It’s morning in Boulder, Colorado. The jagged peaks of the Flatiron mountains frame the skyline, and the rising sun burns through a thick mist hanging in the air. I’m in the car early, pressing northward towards my first of two games on the day; an afternoon matchup between Colorado State and The University of California Davis. I take the back road up to Fort Collins, bypassing the I-25 interstate corridor, and opt instead for a winding route that takes me through cornfields, cattle grazing land and across clear creeks flowing like fingers from the snow covered peaks to the west and into the broad flat valleys eastward. The mountain states never fail to impress.
I pull into downtown Fort Collins, flanked by classic brick buildings arranged into a neat grid like you’ll find in many western towns. Sidling into a stool at Snooze restaurant, I size up their breakfast menu. Reputed to be one of the premiere breakfast haunts in the greater Denver area, they’ve now expanded to seven locations across Colorado, Arizona and California on the popularity of their entirely scratch made morning menu. I settle on a plate of their house recipe corned beef hash, along with a side of chilaquiles eggs benedict. The savory fare, coupled with an elaborate hot chocolate that the barista slings onto the linoleum counter in a pint glass, will fend off my appetite during a whirlwind of football planned for the day.
Appetite satiated, I tour the grounds of the Colorado State campus in the heart of Fort Collins. Surprisingly quiet on a Saturday morning, I walk through “The Oval” – the iconic heart of Colorado State University. Shaded by dozens of majestic American Elms lining the main promenade, some of them more than a century old, The Oval is a splendid example of classic college landscape architecture. The remainder of the CSU campus is equally impressive, as dozens of sparkling new buildings line the sidewalks, flanked by well manicured landscaping and greenery. In true Colorado fashion, sustainability efforts are everywhere, from the ample bus lines to the dedicated electric vehicle parking spaces.
From there I head to New Belgium Brewery, counted among the ranks of the most recognized micro breweries in the country on the strength of their ubiquitous Fat Tire ale. I show up at noon sharp, right when their tasting room opens for the day to squeeze in a few brews before the Rams kickoff at 2pm. Sizing up the neat array of taps, a chalkboard on the wall explains each of the different seasonal beers flowing through the gleaming stainless steel piping. I request “tastings” of six different beers, which the pig-tailed bar girl quickly fills into the 4oz glasses she pulls from the wooden racks above. Finishing each beer with a perfect 1/2” head, the foam traps the carbonation and notes in each glass for optimal flavor. With a perfect 75 degree morning, I retreat with my prize to the shaded patio outside: (from right to left) a fall pumpkin ale, La Folie (a sour beer), a belgian trippel, belgian abbey ale, 1554 black lager and Snapshot wheat beer.
After the first round the beer taps call my name again, enticing me with their sweet nectar and inviting me to lounge on the comfortable patio for an afternoon. Reluctantly, I decline as the lure of an afternoon of college football beckons. Bisecting the city, I head towards Hughes Stadium on the west edge of town, the streets near the game already carefully coned off as local police efficiently direct traffic. Carved into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains Hughes stadium is reminiscent of Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, home of the BYU Cougars. But the tailgating scene is a bit more robust, as one might suspect, than Provo. Student spill out of SUV’s clutching cases of beer while loudspeakers pump out the latest pop tunes in the lush grassy fields surrounding the stadium. I even spot a converted fire truck turned tailgating rig, the owners busy playing corn hole and ladder ball.
I make a few circles around the stadium on the hunt for tickets. With plenty of tickets available at the box office, there are only a handful of resellers to be found. Like most scalpers, they try to drive a hard bargain on the price, pointing matter of factly to the $60 face value cost of the glossy green tickets. But my offer stands firm at $20, and after the usual rounds of protestations, one of the scalpers finally relents and I’m on my way into Hughes Stadium. As the kickoff clock winds down, a boom erupts from the ROTC cannon perched on the concourse and before the gun smoke clears the Colorado State Rams team screams out of the tunnel behind, appropriately, a lifted Dodge “Ram” pickup.
Shortly after the game kicks off, the Rams onslaught begins. With a high powered offense, they light up the scoreboard, tallying 21 points in the first quarter alone. Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson slings the ball all over the yard, connecting for four touchdowns in the first half alone – two of them longer than 40 yards. He racks up 425 yards of passing on the day, roughly 2/3 of the Rams incredible 676 total yards of offense as they march down the field drive after drive nearly unabated. By the middle of the third quarter, with the outcome decided, the student section starts trickling out of the exits towards the beckoning coolers of the parking lots. Evidently the bevy of Coors products offered at Hughes Stadium wasn’t enough to entice them to stay for all four quarters. Little do they know that Hughes is one of only a handful of stadiums in the country that sells alcohol. In the end, the Rams run away with a lopsided 49-21 victory that nets some playing time for a few of the second stringers. If their high powered offense can keep firing, they should prove a rather formidable foe in the thin air of the Mountain West Conference.
Once the final whistle blows, I hustle out of Hughes towards my little Nissan Versa rental. There’s a night game down in Boulder that I have to get to, and football is only half over for the day…
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