Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Columbia (page 1 of 2)

Missouri vs Alabama – Tigers drown by the Tide…

Columbia hates me.

I’m starting to wonder if it’s personal.  During my first visit last year, an icy wind howled through the parking lots.  Cutting through layers of clothing, upending tables and tents, we were driven out of tailgating, retreating instead to the comforts of Shakespeare Pizza.  As the Tigers moved to the SEC Conference this season, I circled the biggest game on the calendar at Memorial Stadium in 2012; the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.  A short two hour drive from Saint Louis, Mizzou would be a welcome reprieve to the long travel hours I’ve already logged this year, and a chance for Chrissy to give me the VIP tour of “COMO” (an abbreviation of Columbia, MO).

Cruising into town after work, it feels good to be back behind the wheel of the Jetta. Friday night starts promptly at Booches Billiard Hall when I drag Chrissy and her family there.  A 128 year old throwback of pool hall splendor, I wrote extensively about the Columbia institution last year here.  Settling into a sturdy oak table, the aloof waitress delivers a few of their signature burgers, each slid onto the table on single sheet of wax paper. A couple of Stag lagers wash the feast down, under the glow of those same classic neon beer signs. I note a yellowed sign above the bar that reads “unattended children will be sold as slaves”, one of a handful of crass statements found tacked on the walls.

A few hours later we slip into Campus Bar and Grill, knocking on the alley back door in speakeasy fashion and gliding past a familiar bouncer.  Formerly known as the Big 12 Pub, the joint was forced to change its name after a lawsuit from the football conference bearing the same name.  Stainless steel bar tops swarm with red Cardinals shirts, students clutch pitchers of cheap swill, all glued to flat screen TV’s aglow with the MLB playoffs.  In the 9th inning the Cardinals come back in thrilling fashion to clinch the opening playoff series. The entire bar erupts in celebration, fans standing on tables, beers tossed into the air in a foamy shower.  Chrissy’s friend Mary slings drinks behind the bustling counter, the entire length stacked three deep.  Our drinks flow constantly, perhaps too quickly.  We take shots.  Then take a few more.  A few Irish Car Bombs follow.  What started innocently turns into a big night.

Saturday morning, I wake up to the patter of rain. A glance out the window confirms the weather turning even more lecherous than last year.  We tempt the tailgate anyway.  An ash sky swirls overhead, and clouds hover ominously above black tents and flapping yellow flags scattered throughout tailgating Lot X.  Unsure if the weather will hold, we drink beer to appease the tempest.  Craft beer actually, a fine offering of local Schlafly seasonal ales presented to the gods.  Mine goes down like battery acid, a reminder of the late night before, each sip a test of will.

After a few hours in the lots, we brave the elements and file into the student section in Memorial Stadium.  The gate attendant inspects student ID cards methodically like a rookie bouncer, but not carefully enough.   I glide past her with my phony plastic credentials.  Assuming standing positions on the greasy aluminum bleachers, our footholds grow slicker each moment as the rain gets heavier.  Before kickoff  the drizzle turns to a downpour, and, without raingear, we’re woefully underprepared.  A few students produce flimsy plastic ponchos, others remove their shirts entirely.  For lack of alternative, we get wet.

The game kicks off under the steamy, warm rain and Missouri is whiplashed by the caliber of the defending National Champions.  Hardly 15 seconds into the game, Alabama reels off an 80 yard touchdown run, dampening the already soaked spirits of the crowd.  A few minutes later Alabama scores again and the rout is on.  Despite performing competitively with the middle of the SEC pack this season, against the Crimson Tide the Tigers are decidedly outmatched.  With a 28-0 blowout mounting in the second quarter, a flicker lights up the blanketed sky in the distance.  Then another, closer.  Finally, a flash of lightning penetrates the grey fold, erupting in brilliant tendrils streaking over the press box of Faurot Field.  The referees halt the game, a mandatory 40 minute rain delay leaves the crowd stranded in the deluge, staring at an empty field.

Soaked to the bone with a blowout mounting, we hoof it out of the stadium for drier pastures.  After a quick wardrobe change, we retreat to the shelter of Campus Bar once again, burying my nose in the thick foam of a fresh Guinness pint.  It nourishes the soul.  I stare into one of the few TV’s playing the Notre Dame game, erupting in fits and glee during the Irish dramatic overtime win against Stanford.  From there, the night devolves into a pub crawl.  Sprinting between bars, splashing though puddles and huddling beneath awnings amidst heavy showers, each pub is crowded and steamy. Despite the weather, the town still swarms with revelers.  We put together an impressive string of bars, Willie’s, The Field House and a handful of others.  A small cross section of the impressive night life to be found in Columbia.  Underrated among the college football town landscape, perhaps the move to the SEC will help more traveling fans discover the jewel of Central Missouri.  It’s truly a magnificent college town.

Perhaps next year I’ll finally catch some decent weather there…

 

Special thanks to Chrissy for playing tour guide all weekend, and showing me just how popular she still is in Columbia!

 

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Missouri vs Texas – The full “COMO” experience…

The alarm clock starts it’s frenzied dance at 6:00AM sharp, pulling me grudgingly out of a seven hour coma from a heavy Italian meal at Cunetto’s the night before.I move to wrangle my friend Pat off the couch, but he’s already awake, eager for his annual pilgrimage back to Columbia.A friend from Dallas and die hard Mizzou fan, he’d flown in the night before for the final Texas Longhorn matchup against the Tigers.We’d picked this game earlier in the summer expecting it to have late season Big 12 implications, but only Texas came into the contest ranked at #16.With a blasphemous 11:00 AM kickoff, we hustled into the Jetta early for the quick two hour jaunt out to “Como”, as the locals colloquially refer to Columbia, Missouri.

After parking, we immediately head to Harpo’s, a landmark pub in Columbia found on any “best of” list of college sports bars.Decked out in an array of Tigers memorabilia, Harpo’s is mecca for returning Mizzou fans.In additionl to the usual grub and swill, the place is famous for keeping a stash of hacksaws on hand for big Mizzou contests.When the Tigers knock of a top ranked opponent, as they did last year against Oklahoma, fans tear down the goalposts and drag them 12 blocks back to the pub.The bright yellow pipes are then sliced up as fan keepsakes, with a few larger chunks remaining to adorn the walls of the bar.Surveying those storied walls, I order up a hearty breakfast: Guinness.Pat opts for his customary Bud Light.They go down surprisingly smooth for the early hour.

After a few cold ones, we head around the corner to Booches Billiard Hall.Occupying the same Columbia storefront since 1884, Booches is a preserved relic of pool hall splendor from a bygone era.Fixed stools line the ancient wooden bar, and scores of dusty black and white Mizzou football photos bask in the amber neon glow of an old Stag beer sign.Six plastic covered billiard tables precisely set and leveled fill the cavernous space, the floor worn through into rings around them, ground down from eons of cockeyed pool sharks lining up their next shot.Rows of custom cues line the wall like maple ramparts, each nested into its own numbered holder, safely secured with tiny brass locks.

Entering Booches for the first time is like stepping into Fenway Park or Notre Dame Stadium, there is a palpable connection to history in these yellowed walls.A connection to our fathers and grandfathers.To our roots.It is, respectfully, one of the most enduringly authentic places I have encountered on my travels.

Settling into a few of the creaky wooden chairs, the Booches waitress recites the menu gruffly; “We have burgers and chili”.We opt for a couple of cheeseburgers apiece, guzzling a few bottles of Stag lager during the thirty minute wait.When finally ready, the burgers are delivered unceremoniously; tossed onto the table on a single sheet of wax paper each.No plates. No silverware. No pretension.Sized in between a slider and regular burger, two is the perfect number for Booches’ signature fare.Delightfully greasy and indulgent, with the perfect ratio of burger to bun, they prove worthy of their lofty reputation.Booches has certainly had plenty of years to perfect their craft. We relax with a few more cold Stags, soaking in the experience for a few minutes.

With kickoff fast approaching, we begrudgingly drag ourselves out of Booches and make the trek over to Memorial Stadium.We bought our tickets the night before from a connection Pat had made online, 65 bucks apiece for a couple of 50 yard line seats.Squeezing into our seats shortly after the national anthem, a brisk wind howls through the stadium.It’s going to be a big day on the ground, we surmise.

The game starts out high tempo, both offenses marching speedily downfield against reeling defenses.After the initial onslaught, however, the contest slows and both teams settle into a sloppy defensive standoff.The crowd at Mizzou wavers between restless and aloof, rising to their feet on only a handful of occasions, the entire place oddly quiet for such a big game.A strange feeling settles over the atmosphere in “The Zou”.With a mediocre record and imminent departure for the greener pastures of the SEC in 2012, Mizzou fans are noticeably disenchanted.Despite a handy 17-5 victory over the Longhorns on the day, their first since 1997, the crowd listlessly empties from Faurot Field.The goalposts remain proudly upright and intact.

Following the game we make our way over to the tailgating lots to meet up with a few of Pat’s friends.The wind whips through the parking lots, jostling tents and upturning a few tables.Most cars speed off, only the dedicated remain.We mill around until the cold gets the better of us, then load up the cars and retreat to the glow of Shakespeare pizza downtown, huddling into the warmth.

A favorite reunion place for Mizzou grads, fans wait up to two hours on gameday for their handmade Shakespeare pie.Six of us cram into one of the lone open oak booths, downing a few pitchers before the hot, bubbling pizzas are set onto a wire rack in the middle of the table.Loaded with cheese and luxuriously thick slabs of pepperoni, we descend on the pies like vultures on carrion.Bellies satisfied after a long day, it’s time to hit the robust Mizzou nightlife.We take our party onto the bustling sidewalks, and bravely into the “Como” night we go…

Special thanks to my good friend Pat for giving me the full tour of the Missouri experience, can’t wait to hit a handful of Tiger SEC games with you next year!

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South Carolina: Gamecocks vs. Crimson Tide!

Some times things just have a way of working out….

 

And turning into something amazing.

 

 

I had to cancel my Notre Dame trip originally planned for last weekend because flight costs had risen egregiously high, and I couldn’t justify the spend for a trip to South Bend. As luck would have it, a work trip brought me to Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday and I ended up falling into an offer for tickets to the South Carolina vs. Alabama game. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, especially when your tickets end up being in the second row on the 40 yard line (not so subtle brag). Needless to say, watching the #18 Gamecocks hosting the #1 Crimson Tide was an opportunity not to be missed, and I gladly made the quick ninety mile jaunt down to Columbia on Saturday morning.

 

 

After finishing up tailgating (posted below), I hustled into Williams Brice stadium a bit early. Given that this was shaping up to be an epic tilt inside the “Cockpit” it was clearly going to be a mob scene getting in and I didn’t want to miss a minute of their fabled “2001 Space Odyssey” entrance. Considered one of the most unique entrances in all of college football, “Cocky” the mascot and the rest of the Gamecocks take the field to the tune of Stanley Kubricks famous score from “2001 Space Odyssey” accompanied by the thunderous roar of over 82,000 fans. It was a unique, energizing, intimidating and deafening experience, all the things a great entrance should be.


As for the game itself, unless you spent last weekend under a rock, you already know that I witnessed one of the most spectacular upsets all season, and certainly the biggest victory in Gamecock history. I guess I know how to pick em’. To put it in perspective, South Carolina had never upset a #1 ranked team, and had only beaten a top five team twice before in history. Alabama had looked nearly invincible for the last two years, yet the Gamecocks absolutely dominated them on both sides of the ball, strutting away with a convincing 35-21 victory.

Remarkable about the win, however, was the way the Gamecocks won. They completely shut down the Alabama rushing duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. They also pierced the massive Alabama offensive line, which, from my perspective, looked like a herd of mastodons on the field. On offense, they took it right up the gut on the Crimson Tide, amassing 110 yards rushing on the day behind phenom freshman running back Marcus Lattimore (I guess he gets a “seat at the table” for that performance – kudos if you get that reference). One such rushing series included a spirit crushing eight minute touchdown drive to grind out the third quarter. I guess the Ol’ Ball Coach still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

The in stadium atmosphere on the day was expectedly spectacular. This is SEC football after all, and yes, it is different. As you can imagine, fans were in a frenzy during the beginning of the game, but the energy level was sustained for nearly the entire contest given how close it was. At one point, the concrete floor was discernibly vibrating beneath me and aluminum benches sure make for incredible noise makers. This was a standing only affair, and the entire stadium only reposed for the half time show.

 

 

In fact, on the way out of the stadium, fans were singing and cheering inside the tunnel, still euphoric from the win. I had an interesting exchange with a random older South Carolina fan while shuffling out with the crowd.

 

 

Random Fan in deep southern drawl: “I’ve been coming here for twenty eight years and I ain’t never seen nothing like this…”

 

 

Me: “This is my first ever game at South Carolina”.

 

 

Random Fan in complete shock: “Boy, you sure picked one helluva game for your first time”

 

 

Me: “Yeah, maybe you’d like me to come back here more often if this kinda thing will happen?”

 

 

Random Fan: “Son, I will PAY you to come back here again for this.”

 

 

 

The only bone I have to pick on the day lies more with the SEC than it does with South Carolina in particular. Evidently the SEC has the foolish rule of preventing students from rushing the field after a win. Should the school allow the students onto the field, students will be arrested and the school fined $100,000. As such, there was an armada of security personnel and SC State Troopers lining the field during the final few minutes, to prevent any “unruly” fans from leaving the stands to celebrate with their team. Personally, I think rushing the field is one of the more unique and appealing aspects of College Football. If you’re team just knocked off the #1 team in the country, there is no compelling reason why those fans, and especially students, shouldn’t be allowed onto the field in celebration with their team. Do better SEC.

Despite the arcane SEC rule, this was simply an unforgettable experience that happened to fall right into my lap. South Carolina fans are noted for their passion and dedication to the team, and it was evident throughout my entire raucous gameday experience in Columbia.

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South Carolina Tailgating & The Infamous “Cockaboose Railroad”

After braving the logjam of traffic getting off highway 77 (this was easily the largest game in Columbia in recent history) I slid into a parking space in one of the many warehouse parking lots in this industrial part of town, and began hoofing it over to the stadium area to check out another ballyhooed SEC tailgating scene.

The first stop to be made was over to the fabled South Carolina “Cockaboose Railroad” to have a glimpse at one of the most unique tailgating attractions in all of College Football. A mere fifty yards from Williams Brice stadium, you will find twenty two Gamecock garnet colored Cabooses occupying an abandoned stretch of railroad track. The “Cockabooses” have been completely renovated, and come complete with power, sewer, running water, roof decks, and a host of lavish interior appointments. Forget about your pop out RV, this is how tailgating is done in style.

In keeping with the gracious SEC hospitality I have encountered thus far, a very kind woman noticed my gaping jaw and invited me to have a look inside Cockaboose #10. Once inside, I was greeted by Hank, the owner, a dentist from Gaffney and proud South Carolina alum. After introducing me to his family, we exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes and talked about the upcoming game before I had to leave. On my way out, Hank offered his handshake and business card, telling me if I ever found myself in the area again, to stop on by for a visit. It’s this kind of genuine hospitality, to complete strangers, that make folks like Hank such a pleasant part of my College Football travels.

 

Following my tour of the Cockaboose railroad, I headed over to meet up with some of our favorite folks from the College Football tour in 2009 for a remarkable reunion tale. We met Lloyd and Cameron last season during our trip to Arkansas while hoisting a few beers in the Hog Haus Brewery in Fayetteville. Loyal South Carolina followers, they had made the trip out to watch the Gamecocks play the Hogs that day. After exchanging stories for a couple of hours, Lloyd told us that if we ever found ourselves in Columbia, we had a tailgate waiting for us. I bet he never thought I would actually take him up on that…

 

 

Reference last years post here:

 

http://www.pigskinpursuit.com/2009/11/aq-chicken-sham-hog-haus-brewery.html

 

 

After learning I was going to Columbia, Lloyd and I exchanged a few emails including directions to his tailgate spot and the promise of a beer only a stones throw from the stadium. True to form, I was greeted warmly by Lloyd along with an ice cold Yuengling and some sliders he painstakingly handmade that morning. We spent the next hour and half hoisting a few more Yuenglings, chatting about my travel schedule for the year, meeting various new friends at the tailgate, and postulating on the Gamecocks chances. Finally, I got a chance to meet the rest of Lloyds family that we had heard so much about, and they were all equally pleasant.

Pictured below: Lloyd, Grace (Cam’s GF), Cameron, Barbara and Peter

My only regret was not being able to hang around the tailgate longer, all the folks (Alabama fans included) were incredibly nice and welcoming. Lloyd himself has the rare gift of being a remarkable storyteller, so an afternoon can pass rather quickly around him, and I was almost sorry to head into the stadium.

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