Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: MAC (page 2 of 2)

Toledo vs Northern Illinois – Rockets Grounded by the Huskies…

In between my evening MAC doubleheaders in late November, I had an afternoon to kill in Columbus and looked for a few cultural diversions to keep me out of trouble. With BBQ in central Ohio out of the question, the most obvious choice was exploring a few of my other favorite things: meatballs and booze.

As faithful readers of the blog already know, I am a purveyor of the finer things in life and you’ve heard my familiar schtick about the greatness of barbecue, chocolate shakes and burgers. Predictably, I also happen to be a connoisseur of meatballs too, and I appreciate the subtle artistic nuance of a perfect meat sphere. I’ve eaten them across this great country of ours, including handfuls of them at the infamous Meatball Shop in New York City.

With those credentials out of the way, allow me to introduce you to perhaps the greatest meatball on the planet: Marcella’s. While it’s a tad more upscale than my typical haunts, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen in Columbus dishes out the meatball of the gods. About the size of a regulation softball, a single meatball is a sizeable portion on its own. The behemoth is served in its own cast iron pot, and arrives garnished with parmesan cheese. One bite and you know you’ve gotten into something transcendent. The ball is incredibly light and fluffy, almost spongy in texture and yields easily with a fork. Well spiced with Italian seasoning and grated cheese folded in, the ball arrives slathered in a thick red tomato sauce. This is the holy grail of meatballs. You will, quite simply, never surpass this; you can only hope to find its equal.

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Following the epic meatball, it’s time for a little post lunch digestif. Fortunately, as the national explosion of micro distilleries swells, two such places have opened up within the city limits of Columbus: Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery. I make a visit to Middle West first, tapping on the door until one of the distillers answers and happily gives me an impromptu tour. These smaller operations are a far cry from the pristinely manicured grounds and professional tours that I had earlier this fall in Kentucky bourbon country, and getting a personal tour is a warm touch. He proudly shows off the gleaming copper Kothe still. Custom ordered from Germany, it features more knobs, dials and windows than a Virginia class submarine. The strong aroma of fermenting mash permeates the humid air in the warehouse, accented by the sweet, intoxicating scent of oak and bourbon. While they make an array of award winning vodkas, I opt for a few small samples of their equally esteemed wheat whiskey and reserve bourbon, both crafted from locally sourced Ohio grains. Naturally, I pick up a jet black bottle of the OYO Reserve Bourbon before heading out the door.

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Following Middle West Spirits, I head to the other upstart in town, Watershed Distillery. Things are a bit more formal here, and the counter girl insists on the $10 fee for a tour despite the place being empty. I decline the tour, but fork over five bucks for a couple of tastings of their different spirits – vodka, gin and bourbon. The bourbon barrel aged Gin is a refreshingly unique departure from the norm, and if you’re a gin fan it would be worth a try. A staunch traditionalist, however, I ultimately pick up a bottle of their traditional oak aged bourbon. Between the Watershed and Middle West bourbons, I’ll be returning home with a nice haul of craft spirits.

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From there, I brave the two hour drive to Toledo over the flat expanse of northern Ohio. Occupying the west bank of Lake Erie, and located only sixty miles from Detroit, Toledo has an overwhelmingly industrial feel. Cranes and smokestacks jut into the skyline, and the rusting dreck of factories and bridges dominate the landscape. I make a brief stop at Tony Packo’s Cafe, a Hungarian hot dog house considered an institution in Toledo since 1932. I order up a combo plate of their signature chili dog and stuffed cabbage, admiring the eccentric collection of signed hot dog buns adorning the walls. Comfort food served on red and white checkered table cloths never tires in my book, and after a quick meal I head towards the University of Toledo.

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The lights of the Glass Bowl beckon, and after easing into a five dollar parking space, I head towards one of the more unique stadiums in college football. Named after the city of Toledo’s prominence in the glass manufacturing industry, the Glass Bowl was constructed in 1936. The stadium features impressive traditional stonework, craftsmanship which has been deftly preserved throughout several modern upgrades over the years. Two stone towers on the south end pierce high into the night sky. Like medieval ramparts they stand in stoic contrast to the blaring, garish jumbotron pumping out ads for the local tire warehouse. A blend of the old and the new, the Glass Bowl is one of the finer venues in the sport – architecturally speaking.

I pass by a few revelers as they spill out of a converted party ambulance, the lights flashing above while they clutch red solo cups. Aside from them, however, the lots are pretty quiet on a chilly Wednesday night. A 25 foot blue and yellow rocket sits perched on a stand outside the Northeast entrance to the Glass Bowl. Bought in 1961 from the U.S. Army missile program, the one ton projectile points directly towards the fifty yard line of arch nemesis Bowling Green State’s Doyt Perry Stadium.

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I pick up a $35 face value ticket for 20 bucks from an old lady pawning a single after her nephew elected to stay home on a brisk night. As the game kicks off, the Rockets take the field garbed in garish pink and blue uniforms – an admirable salute to breast cancer awareness, but a trend that I find thoroughly tired at this point. But they play spirited football for the first half, holding the explosive Northern Illinois onslaught to a single touchdown and carry a 10-7 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.

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The second half would ground the Rockets, however, as the Huskies make a few halftime adjustments – most of which consist of letting Jordan Lynch run wild with the offense. Lynch, the outside Heisman hopeful, explodes for three rushing touchdowns in the second half and the rout is on. Racking up 160 yards on the ground and another 200 through the air in the process, Lynch would pad his already impressive season statistics and his case for the bronze trophy. The Huskies would eventually roll to a 35-17 win, improving their unblemished record to 11-0 and an outside shot at a BCS Bowl bid still possible. Rocket fans start filing solemnly out of the Glass Bowl with a few ticks remaining in the fourth quarter. Per my usual, I hold on until the final whistle, admiring the fine stonework of the historic venue for a few extra minutes.

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Glass Bowl Stadium Wide

Special thanks to my friend Becky for her hospitality in Columbus, and agreeing to my finicky meatball requirements…can’t wait to catch you at an Irish game next fall!

Full Clickthrough gallery below:

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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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