Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: homeslider (page 1 of 2)

Auburn vs Alabama: The Iron Bowl

Instead of watching kickoff of the LSU versus Arkansas match up on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I was boarding Southwest Flight 132 for Birmingham, Alabama – the Pittsburgh of the South.Shortly after wheels hit BHM tarmac, I shoehorn myself into rented wheels for the weekend, a silver Chevy Cobalt.My 6’2” frame presses cozily into the tiny car and I hit the road for the two hour jaunt down to Auburn.

I’m in town for the Iron Bowl, the annual contest between Auburn University and the University of Alabama.Easily one of the most heated rivalries in all of sports, the intensity was recently featured on an hour long ESPN documentary “Roll Tide/War Eagle”.Devoid of any professional sports, the entire state of Alabama is defined by this annual showdown, embedded into its very culture.Brothers fight, spouses squabble.Lines are drawn, and sides are chosen.Everyone has a stake. Apathy is not an option.The pinnacle of college football fervor, this game had been atop my bucket list for years.This weekend, I was finally going to be a part of it.

Making my way Southeast out of Birmingham on highway 280, the roads are thick with Friday evening traffic all heading the same direction, crimson or orange team flags flapping from car windows as they pass.Hungry from the plane ride, I make a pit stop in Alexander City, pulling into an abandoned strip mall for a barbecue joint tucked discreetly into a dark corner.Sho Nuff’ BBQ (yes, that’s the real name), with roots dating back to 1990, was founded when owner Gerald Atchison opened up a small concession trailer beside his bait shop.Once the demand for BBQ took off, Gerald abandoned the bait shop business for smokier pastures, moving into this larger location in the dilapidated Alexander City Shopping Center.Despite the charming story, the barbecue is underwhelming.I shovel down a few mouthfuls of the dry chopped pork and fried okra before hitting the road again.

After another hour I arrive in Auburn, promptly pulling into Mike & Ed’s BBQ.In addition to another round of uninspired pork, I’m there to meet Tim, a senior in the Animal Science program. I’d found him a few weeks ago on Craigslist offering up his student ID for 100 bucks.There are no paper tickets issued to students at Auburn.Instead, the magnetic strips on the plastic ID cards are swept at the entrance gates, checking off the students electronic account.A transaction like this requires a bit of mutual trust.I’m forking over $100 cash for the ID, hoping the light turns green when the agent swipes it at the turnstile.If the light blinks red, I’m left with a worthless piece of plastic.On the other hand, Tim is entrusting me with his entire student account, hoping I bring the ID on Sunday morning, lest he get nailed with a $60 replacement fee.After trading a few pleasantries, we agree to the exchange, setting up Sunday morning for the return.I fork over a stack of crisp twenties, admiring the slick, glossy plastic; my pass to one of the toughest tickets in college football.

After a night in the rickety Super 8 in Opelika, I wake up early for a quick BBQ breakfast at Byrons Smokehouse before heading into campus.The smell of smoke wafts throughout the restaurant, and I ogle the ribs emerging in great charred slabs from the brick pit.

“I’ll have the half slab of ribs plate” I request to the cheerful counter girl, noting a “starving college student” tip cup strategically placed next to the register.

“I can’t sell you ribs yet”. She replies, matter of factly.

“Excuse me? I just saw two guys walk out of here with bags of ribs to go”.

“Yes, those were call in orders for take out.We’re only serving take out right now for BBQ.You can have eggs if you want”.

“Okay, I’ll half a half slab of ribs for takeout” I reply, ignoring the egg suggestion and attempting to thwart their silly rule.

“I can’t sell you a half slab right now, the minimum order is two pounds”.

“Two pounds is the minimum order for ribs in here?”

“No, we sell half slabs for lunch.”

“Well when do you start serving lunch?”

“10:30”

I glance at the watch a few ticks past 8:30, my patience wears thin.

“So let me get this straight.You’re selling ribs right now, I want some, but you won’t sell them to me unless I order two pounds. But if I come back in two hours, then you would sell them to me in a half slab just like I want them?”

“Ummm, yeah I guess…”

“That’s stupid.”I retort.

Frustrated from our little exchange, I motion the manger over.Surely an agreeable, take charge fellow with a grease stained apron would understand my case, scold the insubordinate cashier and order her to get this man some ribs.Instead, he repeats the same inane policy speech as the waitress.It takes a brave man to get between me and some BBQ, some would say foolhardy.For a moment, the thought of a choke slam flashes through my mind, leaving the hapless pitmaster lying in a broken pile of plastic trays and Styrofoam plates.Instead, dumbfounded and defeated, I settle for a few eggs, leaving the tip jar as barren as I found it.Shoveling the eggs down begrudgingly, I hustle to the Auburn campus shortly afterwards and tuck the Cobalt into a free spot on a side street.

Walking over to campus, my first stop is Toomer Drug, a drugstore in operation since 1896, and the anchor of Toomer’s Corner.I fall into the serpentine line for one of their signature fresh lemonades, splashed over crushed ice and served in a Styrofoam cup in true southern fashion.Across the street the two iconic Toomers Live Oaks stand meekly.Swarmed by admiring fans with cameras in tow, a few lingering strands of toilet paper hang from the last Auburn victory on the outstretched limbs of the great trees.The trees are smaller than they look on TV, perhaps 35 feet at the top of the crown, but bear the magnificence and history of ancient Oaks.Sadly, they are visibly withering, dying from the widely publicized dose of “Spike 80” tebuthiuron poison that a lunatic Alabama fan doused them with last year.

I stroll through the pristine Auburn campus, patches of grass claimed with ribbons of orange surveying tape mark out the tailgating plots.Blue and orange tents are erected, spread out across the manicured lawn beneath Samford Hall, the icon of Auburn University.A few trails of blue smoke begin spiraling into the damp morning air whileAuburn and Alabama fans co-mingle warmly, huddling around table spreads and flat screen televisions.The rivalry is bitter, but cordial.Free of the vulgarity that pervades their Big 10 counterparts.Though cheering for opposing sides, there is a solidarity shared among all Alabamians, shored by the past two BCS National Championship victories of each school.Above all rivalries, Southern dignity and decorum prevails.

Kickoff still a few hours away, I circle around the Southwest corner of Jordan Hare Stadium assuming a place in the mob of fans already stacked ten deep for “Tiger Walk”, the famed entrance of the Auburn football team on their march into the stadium.Many other schools have since duplicated such a greeting for the players, though Auburn claims to have invented it.Within thirty minutes, the street is mobbed with 10,000 Auburn fans flanking both sides of the roped gauntlet, exchanging shouts of “War Eagle” as the marching band bellows away.During the procession, I munch on a BBQ pork sandwich from the Fat Boys BBQ Trailer, the best cue’ I’d find all weekend.

Shortly after the final brassy notes sound, I scramble to the black iron gates of the student entrance, filing in behind the orange and blue herd.With nary a glance from the ushers, I slide the glossy plastic credentials through the card reader, the light flashing a few pulses of triumphant green.Wedging into a spot in the thirtieth row, I find a seat next to a few amicable coeds draped in short dresses, their hair and makeup primped, neatly presented in typical SEC fashion.The kickoff clock buried at 90:00, players are still warming up in t-shirts and shorts.The student section entertains itself by snatching footballs from the Alabama kicker thumping them through the uprights during warm up.Each time one falls into the stands, the students toss it back and upwards, progressively higher until it is flung victoriously out of the stadium, to the delight of thousands of cheers.

A while later, Nova, the seventh Golden Eagle of Auburn University takes its customary pre game flight around the stadium, the outstretched wings of the magnificent raptor signaling the crowd to its feet.One of the best pre game traditions in all of college football, the eagle is the inspiration for Auburn’s battle cry “War Eagle”, a greeting exchanged by alumni everywhere.Unfortunately that would be the energy high for the day in the raucous student section around me.Without Heisman winner Cam Newton this year, the Auburn attack floundered against the suffocating Alabama defense, barely managing 100 yards of total offense on the day.Alabama pounded the ball unmercifully.Heisman hopeful Trent Richardson trotted for 203 yards as the Crimson Tide cruised to a 42-14 win.For the third year in a row, the home team has lost this fierce rivalry.Regardless of the dominance on the field, the Auburn student section stayed in the fight.Boisterously cheering on their feet for all four quarters, it’s one of the better student sections I have encountered, and certainly worth the price of admission.

Waking up on Sunday morning, I have one final, critical stop to make; Momma Goldbergs Deli.Atop any list of Auburn recommendations from my esteemed alumni friends, Momma’s has been a staple of the Auburn campus since 1976, reflected in the worn, rough sawn pine floors and walls strewn with grainy team photos.A simple menu of deli sandwiches, I order up the signature “Momma’s Love” sandwich, a classic combo of roast beef, ham and turkey.More importantly, the sandwich is paired with a side of “Momma’s Nachos”, a universal must-do from any Auburn alum, and come free of charge with an Iron Bowl ticket stub.Watching intently, the counter girl plucks a fresh bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos directly from the rack, disappearing for a moment before they reemerge as the iconic gooey Auburn delicacy.Brilliant in their simplicity, I don’t know why the concept of Dorito inspired nachos hasn’t taken hold in sports bars across the country.

A few minutes after my meal, I get a raspy phone call from Tim to arrange the return of his leased student ID.We meet in the same Mike & Ed’s parking lot, empty on a Sunday morning. Tim arrives disheveled, haggard after a solid shift the day before.With partial envy of the carefree life on an undergrad, I hand the ID back to him.Next time around, I think I might have to join him for a few cocktails.

Leaving town that Sunday morning I drive back down Magnolia Street, the sidewalks humming with folks dressed in their Sunday best, emptying out of the brick arches of St. Dunstans Episcopal Church.The moment reveals a symbolic clarity of life in Alabama: Saturdays are for football, Sundays are for church.Just pick your side accordingly…

Thanks to my colleague Megan, for a handful of great recommendations and her insider SEC knowledge.

Special thanks to my friends Russ and Alan, both diehard Auburn alums who each gave me fistfuls of amazing recommendations.Hopefully one of these years I can meet both of you in Auburn and hoist a few alongside you. Until then, WDE!!!

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Illinois vs Wisconsin

This late in the season motivation starts to wane.While the thrill of an Alabama or Auburn game on the calendar invariably rouses the sprits, not all road trips bring the same mystique.A trip to Illinois, a perennial middling Big 10 contender in late November felt more like obligation, and a dismal and rainy weather forecast did nothing to allay the gloom.This was one of those weeks that the magnetic pull of my 47” flat screen and a fine piece of beef on the smoker were hard to resist.Nevertheless, I took to the roads early on Saturday for a day trip out to Champaign for one of the Fighting Illini’s eight, yes eight, home games this season.

After a few trips across it this season, the entire state of Illinois has quickly vaulted itself into one of the worst driving states in the country in my opinion, ranking slightly behind Connecticut.Every interstate a seemingly perpetual construction zone, the highways littered with blinking orange road barrels and grooved stretches of ripped up blacktop.The grassy medians are riddled with overzealous Illinois State Troopers, serving the all important public interest of preventing motorists from speeding across untold miles of fallow cornfields.I jot down a mental note to take the Amtrak to Northwestern next year, although contemporary rail travel is hardly any less painful.

Arriving in Champaign a few hours before kickoff and bit peckish, I naturally park myself onto a stool amidst the shimmering stainless steel of Merry Ann’s Diner on the western edge of the UI campus.A greasy, 24 hour staple of Illinois undergrads, the menu even features an offering known as the “Hangover Stack”, a mountain of hash browns, eggs, cheese and meat all smothered in sausage gravy.I opt for more classic diner fare, the house made corned beef hash with a few eggs cracked over it. Bellied up to the linoleum counter, I watch the short order cooks tag team my order, precisely scraping across the cooktop.Not more than three minutes later the piping hot plate is tossed in front of me, along with an economical seven dollar check.Refreshing to find a real diner alive and well in central Illinois.

After breakfast I shuffle around the tailgating area for a while, nosing through a few of the set ups and admiring a couple of the decked out game day rigs that I find.In every school tailgating lot you’ll inevitably find an array of unique gameday jalopies, Illinois proving no exception.I am always curious, however, what the owners do with these vehicles the other 358 days of the year when not tailgating.While it would certainly be nice to own a bright blue and orange Ford school bus solely dedicated to the art of fall football revelry, I’m not sure I’d want to look at the eyesore parked in my driveway for the rest of the year…

Wandering over to the stadium, finding tickets proves an easy task.Mobbed by scalpers and ticket holders the minute I lift a lone finger into the air, I nab a seat in the second row on the forty yard line for thirty bucks – half face value.Built in 1923, Memorial Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in college football, originally dedicated to the Illinois men and women who died during World War 1.I stand admiring the classical architecture, each of the 200 Indiana limestone columns surrounding the red brick façade bear the names of those soldiers.This tribute, coupled with classical square lines, give the venue a monumental feel, unique within the college football landscape.

Settling into my seat, the frigid aluminum benches suck the warmth out of me.A woman in front came prepared.Cocooned so tightly in a handful of fleece snuggies, she can’t even rise to her feet during the national anthem.I’m forced to flag down the hot chocolate vendor for a warmer.Six bucks later I huddle around a grey plastic mug, admiring the student section as they dance and jump around.It’s a pretty raucous atmosphere up there, the students on their feet the entire contest leading coordinated cheers.Despite great seats, I’m surrounded by fogies and families, many of whom seem unaware a football game is occurring.

Despite the aloof crowd, the Fighting Illini come out swinging, belting the Badgers on the chin to take an early 14-0 lead in the second quarter.For a moment, embattled Illini coach Ron Zoon breathes a sigh of relief, hoping to hold onto his job for another year.Dazed, but not out, the Badgers come out of the locker room in the second half and resume their typical bulldozing ground game.Running back Montee Ball rumbles for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, stating his case for Heisman consideration. The Badgers cruise to a solid 28-17 win.

On the way home I take a detour, veering slightly off course to Springfield, Illinois to try another unique regional delicacy known as the “Horseshoe” sandwich.Similar to the “Hot Brown” eaten earlier this year in Louisville, the “Horseshoe” lives exclusively in the Springfield area and is traditionally comprised of thick toast piled with meat, french fries and slathered in cheese.While some variation is found between restaurants, I decide on a buffalo chicken horseshoe, the house specialty at the Irish themed D’Arcy’s Pint.The quivering mess arrives moments later, layers of tangy, salty goodness smothered with D’Arcy’s gooey white cheese sauce.The woman next to me nibbling on a salad gasps, wondering aloud if I’ll be able to finish it.I do.It’s greasy, indulgent and guilty.Perfect after a blustery fall day in Champaign.So heavy is the horseshoe, I almost consider stopping for coffee on my ride home. Fortunately, good taste prevails and I zip home in time to catch a few late west coast games on the flat screen after all…

 

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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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Alabama vs LSU – Game of the Century…

It’s happened only 22 times in the history of college football.A #1 meeting a #2 in a regular season game is an exceedingly rare event on the gridiron, the last occurrence in 2006 when Ohio State downed Michigan in a 42-39 barnburner.For you trivia buffs, Notre Dame has been featured in 9 of these clashes, the most by any team.

Despite their recent dominance, however, the SEC has never fielded the meeting of a #1 versus #2 game within the conference.Alabama versus LSU would not only be a historic match up in that regard, but given their dominance thus far this year, a defacto National Championship in many respects.With a game of this magnitude coming into the picture, there was never any question that I had to find my way into Bryant Denny stadium to witness it first hand.

Finding tickets would be a different story altogether.The student section would be the thrumming heart of the whole decadent affair, and precisely where I needed to be.I researched student ticket policy, and, for nearly a month, scoured Craigslist for students willing to upgrade their tickets to general admission for an $85 fee.Against my usual policy of scalping tickets off the street, I had learned a valuable lesson about student ticket supplies drying up for big games in Wisconsin earlier this year, and this was far from a usual contest.The piece of mind of having tickets in hand was worth the premium.

With some patience, I found a bargain for $200 bucks.Most were posted considerably higher than that, with some fetching $600 on Stubhub.Completing the transaction over Paypal, my elusive prize arrived next day air the week before kickoff.Tracking another ticket down for Dylan, my cohort in this adventure, proved a bit more challenging.Fifty emails and texts later, I tentatively locked one down for $280 with a girl who agreed to meet us in a Publix grocery store parking lot at 8am on game day to complete the exchange.Naturally, she overslept, showing up in sweatpants at 9:30 groggily rubbing her eyes and apologizing profusely.

The Friday flight down to Birmingham is cramped, as all Southwest flights are, and I settle in beside one of the few purple garbed LSU fans.Glancing down, I notice a massive LSU 2003 National Championship ring glowing on his hand.At about 5’8” and 150 lbs, the ring seems curiously out of place, so I ask him about it.A die hard LSU fan and retired private investigator, J.R. forked over $5,000 for the bejeweled trinket, originally belonging to former wide receiver Blain Bech.Cut from the same adventurous cloth as myself, J.R. now travels the country chasing huge sporting events along with his son, and was actually in attendance at the same LSU versus Florida game in Baton Rouge that I had hit back in 2009.

Stepping off the plane, Dylan greets me at the airport like a limo driver.A lifelong best friend, this is his first trip to the deep South.I toss my gear into the silver Chrysler 250 he’d rented, and we speed off into downtown Birmingham.An urbanite Manhattan resident, it’s Dylan’s first time behind the wheel of a car in over a year.The rust shows a bit as he nervously shifts across lanes, but it brings back memories of a few white knuckled rides we’d had growing up, navigating our way through New England blizzards crammed into his tiny VW Golf.After logging a few thousand miles behind the tiller this year, it feels good to be in the passenger seat for a change.

After picking up our ticket from the red eyed sophomore the morning of the game, we roll down University Avenue in the shadow of Bryant Denny Stadium, the sidewalks already humming with houndstooth.Massive white columned fraternity houses line the streets, pledges setting loudspeakers out on the manicured laws in preparation for the day.Other fans set up tents and satellite TV’s, claiming any piece of unoccupied grass they can find.

We hit the Waysider for breakfast, an Alabama institution, and wait forty five minutes before squeezing into a table in the cramped space.The food is hearty and filling, noted by their homemade biscuits.Wearing my Notre Dame sweatshirt in the brisk morning air, I’m chided by a few Alabama fans sarcastically inquiring if I’m lost.The LSU fans get it a little bit harder.The waitress silences the entire restaurant when the purple fans sit down, leading the entire house in a drawn out, communal “Rolllllllllllll Tide!!!”After the razzing, the Tiger fans are appeased with a frosted cake ball, a polite treat presented in good natured Southern fashion.Next to us a few fans work out a ticket deal, $650 for a pair of nosebleeds….

Peeling out of the Waysider parking lot, there is little time to digest, as we immediately head to Archibalds BBQ over the river in Northport.Breakfast followed by a barbecue chaser.I’d called the day before for their hours, planning our arrival as they unlocked the doors at 10:30 am to skip the lines.


An obscure concrete block shanty in the middle of a neighborhood, Archibalds is a quintessential ramshackle southern BBQ joint.A few Alabama fans wonder aloud how I’d even found the place.With only four stools lining the cramped, smoky interior, we take our brown bagged prize to the picnic tables outside.Unwrapping greasy butcher paper, the comforting waft of ribs and sliced pork greet my nose, accompanied by a styrofoam cup of spicy orange sauce, a generous stack of white bread and nothing more.Despite a full breakfast only 30 minutes before, my appetite roars to life.We devour the food as handfuls of fans began lining up at the entrance, thankful to have arrived early.

Following our second breakfast, we park at Tuscaloosa Central High School for twenty bucks and meet up with my friends Kevin and Lindsey who had also made the trip down from Saint Louis.They’re in Tuscaloosa for the game visiting their friend Caitlyn, a fellow STL native and Alabama senior hosting a tailgate for this epic contest.

It’s one of those perfect afternoons for tailgating – sunny, warm and surrounded by great people.We drop our case of Coors Light in the cooler and get the day underway, easing into a few cold ones before more serious drinking games start.Easily distracted by a plume of smoke, I intently observe Caitlyns father delicately rolling a few sausages across a charcoal grill.An experienced grill master, he’s already offered up some flawless ribs, and later in the afternoon would unveil a foil tray heaped with beef tenderloin that almost reduced me to tears.

Around 4pm, a full three hours ahead of kickoff, we begin preparations for the stadium.Filling handfuls of collapsible clear plastic flasks with rum and vodka, they are concealed beneath layers of clothing, hidden from the obligatory security pat down.Surreptitiously mixed with a few stadium sodas, we’ve got enough booze to party well into the third quarter.I stuff my pockets with a few extra walking beers, and we hit Paul W. Bryant Drive.

The scene outside the student gates at Bryant Denny is a borderline riot.A few thousand students mob the entrance, and we push our way into the din.The gates don’t open until two hours before kickoff, so we mill around the chaos waiting.The ground is littered with empty beer cans and liquor nips crunching underfoot, we crack a few cold ones waiting for the black iron gates to part.A cheer breaks out when they are finally flung open, we rush through the turnstiles like throngs of human cattle.The plan pays off, we find a row of open seats 20 rows up from the field in the student section behind the endzone, up close and personal to all the action.Those arriving later would find themselves in the second deck, or higher.

Two hours before kickoff and the first deck of the student section is completely full.The rest of the stadium still empty, we watch the players running pre game drills in t-shirts and mesh shorts.They practice footwork and long snaps, we sip rum and cokes.The anticipation hangs in the air like a haze, growing thicker with each minute ticking off the pre game clock.A few cocktails later, “Sweet Home Alabama” pumps in over the radio and the pack takes its feet. Tens of thousands of crimson and white pom poms shake to the music, the crowd growing louder and more restless by the second.Kickoff is a few minutes away.

After all the planning, hunting and preparation the moment is finally here.100,000 screaming bodies hang echoing on the edge of frenzy, waiting until ball is finally thumped high into the Alabama night air.

Both of these teams play beautiful football.No flash. No glamour. No superfluities.They win by attrition.Like boa constrictors, they squeeze the air from their prey with suffocating defense, tightening the grip with each desperate gasp.The offenses grind away methodically, punishing adversaries with bone crushing rush attacks.By brute force of will, Alabama and LSU methodically pound their opponents into submission.They don’t win by scoring more points, they win by breaking your spirit.Dominance in its most animalistic form…

The game played to this legendary billing.For four straight quarters the two juggernauts exchange blows like a pair of heavyweight prize fighters trading their best haymakers.Neither flinch.Neither yield an inch without blood sacrifice.And with the score knotted at 6 each after four quarters, neither one breaks.There are no touchdowns, no defensive lapses.The entire contest teases the precarious edge of euphoria, but never crosses over it.It’s tense, loud, thrilling.We yell ourselves hoarse when the Bama’ defense digs their heels in, the power of 100,000 collective voices willing them to victory.

In overtime the Tide eventually stumble, they don’t fall nor break, just slip ever so slightly.But that slip is all it takes.LSU kicks a chip shot field goal through the uprights in overtime, the equivalent of winning a 15 round title fight by split decision, skating away with a 9-6 victory.

Exhausted and defeated, we file solemnly out of Bryant Denny Stadium.A disappointing outcome to be sure, but a once in a lifetime experience.Quite simply the best of what college football has to offer…

Thanks to my friends Kevin and Lindsay, it was great to travel down to Tuscaloosa with you guys and made the experience all the more enjoyable.We need to plan out a few more games next year!


Thanks to Caitlyn and her parents for the amazing tailgate and wonderful hospitality.Very much appreciated, and hope to meet up with you for the Iron Bowl in a few weeks.

Special thanks to my friend Dylan.Always good to pry you out of NYC for a little adventure, and let me know when you are ready for the next one.Always a blast man.

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