Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Florida

Central Florida vs South Florida – Knights gored by the Bulls in pursuit of reverse perfection….

We all turn our heads at car wrecks. We run to the window when we hear screeching tires, or watch the news with morbid fascination, our mouths agape during videos of a train derailment or capsized ship. It’s a part of us, the dark side of humanity.

So when I tentatively penciled a late November game at Central Florida on the calendar, I signed up to watch a college football car crash. I didn’t set out with the intention to see an 0-11 football team, things just kind of played out that way. During my torrid end of season planning, a trip to UCF was one of the only options available on Thanksgiving, and the Knights were in the twilight of their worst season in history. So while I never aim to see a program on its knees, I’d be a liar not to admit the trip to Orlando came with that same dark fascination that compels us to stare at the morbid. Sometimes, we just want to see things on fire. Exactly what, I wondered, would the atmosphere, fans, and players be like at a program about to complete a winless season?

The 2015 fall from grace was a rapid one for the Knights program. They are only one year removed from a 2013 campaign in which they posted a 12-1 record, finished ranked 10th in the nation, and slapped around a gun slinging Baylor squad for a major BCS Fiesta Bowl win. They even defended their American Conference title again in 2014, and posted a respectable 9-4 record before the wheels came off this year. But after beginning the 2015 campaign at 0-8, twelve year head coach George O’Leary (the same O’Leary of Notre Dame resume scandal fame) resigned, sending the Knights football program into a tailspin. Clearly, for a group of fans and players with a recent history of winning, things were looking dour in the Magic Kingdom.

It was an odd juxtaposition, I suppose, for the Knights to be located in Orlando of all places, home of Disneyworld. The happiest place on earth. Given my aversion to all things gauche, however, I didn’t hold high hopes for uncovering cultural diversions in the “theme park capitol of the world”, which was, in my mind, simply another soulless Florida wasteland of beige strip malls and insufferable family vacation attractions. While I would certainly be foregoing a trip to the rug rat hell of Mickey Land, an easy hour drive eastward to Merritt Island revealed a far more palatable cultural option – the John F. Kennedy Space Center. So on Thanksgiving morning, I skip the turkey, and head into space.

For a “family” attraction, the space center is anything but affordable. It costs me ten dollars to park, and a whopping fifty dollars for admission. And, despite the holiday, there are still plenty of tour busses and minivans pulling into the lot, unloading packs of feral children to roam about the grounds in light up sneakers, filling the air with a cacophony of wailing and squealing. One can only hope they are drawn towards attractions like the “Angry Birds Space Center”, and away from the more historical and culturally significant pieces of space history.

But entry price and sticky fingered toddlers aside, there are few places that arouse such fervent American jingoism as a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Here, the triumphant, determined, American spirit is condensed into a single, 144,000 acre beacon of human ingenuity. Living abroad has given me an outside perspective on the vast cultural influence that the United States has had on the world for the past seventy years. And our space program and subsequent moon landings are, arguably, amongst the most impactful and defining cultural moments of the twentieth century. It’s impossible not to feel an overwhelming sense of national pride in the achievements here.

Highlights of the park include the “rocket garden”, a collection of rockets from the early days of the space program. Encompassing the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, they showcase the systematic, iterative process by which NASA engineers pushed their way into the black abyss a little bit deeper each time. The Atlantis exhibit sits in a building nearby, showcasing the thirty year history of the reusable Space Shuttle Program, which gave rise to advancements like the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope.

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From the visitor center, I then board a bus which shuttles visitors over to the Saturn V complex. Along the way, the bus ride tours around the active part of the Kennedy Space center, known as Launch Complex 39. Highlights of the bus route include the Elon Musk funded Space X platform, the Vehicle Assembly Building (V.A.B) – which, at 524 feet is the largest single story building in the world – and, finally, the massive tracked crawler transporter that carries the towering rockets upright from the hangar to the launch pads. The sheer size and scale of the engineering here is almost impossible to grasp.

But the true gemstone of the entire complex is the Apollo/Saturn V Center. For even the casual space fan, the exhibitions documenting the lunar landings here are fascinating. Exhibits such as the Apollo 14 command module, the lunar landing module that the astronauts stepped out of and onto the moon (suspended from the ceiling because it cannot support itself on earth’s gravity) and the lunar rover are things that we’ve all seen in videos hundreds of time; but to see them up close and intimately adds a completely new dimension to the significance of those moments.

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But the biggest spectacle is the sheer mass and presence of the Saturn V rocket itself. Laid lengthwise on its side only 15 feet from the ground, suspended by heavy steel columns and extending over a football field in length, hovers a fully restored Saturn V rocket from the heyday of NASA’s 1960’s space race. 363 feet long and 33 feet in diameter, the Saturn V remains, to this day, the largest and most powerful rocket ever constructed. Beyond its dizzying size, this giant “flaming candle” may be the most complex engineering challenge ever built in human history. Walking beneath such a monument to man’s ingenuity is humbling to say the least, and sends the mind spinning.

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To step back and think about all of the minutia – every single button, switch, bolt and screw had to be accounted for, tested, and retested; then every little part of it painstakingly assembled into this hulking, explosive giant – perhaps the most complex machine ever constructed – all of it done manually and analog, without the aid of anything resembling a modern computer; and then hurled at thousands of miles an hour through temperatures of thousands of degrees, hundreds of thousands of miles from earth directly into the ice cold vacuum of space; and then have the entire contraption do a U-turn and come home again with its pilots in one piece (never mind that whole “landing on the moon” thing in between): the whole undertaking simply defies imagination. It’s impossible to grasp the extent of the engineering challenges encapsulated here by watching grainy videos on television; one has to visit this place to truly grasp the magnitude of the achievement. Attendance should be mandatory for every American.

Or at least make a visit here a prerequisite for entry into Disneyworld….

After a morning of space exploration, I take an afternoon appetite to one of the premier barbecue haunts in Orlando – Four Rivers Smokehouse. Boasting fourteen locations throughout the state, my expectations for a “chain” barbecue joint were pretty dim. Then again, nearly every bite of barbecue that I’ve had in Florida has been completely mediocre, (including a visit to famous BBQ loudmouth Myron Mixon’s “Pride N’ Joy” location in Miami), so I didn’t have anything to lose. Worst case scenario, I could always hit the “Beefy King” afterwards for a reliable steamed beef sandwich.

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An impressive selection of micro sodas greets me inside the doors of Four Rivers, and a mosaic of colorful bottles and flavors from small bottlers all over the country line the cooler. To my satisfaction, the aroma of smoke wafts through the shiny new restaurant, the menu features a full selection of Texas barbecue offerings, and beef ribs are even available on the weekends. Good signs so far. I settle on a combo of brisket and pork ribs, which, the cashier proudly proclaims, are smoked over hickory. As I move on down the ordering line, the meat carver happily accepts my request for slices from both the point and flat of the brisket. I raise an eyebrow in subtle approval…

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Retreating to a table, still skeptical of anything Floridian, I gingerly gnaw on each of the protein offerings. Both of them, to my astonishment, are well crafted. Ribs pull cleanly from the bone with only a slight tug, and the fat cap on the brisket is completely rendered into unctuous, tender morsels. This is quality barbecue. If there’s a fault, it’s that the meats lack a strong smoke profile, and the hickory profile is faint. If I had to guess, I’d bet that they are using a gas or electric smoker with wood assist – a setup which produces easily replicable, consistent results, but lacks a smoky punch. Regardless, this is actually good barbecue, and, by middling Floridian standards – it’s outstanding.

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From there I walk over to the UCF campus, one of the most unique pieces of landscape architecture in higher education. As one of only two campuses in the country designed as a series of concentric rings, (the other school being UC Irvine) the entire campus is arranged like a bullseye. Inspired by Walt Disney’s original plans for EPCOT, the campus was centrally planned from the beginning (as opposed to the organic outward sprawl of most universities) and intended to be pedestrian oriented. The Student Union and Library are located at the center of the bullseye, contained within the Pegasus Circle walkway. Progressing outward from the center, the rings become (appropriately) Mercury, Apollo and, finally, the outermost circle – Gemini – the only such circle accessible to vehicle traffic. The circles are further divided up into pie shaped wedges by other walkways radiating out from the center, what remains is a campus plan that resembles a dartboard. Different wedges of the pie then make up the different colleges within the University, interspersed with a handful of ponds, parks and fountains that offer respite from the hot Florida sun.

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Evidently “theme park” planning in Orlando even applies to higher education.

UCF itself is a juggernaut. With enrollment at over 63,000 students, it’s quietly the largest university in the country. Given its size, parts of the campus feel like a small suburban subdivision. There’s a shopping village on the perimeter of campus, where students can select from Jimmy John’s, Dominoes or Dunkin Donuts, among other chain eateries. Fraternity row looks like an upscale cul-de-sac in the subdivision, with giant plantation nouveau style homes flanking both sides of the street. There’s even a skating rink and ferris wheel set up on Knights Plaza. A few tailgaters revel across the street from the Plaza, their tent and coolers set up along a beautiful long stretch of Bermuda grass that penetrates all the way to the center of campus known as the “Memory Mall”.

I begin my walk towards Bright House Networks stadium along the brick lined promenade that connects the football stadium to the baseball park. A huge steel sculpture of a Golden Knight mounted on a horse rears proudly in the middle of the walkway, as the brassy regalia of the UCF Marching Knights files in towards the entrance gates. With a sole finger thrust in the air, I track down a free ticket to the contest quickly, a season ticket actually, made from thick plastic and attached to a lanyard. There’s a bar code at the bottom of it, scanned for each home game, but since this is the last home game of the year it’s an easy giveaway. On the front of the laminated plastic the slogan reads “Back to Back American Conference Champions 2013 & 2014”, a subtle reminder that the Knights are only a season removed from success.

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The stadium never fills up, as one would expect, and there are vast swaths of the aluminum bleachers vacant on a Thanksgiving night. But the fans that do show are of the die-hard ilk, and as passionate as you’ll find in the game. They do their best to rise and cheer, screaming when the Knights come storming out of the tunnel – some of the players for their last home game.

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As the contest kicks off, for a few fleeting minutes, the Knights faithful are given a glimmer of hope. For an 0-11 football team, the crowd is a surprisingly vociferous and passionate bunch, their energy and commitment a credit to the Central Florida fan base. UCF quarterback Justin Holman marches his squad down the field, grinding out 61 yards on nine plays before kicker Matthew Wright boots an easy 28 yard field goal through the uprights. The knights jump out to a quick 3-0 lead, the crowd cheers wildly and boisterously, as if they had forgotten about their 0-11 mark. For a moment they know the feeling of confidence.

But that would be the end of it…

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The remaining 55 minutes of the game is a thorough curb stomping at the hands of the South Florida Bulls. Aside from their 61 yard opening drive, the Knights only squeak out another anemic 140 yards of offense for the rest of the contest – cementing their position as the worst offense in the entire FBS for 2015. Holman would revert to form, tossing two interceptions and completing only 10 of his 26 attempts. His counterpart for the Bulls, however, stuffs the stat sheet on the night. USF signal caller Quinton Flowers accounts for all five of the Bulls touchdown, firing three of them through the air and scampering for another pair. By the time the final whistle calls mercy, the Bulls have gashed the Central Florida defense to the tune of 455 total yards of offense, running away with a 44-3 blowout.

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If the Knights 0-12 finish tells us one thing, it’s that clearly, not every story in the Florida fantasy land has a happy ending….

Looks like Knights fans will have to hope for something better in the sequel.

But if there’s a single takeaway to be taken from my trip to UCF, it’s that even for smaller programs at the end of catastrophic seasons, there are still fans that don their jerseys, pack their trunks, and motor in on a holiday night to cheer their squad until the final whistle. And that is what true fandom is all about….

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Florida vs Mizzou – Gators chomp the Tigers…

  1. Do not attempt to ride, poke, prod, stab, or grab the manatee at any time with any object including your hand or foot.
  2. Do not chase or corner a manatee while swimming or diving.
  3. Do not disturb a resting manatee. Sleeping manatees sometimes rest in a “face-plant” on the river bottom, rising for air every few minutes. It is unlawful to interfere with these normal activities.
  4. Do not attempt to feed the manatees or give them water. Doing so may make the manatee associate food and water with humans, endangering the manatee.
  5. Do not attempt to single out or surround a manatee.

These are the instructions we’re given by John, our tour guide at Birds Underwater, as he chirps them out in a well rehearsed high pitch squeal.  Shortly after our Friday morning flight into Gainesville, we sped down Highway 121 into Crystal River, Florida, home to some of the most fertile grounds for Manatee encounters on earth.  The spring fed waters of the Kings Bay habitat maintain a lukewarm 72 degrees year round, the perfect sanctuary for Manatees retreating from colder winter temperatures.

While in Florida I wanted to find a few outdoor adventures to explore, and splashing around the tepid waters of the Crystal River seemed like the perfect escape from strip mall hell.  My frame pressed snugly into a neoprene wetsuit, John finishes taking us through the guidelines for proper manatee etiquette before we load into the pontoon boat for a private guided tour.  I make a mental note to be sure not to “stab” a manatee per John’s instruction, wondering what kind of cretin needs such a warning…

Motoring out into the lagoon, we learn to pick out the manatees from a distance by looking for bubbles on the surface, their mammoth bodies lumbering like dark shadows beneath.  Once spotted, we dive in into the crystal water and casually swim over for a closer look.  The clear waters swarm with fish; Mullets, Snook and Mangro Snapper, but Manatees are the feature attraction.  Up close the 1,500lb goliaths are gentle, approachable creatures, with inquisitive soft brown eyes as we stare at one another.  Their barnacle covered skin rough to the touch, most of them bear handfuls of deep scars from encounters with speed boat propellers.  It’s a rare experience to be up close and personal with such a massive animal in their own environment, especially one that isn’t trying to eat you.

Manatees

photo credit: http://emol.org/scott/

Though impressed with the mellow mammoths, in some ways I feel bad for the manatees.   In order to be protected they have to endure throngs of foppish tourists piling out of pontoon boats, toting their braying brats and huddling around like hordes of neoprene sausages.  Every time a manatee is spotted by one boat, a dozen others quickly moor alongside, unloading mobs of these clumsy fluorescent goons to surround the peaceful giants.  I surmise it’s no accident when speed boats occasionally collide with a manatee, often with lethal results.  I think the gentle creatures deliberately hurl themselves in front of anything with enough speed to end things quickly. Seppuku by Seadoo – a warriors death.  It sounds like a far more palatable alternative than suffering a lifetime of dealings with your average gape jawed, croc wearing, American family tourist.

But an afternoon in the water is splendid, and a private tour offers us a more intimate, respectful experience that allays my gag reflex to all things touristy.   We finish off the evening at Charlie’s Fish House, one of the few dining options in town.  Florida Stone Crabs are in season, and I order up a couple platters of the fresh, meaty red claws. Lightly steamed with just a touch of butter, the sweet crab is a perfect finish to the day as we watch the sun settle over Kings Bay.

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Saturday morning the day starts early in Gainesville, and after a hearty breakfast at the Sweetwater Inn we shuffle down the broken sidewalk towards campus.  Streets are surprisingly empty for a game day, and not until we get within a block of the stadium do they become swarmed thick with bright blue and orange dry fit polo shirts.  A noon kickoff is clearly the culprit.  Nobody has enough time to properly pregame before marching into the stadium.  Another unwelcome byproduct of television influence, early start times are completely debilitating to an energetic gameday atmosphere.  Particularly in Florida, where the scorching mid day sun reaches its zenith over the stadium, most people would rather be camped out under a few shade trees with a cooler full of beer.  SEC games always seem better at night…

As the morning sun climbs higher into the sky, I instantly regret my decision to wear jeans.   I should have taken cue from the flood of polos, khaki shorts and flip flops around me, the official uniform of SEC fandom.  The ensemble would be complete with a swoop haircut, team sun visor and matching colored “croakies” – the elastic bands attached to one’s sunglasses, keeping the shades well affixed should they decide to spontaneously leap from one’s well coiffed head.  The fashion could be worse I suppose – I could be at a Big 10 game.

We walk down the palm lined terrace to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the soaring grandstands towering overhead.  Approaching the entrance, a small sign commemorates the birthplace of Gatorade by UF researcher Robert Cade, while a giant bronze statue of former Heisman winter Tim Tebow flanks the gates.  With a stated capacity of 88,000 “The Swamp” as it’s more commonly referred, routinely packs in more than 90,000 boisterous fans, and is one of the most feared venues in the SEC.

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As the game kicks off, it’s quickly evident to the Missouri Tigers, newly minted to the SEC, why the Swamp is such an intimidating place to play.  Despite the oppressive mid day sun, the crowd roars each time the Gators stifling defense takes the field, thousands of arms outstretched, clapping fiercely in unison to the infamous “Gator Chomp”.  A defensive standoff sets in on the field, as both teams lock horns in trench warfare.  Although they move the ball, Tiger quarterback James Franklin is picked off four times.   The fast paced Mizzou offense is grounded by the Gators, managing their only touchdown on the day in the second quarter when they take the lead into halftime 7-0.

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The Gators anemic offense doesn’t score until the 3rd quarter, when they knot the game at 7 apiece.  As the fourth quarter opens, the Gators connect on a huge 45 yard touchdown pass to Mike Gillislee to take a 14-7 lead.  The close score makes for a dramatic 4th quarter, both teams battling fiercely as Mizzou fights to tie it up.  With 1:49 left, Missouri launches their final attack from deep in their own territory.  Needing a touchdown to score, they move the ball 60 yards downfield to the Gator 20 yard line with only a few ticks remaining and one final shot at the end zone.  90,000 bodies hang in the sweltering Florida air for James Franklin’s final throw, which lands anticlimactically into the outstretched arms of Florida DB Josh Evans, a game ending turnover.  Franklins’ fourth interception on the day is his most costly, and the Gators skate away with a narrow victory in a barnburner.

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After the game, the drama is hardly over.  We retreat into The Swamp, a landmark bar in Gainesville that’s ranked annually on the list of best college bars in the country.  Situated on the corner of University Ave  and 17th Street, the bar is a converted Victorian home that features an impressive outdoor lawn space.  Escaping the sun, we shoehorn into the crowded pub, wedging into the corner of a communal table and order up a couple icy buckets of Yuengling lager from one of the waitresses flitting around in skin tight outfits.  A stuffed alligator hangs from the ceiling over the bar, and dozens of flat screen TV’s flash away with various SEC broadcasts.  With the Irish game underway, I vigilantly try to persuade the bartender to put the game on one of the small, unobtrusive TV’s in the corner, even offering him a ten dollar tip for hitting a button on a remote.  He refuses, and, looking at me coldly, informs me that “we only watch SEC games here, son”.  Disgusted with this vile affront, I slam the remainder of my Yuengling, marching out the exits towards the multitude of sports bars lining University Ave.

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We slide into the Gator Zone, a non-descript college pub, chosen because it was the first place that met my exacting criteria of beer, TV and NBC.  There, I spend the rest of the evening glued to a single television set perched over the bar, watching the Notre Dame versus Pittsburgh debacle unfold before me.  A triple overtime nail biter, I’m ranting like a lunatic with each play as the Irish battle back and forth.  Slamming my fists on the pine countertop and unleashing streams of light beer induced profanity at the dramatic swings; I draw a few raised eyebrows from the khaki crowd in Gator country.  Chrissy cowers next to me with embarrassment.

In the end the Irish prevail, and I narrowly avoid an early escort from the Gator Zone security staff looming over my shoulder.   We spend the rest of the evening watching the appropriate SEC game, Alabama vs LSU, prevalently showing on every single television screen in the dark pub.  But the next time I make it to Gainesville, I’d rather be watching the SEC night game of the week inside the raucous confines of The Swamp, with 90,000 others screaming into the humid Florida night air.  The way SEC football is meant to be.

Special thanks again to a good friend for tickets, I owe you a few beers in Miami man…

Thanks again to Chrissy for joining me on another adventure, and perhaps your Tigers will fare better on an SEC roadtrip next year…

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Florida State vs. Clemson – Still “Unconquered”…

I hate Florida State.

At least, I’m supposed to.  Growing up a Notre Dame fan, the two teams were perennially vying for the national championship, squaring off in some of the most epic college football games ever played.  1993 Still burns like acid in my memories.  But the days of Lou Holtz and Bobby Bowden staring across the gridiron are distant memories, and, like the Irish, the Seminoles find themselves trying to recapture their former glory.  Sporting a #4 ranking, lofty post season expectations and a premier ACC conference matchup against Clemson, the lure of this storied program was calling my name.

After a late Friday night arrival, thanks to the rapidly decaying service of American Airlines, I start out groggily on Saturday morning after few hours shuteye.  Tallahassee is a deceptively difficult place to get to.  Tucked into the corner where the Florida Panhandle meets the Peninsula, its three hours from Pensacola or Jacksonville.  With flights in excess of $1,000 for either of those locations, I flew into the suburban cultural vacuum of Tampa instead, making the four hour drive up the Gulf Coast.   Hammering up State Road 19, the spongy Florida countryside is speckled with neatly planted Southern yellow pine forests, interspersed with an occasional towering live oak, draped in iconic Spanish moss.   The drive proves more peaceful than I anticipated. Not the stop light ridden, strip mall consumerist bile typically associated with the entire sunshine state.

I stop once along the way, lunch at Goodmans BBQ in Perry.  The waiter proudly takes me through their selection of four different sauces (one of which is ketchup), but when I ask him what kind of wood they smoke with, my query is met with a blank stare.  I hadn’t expected much from Florida cue’, and the sloppy plate here confirms my fears.  I shovel the lifeless grey protein down dejectedly, and press on northward.

Arriving in Tallahassee and winding my way around the state capitol building, I meet up with Drew (name redacted) a second year law student at FSU who’d agreed to part with an extra student ticket over a few emails we’d exchanged.   He promptly thrust a red solo cup in my hand, and I joined him and a few other law students huddled under the shade of a lone parking lot Oak for a few cold Coors Lights.

After a few pops, I make my way down Jefferson Street, flanked on both sides by pristine sorority houses. Sadly, the legendary FSU coeds aren’t oil wrestling in the front yards.  The sidewalks are painted with bright floral patterns in front of each of the ornate mansions, their Victorian balconies overlooking manicured lawns and kempt flower beds.  Following a growing herd shuffling towards the stadium lots, the asphalt plains are flooded with a sea of tents. Tailgaters fan themselves in the shade beneath, nose deep in massive plastic cups of bourbon and coke, retreating from the ninety degree Florida sun.

I make a quick lap around Doak Campbell, a few hundred students already lined up at the iron gates four hours before kickoff. In addition to enclosing Bobby Bowden field, the stadium sports a massive stained glass mural and several attached buildings housing various administration and classroom facilities.  It’s an imposing monolith of masonry, and claims to be the largest continuous brick structure in the United States.  I mill around the “Unconquered” statue, a breathtaking 19ft bronze commission erected in tribute the Seminole people, the only tribe to never officially surrender to the US Government.  Seminole mascot and traditions run deep at Florida State, and are officially sanctioned by the Seminole tribe, no doubt appeased by some sizeable checks flowing out of the athletic department.

In the shadow of the statue I meet up with Alan, a friend of a friend (real names redacted) who presents me with the most remarkable gift I’ve ever had on my travels – a field pass for the entire contest.  I’ll be watching the biggest game in the ACC all season, an ESPN Gameday game, close enough to hear cleats scratching on the turf.  The student ticket I had elaborately procured only moments before now repulses me.  I stroke the glossy plastic pass as we enter the tunnel, marveling at the power of access that comes with each security checkpoint. Touching the pass reassuringly every few seconds, I check to make sure the flimsy elastic hasn’t snapped off my neck.  My precious…

We watch some pre game warm-ups from the sideline, the game nearly two hours before kickoff. Players stretch and drill fundamentals while assistant coaches observe behind dark sunglasses.  A few prized recruits are led in from the tunnel, single file like show ponies, behind a gaggle of stunning female boosters playing tour guide.  Boys gifted with mens bodies.  They clearly draw from a different gene pool than most.  It’s going to be the biggest game of the year in Tallahassee, so this is their best chance to close the sale on the most touted five star recruits.  I marvel at the relaxed calm of pregame, watching the empty aluminum bleachers gradually swell to life before kickoff.

As kickoff approaches, a steady drumbeat pierces through the pregame chaos.  The iconic Seminole War Chant begins. Swampy southern air grows more electric as each second ticks off the countdown clock, the crowd rhythmically tomahawk chopping as they howl.  Chief Osceola, mounted on a painted Appaloosa named Renegade, prance their way to midfield, his flaming spear thrust nobly overhead into the Florida night.  With a tug on the mane, the horse rears onto its hind legs, the spear driven gallantly into the turf, signaling the start of the contest.  It’s contrived ceremony, perhaps even a bit pompous – show me an entrance that isn’t.  Your heart pumps diesel, thumping against your chest with each ritualistic drumbeat, deafening echoes amplified by 83,000 others hanging on the precarious edge of frenzy.  It’s an epic entrance.

On the field, the contest lives up to the hype.  Clemson jumps out to an early lead, led by a deceptive rushing attack and a few misdirection plays.  The offense comes in flurries.  Up close, the sheer size and speed of these athletes is remarkable.  They’re carved out of stone.  Helmets pop with each collision, and the chatter between players becomes audible….“Watch 1-2, Pickup 1-2!”.    During key defensive third downs, the War Chant reaches its zenith.  At field level my ears throb in the din. Having a conversation is all but impossible, never mind running an offense.  The crowd wills the Seminoles back to life.  In the second half their offense explodes, reeling off 35 points on a flawless balance of rushing and passing. They cruise to a 49-37 victory, solidifying their position near the top of the polls.

Having been there now, it’s impossible to hate Florida State.  It’s a first tier college football destination with proud traditions, a boisterous atmosphere and fervent fan base.  As long as they faithfully lose to the Irish annually in the ACC, count FSU among the favored elite of college football experiences.

Special thanks to a great friend for the field pass, it was truly a once in a life time experience.  Hopefully, we can finally connect for a game one of these days man…

Thanks also to my “handler” for the evening on the field, and making sure I didn’t run out and try to tackle someone.  Go Noles!

(Click on an Image below to easily flip through the entire gallery)

 

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Geauxing to Baton Rouge!

We’re calling an audible this week!Neither of us could resist the gravitational magnetism of Garth Brooks and his beckoning chorus “Callin Baton Rouge”.As such, we are heading into the heart of Cajun country to check out one of the most revered gameday experiences in all of college football: LSU.

This will actually be my first ever SEC game, and what better way to experience it than to see #1 Florida vs. #4 LSU. This may very well shape up to be the biggest game in the SEC this season. Once we glanced at a map and realized it was a mere 6 hours away it was settled.Of course, it had been almost two weeks since we visited a capital city (Austin & Madison thus far) so we were long overdue.

As you may recall, we had originally planned to go to Arkansas this weekend for a solid matchup against unbeaten Auburn.As big a draw as that game may be however, it might as well be a Pop Warner game compared to the hoopla surrounding LSU vs. Florida

Fear not Razorback fans, the Arkansas game has been rescheduled to November 7th against South Carolina.Forgive me if the story line of “Hogs vs. Cocks” was too much to resist

This week, however, the thought of 92,000 extremely well lubricated fans playing a night game in what is widely considered the loudest venue in all of College Football, and you have one potentially electric atmosphere.Tiger Stadium is oft referred to as “Death Valley” and has recorded crowd noise levels of 130db.I can tell you from my hard won minor in architectural acoustics that is well….pretty loud.Add in the inevitable media love fest for Tim Tebeaux (err…Tebow), ESPN College Gameday, and Baton Rouge is a powder keg ready to explode

Now all I have to do is sell a kidney or three, and I should be able to afford tickets.This may be the toughest ticket negotiation all year

Finally, LSU brings a LIVE Tiger into the stadium as a mascot. A live Tiger. Which on the scale of “Mascot Accidents Waiting to Happen” ranks a full 10 out 10

http://www.mikethetiger.com

In addition to the game itself, there are a handful of local establishments that have come highly recommended by our resident LSU diehard Shyrl

Among the local hotspots that I have been told I “must do”

-The Chimes Restaurant – Rest assured the “fried gator tail” will not go untried.I also foresee a nice Poboy and couple of their fine beer selections in my future.

http://www.thechimes.com/

http://www.thechimes.com/s3web/1001931/docs/menu.pd

-A Daiquiri at Daiquiri Café (I am not sure how well my ego will handle this slap in the face to masculinity).I can’t believe this is on here.But Shyrl put it on there, and one does not question Shyrl

-Schlitz and Giggles (worth it for the name alone).Be sure to check out the rather impressive selection of dirtneck beers on the menu.I think they have all their hipster swill covered.

http://www.schlittzandgiggles.com/menus/schlittz-menu.pd

-Boudreaux and Thibodeaux’s – mostly for the extraneous X’s alone.

http://www.bandtlive.com

Well I’d say that lays out a pretty solid agenda for the weekend, and I am confident there will be plenty more adventures in store waiting to be discovered, just a matter of getting in the car and getting there.

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