Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: BCS National Championship 2009

The National Championship Game

In the immortal words of John “Hannibal” Smith: I love it when a plan comes together.

While advanced planning and exhaustive preparation has been the hallmark of our Pigskin Pursuit this fall, never underestimate the power of spontaneity and improvisation.A mere five days before the game, we were lounging around the house watching the Cotton Bowl on TV lamenting the fact that our busy holiday travel schedule had made it difficult to entertain the idea of a bowl game.Bowl games are an integral part of the College Football landscape, and despite my principled opposition to the fumbling ineptitude of the BCS Bowl Committee, not attending a bowl game would be regrettable.Motivated by this grim reality, we quickly set our sights on the crown jewel of them all.

With only a few days left on the season calendar, we decided that a trip to the National Championship game would be the perfect capstone to our College Football Tour:Texas squaring off against Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

With that settled, now all we had to do was scramble a plan together to actually get there in four days.A few quick phone calls and emails later, Mindy had secured tickets to the game (at face value I might add), flight arrangements, a rental car and a place to stay.With this level of planning and quick execution, God help you if she ever decides to pull a bank heist.

The stage for the game would be one of the largest in recent memory. Unlike some of the more recent championship selections, this one was absent any controversy over whom the most deserving teams were.Squaring off were #1 Alabama vs. #2 Texas.Both undefeated at 12-0 and respective champions of their conferences.16 National Championships and 1,658 all time wins between these juggernauts.Two of the most storied programs in the history of the sport, playing in the most storied bowl venue in College Football: The Granddaddy of ‘Em All, The Rose Bowl.

Put simply, it doesn’t get any bigger than this.

The atmosphere surrounding a National Championship game is a bit of a unique situation, and it’s difficult to compare it to a regular season game.While the magnitude surrounding the game is certainly the largest of the season, expectedly it doesn’t have quite the same electric feel as a typical College Football Saturday, largely due to the neutral site.For one thing, the Rose Bowl, while one of the most storied venues in the history of College Athletics, doesn’t actually occupy a college campus.Tailgating, as you can imagine, is also a bit different, since the vast majority of your dedicated tailgaters are probably unwilling to make the 1,400 mile trek to Pasadena to flip a few burgers and hot dogs.While at first glance it may seem tame, bear in mind there are still an abundance of tailgates and the Rose Bowl actually shuts down a golf course for use by tailgaters. It’s an admirable effort for people to put together such elaborate spreads from halfway across the country. We also had the good fortune of meeting up with our favorite Longhorn friends Jared and Kimberly to hoist a couple of ritualistic pre game beverages.

The one ancillary benefit that comes with Bowl Game atmospheres, however, is that tickets are surprisingly easy to find and moderately affordable.We noted a handful of tickets readily available close to face value if you wanted them.This is assuming, of course, you were willing to shell out the $275 face value to witness the spectacle of a National Championship Game.But rest assured, if going to a NC game is on your wish list in the future, finding tickets should be the least of your concerns.

The Rose Bowl itself is simply a spectacular venue.Occupying an “arroyo” (which is a fancy word for valley) in beautiful Pasadena, the Rose Bowl first opened its doors in 1922, a mere ten years after FenwayPark was built.To say that history oozes from every pillar of this structure would be an understatement, there is a reason it’s a National Historic Landmark.The Rose Bowl has two Olympic Games, a World Cup, five Superbowls, three BCS Championships and about 88 “Rose Bowl” Games to its credit. In fact its very name coined the term “Bowl Game” for postseason College Football games.In addition to history, the Rose Bowl is an imposing structure.With a stated capacity of 92,542 it ranks 8th on the list of largest football stadiums in America (all of which are college stadiums by the way). Finally, the backdrop for the stadium is magnificent.There may be no more spectacular panorama in College Football than watching a pale magenta sunset over the noble San Gabriel Mountains, the hazy air thick with anticipation for a National Championship Game kickoff.

Simply put, if you could only visit one College Football stadium in your life, it should be the House that Rock built – Notre Dame Stadium.But if you could visit two, the second should be the Rose Bowl.

The in-stadium atmosphere around gametime is a similarly unique, as are most bowl atmospheres.Despite 94,906 bodies packing the cavernous Rose Bowl, the pomp of a pre-game fireworks show and thunderous flyover, it’s a decidedly quieter stadium than a typical home sellout crowd.Because the bowl is split roughly 50/50 between Texas and Alabama fans, the noise level will simply never be as loud as you would find at a true home game atmosphere where 95% of the fans are all cheering in unison.Furthermore, of those fans at the game, for a game of this magnitude it’s safe to assume that you will have over representation of the “corporate” crowd and other folks that may not have a passionate interest in the outcome.It’s safe to say, however, that the true fans that make it out to the game, and travelled halfway across the country to see their team, are some of the most diehard, dedicated and boisterous individuals you could hope for.And candidly, you shouldn’t need crowd noise to get you amped for a game of this magnitude anyway.

While bowl game atmospheres are decidedly different, the action where it counts – between the white lines, is as intense as it gets.On the field featured the intriguing matchup of the Alabama rushing attack, led by Heisman winner Mark Ingram, squaring off against the gunslinging Colt McCoy led Texas air show.Unfortunately, that matchup would only last a mere five plays into the game when Alabama Defensive End Marcell Dareus drove the Texas QB into the turf injuring his precious right shoulder, and knocking him out for the game.

Despite a couple of Texas field goals, what followed was a second quarter full of Crimson Tide domination.Alabama’s running back duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson each scampered for touchdowns.However, neither touchdown was as heartbreaking as the botched Longhorn shovel pass by frosh QB Garrett Gilbert which was returned by Alabama for yet another score as the half expired (returned by Marcell Dareus of course).The situation coming into the second half for the Longhorns was about as bleak as it gets.

Just when the crowd may have started heading for the exits, the Longhorns showed remarkable fight coming into the third and fourth quarters.Their defense stiffened up and shut down the Crimson tide for nearly two full quarters.Surprisingly, the offense came to life as well.Freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert connected for two touchdowns with veteran receiver Jordan Shipley, and demonstrated remarkable poise and confidence.This brought the score to within three points, Alabama 24 – Texas 21.With three minutes left to play Texas had the ball on their own 17 yard line, and barely eighty yards separating them from improbable National Championship glory.

In the end, however, the vaunted Alabama defense came up big when it needed to.They promptly stuffed Gilbert into the ground on the first play of the drive, jarring the ball loose, and diving on top of the fortuitous fumble.A few short plays later Alabama sealed the game when Mark Ingram bulldogged into the endzone for his second touchdown of the night.Trent Richardson would add another ‘Bama touchdown a few minutes later, making the final score appear more lopsided than the contest actually was.

Final Score: Alabama 37 – Texas 21

Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide and their fan base, who were all remarkably friendly and respectful during the game.This was a hard fought victory for them, and I admire the gritty brand of football that they play. Going undefeated in the SEC, bumping off Florida in the SEC Championship game and capping it off with a National Championship victory is an incredible accomplishment, and I salute those athletes.

This was a phenomenal way to conclude our College Football Tour for the season.I had never been to a National Championship Game, and as a frustrated Notre Dame fan I may have to wait some time before I go again.The magnitude of the game is simply unmatched and the electricity among fans is palpable. It’s an experience that any College Football fan should experience at least once in their lifetime.Seeing two unbeaten national powerhouses, playing for the National Championship in the Rose Bowl is the largest possible stage that you could ask for, and it’s an experience that I will always cherish.

Thanks (again) to our friends Jared and Kimberly.It’s always a good time meeting up with them, and we can always count on their attendance and hospitality at any big UT Football game.

Special thanks to our friend Daron for helping us out with some last minute tickets to the game.It was an incredible kind and generous effort to find these tickets for us, and I am incredibly thankful for this once in a lifetime experience.

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Hollyhock House

In addition to the splendor of College Football games this fall and reams of indulgent food along the way, another interesting sub thread to our travels has been the pursuit of great architecture.My architectural passion still burns strong, and with little effort we have been able to experience a few prominent examples of great American works of architecture.L.A. presented us with another such opportunity.

Nestled within the vast sprawl of Los Angeles lies an unassuming architectural jewel seemingly overlooked by many L.A. denizens.While most people looking for great works of architecture in the city would opt for wider publicized landmarks such as Richard Meier’s GettyCenter or Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall, a less obtrusive example lies tucked into an old olive grove in East Hollywood.Built in 1921 for Aline Barnsdall is the renowned “Hollyhock House” designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.Hollyhock is easily Wright’s most acclaimed west coast structure, and we obliged for a visit.

Like all Wright houses, Hollyhock has required extensive maintenance and restoration in order to keep it stable.From the beginning the house leaked considerably, and Barnsdall promptly donated the structure to the City of Los Angeles shortly after construction.The restorations continue to this day, but Hollyhock is mostly restored and open for tours.

That said, Hollyhock is still an exquisite showcase of Wright developing his own unique Southern California style, and draws cues from Mayan influence.We see many of the hallmarks of a Wright house at work here, including the sprawling floor plan and tensive connection between indoor and outdoor living separation.The spectacular living room is a breathtaking space highlighted by the moated fireplace, monolithic mantelpiece and replete with original Wright designed furniture.Finally, the inspirational “Hollyhock” stylized pattern permeating the design is an exquisite example of Wright’s excruciating attention to detail, and probably one of his most famous decorations.


One of the unfortunate regulations at the Hollyhock House is that interior photography is prohibited.I have encountered this inane practice before at some other Wright houses, and sadly that same misguided logic is at play here as well.So I apologize for the lack of interior shots, please be sure to write your Congressman.

Special thanks to my sister Rebecca for making the trek up to L.A. and chauffeuring us around for the better part of the weekend.It was great to have you along on a handful of activities and hopefully you’ve recovered from some of the food your brother subjected you to.

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El Tarasco and the hunt for the elusive California Burrito…

Sunday before we left, I had some unfinished business finding some of my favorite Southern California chow.I was on a mission for a California Burrito.A California burrito, for those of you unfamiliar, is a four dollar tortilla conduit pipe full of steak (usually of questionable origin and quality), overflowing with sour cream, cheese, guacamole and finally…..french fries.The french fries are the operative ingredient here, as they displace traditional beans and rice, and make it the unique SoCal delicacy that it is.In my opinion, whatever visionary genius first decided to put French fries in a burrito should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, or at least a complimentary set of Sham-wow’s.

I had discovered this heavenly delight in San Diego between bouts of unsuccessful surfing attempts, and promised myself that any return trips to California would include at least one of these prodigious gut bombs.Despite its namesake and much to my chagrin, however, the concept of a “California Burrito” seems to elude the entire City of Angels.After a handful of puzzled looks from some of our resident L.A. experts when I inquired about it, they pointed us in the direction of a quintessential beach dive Mexican joint called “El Tarasco”.We were assured us that if any place had a California Burrito they would.

They didn’t.

Despite the lack of a California Burrito, they still served up some admirable food.

El Tarasco, which translated means “The Tarasco” is what you would consider classic beach dive Mexican.Located a stones throw from the Pacific Ocean in Manhattan Beach, the colorful restaurant features little more than a kitchen and a handful of countertop seats.The no frills, galley like interior puts you up close and personal with all the action going on at the grill and you are never more than a subtle nod away from the cook/waitstaff.It keeps the service quick and efficient, and I plowed through a couple baskets of homemade tortilla chips before they could serve up my burrito.

The burrito itself is served “wet” style, which means slathered in sauce and designed to be consumed in a high society manner: with a knife and fork.It might not be a Cali Burrito, but it’s messy and mysterious (that’s a good thing), and for six bucks on a Sunday morning it sure eats pretty good.

(Yes I finished it before you ask…)

The drive down the pacific coast a few miles away isn’t too shabby either.

The hunt for the California Burrito will be continued next year….

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In & Out Burger

During our trips this fall we have done our best to ferret out some of the finest in authentic roadside cuisine.Out travels have exposed us to a breadth of simple, approachable food, and as a rule we eschewed chain restaurants at every turn.

There is one such exception to be made for that rule, however, the famous California institution known as In & Out Burger.In & Out is unique among burger chains in that they are exclusive to California (only recently having opened a handful of locations in neighboring states) and none of their locations are more than a day’s drive from their headquarters in Irvine, CA.The 240+ restaurants were family owned until 2006 and they have never franchised.Furthermore, they pride themselves on using only the freshest of ingredients.Their burgers and fries are never frozen, the vegetables are fresh and the shakes are made with actual ice cream. For these reasons, In & Out stands as an anomaly among fast food burger chains and they have built themselves a cult following because of it.

Their blindingly uncluttered menu board reflects this dedication to simple, timeless drive thru classics.Burgers, fries, shakes and soda – that’s it.

While some purists may still snub their nose at chain fare of any form, as Theodore Donald “Donny” Kerabatsos so eloquently put it:

“Those are good burgers Walter”.

And I concur. Following the NC game we promptly made our way to In & Out for a well deserved post game feast. I ordered up a classic double-double “animal style”, fries and a chocolate shake.For the uninitiated that translates to a double burger, double cheese, with extra pickles, extra sauce, and fried onions.This was a simple yet classic combo that was the perfect nightcap for an exhilarating day.Forgive my lack of usually detailed photography, but this little treat lived a short, albeit delicious life.

For the astute readers out there, you may notice the lack of any mention on the In & Out Burger menu to the term “Animal Style” and you would be correct.One of the beautiful nuances of In & Out is their non posted “secret menu”.This is basically a second language for regulars to customize their burgers off the menu.As a marketer, I think it is a phenomenal example of building a “tribe” mentality among your most ardent followers.And I pride myself on going “animal style” whenever I order at In & Out.

For you newbies out there, I’ve taken the liberty of posting their secret menu so you can talk the talk with the rest of the skate shoe wearing SoCal regulars.

Burgers

  • Veggie Burger: A hamburger with extra tomatoes instead of meat
  • Extra Toast: This order toasts your bun a little bit more than usual making it extra crispy
  • Protein style: Protein style removes the bun and wraps your burger in lettuce like a burrito.
  • Grilled Cheese: A bun, tomatoes and onions, if you want them, grilled with melted cheese.
  • Flying Dutchman: For the ultimate meat eater. No bun, no veggies, just two beef patties and two slices of cheese.
  • Double meat burger: a double double without the cheese.
  • Animal style: makes any burger come with extra pickles, extra sauce, grilled onions, and a mustard cooked patty.
  • 3 by Meat: three beef patties and no cheese.
  • 2 by 4: a double double with two extra slices of cheese. Not for the weak hearted.
  • Chopped Chilies: This adds diced jalapenos to any burger
  • Mustard grilled patty: ask for this and they will spread your patty with mustard before grilling it.
  • No Salt: you wouldn’t think that this would apply to a burger but it does. In-N-Out patties are heavily salted, ask for no salt and you will get a much healthier and fresher tasting patty.

Fries

  • Fries animal style: an order of French fries drenched in cheese, grilled onions, and special sauce (a thicker thousand island dressing)
  • Fries Light: French fries taken out of the fryer a little early. These are a little bit raw on the inside and less crispy.
  • Fries Well-Done: The opposite of fries light. This order leaves your fries on the fryer extra long, making them really crispy and oily.
  • Cheese Fries: Fries with melted cheese on top

Drinks

  • Neapolitan shake: All the milkshake flavors swirled together, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.
  • Root Beer Float: Half vanilla milkshake and half root beer soda.
  • Choco-Vanilla Swirl: A chocolate milkshake swirled in with a vanilla milkshake
  • Lemon-up: Lemonade and seven up mixed together.
  • Large and extra large shakes: if you ask for a large shake they’ll give you a shake in a medium sized soda cup and extra large in a large soda cup.
  • Tea-Ade: An Arnold Palmer. Half iced tea and half lemonade.

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