Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Columbus (page 1 of 2)

Ohio vs Kent State – Bobcats thrashed by the Golden Flashes…

During my travels I’ve generally made a point to visit to some of the biggest venues in the colorful world of college football.  Understandably, I tend to focus my exploits on the major conferences and stalwart institutions that make the sport a national treasure.  However, as I press further into the depths of the sport, and constantly seek new adventures and venues to investigate, the Middle American Conference had eluded any of my travels thus far.  With the conference beginning mid week play in November, this made for the perfect opportunity to sample a few MAC games with my weekends already booked at larger venues.  A quick glance at the schedule revealed Ohio University and Toledo playing on consecutive Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and I decided to launch my inaugural MAC doubleheader from Columbus.

Touching down in the Capitol city, the crown jewel of Ohio, I bee line for the newly opened Melt Bar and Grilled location in the upscale Short North area.  Since opening its first location in Lakewood, OH in 2006, Melt has fast become a sensation in Ohio, even garnering considerable national exposure.  Specializing in massive, indulgent grilled cheese sandwiches with dozens of combinations, the decadent menu is the very definition of comfort food.  As if the alluring fare weren’t enough, the bar features over twenty different taps of local beer, and the menu boasts 150 different varieties of bottled swill for the hopheads.     

While deliberating over the various heart stopping choices, I finally settle on a “Dude Abides” sandwich, chosen exclusively for the Big Lebowski movie reference.  After an agonizing forty minute wait (the location is new and still had a few kitchen kinks to work out), the massive offering is dropped in front of me.  Thick slabs of toasted white bread are layered with home made meatballs, fried mozzarella wedges and layers of Provolone and Romano cheeses.  The hefty sandwich stands nearly six inches tall, and after a disastrous attempt at picking the creature up, the hand to hand melee soon devolves into a gooey, depraved, fork and knife conquest.  Face smeared in marinara and gluttonous shame, I slink off the barstool and waddle out the door…

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From there, it’s an hour ride down winding US33 into Athens, Ohio.  The drive is surprisingly picturesque, as the undulating road winds through hilly state park and national forest land.  Athens seems like quite a pleasant village, cozy streets are flanked by shops, restaurants, and the usual assortment of college town watering holes.  Every Halloween, the place explodes, as the small town nearly doubles in size with nearly 20,000 visitors for the Athens Halloween Block Party.  Obviously, Ohio University is the mainstay in town, and the well manicured campus grounds are flanked by classic Georgian brick architecture across sprawling quads.  It seems like quite an agreeable place to spend four or five years… 

As I approach Peden Stadium, I’m reluctantly forced to shell out five bucks for parking.  The entire area surrounding the stadium Ohio University campus, and they’ve got all the lots on lock down.  A few big shot donors enjoy a tailgate right outside the main entrance to Peden, their set up complete with a custom bright green Ohio Bobcats tent.  Apart from them, however, the closest lots are mostly empty on a chilly Tuesday night.

I make up for the five dollar parking ripoff by securing a free game ticket.  As I approach the ticket window for one of the fifteen dollar seats, a gentleman taps me on the shoulder and hands me a freebie on the 40 yard line – row 3.  I’m starting to like the MAC already.

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Shortly after I find my seat, the game kicks off as the mercury drops into the low 20’s.  While cold games during a sunny afternoon can still be quiet tolerable, at night they are sheer misery, and a constant battle to keep warm.  Despite the cold, the Bobcats come out competitively in the first half.  Quarterback Tyler Tettleton connects for the Cats’sole touchdown, and they head into the tunnels at halftime trailing 17-13.  I head into the tunnels myself for a piping Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate.  

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In the second half, however, the Kent State Golden Flashes take command.  In one of the stranger plays I’ve seen this year, 260lb. Flash defensive lineman Nate Terhune takes a direct snap on a 4th down and 4 and rumbles 61 yards for a touchdown.  Visibly wheezing in the endzone after the lumbering run, it’s the longest play from scrimmage the entire night.  The Golden Flashes would tack on a few more touchdowns in the second half, and run away with a 44-13 blowout win.         

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Before I leave, I snap a quick photo with Rufus the Bobcat mascot.  While I don’t usually make a point of getting mascot photos, Rufus became a national sensation in 2010 when he relentlessly pursued and wrestled Brutus the Buckeye to the ground during a tilt against the Ohio State Buckeyes (VIDEO).  That he did this during the Buckeyes revered pre game entrance in front of 105,000 people, immediately made the story a front page scandal.   Brandon Hanning, the student inside the Bobcat costume at the time (since excused from the school), premeditated the entire fracas and made no bones his vitriol towards Brutus in this interview (LINK).  As a fan of any mascot altercation, I simply had to get a photo with one of the best brawlers in the biz. 

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In the end, my first MAC conference game was an interesting diversion from the usual lineup of heavy hitting premier programs.  To be clear, the atmosphere is a far cry from a typical Big 10 game, and drawing a comparison to those types of programs would simply be unfair.  If I had to put my finger on it, a MAC conference game has a similar feel to a minor league baseball game – in a good way.  The stadiums are smaller, family friendly and more accessible, with easy parking and almost zero traffic congestion.  Tickets are cheaper and plentiful, and you can generally sit wherever you prefer. The entire atmosphere is noticeably more relaxed, although fans are still passionate and prideful about their chosen school.  The game itself is slower and less precise than the big time schools, but that’s exactly the appeal.  The vast majority of players are here simply for the love of the game, and suit up knowing that few of them will ever play on Sundays. Absent is the semi-professional machinery that comes with seven figure coaches and bloated TV contracts.   It’s here, in conferences like the MAC, where the true amateurism and mission of college athletics is still alive and well.   And I’ll be back for more…

Peden Stadium Wide

Full Clickthrough gallery below:

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Ohio State vs Michigan – The Game

Known simply as “The Game”. Ohio State versus Michigan stands as the most notorious rivalry in College Football. Fortunately, so well renowned it requires no irritating, corporate sponsored rivalry game branding. Even outside of the football world, “The Game” is one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports. Two of the most storied programs in the history of college football, Michigan and Ohio State are juggernauts of the sport, each sharing an exclusive legacy and claiming an exhaustive list of accolades.

 

Team Ohio State Michigan
National titles 7 11
Heisman Trophies 7 3
Bowl appearances 41 39
BCS bowl appearances 8 4
Rose Bowl appearances 14 20
All-Americans 130 126
Big Ten titles 35 42
All-time program record 830–309–53 884–307–36
All-time win percentage .719 .735

The rivalry truly became a household name during a period referred to as the “Ten Years War” from 1969 to 1978, when former Ohio State assistant coach Bo Schembechler assumed the reigns of the University of Michigan program. During these ten years, the teams faced off in epic battles annually, four of which featured both the Michigan and Ohio State programs ranked in the AP top 5. The intense hatred between the teams went so far that famed Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes would only refer to Michigan as “that team from up north” lest he suffer the indignity of uttering the word Michigan. Hayes would further cement his fiery legend (he was eventually fired for punching an opposing player during the Gator Bowl), and epitomize the fierceness of the rivalry, when he refused to pull over and buy gas in the state of Michigan when running on an empty tank.

 

On his refusal, he was purported to have said “”No, god damn it! We do NOT pull in and fill up. And I’ll tell you exactly why we don’t. It’s because I don’t buy one goddamn drop of gas in the state of Michigan! We’ll coast and PUSH this goddamn car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money!”

 

Perhaps the word rivalry is insufficient.

 

Somewhere, Ol’ Woody is smiling, as Ohio State has dominated the series of late, carrying a six game win streak over their foes from the North, the longest streak in the history of this matchup for the Buckeyes. While all of these losses in the past six years have stung for Michigan fans, perhaps the most crushing was the 2006 game. Heading into one of the biggest regular season games ever played, Ohio State and Michigan were ranked #1 and #2 respectively. In a contest for the ages, Ohio State eeked out a 42-39 victory on that day which vaulted them into the National Championship Game. The Michigan program hasn’t quite been the same since.

 

The past few years especially, have witnessed a considerable decline in the Michigan program under the watch of head coach Rich Rodriguez, and rumors are swirling in Ann Arbor. The Ohio State program on the other hand, has been dominant during the Jim Tressel sweater vest era, reeling off six straight Big Ten titles, three national championship appearances (one title), and a handful of BCS Bowl Games. Regardless of their current records, this is a game circled on both team calendars every year, and the outcome defines your success as a Buckeye or Wolverine football player.

 

In fact, Ohio State players find themselves even further incentivized to beat Michigan with a shining gold reward. Only upon a victory over the Wolverines, each member of the Ohio State squad is awarded a Golden Charm. This gold charm, a miniature pair of football pants, is a time honored tradition that dates back to 1934 and widely treasured among Buckeye Football players. Evidently, however, the pants are not so revered among all football players as Terrell Pryor was recently sanctioned by the NCAA for hawking his 2008 gold pants, and you can find your own pair on Ebay occasionally.

The in stadium atmosphere for the Michigan game in Columbus is commensurate with the level of pageantry surrounding the contest: simply enormous.Ohio Stadium, known colloquially as The Horseshoe, is a cavernous facility boasting the third largest capacity in College Football.Built in 1922, the stadium features an impressive classical Roman rotunda at the North Entrance, and the imposing “Shoe” would house 105,491 rabid fans on this particular day.

Naturally, I entered the game nearly an hour before kickoff to absorb all of the extra hoopla that surrounds the contest. The Ohio State band, also referred to by fans as The Best Damn Band in the Land or TBDBITL, is considered one of the preeminent bands in College Football, though I have always chuckled immaturely at their uniforms which look like a cross between the French Resistance and the Knights of Columbus. Their capstone pre-game tradition is the infamous dotting of the “i” in the script Ohio performed prior to all home games (unfortunately my endzone seats did not offer a good vantage point to capture the script Ohio). The signature “i” dotting is dapperly performed by a select senior sousaphone player each year, and is one of the most revered traditions in College Football band performance.

 

 

For the contest, I had the pleasure of being seated in the student section, which was jammed packed full of boisterous and well inebriated undergrads.I have long maintained that student sections are the best seats in the house and the lifeblood of true stadium spirit.Many of these scholars were seniors enjoying their final game as students in Ohio Stadium and they pre-gamed accordingly.Rowdy would be an understatement for this section, and stadium police visited the area on more than a handful of highly entertaining occasions. Despite the cold, the entire contest was filled with a thunderous chorus of continuous singing, cheering and the expected Big 10 bouts of vulgarity.

My personal favorite student song tradition was a nearly game long unrelenting refrain of the famous Ohio song “We Don’t Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan”. The lyrics below are elegantly succinct.

“We don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
The whole state of Michigan
The whole state of Michigan
We don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
‘Cause we’re from Ohio!

We’re from Ohio – O! H!
We’re from Ohio – I! O!

Ohhh we don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
The whole state of Michigan
The whole state of Michigan
We don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan
‘Cause we’re from Ohio!”

 

To get a feel for the tune you can listen to it here:

 

 

On this particular day, Ohio State fans had plenty to sing about.Despite taking the field in agitating solid drab Nike “Pro Combat” uniforms, an outfit which shunned the infamous Buckeye sticker laden helmets of their normal garb, the plain clad Buckeyes saw little struggle from “that team from the North”.It’s hideous game attire hijinks like this that make me wish Nike would limit their uniform buffoonery to the Oregon Ducks and NBA.

After a slow first quarter without any scoring, shortly after the opening whistle of the second frame the Buckeyes began their domination of the contest, in what ultimately proved a rather lopsided affair. Terrell Pryor naturally led the charge for the Buckeyes, throwing for a pair of touchdowns on the day, though still leaving him well short of the Heisman chase. Pryor was offset on the ground with running back Dan Herron, who exploded for 175 yards, including one spectacular 89 yard run that would have been a touchdown were it not for a holding penalty. Penalties were quite popular with the Buckeyes, as they repeatedly flashed an “O” symbol with their hands that drew the ire of overzealous referees. The mere handful of Michigan fans scattered throughout the stadium had little to cheer about, as fleet footed quarterback Denard Robinson spent half the game injured on the bench, and struggled when he did play. In the end, Ohio State cruised to a yawning 37-7 victory, and had already shut themselves down by the fourth quarter.

In the end, the Ohio State vs Michigan game was the perfect capstone to my three day, three team, rivalry weekend odyssey. A trip to this game can be found on every college football fans checklist, and I was pleased to have crossed it off my burgeoning scroll. You simply won’t find a bigger atmosphere anywhere in the sport, nor a more intense rivalry, It’s a contest that truly lives up to its legendary billing.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Janelle for helping me find a ticket to this game. It was truly a remarkable experience, and I hope your Wolverines fare better in the future (though not against the Irish of course).

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Jack & Benny’s – Breakfast Buster

Few treats in the world are more satisfying than a quick, affordable, greasy diner breakfast on a Sunday morning.There is a welcome simplicity in stooled laminate counters flanking a sizzling open griddle, the rattle of a deft short order cook slapping away on a cook top dotted with glistening yellow eggs.Expanses of stainless steel flash the piercing morning sun while you squint hungrily amidst a handful of selections from a yellowed backlit plastic menu board.

Sadly, the idyllic street corner breakfast diner is quickly going the way of the dodo and the complete game starting pitcher.Displaced by an irritating trend of delicate “brunchy” style cafés featuring goat cheese frittatas, $17 exotic mushroom omelets, parfaits, and assorted other bourgeois French crap daintily arranged with sliced cantaloupe.Many of these places even have the nerve to serve my meal on actual tablecloths.

 

They probably even offer turkey bacon.

 

Real breakfast, I surmised, would lie close to the students with their ample appetites and slender billfolds, so I narrowed my search in Columbus near the heart of campus. With the combination of Michigan weekend and the 40,000+ dedicated students attending The Ohio State University, you can bet a sizeable portion of those scholars had themselves quite a session the day before.If it’s one thing that takes the head splitting edge off an all night bender, it’s a platter piled with various combinations of eggs, potatoes and pork products.Fortunately, breakfast (the way god intended it) is still alive and well in Columbus, and I had a smattering of greasy spoons to choose from on a sharp Sunday morning.

 

Some of the choices included highly touted places like Eggfast, Skillet, and the aptly named Hangover Easy.

 

http://www.hangovereasy.com/

 

In the end, I settled on a legendary OSU staple named Jack and Benny’s largely due to their showcase breakfast item called a “Gut Buster”. In addition to the Gut Buster, Jack and Benny’s also features the Buckeye Pancake (chocolate and peanut butter chips) as well as a full page array of omelets. Despite its landmark status in Columbus, the diner has only been around since the mid 1990’s, although the scarred wood floors and dark wood paneling give it a classic feel.

Shortly after plunking into an open chair at the counter, I confidently ordered the revered Gut Buster, which consisted of a formidable layered pile of hash browns, a potato pancake, bacon, ham, eggs, sausage and cheese topped with country gravy.Naturally, I opted for the gravy on the side, because if you follow my barbecue posts, you are all too familiar with my general aversion towards obfuscating sauces.

The individual ingredients in the Gut Buster are fairly straightforward and unremarkable, but layered together in a pile it made for a daunting, albeit satisfyingly greasy way to start the morning.My true breakfast fix satisfied and topped for the morning, I flipped the waiter a ten dollar bill and beamingly left with change.

 

The way breakfast ought to be.

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Jeni’s Ice Cream – Something for the sweet tooth…

As if the mountainous Big Thurman Burger at Thurman’s wasn’t enough of my daily intake of saturated fat, I saved room for a little ice cream nightcap. Now I grant you that standing out in 28 degree temperatures all afternoon doesn’t exactly inspire an appetite for ice cream, but I was told that Jeni’s was place not to be missed. Nervously checking my watch, I had just enough time to fit in a few scoops and race to the hotel before the Irish took the field against USC.

While a relative newcomer to the ice cream game, Jeni’s has garnered quite the fanfare since opening their doors in 2002 and has already staked out seven locations across the greater Columbus area. Made exclusively from locally sourced cream from the Snowville Creamery in nearby Pomeroy, Jeni’s features dozens of interesting and eclectic artisan flavors. They have everything ranging from traditional favorites like Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Bean, to off the wall seasonal flavors like Sweet Potato with Torched Marshmallows, and Olive Oil with Sea Salted Pepitas. Luckily, they are no stranger to gawking patrons peering through the enticing glass cases, and I sampled my way through about two dozen of their finest. Some personal favorites were the Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Bourbon Buttered Pecan, and of course the ubiquitous “Buckeye State” (a blend of peanut butter and dark chocolate ice cream).


After extensive tastings, and some deliberation with the friendly counter staff, I settled on one of their signature sundaes aptly called “The Buckeye State”. For the body of the bowl I chose a scoop of the Buckeye State ice cream paired with a scoop of the Brown Butter Almond Brittle. The sundae was topped off with hot fudge, Spanish peanuts and a dollop of home made whipped cream. Consistent with Jeni’s unwavering dedication to their craft, the whipped cream is actual whipped cream. I broke a sweat merely observing the counter girl tenaciously hand whisking a stainless steel bowl full of fresh cream. It’s small details like this that separate the homemade fare at Jenny’s from the rest of the pack.

The sundae proved to be the indulgently decadent affair that the description alluded to. There is richness to the ice cream at Jeni’s that you won’t find in your typical grocery store freezer, and a palpable intensity to their flavors that left me licking the bowl at the end. My sweet tooth satisfied for the night, I retreated to the hotel to watch the Irish and contemplated ordering up a few of Jeni’s pints in the mail for delivery back in Dallas…

 

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