While many of you were lounging around with a five thousand calorie turkey hangover, I was diligently behind the wheel on my way down to see the most heated rivalry in Texas College Football. Unfortunately, all my favorite barbecue haunts were shut down for the day so in lieu of the turkey dinner, I opted for a chicken sandwich at the Whataburger during the three hour jaunt down to Austin. Ah, the untold glamour of the Pigskin Pursuit.
This was the first game of a three game, three day odyssey during Thanksgiving weekend that would take me to Austin, Texas; Lincoln, Nebraska and Columbus, Ohio. That’s Texas, Nebraska and Ohio State for those of you following at home, not a bad way to spend rivalry weekend. Beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Dating back to 1894, the Texas vs Texas A&M matchup is the third longest running rivalry in College Football. Although Texas owns dominance of the series with a 75-36-5 record, this is a heated rivalry that in the state of Texas has undoubtedly caused more than its fair share of family Thanksgiving dinner table squabbles over the last 116 years. In fact, in both school songs “Texas Fight” and the “Aggie War Hymn” each school makes a point to denigrate the other in the lyrics. You may recall our trip down to College Station for this game last year, and you can freshen up on it here:
While the Aggies have struggled against the Longhorns the past couple of years, this year set up to be something different. A&M was ranked in the top 20, held a formidable 8-3 record, and a win would put them in contention for the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas on the other hand, has stumbled this year, hampered by an interception prone quarterback, revolving door at tailback and unusually porous defense. Prior to the matchup they carried dismal 5-6 record into the contest, and a loss would knock the Longhorns out of bowl contention for the first time since 1997. Patience is growing thin with the Burnt Orange faithful in Austin, and fans are quick to forget their team played for a National Championship not even a year ago.
On an unusually chilly night in Darrel K. Royal stadium, the game lived up to the hype as both teams were embattled in a defensive standoff until late in the second quarter. Aggie running back Cyrus Gray then broke the game open with an explosive 84 yard touchdown run to knot the game at 7-7 heading into halftime. Gray would be a one man highlight reel on the day, as he would later scamper for another 48 yard touchdown run while racking up 223 yards on the ground. Between Gray and injured starter Christine Michael, the Aggie backfield will remain quite formidable for another year. On the Texas side of the ball, the Longhorns struggled to put together any momentum or sustain drives. Predictably, maligned quarterback Garrett Gilbert tossed a pair of interceptions, one of which was a critical game ending pick. Even the Longhorn crowd was discernibly flat on the night, reluctantly cheering meekly for the Horns and routinely being drowned out by the exuberant Maroon faithful and internationally famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.
This was my second year in a row spending Thanksgiving at the Lonestar Showdown, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than under the lights of some premier College Football in Texas. Though certainly not as rewarding as sharing the day with family lounging around a crackling fire, you’re never alone surrounded by 100,000 or so other rabid college football fans. It’s what the Pilgrims intended.
Special thanks again to my friends Jared and Kimberly. It’s always a pleasure to meet up with them and their family for Longhorn games, and hopefully next year will be better fortunes for them in Austin.
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In the immortal words of John “Hannibal” Smith: I love it when a plan comes together.
While advanced planning and exhaustive preparation has been the hallmark of our Pigskin Pursuit this fall, never underestimate the power of spontaneity and improvisation.A mere five days before the game, we were lounging around the house watching the Cotton Bowl on TV lamenting the fact that our busy holiday travel schedule had made it difficult to entertain the idea of a bowl game.Bowl games are an integral part of the College Football landscape, and despite my principled opposition to the fumbling ineptitude of the BCS Bowl Committee, not attending a bowl game would be regrettable.Motivated by this grim reality, we quickly set our sights on the crown jewel of them all.
With only a few days left on the season calendar, we decided that a trip to the National Championship game would be the perfect capstone to our College Football Tour:Texas squaring off against Alabama in the Rose Bowl.
With that settled, now all we had to do was scramble a plan together to actually get there in four days.A few quick phone calls and emails later, Mindy had secured tickets to the game (at face value I might add), flight arrangements, a rental car and a place to stay.With this level of planning and quick execution, God help you if she ever decides to pull a bank heist.
The stage for the game would be one of the largest in recent memory. Unlike some of the more recent championship selections, this one was absent any controversy over whom the most deserving teams were.Squaring off were #1 Alabama vs. #2 Texas.Both undefeated at 12-0 and respective champions of their conferences.16 National Championships and 1,658 all time wins between these juggernauts.Two of the most storied programs in the history of the sport, playing in the most storied bowl venue in College Football: The Granddaddy of ‘Em All, The Rose Bowl.
Put simply, it doesn’t get any bigger than this.
The atmosphere surrounding a National Championship game is a bit of a unique situation, and it’s difficult to compare it to a regular season game.While the magnitude surrounding the game is certainly the largest of the season, expectedly it doesn’t have quite the same electric feel as a typical College Football Saturday, largely due to the neutral site.For one thing, the Rose Bowl, while one of the most storied venues in the history of College Athletics, doesn’t actually occupy a college campus.Tailgating, as you can imagine, is also a bit different, since the vast majority of your dedicated tailgaters are probably unwilling to make the 1,400 mile trek to Pasadena to flip a few burgers and hot dogs.While at first glance it may seem tame, bear in mind there are still an abundance of tailgates and the Rose Bowl actually shuts down a golf course for use by tailgaters. It’s an admirable effort for people to put together such elaborate spreads from halfway across the country. We also had the good fortune of meeting up with our favorite Longhorn friends Jared and Kimberly to hoist a couple of ritualistic pre game beverages.
The one ancillary benefit that comes with Bowl Game atmospheres, however, is that tickets are surprisingly easy to find and moderately affordable.We noted a handful of tickets readily available close to face value if you wanted them.This is assuming, of course, you were willing to shell out the $275 face value to witness the spectacle of a National Championship Game.But rest assured, if going to a NC game is on your wish list in the future, finding tickets should be the least of your concerns.
The Rose Bowl itself is simply a spectacular venue.Occupying an “arroyo” (which is a fancy word for valley) in beautiful Pasadena, the Rose Bowl first opened its doors in 1922, a mere ten years after FenwayPark was built.To say that history oozes from every pillar of this structure would be an understatement, there is a reason it’s a National Historic Landmark.The Rose Bowl has two Olympic Games, a World Cup, five Superbowls, three BCS Championships and about 88 “Rose Bowl” Games to its credit. In fact its very name coined the term “Bowl Game” for postseason College Football games.In addition to history, the Rose Bowl is an imposing structure.With a stated capacity of 92,542 it ranks 8th on the list of largest football stadiums in America (all of which are college stadiums by the way). Finally, the backdrop for the stadium is magnificent.There may be no more spectacular panorama in College Football than watching a pale magenta sunset over the noble San Gabriel Mountains, the hazy air thick with anticipation for a National Championship Game kickoff.
Simply put, if you could only visit one College Football stadium in your life, it should be the House that Rock built – Notre Dame Stadium.But if you could visit two, the second should be the Rose Bowl.
The in-stadium atmosphere around gametime is a similarly unique, as are most bowl atmospheres.Despite 94,906 bodies packing the cavernous Rose Bowl, the pomp of a pre-game fireworks show and thunderous flyover, it’s a decidedly quieter stadium than a typical home sellout crowd.Because the bowl is split roughly 50/50 between Texas and Alabama fans, the noise level will simply never be as loud as you would find at a true home game atmosphere where 95% of the fans are all cheering in unison.Furthermore, of those fans at the game, for a game of this magnitude it’s safe to assume that you will have over representation of the “corporate” crowd and other folks that may not have a passionate interest in the outcome.It’s safe to say, however, that the true fans that make it out to the game, and travelled halfway across the country to see their team, are some of the most diehard, dedicated and boisterous individuals you could hope for.And candidly, you shouldn’t need crowd noise to get you amped for a game of this magnitude anyway.
While bowl game atmospheres are decidedly different, the action where it counts – between the white lines, is as intense as it gets.On the field featured the intriguing matchup of the Alabama rushing attack, led by Heisman winner Mark Ingram, squaring off against the gunslinging Colt McCoy led Texas air show.Unfortunately, that matchup would only last a mere five plays into the game when Alabama Defensive End Marcell Dareus drove the Texas QB into the turf injuring his precious right shoulder, and knocking him out for the game.
Despite a couple of Texas field goals, what followed was a second quarter full of Crimson Tide domination.Alabama’s running back duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson each scampered for touchdowns.However, neither touchdown was as heartbreaking as the botched Longhorn shovel pass by frosh QB Garrett Gilbert which was returned by Alabama for yet another score as the half expired (returned by Marcell Dareus of course).The situation coming into the second half for the Longhorns was about as bleak as it gets.
Just when the crowd may have started heading for the exits, the Longhorns showed remarkable fight coming into the third and fourth quarters.Their defense stiffened up and shut down the Crimson tide for nearly two full quarters.Surprisingly, the offense came to life as well.Freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert connected for two touchdowns with veteran receiver Jordan Shipley, and demonstrated remarkable poise and confidence.This brought the score to within three points, Alabama 24 – Texas 21.With three minutes left to play Texas had the ball on their own 17 yard line, and barely eighty yards separating them from improbable National Championship glory.
In the end, however, the vaunted Alabama defense came up big when it needed to.They promptly stuffed Gilbert into the ground on the first play of the drive, jarring the ball loose, and diving on top of the fortuitous fumble.A few short plays later Alabama sealed the game when Mark Ingram bulldogged into the endzone for his second touchdown of the night.Trent Richardson would add another ‘Bama touchdown a few minutes later, making the final score appear more lopsided than the contest actually was.
Final Score: Alabama 37 – Texas 21
Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide and their fan base, who were all remarkably friendly and respectful during the game.This was a hard fought victory for them, and I admire the gritty brand of football that they play. Going undefeated in the SEC, bumping off Florida in the SEC Championship game and capping it off with a National Championship victory is an incredible accomplishment, and I salute those athletes.
This was a phenomenal way to conclude our College Football Tour for the season.I had never been to a National Championship Game, and as a frustrated Notre Dame fan I may have to wait some time before I go again.The magnitude of the game is simply unmatched and the electricity among fans is palpable. It’s an experience that any College Football fan should experience at least once in their lifetime.Seeing two unbeaten national powerhouses, playing for the National Championship in the Rose Bowl is the largest possible stage that you could ask for, and it’s an experience that I will always cherish.
Thanks (again) to our friends Jared and Kimberly.It’s always a good time meeting up with them, and we can always count on their attendance and hospitality at any big UT Football game.
Special thanks to our friend Daron for helping us out with some last minute tickets to the game.It was an incredible kind and generous effort to find these tickets for us, and I am incredibly thankful for this once in a lifetime experience.
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After the conclusion of our regular season, our ravenous appetite for college football had yet to be satiated.Fortunately one of the benefits of living in the heart of Big 12 country is the Big 12 Conference Championship game rolling into town a week after the end of the season.Both of us were anxious to see if the undefeated Texas Longhorns could overcome the Nebraska Cornhuskers to secure their spot in the National Championship game.I was also rather excited to be witness my first football game in the newly christened Cowboy Stadium, without having to suffer the indignity of actually watching the Cowboys play.
Coming into the contest, the Texas offensive juggernaut had run unchecked through Big 12 opposition all season, posting an average of 43 points per game, good for the #3 offense in the country.Behind the winningest QB in college football history and Heisman candidate Colt McCoy, the Longhorns were on the cusp of clinching their second National Championship berth in the last five years.
Standing ominously in their path on the other side of scrimmage, however, was the heralded Bo Pelini Nebraska defense.Nebraska boasted the stingiest scoring defense in the country, allowing an anemic 10.4 points per game. The Husker’s featured man child defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who, in addition to being named the defensive player of the year, had the rare honor being a defensive player mentioned in the Heisman conversation.Clearly, this was going to be a contest of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object.
Texas vs. Nebraska lived up to this hype, and proved to be the most exciting game that we witnessed all year.The Nebraska defense locked the Horns’ attack down all day long.Limited to a paltry 202 yards of total offense, the Texas attack was forced to punt nine times on the evening, and managed a lone touchdown.Despite a praiseworthy performance against Texas A&M the week before, Colt McCoy’s Heisman stock plummeted amidst his lackluster 184 yards and three interceptions.In fact Colt was picking himself up off the carpet for the better part of the day after being sacked nine times, including four of them by Ndamukong Suh.Suh was all over the place during the game, raking in 12 tackles alone and anchoring the Nebraska defense that kept the Huskers within a score the entire game (fortunate considering their offense barely managed over 100 yards all day).
The game got extremely nerve wracking for the burnt orange crowd with about 1:44 left to play when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery booted one through the uprights to give the Huskers a 12-10 lead.It seemed Texas would have to go nearly the length of field against the stalwart Husker defense to claim their spot in Pasadena…..or would they? The Nebraska kicker promptly booted the kickoff out of bounds, spotting Texas at the 40 yard line.At nearly midfield, McCoy then connected with his favorite receiver Jordan Shipley for 19 yards. The well disciplined, self aware Nebraska squad decided this would be an opportune time for a personal foul, so they spotted Texas yet another 15 yards on the end of the play.After a sack and a stuffed run, Colt McCoy then rolled out on a 3rd down passing play with :08 on the clock.Taking his sweet time surveying the field (and evidently unconcerned with the clock), McCoy then lazily lobbed the ball out of bounds as the final seconds ticked off.Instantly, the Nebraska bench rushed the field in victory, as throngs of red clad Husker fans erupted in celebration in the stands.A hard fought victory, and a salute to the old adage of “defense wins championships”.
But wait a minute…..”the previous play is under review”….With a collective sigh of relief for the burnt orange, the Huskers were corralled off the field to await the results of the replay trolls.76,211 stood in hushed silence, and after an agonizing five minute review, plus the requisite allowance for some atmosphere killing TV commercials, the officials determined that there was in fact :01 left on the clock.With that one second, the Longhorns BCS Championship dreams were still alive, and exclamation points would live on in facebook status updates for eternity.After a tenuous 46 yard kick by Hunter Lawrence that just eeked inside the uprights, the Longhorns were the ones celebrating under the ticker tape.Their next stop would be a trip to Pasadena to cap off a perfect season and play for the Big Crystal Football.
I somehow managed to capture the winning kick in mid air…
What a game…
Hook Em’ Horns!
Special thanks again to our friends Jared and Kimberly for helping us out with tickets to the game, and tailgating festivities.College Football is meant to be enjoyed in the company of good friends, and it is always a pleasure to hoist a few with some of our favorite ‘Horns fans.
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The University of Texas was our kickoff to the College Football Tour of 2009, and what better way to get the season started than to watch the Longhorns stomp one of their perennial early season patsies.
In fact, it had been over two years since my inaugural trip to Texas Memorial Stadium and I was curious to see how some of the newly completed renovations looked.The answer was simple: enormous.This place has become absolutely enormous, and with capacity now over 101,000 you can pack a lot of burnt orange into the place.The beefed up capacity (101,096 on this night) coupled with the “Godzillatron” (the 134ft behemoth HD scoreboard-formerly the largest HD screen in the world) make this place a truly imposing facility. The words “everything’s bigger in Texas” never rang more true.
The game itself was, shockingly, never really competitive from the start.Louisiana Monroe was expectedly physically outmatched at nearly every position, readily evident as the Longhorns imposed their will on both sides of the ball.Despite the disparity, Heisman hopeful Colt McCoy managed only two touchdowns against a foolish interception.While LAM had a few periodic outbursts to keep the 2nd string Texas defense honest, it was never really a game unless you count keeping it within the 34 point spread “competitive”.
The lopsided matchup turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, because after a few quick beers in the UT Alumni center during halftime, we returned to the stadium midway through the 3rd quarter to discover a glut of empty seats. Evidently some of the diehard Texas fans were more interested in getting a jumpstart on traffic than staying until the last whistle.As is usually the case, the most “ardent” fans always occupy the first and second rows, and we were able to slide ourselves into a vast desert of empty seats that put us close enough to make out the waist size on Mack Brown’s khakis.We enjoyed the rest of the game in front row seats right behind the Longhorn bench!
Final score: Texas 59 Louisiana Monroe 20
Hook em! Special thanks to our friends Jared and Kimberly for showing us what Longhorn Football is all about!
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