Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Oklahoma (page 1 of 3)

Big weekend in the Big 12 – Chasing 4 top 15 teams in a single day at OU & TCU……

Pouring over the calendar in early October for our annual college football trip, my best friend Tyler had procrastinated once again. After last years showdown in Columbia for the South Carolina vs Florida game, he had his sights firmly set on another November matchup in the hard hitting SEC. But as the months went buy, hotels filled up and flights sold out, making any trip to the heart of Dixie prohibitively expensive. As such, we were forced to look elsewhere, and the allure of Norman, Oklahoma quickly beckoned as the storied Sooners were hosting the prolific Baylor Bears, a clash that would surely have implications on the college football playoff picture. With a few mouse clicks, flights were finally locked down for Tyler and his coworker Thibs, and a trip to Bricktown was settled.

As the calendar towards game day approached, however, a few things had shifted in the Big 12. The mighty Sooners no longer stood atop the standings, and upstarts like TCU and Kansas State had dared to leapfrog the perennial contending Crimson and Creme in the rankings. The good folks in the scheduling department at ABC Network had responded in kind, moving the #15 Oklahoma vs #12 Baylor matchup to a dreaded 11am start time, while they shifted the #6 TCU vs #7 Kansas State tilt to a 7pm kick down in Fort Worth. While I typically balk at the move to a morning kickoff, this presented us with an interesting option – catch an impromptu doubleheader! Faced with the prospect of seeing four top 15 teams in a single day (a feat I’d never accomplished in six years), Tyler and Thibs quickly agreed, and a full slate of big time college football was on the calendar.

After a night out in Oklahoma City the night before, morning starts early on Saturday. Between the 11am kickoff and a three hour drive between games, tailgating would be a futile effort in our little SUV rental. Making the short drive into Norman from Oklahoma City, we fuel up on a few breakfast tacos at Rudy’s, the long, serpentine line flooded with crimson shirts all looking to do the same. We find free parking in the quaint residential neighborhood surrounding the OU campus along Brooks street, hoofing it a mile over to the stadium on a perfect fall afternoon. I had already secured tickets the night before, answering an ad on craigslist that scored us three tickets for face value, in the 3rd row, on the 50 yard line – an intentional departure from my usual street haggling, as I hate trying to find blocks of tickets.

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We tour the OU campus for only a few minutes, the early kick doesn’t leave much time for sightseeing, before heading into the bowels of Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium. Shortly after the Sooner Schooner completes its semicircle around the field, the crowd rises to it’s feet for kickoff exchanging chants of “boomer”….”sooner” back and forth across the gridiron. Seated only a few rows behind the Oklahoma bench, our view is incredible, and a great window into some of those sideline nuances that you’d never get in the grandstands. Things start out well for the Sooners, their up tempo offense moves the ball efficiently as quarterback Trevor Knight zips passes to standout freshman receiver Miciah Quick. They score a pair of touchdowns in the first frame, and jump out to a 14-3 lead after the first quarter while the Sooner faithful bellow confidently in the excitement of their home field advantage.

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But that would be the last we’d hear from the crimson crowd all afternoon, and the Sooners would never score another point all day. Baylor explodes in the second quarter, erupting for three touchdowns as their gunslinger Bryce Petty tosses the ball all over the turf with impunity. Baylor head coach Art Briles spread offense is a marvel to watch, as they gnash apart the defense, reeling off chunks of yards at a time. Midway through the third quarter, the OU defense all but taps out, as Baylor piles on to lead 38-14. From our vantage point steps away from the OU squad, the players are visibly gassed, gulping for air while they slump on the bench, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops (brother of head coach Bob Stoops) berating them for yet another breakdown. Baylor would go on to a full 48-14 blowout, their first win over a ranked opponent in 37 tries, dating back to 1991. The roar of 85,048 people reduced to the silence of a Sunday church service, we hustle out towards the car. It’s a three hour ride down to Fort Worth, and football is only half done for the day….

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Some would say there isn’t much to see on the stretch of I-35 South from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, but I for one enjoy the vastness of it all. At the crest of each hill the rolling plains stretch out to the horizon, a few oil derricks bob in the distance, and the sun lowers in the sky turning the grassy expanse into magnificent hues of gold and rust.

Tyler mans the wheel, careening through southern Oklahoma at a comfortable 75mph while I navigate and Thibs takes a snooze in the back seat. We stop only once, for a quick drive through mission at Whataburger, the venerable Texas burger chain. Grease soaks through the flimsy yellow wrapping paper as the hefty burgers are doled out, and Tyler deftly keeps the little SUV between the lines while gripping a fistful of cheeseburger. We listen intently as the radio bellows out the afternoon Notre Dame vs Arizona State contest, a sound thrashing for the flailing Irish.

After a few hours, traffic thickens as the skyscrapers of downtown Fort Worth appear in the distance, puncturing the faint orange sky of dusk. Approaching Amon G. Carter stadium, the streets grow thick with game day traffic and, with kickoff only twenty minutes away, parking options are severely limited. We’re forced to pull into a driveway in one of the residential neighborhoods surrounding TCU and fork over thirty bucks to park, which I negotiate down from forty on principle alone. Probably the first time this guy has been haggled for parking on his front lawn…

Hustling over to the beckoning tower lights, parking lots are already emptying into the stadium as fans guzzle a final beer before producing their tickets for scanning. With ticket options and time at a premium, locating three contiguous seats off the streets would be nearly impossible at this point. So we split, buying a pair of tickets for Tyler and Thibs, and then a single for myself – each for fifty bucks a a pop. We agree to meet up after the first quarter of the game, once a few seats become available. Hustling through the turnstiles, I make it onto the newly renovated concourse just in time to catch the final few minutes of pre game ceremonies. The Horned Frogs streak out of the tunnel sporting special black uniforms for the occasion, their iridescent purple helmets reflecting the brilliant showers of fireworks cascading overhead.

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The Horned Frogs jump out to an early lead, mounting a pair of touchdown drives in the first frame that put the Wildcats on their heels. Dual threat quarterback Trevone Boykin slices through the KSU defense, running for 123 yards on the night while passing for another 216 on top of that. While Kansas State would keep the score close for most of three quarters, TCU exerts firm control for the entire contest. Finally, in the fourth quarter as the fickle Horned Frog crowd is ready to head for the exits, they finally break the game open and run away with a 41-20 signature victory. With only a single blemish on their record for the year, the big win keeps the four team playoff hopes alive for TCU, and the Big 12 newcomers have firmly established themselves as conference contenders.

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After the game we retreat to the Fort Worth Stockyards for some liquid refreshment at the historic White Elephant Saloon. It’s not everyday you catch four top 15 teams in a single afternoon, in fact, it’s downright rare – and that calls for a few Shiners to celebrate…

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Thanks for Thibs for making the journey down to Oklahoma and Texas and jumping at the opportunity to hit an intense doubleheader.  Can’t wait to hit another one with you next year!

Thanks to Tyler for a lifelong habit of procrastination on key decisions, for once it actually worked out to our benefit.  We fell into one hell of a weekend, and look forward to another one in 2015!

Full Clickable gallery below:

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Pecan Lodge – Finding Real BBQ in Dallas…

Staying in Fort Worth for the epic Notre Dame vs Oklahoma tilt, I needed my routine fix of proper Texas barbecue.  Traditionally this entailed an exhausting three hour (one way) jaunt down to Austin, such are the levels of my depravity.  Since bursting onto the Dallas BBQ scene three years ago, however, Pecan Lodge has been dishing out epic smoked meats that rival anything Central Texas has to offer.  Initially bestowed with an elusive 5 star rating on Full Custom Gospel BBQ, the frenzy around the tiny storefront in the Dallas Farmers Market exploded following a visit from Guy Fieri on the Food Network hit Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. Waiting times for a few morsels of their BBQ have swelled proportionally. Stretching up to 2 hours during peak times, my father, friend Bryce and I brave the lines for a Friday afternoon lunch with eager appetites.

After exchanging a few tweets, the man himself, the BBQ Snob of Full Custom Gospel BBQ fame, agrees to join us for lunch, greeting our crew at one of the rickety metal tables.  I had lured him from his brisket fortress of solitude with the promise of a massive Pecan Lodge beef rib, and irresistible offering for anyone, much less a BBQ fanatic.  The ruse works, he surveys our formidable tray discerningly, an epic offering of brisket, pork ribs, sausage, and beef ribs.  An eyebrow noticeably rises above his rimless glasses, a most subtle gesture of praise.  He approves of the hefty meat pile, and settles into a chair.

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Though he refers to himself as the BBQ “Snob”, in person Daniel is anything but.  The conversation is amicable, and despite the notoriety that he has garnered over the past couple of years while personally surveying over 500 different BBQ joints, he remains notably humble and approachable. From even a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear he is far more than a critic.  BBQ is his passion.  He lives it.  To boot, his knowledge on the subject matter is remarkable.  Beyond chatting about a few of our favorite joints, he drops terms like “phenols” and “nitrogen dioxide”, expounding on the science of great barbecue down to the molecular level.  He even offers a few tips for the group, as we discuss the particulars of our amateur BBQ attempts on Big Green Egg smokers.    I learn more about barbecue in fifteen minutes with Daniel, than most people would in a year.  It even turns out he’ll be attending the same Oklahoma vs Notre Dame fiasco tomorrow too, though the table collectively grumbles when it’s revealed he’ll be garbed in crimson and cream.

As his belt busting tales of Texas BBQ road trips can attest, the man can eat.  Like an epic clash of titans we exchange blows, each of us grabbing fistfuls of smoked goodness, waiting for the other to show even the slightest flinch of appetite.  Neither does.  After fifteen minutes our pristine tray of red ribboned beef is ransacked. Picked over like a pack of wild hyenas, the flimsy plastic tray itself is lucky to survive unscathed, and sits disheveled, heaped with stacks of bones and greasy butcher paper. It’s complete carnage.

If you’re wondering, the food at Pecan Lodge is, quite simply, remarkable.

I’ll spare the hyperbole.  This is best BBQ in Dallas.  Period.  And second place isn’t even close.  It rivals anything to be found in Central Texas.

The brisket is silky, pull apart tender, enveloped in a jet black bark and laced with robust notes of mesquite smoke.

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*Smoking over mesquite is one area Pecan Lodge differentiates itself, as most traditional Texas BBQ joints espouse post oak

**On even more elusive days, Pecan Lodge features smoked Waygu (American Kobe) beef brisket, which, although expensive at $25lb, might be the single greatest thing you could ever put in your mouth.

Beef ribs are massive, quivering mountains of velvet beef.  Perfectly broken down until tender, a thick red smoke ring belies their time and attention in the smoker.  While these aren’t an everyday item from what I understand, if they have them – buy them.

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A bright red sausage features a coarse grind with a good snap and peppery building heat.  Perfectly smoked to juicy perfection, it’s also house made, a refreshing departure from the Sysco crap that pervades so many menus.

The pork ribs, well smoked and lightly sauce glazed, are probably the fourth best thing on the menu.  Which is saying something, because they would be the best thing on the menu anywhere else in the DFW Metroplex.

Even the sides here are good, not that anyone should care.  But still, the attention to detail is nice.

If you find yourself in the DFW Metroplex in the near future, your lunch time decision just became an easy one: Pecan Lodge.  The food is second to none, and you might just get to break brisket with a BBQ legend…or snob….

www.pecanlodge.com

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Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame – Catholics vs. Conestoga’s…

Sitting in a plywood shack in Elbert, Texas my index finger gently caresses the cold trigger of a matte black AR15.  Thirty rounds of screaming hot lead wait to be hurled towards my prey hiding in the mesquite and oak scrub beyond.  I flash the infared light intermittently at the feeder, illuminating the target in a red glow as I peer through the laser dot on the scope.  Hog vision can’t detect light at this spectrum.  My father and I chat away in the shanty while we wait, a rare opportunity to spend time hunting together.  An hour before, I’d stalked within fifty yards of a herd of twelve white tailed deer, an easy kill shot for any marksman.  They carelessly munched on tufts of grass, taunting me, almost as if they knew deer season wasn’t open for another week.  The hogs prove more elusive this evening, and, after a couple of unproductive hours, Dad and I call it quits as darkness sets in over the Texas sky.

I’m in town with my father for the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma game up in Norman.  Visiting close friends Bryce and Kate in Fort Worth, we’d all circled this game on the calendar years ago.  While trips for Notre Dame to Oklahoma are exceedingly rare, the Irish have enjoyed an 8-1 all time record against the Sooners and have never lost in Norman.  As if two historic juggernauts colliding weren’t enough, the surprise undefeated Irish enter the contest with an unblemished 8-0 record and lofty #5 ranking.  Squaring off against an 8th ranked Oklahoma team, this clash is certain to have BCS implications.  ESPN further adds to the hooplah, as their ESPN Gameday crew showed up for the 7pm primetime showdown on the plains.

We’d spent that Friday morning at Pecan Lodge in Dallas, getting an appropriate fix of Texas Barbecue before heading out for the afternoon hunt.  Touting an elusive five star rating from the head honcho at Full Custom Gospel BBQ, waiting lines at the tiny storefront inside the Dallas Farmers Market have swelled to prolific proportion.  Patrons wait up to two hours for a few velvet morsels of their black barked brisket.  Smoked over mesquite wood, it’s Pecan Lodge’s unique departure from traditional central Texas barbecue, which exclusively espouses post oak smoke.  We descend on a heaping platter of the “holy trinity” of Texas barbecue: pork ribs, sausage, and brisket.  As if the protein fortress weren’t enough, I add a few Jurassic sized beef ribs to our burgeoning tray, giant bones of silky beef enveloped with a pristine red smoke ring.  This is, quite simply, the best barbecue Dallas has to offer.  Second place isn’t even close.

(Read the full review of Pecan Lodge here)

Saturday morning we pile into Bryce’s truck with a payload of provisions, heading due north up I-35 from Fort Worth, over the scarred, rocky, treeless hills of southern Oklahoma.  We stop only once, pulling off the interstate in Marietta, Oklahoma at Robertson’s Hams.  Chugging out smoke since 1946, the storefront features a wide selection of house smoked hams, jerky and sausages.  We sling a few of their country ham sandwiches stacked on rye bread into the cooler and speed off.  Pulling into Norman, the place is thick with game day traffic.  Grills spew columns of blue smoke into the sky while crimson OU flags wave in the gentle prairie breeze.  We find free parking in an empty grass lot a mile south of the stadium, poised alongside the grassy shoulder of Jenkins Avenue for a quick getaway later.  With a brilliant clear sky overhead and 7pm kickoff, it’s a perfect lazy afternoon for tailgating.

Before cracking my first beer, I trot to the stadium to upgrade our student tickets at Memorial Stadium Gate 7.  With prices for the historic matchup fetching $300 and up on Stubhub, I’d unearthed a set of 4 student tickets on Craigslist for $150 apiece and had them FedExed to Fort Worth.  For $50 bucks more I upgrade them at the stadium to general admission seats as the woman carefully places a “Student Guest” sticker onto each ticket. With the open seating policy in the student section, the four of us will now be able to sit together.  Not an ideal option to be standing 4 quarters amidst a sea of hammered drunk 20 year old OU students, but assuming I get equally marinated, it should at least be tolerable.

Returning back to the tailgate, a few empty cans already rattle around the pickup bed. Bryce, Kate and my father have jumped out to an early head start.  The cooler is brimming with a cross section of regional microbrews from around the country.  Ommegang from Cooperstown, New York, Clown Shoes from Massachusetts, and some rocket fuel from the Scottish brewery Brew Dog Brewing Company dubbed “Tokyo”, which tips the scale at nearly 20% alcohol and tastes like straight kerosene. My personal favorite is “Nitro” from Left Hand Brewing Company, a jet black Stout that pours like used motor oil.  In between beers, my father and Bryce swap pulls of Crown Royal, while Texas country songs from Randy Rogers Band howl out the open rear window of the truck.  It’s a fine afternoon.

With kickoff approaching an hour away, we stuff our pockets with a few walking beers and begin the trek to the stadium.  While certainly outnumbered by crimson OU shirts, the Notre Dame contingent is well represented in Norman, handfuls of folks yell hearty cheers of “Go Irish!” as we pass by.  Entering the stadium, portals to the grandstands are mobbed, backed up with a serpentine line of students.  It’s a mad house, people clambering over one another like lines of red ants.  We shuffle skyward up the steps, climbing to row 62 before I finally locate four open spots.  Surrounded on all sides by OU students, we’re smack in the middle of the beating heart of OU fandom.   I’ve been to Oklahoma a few times before, but never as a visitor, and I don’t know how these inebriated red shirts are going to respond to a group of infiltrators.    The crowd erupts on all sides of us when the Sooners take the field, exploding in a deafening roar as fireworks shower across the dusky orange sky.  Tear gas couldn’t quell this blustering melee right now.   My father shoots a nervous glance my way with that “are you sure you know what the F you’re doing?” look.  Kate gives me the same.

The game kicks off ominously at first, as Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones slings the ball down field in their high tempo, no huddle offense.  The crowd bursts with each completion, exchanging high fives and feeding off the initial onslaught.  They feel a rout on their hands.  But the stout Notre Dame defense stiffens up in the red zone, holding the Sooners to a field goal and surviving the initial wave of momentum.  As the Irish offense takes the field once again, Sooner fans reach their zenith, roaring loudly in support of their defense.  Two plays later, the crowd hushes to an eerie silence.  Notre Dame tailback Cierre Wood streaks 62 yards for a touchdown.  86,000 Sooners are stunned.  With one play, the roiling stadium turns to a church.

It stays that way for nearly three quarters, as the impenetrable Irish defense baffles the Sooner attack.  Their high powered, gun slinging offense is stymied. Squeaking out a few field goals, they enter the 4th quarter with exactly 0 yards rushing.  The crowd comes to life briefly, when, midway through the 4th frame Oklahoma grinds in a touchdown to knot the score at 13 apiece.  But the gutsy Irish respond immediately, once again, when quarterback Everett Golson connects for a 50 yard completion deep into Sooner territory.  The crowd is hushed once more.  Being bullied in Memorial Stadium is a foreign concept for Sooner fans, and they stand gape jawed and silent in the dry night air.

An interception and a few touchdowns later, the Irish assume a comfortable 30-13 lead as the fourth quarter draws to a close.  With a minute left and contest decided, the aluminum bleachers begin to empty as crimson clad students cascade towards the exits.  We stay behind, savoring every remaining second of the improbable win.  Irish victories in Norman don’t come around often, the last one occurring in 1966.  Remaining Sooner fans are gracious in defeat, helping us capture the moment in a handful of photos, exchanging handshakes and well wishes for the rest of the season.  To a man, they’ve been polite hosts.

I can only hope we show them the same courtesy next year in South Bend.  Courteously escorting the Sooners to the exits of Rocks House amidst their flowing tears of anguish and defeat…

Thank you to my Sooner friend Heather for the gameday guidance, and hopefully we can connect next time I make it down to Norman.

Special thanks to Bryce and Kate.  As always, great to catch a game with you guys, and look forward to a few adventures next fall!

Thanks again to Dad for joining my tour again this fall, and glad we could finally get you a taste of some proper Texas Barbecue.  I’ll make an Irish fan of you yet…

 

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Texas vs Oklahoma – Red River Rivalry

There are a handful of questions that I never say no to.

Would you like bacon on that?

Another beer?

Do you want to join Kimberly and I for Texas versus Oklahoma, we have 2nd row tickets on the 50 yard line?

The last query was posed by my friend Jared a few weeks ago, and a quick glance at my schedule revealed I had originally scheduled a game at Northwestern. As exciting as a trip to Evanston sounded, getting another chance to witness one of the greatest rivalries in College Football sounded far more enticing. Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza would have to wait, and by the end of the weekend I would answer “yes” to all three of the questions posed above.

A few clicks of the mouse later, and onto a Southwest 737 I stepped for a cramped Friday night flight into the Big D. Jared greeted me at the clustered terminal outside Love Field, an unspoiled tribute to vintage 1980’s décor. Fighting our way out of airport traffic we headed 40 minutes north to Frisco, a northern suburb of Dallas well beyond the bright shiny lights of downtown. Land of minivans and mini malls, we contemplated a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond before agreeing beer sounded like a more palatable choice.

Held annually at the Texas State Fairgrounds, the Red River Rivalry; rebranded from the former “Red River Shootout” in a knee jerk PC response to gun violence, is easily one of the biggest rivalries in College Football. The dazzling spectacle of “Big Tex” is the perfect backdrop for the contest, as the unbridled frenzy in the stands is matched only by the indulgence and gluttony of the fair itself, considered the largest fair in the United States. In addition to the usual games, rides and exhibition halls, in true Texan fashion, deep fried foods are a staple of the fair experience. Vendors proffer their battered creations in every corner, ranging from usual favorites like onion rings and dough, to exotic deep fried specialties like Twinkies, smores, peanut butter and jelly, bacon, butter (yes deep fried butter), coca cola and even beer.

The Red River Rivalry is one of the few occasions where a neutral site actually works for the better. While I am a staunch traditionalist, maintaining that virtually all college football games be hosted on campuses, Texas vs. OU weekend may as well be a national holiday in Dallas. Located equidistantly three hours from each respective campus, fans from both schools are able to meet in the middle and partake in the revelry each season. The entire city of Dallas draws sides, as the streets flood with fans from each squad, crowding into every bar and restaurant in town draped in affiliated team colors. A few squabbles break out here and there as they are likely to do, but as a whole, the city is one giant party for the entire weekend.

Fighting some early Saturday morning traffic, we navigated our way into the fairgrounds, jostling amongst the mixed crowd of burnt orange and crimson. Along the sidewalk a few cleverly sarcastic Texas fans taunted Oklahoma visitors with a Toby Keith CD attached to a string, dragging the case along the ground like trolled fishing bait. Not sure how many bites they got, but it drew plenty of chuckles. We had time for only a few early morning beers, as the contest kicks off promptly at 11AM, presumably to prevent the two fan bases from getting completely saturated. Braving the mob stacked outside the entrance, as older stadiums are apt to have, we slowly shuffled our way into the ancient Cotton Bowl with 96,000 others. Descending down another thirty rows or so, we assumed our seats in the 3rd row, right on the Maginot line delineating the Texas/OU divide, rubbing shoulders against a few visored Crimson admirers.

Despite its magnitude, one of the big misconceptions about the game is crowd noise, which is considerably quieter than a typical home environment for either of these two schools. The ticket distribution is split 50/50 between the two, with a perfect line of demarcation separating the burnt orange fans from the crimson at the 50 yard line. This split creates a unique dynamic within the stadium, for at any given time only half the stadium is cheering, while the other half stands hushed (or heckling) in frustration.

Texas proved the quieter side on this day, as the Sooners put up the most lopsided score since 2003. They dominated the Longhorns on both sides of the ball, Texas compounding their mistakes by shuffling quarterbacks and coughing up five turnovers en route to a 55-17 drubbing. Midway through the third quarter, the North side of the stadium began heading for the exits. Jared and Kimberly, both ardent Texas supporters had soon seen enough as well, and they pried me from the ringside seats for some cold refreshment as the clock skipped into the 4th quarter.


Navigating our way through the various food vendors I bypassed the iconic corn dogs and funnel cake, bee lining for a post game snack fit for a Viking. For 18 State Fair coupons, or nine bucks according to the latest FOREX exchange rates, I walked away with a smoked turkey leg the size of a forearm. Salty, smoky and certainly hefty, it was soon paired with a Firemans #4 Blonde Ale from Real Ale Brewing Company. Meat and beer, the timeless combination and perfect post game snack before our retreat back north among the reckless Central Expressway traffic. Now we just have to swing into Bed Bath and Beyond for a quick stop…


Special thanks as always to my friends Jared and Kimberly, always great to catch a Texas game with you guys, and perhaps the Horns’ will fare better next year. Can’t wait until our next Burnt Orange adventure…

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