It’s an early wakeup call in Nashville. My iphone starts a frenzied dance at 5:30 and I rub my eyes trying to fight off a few extra cocktails with Dave and Merritt the night before. It’s a four hour ride into Cincinnati from Nashville, and I lose an hour to the time zone shift. With a noon kickoff looming, I’m on the road by 6am, with slim margin for error.
The roads are quiet on Saturday morning, a few errant truckers are the only ones out this early. I cruise effortlessly up Interstate 65 north, right through the heart of Kentucky Bourbon country. For a moment, I consider ditching the Bearcats game entirely, instead spending the afternoon nursing a few caramel filled drams of Buffalo Trace, Four Roses and Woodford Reserve whiskeys. But that’s another trip for later this year, and the exotic allure of southern Ohio beckons me northward.
After a few more hours, I finally cross the Ohio River into Cincinnati and zip towards Nippert Stadium. Skirting the western edge of the sprawling campus, I flow past the fraternities lining Clifton Avenue. Hundreds of students are crammed onto the lawns playing beer pong in the morning sun, and a hand painted sign reads “Honk and we’ll do a shot”. I salute their spirit, and lay on the feeble Volkswagen horn as I drive by. Scouring the side streets for free parking, I eventually rub a few bumpers shoehorning into a tiny space on Riddell Road. With kickoff looming only thirty minutes away, I have to hustle over to campus and find a ticket.
Unsurprisingly, a ticket proves easy to find and I snap one up for $15 and press into the packed stadium. Built in 1924, Nippert is one of the older venues in college football, but sits in stark contrast to the ultra modern architecture surrounding the field. The Cincinnati campus at large is a fascinating dichotomy of design. Home to dozens of traditional Georgian style brick facades, these buildings are now flanked by ultra modern, sleek steel structures – a cause championed by their well renowned Architecture & Design School. In fact, much of the newer construction on campus is a who’s who of contemporary “starchitects”, including commissions by notables such as Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi and Michael Graves.
Entering the stadium, however, it’s quickly evident that somewhere along the line I missed the memo about the game being a “white out”, where all the fans have chosen to wear white to support their team. Donned in a black polo shirt (a traditional color for Cincinnati), I now find that I blend in closer with the Purdue fans in attendance. Certainly never a good look.
As the game kicks off under the scorching afternoon sun, the Bearcats go to work on the Boilermakers. After the teams trade a few initial interceptions, Cincinnati dual threat quarterback Munchie Legaux, among the better names in college football, starts carving up the Purdue defense.
The mercury is touching 95 degrees, and I retreat to the shade underneath the grandstands and watch the game from a standing room only section on the concourse. With a City Barbecue tent nearby, I decide to put their “Texans are jealous” slogan to the test. After a few bites of the $8.50 pulled pork sandwich, it’s surprisingly passable cue’ for stadium fare, but I can assure you that nobody from Texas is actually jealous. A draft Yuengling from a nearby concession, however, is an oasis on a hot day, and I gulp the ice cold lager down heartily. Cincinnati now joins the elite ranks of three universities I have visited that sell beer in the stands (West Virginia and Louisville being the other two).
As the second half winds on, the Bearcats extend their lead. After the third frame, they sit comfortably in command at 28-7, and some of the sunburnt crowd starts filing out of the furnace for cooler environs. I find a cushioned seat under the shade of the grandstands, and watch the remainder of the contest as the Bearcats cruise to a lopsided 42-7 victory. Nursing a cool Yuengling and watching Purdue get stomped proves a satisfying way to spend the afternoon.
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