Pigskin Pursuit

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

Tag: Pac 12 (page 2 of 2)

Oregon State vs. Utah – Beavers chew through the Utes…

Touching down gently in Portland, Oregon on Southwest Flight 488 I stare out the tiny portal to a steady patter of rain falling on the slick grey tarmac.  It’s fall time in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is either raining – or about to rain.  I’m in town with my friend Colin, an Oregon native and host for the weekend to check out the undefeated Oregon State Beavers.  His brother Ben greets us at the airport, driving us the hour down Interstate 5 into the capitol city of Salem.  It’s a bright full moon along the highway; we motor past the angular silhouettes of Douglas firs dripping in silver moonlight, profiled against a cotton night sky.

The enticing waft of breakfast rouses me the next morning, as Colin’s mother prepares a lavish morning spread.  A North Dakota native with a zest for scratch baked goods, Ruth is a magnificent cook.  Her sole goal for the weekend appears to be to stuff us with as much home cooking as humanly possible.  Ever the polite guest, I reluctantly oblige, heaping my plate with scrambled eggs, jalapeno sausage and thick slices of toast slathered with marionberry jam.

After breakfast we saddle up our rental, a bright orange Dodge Charger and charge eastward toward the Cascade Mountains silhouetted against the misty horizon.  We speed through grass seed growing country, a peculiar crop that thrives in the poor micro soil conditions found in the area.  Charred fields are covered in ash, still smoldering from propane torches the farmers use to burn the remaining straw after seed harvesting.  The lush green of the Willamette Valley eerily scorched into apocalyptic hues of ash and cinnamon.

A few winding turns later, we arrive at Silver Falls State park.  An old turn of the century logging village, the park features a pair of dramatic 170 foot waterfalls spilling over ancient volcanic basalt cliffs.  We hike through the slick rock amphitheaters beneath, domes carved by eons of water grinding away at the crumbly sandstone behind the falls.   White plumes cascade overhead, amplified like jet engines in these natural acoustic shells, beauty amidst the deafening drone.   A few maples are framed among the towering evergreens beyond, their leaves exploding with brilliant hues of autumn.  Oregon never fails to impress.

We briefly tour the rustic Silver Falls lodge before heading home, a fine example of old world craftsmanship.  Soaring timber frame ceilings hewn from the forest beyond sit perched on native stone walls, the entire vaulted hall filled with sturdy Myrtlewood furniture.  On the ride home, a road sign for fresh baked pies captures our attention, and we veer the orange beast into a gravel parking lot beside the Willamette Valley Fruit Company.  Featuring an impressive selection of locally harvested fruit pies, I settle on a slice of their Marionberry, served warm a la mode.  A distant cousin of the blackberry, the tart Marionberry is a hybrid fruit developed by the agriculture research department at Oregon State University.  Specifically bred to thrive in the maritime Oregon climate, it’s now a staple of the Willamette valley, and nearly all of the US production is grown here.  The tart acidity of the berries make a fine pie, and the vanilla ice cream pairs well.

Regrouping at Colin’s house, we gather his brother and another friend, David, and pile into the Charger for the quick drive south to Corvalis for a 7pm kickoff.  Huddling around our pumpkin colored chariot, a befitting color for a Beavers game, we put together an impromptu tailgate of grocery store fried chicken and Kona ales.  A few beers later, trekking through a collection of red brick buildings on the Oregon State campus en route to Reser Stadium.  Reser is bursting at the entrances, as fans swarm the gates with renewed zest given the Beavers historic 5-0 start.  Stadium lights tower beckoningly in the night mist, and the soaring grandstands give the place a much larger feel than the 45,000 capacity would belie.  Assuming our seats in the grandstands, we’re exposed to a light drizzle, unsheltered from the soaring steel canopy overhead.

Shortly after kickoff, the audible thump of helmets rings in the misty night air.  Unlike the rest of their Pac 12 cohorts, Oregon State plays smothering defense.  The Utes are stymied each time they get the ball, the energetic crowd noise amplified by the roar of a chainsaw piped in over the loudspeakers during key defensive third downs.  Pounded into submission, the Utes cough the ball up 4 times into the waiting arms of the stout Beaver defense.  Oregon State keeps it tame on offense, playing conservative and limiting mistakes by backup quarterback Cody Vaz, entering only his second career start.  In the stadium, the black and orange crowd wave their arms frantically with each first down conversion, and the Beavers move the ball efficiently enough to win 21-7.  Head coach Mike Riley has engineered a remarkable season for the team, and the late season “Civil War” against the Oregon Ducks could very well determine a rare Rose Bowl bid for his squad.

We arrive home that night soggy and cold, shaking the water from our coats when the aroma of several fresh baked pies greets the nose.  Ruth has been hard at work while we were out, delicately preparing scratch made marionberry and homemade pumpkin pies.  Paralyzed with choice between the two enticing offerings, I make the only reasonable decision: both.   Each served piping hot with a dollop of fresh whip cream.  It’s the perfect nightcap to a weekend in Oregon.  With hospitality like this, I’m ready to come back for a Ducks game…

Thanks to Ruth for all of the wonderful hospitality for the weekend, and adding a few inches to my waistline.

Special thanks to Colin for being my host and tour guide for my first ever college football weekend in Oregon.  Looking forward to hitting a Ducks game with you next year man!

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Cal vs UCLA – Berkeley Battle of the bears…

Continued from Stanford Post here:

Racing out of Stanford Stadium still amped from the overtime thriller, I mash the accelerator on my rental silver Ford Focus.  Thanks to egregious California rental taxes, for two days this little go-kart cost me $153, and I intend to get my moneys worth.  The feeble engine whimpers, sputtering up the ramp to Interstate 880.  Fifteen seconds elapse to reach cruising speed at 60mph.  I zip northward briefly, before the inescapable clutch of California traffic sucks me into its soul crushing vortex.   The forty mile drive up to Berkeley is not going to be an easy one.  I’m crawling my way to Cal to see the Golden Bears host UCLA in a night tilt, the tail end of a Saturday Bay Area doubleheader.

After an hour lumbering up the interstate, I pull into downtown Berkeley.  With its ample stop lights and narrow streets, the town is ill equipped to deal with the influx of game day football traffic.  I scour a few side streets for free parking, shoehorning the tiny rental into a spot on Piedmont Avenue, a few blocks east of the infamous Telegraph Avenue – an icon of 1960’s hippie culture.

Changing my crimson polo for a navy t-shirt, I walk a pleasant tree lined side street up to Cal Memorial Stadium.  Strolling past handfuls of dingy frat houses, students spill onto the sidewalks clutching red solo cups, the Korean K-Pop viral sensation “Gangam Style” wailing away over loudspeakers perched on second story windowsills.  A few street food vendors line the avenue, manning stainless steel carts billowing aromatic steam.  Opting for a few small tacos, chicken and beef, they come garnished with fresh cilantro and onion, far better than any Sysco crap found in the stadium.

When I thrust a lone finger into the air, a few scalpers swarm me.  It’s a big game for the Cal Bears against a heated in-state rival, but tickets are still plentiful.  We haggle for a bit, but when I walk away the grizzled trader relents, agreeing to my $20 offer.  From the outside, the stadium gleams with new glass louvers, the white limestone façade glinting shades of pink and orange with the setting California sun.  Originally carved into the Berkeley hillside in 1923 as a tribute to World War 1 veterans, the historic stadium underwent a modern facelift for the past two years.  Tonight was the official rededication.

After some extra pre game ceremonies, the two bears take the field as a brisk evening chill fills the air.  A sloppy game ensues.  Although both teams move the ball well, racking up nearly 900 yards of offense together, there are nine turnovers between the two, UCLA guilty of six of those.  Cal takes advantage of the mishaps, with quarterback Zach Maynard slinging four touchdowns and 295 yards.  At halftime, the 57,643 spectators all remain seated.  Each seat comes outfitted with a colored square of card stock.  As part of the rededication ceremonies, Cal has a card stunt planned, a phenomenon they claim to have invented back in 1910.  Spelling out “Memorial Stadium” in Yale Blue and California Gold, the fans have good reason to stand, as the Golden Bears would later walk away with a 43-17 victory, and a chance to turn their dismal season around.

It’s a lot of work catching two games in a single day, and logistics have to be well planned to make it happen.  But hitting a couple of Pac 12 games gave me yet another glimpse into college football on the left coast, and spending an afternoon in the temperate climate of the Bay Area is always a pleasure.  Like any major metropolitan area, both of these teams take a back seat to some of the bigger professional spectacles in town.  On this particular weekend, both the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s were in baseball playoff games, and the San Francisco 49ers had a home game.  While college football is simply overshadowed in that environment, both teams still enjoy the ardently passionate fan bases that make college football so unique.

Full Click through gallery below:

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Stanford vs Arizona – Doubling up in the Bay Area…

Rust colored masts emerge in the distance, piercing thick early morning fog, soaring into a crystal blue sky above.  Thin strands of cable drape gracefully from the stacked towers, woven into steel webs, shrouded in white mist rolling off the bay. Gawking at an engineering marvel, fumbling for my camera, and dodging eighteen wheelers, now isn’t the time for multi tasking behind the wheel.  It’s my first trip across the Golden Gate Bridge, and I’m swerving like an asshole in six lanes of traffic.

It’s a brilliant Saturday morning in San Francisco, and I pick my way South down highway 101 to Palo Alto for the front end of a Pac 12 doubleheader.  Stanford has a noon kickoff today against Arizona, and, following that, I’ll shoot up to Berkeley for a night game with the Golden Bears of Cal.

Stopping only once, I grab breakfast at the Palo Alto Creamery downtown.  Occupying the same street corner since 1923, it’s a throwback diner, gleaming with stainless steel and dishing out traditional breakfast fare.  Though the feel is classic, the prices are contemporary Californian, I gaspingly shell out twenty five bucks for some eggs and a chocolate shake.

I find free parking on a side street, throw on my best crimson polo and head over to the Stanford Campus.  Passing by a Trader Joe’s and upscale designer furniture store, the socio economic status of the school is evident.  Built by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford, the campus is exquisite, easily among the finest in the country and befitting a school of Ivy caliber.  Circling around Palm Drive, I ascend slate steps onto the pristine main quad, surrounded by the symbolic battery of arched promenades.  Blonde colored Stanford Sandstone, quarried from the nearby Santa Teresa Hills, shimmers flecks of gold in the morning sun.  The stalwart Romanesque stone buildings are connected by airy arcades, all capped in red clay tiles, typical of California mission style. It’s a magnificent campus, which, coupled with the reputation of the school, commands reverence.

With kickoff fast approaching, I drag myself away from the resplendent architecture, and trot towards the stadium.  It’s homecoming weekend at Stanford, and I pick through white tents and rows of catered buffet lines.  Nametags abound, along with class years ’62, ’72 etc.  The older the class, the nicer the food and wine.  True Stanford tailgating, however, I discover across street from the stadium.  Shaded beneath a grove of majestic Eucalyptus trees, the Cardinal faithful lay their spreads out.  Emerging from the trunks of boxy Mercedes G-Wagon’s and sleek silver Porsche Cayenne’s, elaborate picnics are set on tablecloths, complete with Napa wines and artisan cheeses.  Welcome to Palo Alto.

Tickets prove easy. For forty bucks I land a choice seat staring down the 50, a great view given the cozy confines of Stanford Stadium.  The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (or LSJUMB), a disheveled collection of rag tag musicians, take the field for pre-game ceremonies.  For those unfamiliar, the LSJUMB is one of the more unorthodox and controversial bands in the college landscape, having been banned from several campuses over the years for profane, offensive hijinks.  An alumni friend once described the band as “doing whatever entertains them (the band), without giving a damn what the audience wants or thinks”.    Entirely student led, the “band” eschews uniforms in favor of hobo couture, sloppily dressed in costume, drag, and button festooned fishing hats.  They avoid traditional band music, formal marches and almost any discernible organization whatsoever.  It’s like an Occupy protest with brass.

On the field, it’s a contrast of styles.  On one side stands the head butting Stanford style, a hard nosed, physical gauntlet cut from the mold of former head coach Jim Harbaugh.  Opposing them are the revamped Arizona Wildcats, powered by a quick tempo, run and gun offense, the hallmark of new head coach Rich Rodriguez.  Surprisingly, Arizona lures the conservative Cardinal into a shootout.  Against an imposing front seven of the Stanford defense, the Arizona aerial attack takes to the skies, throwing for nearly 500 yards on the day.  Stanford chews up the turf, feeding the ball to clydesdale tailback Stephen Taylor and connecting deep play action passes to massive tight end Levine Toilolo.  With over 1200 yards of total offense, the game is a track meet.  Holding a comfortable 48-34 lead with only 9:00 remaining, the Arizona squad sputters.  Brutalized by four quarters of a Stanford grind, they give up two touchdowns in the final six minutes to let the Cardinal knot the score at 48, sending the contest into overtime.  In the extra frame, the Wildcats are exhausted, squandering their only opportunity with a costly interception.  Stanford pounds in a 21 yard rushing touchdown, winning the contest with an exclamation point.

After the nailbiting finish, I hustle out of Stanford Stadium, elbowing my way through the crimson herd to get on the road quickly.  I’ve got the tail end of a doubleheader to hit up at Cal Berkeley, and the California traffic gods can be merciless to those in a rush…

Continue to Cal post here…

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