Traveling to different stadiums is what I love. I probably love it more than anything with the exception of my wife and my kid.
When the subject first comes up with people I meet, they always ask me to rank stadiums.
However, ranking stadiums isn’t something I like to do. The reason is I have only been to about 35% of the current FBS stadiums. Sure, that is more than most people, but it is hard to compare a place you have been to a place you haven’t been.
For example, while I had a great time at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and I rank it as number one, what about all of the places I haven’t been yet? What is a game like at LSU, Ole Miss or Oregon? I don’t know because I haven’t been to those places yet.
So, while I plan on providing a rolling rankings list some day on this site, it is actually very low priority. I suggest people go to different stadiums and form their own opinions.
The other question I am often asked is to tell some travel stories. So, I am going to share a good number of my previous trips here over the next few weeks. I’m going to start with each trip I took last year. This coming year, my travel stories will be posted the day after the games I attend so they are more relevant.
The first trip I took was actually to two different college football stadiums, with a last minute trip to Fenway Park thrown in.
Since I have to work before and after Penn State football games, my first road trip of the year was September 16th and 17th. My first stop was at UConn for the game against Iowa State, which was a 8pm kickoff.
Of course things never go smoothly, so there was a last minute big catering order at work and I had to work till almost noon. I would have stayed longer but the drive from State College to East Hartford is 350 miles and takes almost six hours.
The drive was pretty uneventful until I got to East Hartford. Since I just use the GPS on my phone, I can’t look at the directions when I am talking to someone. This naturally meant that right as I got to East Hartford my wife had to call. Fifteen minutes later when I was done talking, I had made multiple wrong turns and was nowhere near where I wanted to be. Someday I will learn to just pull over instead of trying to find things on my own.
Normally being a few miles off course wouldn’t be a big deal, especially since I still had over two hours before kickoff. But I was supposed to meet up with Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) at Margarita’s so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. I got my GPS to recalculate my course, wrote down the directions and called Aaron.
While waiting for Aaron to get to Margarita’s, I finally had a chance to change out of my work clothes and into something decent. This meant that right at Aaron walked up to me to introduce himself I was just pulling up zipping up my khakis while putting on my belt. Not exactly the best first impression, but a fairly normal awkward moment in my life.
Once inside at the bar, we each nursed a single 16oz beer and a ton of the best salsa and tortilla chips I’ve ever tasted. We had a long conversation, logically centered on sports. One thing I learned about was that Aaron was working on a book about the UConn basketball team and their title run the previous spring. If you haven’t read it, the Unlikeliest Champion is actually a great read.
After more than an hour, as much as I wanted to stay all night, I had to get going so I could get parked and settle in before kickoff.
One of the most interesting things about going to schools for the first time is you don’t know how to get anywhere. Everything is an adventure. The parking is an adventure, finding the media entrance is an adventure and finding the press box and field access areas is an adventure.
So, this is where the real fun began for my trip. I had a credential waiting for me at media will call, but no parking pass. I decided to try and talk my way into the media parking lot without a pass. Thankfully the first guard was understanding and let me in and told me who to talk to at the next checkpoint.
Once there, I talked to the correct person and they told me to go toward the next parking section and go left. Unfortunately I didn’t make a sharp enough of a left, which caused me to miss the parking lot entrance. This set off a series of events that resulted in me needing to be cycled 360 degrees around the stadium against traffic.
I wound up talking to 17 different parking guards and police officers during my ordeal. At this point, I was really lamenting the fact that I had chugged the last third of that beer I had been nursing. Thankfully everyone was beyond nice and I finally made it to the correct lot. However, I was asked to provide a parking pass, which I did not have.
After a few minutes I convinced the guy I had a pass waiting for me at will call and I would bring it out as soon as I could go pick it up. Luckily he follow me because there wound up being no pass in my package.
I signed in, got my credential and got my bags checked. One of the guards showed me where the elevator was and where the field entrance was, making the rest of my evening much easier.
I made my way upstairs and found my seat. Incidentally, just two seats down from Chuck Sullivan, the Big East Conference spokesperson. Chuck was so welcoming to me at Big East media day so it was nice to be seated by someone I recognized as I settled into my first college football press box.
This seating arrangement would become more interesting later in the evening.
Once I had my laptop set up and connected to the internet, I went down to the field. The first thing I noticed was that my shirt choice for the evening was terrible. While it was white, the stripes were gold and maroon, making me look like an Iowa State fan. Another one of those awkward moments that I was just going to have to deal with.
I stayed down on the field for the first half of the game, taking pictures and soaking in the game day experience at Rentschler Field. The student section was loud, but they were more excited by Jim Calhoun and the basketball team making an appearance then the football team or game action.
There was a DJ, playing music and trying to engage the crowd, in a booth at the top of one end zone. I’ve seen organist at baseball games but an actual DJ? That was a big strange in my opinion.
Right before half time I took a walk out on the concourse to check out the concessions. Immediately noticed that they sell beer. Some of the unique food items included Chili Chowder and Kielbasa.
Before I got run over during the mad half time food and bathroom rush, I made my way back to the press box because I was freezing. They had donuts, bagels and coffee from Dunkin Donuts, although only coffee and half a bagel were left.
I went for a cup of coffee that I quickly proceeded to knock over onto my stats sheets and my laptop. Thankfully the spill didn’t get inside my laptop or on the lady from the Big East sitting between me and Chuck.
I started to catch up on my twitter timeline between plays. At the same time, there was a lot of commotion going on with the Big East officials.
A few minutes later, as I almost got caught up on my timeline, I realized why.
Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyCBS) and CBS Sports had broken the news that Pitt and Syracuse were leaving the Big East for the ACC. I don’t know who Chuck was talking to (it wasn’t McMurphy), but I was sure of what they were talking about.
I wanted to ask Chuck a few questions but he left the press box, along with the rest of the Big East officials, before the game was over.
The rest of my night was really a whirlwind of events as the game wound down.
Twitter was buzzing not only about Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, but also about Cy the Cardinal suffering a possible broken arm during a scuffle with UConn students just before halftime.Reports were that a backup person had to enter the costume at halftime.
Meanwhile there was a game going on as Iowa State came back to win over UConn 24-20 despite quarterback Steele Jantz throwing three first-quarter interceptions.
I followed the rest of the media crowd down to the post-game press conference area and decided to go to the UConn presser.
Paul Pasqualoni was dejected and very monotone during his speech, but probably the most heart-felt interview was from UConn kicker Dave Taggart. Despite hitting two field goals over 50-yards, Taggart really seemed to put to loss on himself because he missed two shorter field goals.
Part of the way through the interviews Chuck and a few other officials came into the room, but as soon as I tried to walk over their way, they left.
Since it was getting late I decided to head up to the press box again and download some pictures before heading out. I tried to upload the pictures I had, but the press box internet was having issues, so I just decided to call it a night. It was after midnight and I had to be at Boston College for a 12:30 kickoff the next day.
On my way out, I noticed that they had brought in some pizza so I grabbed two slices for the road and took the stairs out to my car. I made it about an hour down the road toward Chestnut Hill before I called it a night in the rest stop parking lot.