the best offering in my opinion, large spare cuts featuring a deep red smoke ring, pulling from the bone with only a slight tug.

While the Pacific Northwest isn’t the first place that comes to mind for BBQ sampling, if you find yourself in the Portland area with a hankering for some decent cue’, Podnahs is a place certainly doing it right.

 

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Oregon State vs. Utah – Beavers chew through the Utes…

Touching down gently in Portland, Oregon on Southwest Flight 488 I stare out the tiny portal to a steady patter of rain falling on the slick grey tarmac.  It’s fall time in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is either raining – or about to rain.  I’m in town with my friend Colin, an Oregon native and host for the weekend to check out the undefeated Oregon State Beavers.  His brother Ben greets us at the airport, driving us the hour down Interstate 5 into the capitol city of Salem.  It’s a bright full moon along the highway; we motor past the angular silhouettes of Douglas firs dripping in silver moonlight, profiled against a cotton night sky.

The enticing waft of breakfast rouses me the next morning, as Colin’s mother prepares a lavish morning spread.  A North Dakota native with a zest for scratch baked goods, Ruth is a magnificent cook.  Her sole goal for the weekend appears to be to stuff us with as much home cooking as humanly possible.  Ever the polite guest, I reluctantly oblige, heaping my plate with scrambled eggs, jalapeno sausage and thick slices of toast slathered with marionberry jam.

After breakfast we saddle up our rental, a bright orange Dodge Charger and charge eastward toward the Cascade Mountains silhouetted against the misty horizon.  We speed through grass seed growing country, a peculiar crop that thrives in the poor micro soil conditions found in the area.  Charred fields are covered in ash, still smoldering from propane torches the farmers use to burn the remaining straw after seed harvesting.  The lush green of the Willamette Valley eerily scorched into apocalyptic hues of ash and cinnamon.

A few winding turns later, we arrive at Silver Falls State park.  An old turn of the century logging village, the park features a pair of dramatic 170 foot waterfalls spilling over ancient volcanic basalt cliffs.  We hike through the slick rock amphitheaters beneath, domes carved by eons of water grinding away at the crumbly sandstone behind the falls.   White plumes cascade overhead, amplified like jet engines in these natural acoustic shells, beauty amidst the deafening drone.   A few maples are framed among the towering evergreens beyond, their leaves exploding with brilliant hues of autumn.  Oregon never fails to impress.

We briefly tour the rustic Silver Falls lodge before heading home, a fine example of old world craftsmanship.  Soaring timber frame ceilings hewn from the forest beyond sit perched on native stone walls, the entire vaulted hall filled with sturdy Myrtlewood furniture.  On the ride home, a road sign for fresh baked pies captures our attention, and we veer the orange beast into a gravel parking lot beside the Willamette Valley Fruit Company.  Featuring an impressive selection of locally harvested fruit pies, I settle on a slice of their Marionberry, served warm a la mode.  A distant cousin of the blackberry, the tart Marionberry is a hybrid fruit developed by the agriculture research department at Oregon State University.  Specifically bred to thrive in the maritime Oregon climate, it’s now a staple of the Willamette valley, and nearly all of the US production is grown here.  The tart acidity of the berries make a fine pie, and the vanilla ice cream pairs well.

Regrouping at Colin’s house, we gather his brother and another friend, David, and pile into the Charger for the quick drive south to Corvalis for a 7pm kickoff.  Huddling around our pumpkin colored chariot, a befitting color for a Beavers game, we put together an impromptu tailgate of grocery store fried chicken and Kona ales.  A few beers later, trekking through a collection of red brick buildings on the Oregon State campus en route to Reser Stadium.  Reser is bursting at the entrances, as fans swarm the gates with renewed zest given the Beavers historic 5-0 start.  Stadium lights tower beckoningly in the night mist, and the soaring grandstands give the place a much larger feel than the 45,000 capacity would belie.  Assuming our seats in the grandstands, we’re exposed to a light drizzle, unsheltered from the soaring steel canopy overhead.

Shortly after kickoff, the audible thump of helmets rings in the misty night air.  Unlike the rest of their Pac 12 cohorts, Oregon State plays smothering defense.  The Utes are stymied each time they get the ball, the energetic crowd noise amplified by the roar of a chainsaw piped in over the loudspeakers during key defensive third downs.  Pounded into submission, the Utes cough the ball up 4 times into the waiting arms of the stout Beaver defense.  Oregon State keeps it tame on offense, playing conservative and limiting mistakes by backup quarterback Cody Vaz, entering only his second career start.  In the stadium, the black and orange crowd wave their arms frantically with each first down conversion, and the Beavers move the ball efficiently enough to win 21-7.  Head coach Mike Riley has engineered a remarkable season for the team, and the late season “Civil War” against the Oregon Ducks could very well determine a rare Rose Bowl bid for his squad.

We arrive home that night soggy and cold, shaking the water from our coats when the aroma of several fresh baked pies greets the nose.  Ruth has been hard at work while we were out, delicately preparing scratch made marionberry and homemade pumpkin pies.  Paralyzed with choice between the two enticing offerings, I make the only reasonable decision: both.   Each served piping hot with a dollop of fresh whip cream.  It’s the perfect nightcap to a weekend in Oregon.  With hospitality like this, I’m ready to come back for a Ducks game…

Thanks to Ruth for all of the wonderful hospitality for the weekend, and adding a few inches to my waistline.

Special thanks to Colin for being my host and tour guide for my first ever college football weekend in Oregon.  Looking forward to hitting a Ducks game with you next year man!

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Cal vs UCLA – Berkeley Battle of the bears…

Continued from Stanford Post here:

Racing out of Stanford Stadium still amped from the overtime thriller, I mash the accelerator on my rental silver Ford Focus.  Thanks to egregious California rental taxes, for two days this little go-kart cost me $153, and I intend to get my moneys worth.  The feeble engine whimpers, sputtering up the ramp to Interstate 880.  Fifteen seconds elapse to reach cruising speed at 60mph.  I zip northward briefly, before the inescapable clutch of California traffic sucks me into its soul crushing vortex.   The forty mile drive up to Berkeley is not going to be an easy one.  I’m crawling my way to Cal to see the Golden Bears host UCLA in a night tilt, the tail end of a Saturday Bay Area doubleheader.

After an hour lumbering up the interstate, I pull into downtown Berkeley.  With its ample stop lights and narrow streets, the town is ill equipped to deal with the influx of game day football traffic.  I scour a few side streets for free parking, shoehorning the tiny rental into a spot on Piedmont Avenue, a few blocks east of the infamous Telegraph Avenue – an icon of 1960’s hippie culture.

Changing my crimson polo for a navy t-shirt, I walk a pleasant tree lined side street up to Cal Memorial Stadium.  Strolling past handfuls of dingy frat houses, students spill onto the sidewalks clutching red solo cups, the Korean K-Pop viral sensation “Gangam Style” wailing away over loudspeakers perched on second story windowsills.  A few street food vendors line the avenue, manning stainless steel carts billowing aromatic steam.  Opting for a few small tacos, chicken and beef, they come garnished with fresh cilantro and onion, far better than any Sysco crap found in the stadium.

When I thrust a lone finger into the air, a few scalpers swarm me.  It’s a big game for the Cal Bears against a heated in-state rival, but tickets are still plentiful.  We haggle for a bit, but when I walk away the grizzled trader relents, agreeing to my $20 offer.  From the outside, the stadium gleams with new glass louvers, the white limestone façade glinting shades of pink and orange with the setting California sun.  Originally carved into the Berkeley hillside in 1923 as a tribute to World War 1 veterans, the historic stadium underwent a modern facelift for the past two years.  Tonight was the official rededication.

After some extra pre game ceremonies, the two bears take the field as a brisk evening chill fills the air.  A sloppy game ensues.  Although both teams move the ball well, racking up nearly 900 yards of offense together, there are nine turnovers between the two, UCLA guilty of six of those.  Cal takes advantage of the mishaps, with quarterback Zach Maynard slinging four touchdowns and 295 yards.  At halftime, the 57,643 spectators all remain seated.  Each seat comes outfitted with a colored square of card stock.  As part of the rededication ceremonies, Cal has a card stunt planned, a phenomenon they claim to have invented back in 1910.  Spelling out “Memorial Stadium” in Yale Blue and California Gold, the fans have good reason to stand, as the Golden Bears would later walk away with a 43-17 victory, and a chance to turn their dismal season around.

It’s a lot of work catching two games in a single day, and logistics have to be well planned to make it happen.  But hitting a couple of Pac 12 games gave me yet another glimpse into college football on the left coast, and spending an afternoon in the temperate climate of the Bay Area is always a pleasure.  Like any major metropolitan area, both of these teams take a back seat to some of the bigger professional spectacles in town.  On this particular weekend, both the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s were in baseball playoff games, and the San Francisco 49ers had a home game.  While college football is simply overshadowed in that environment, both teams still enjoy the ardently passionate fan bases that make college football so unique.

Full Click through gallery below:

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