College Football: The Ultimate Road Trip
College road trips are about as American as apple pie, hamburgers and money laundering.
Throw in some college football, and it's about as American as Thomas Jefferson officiating a hot-dog eating contest on top of Mount Rushmore.
Thus, I planned my trip to visit my girlfriend at the University of Delaware and then head down to the BC vs. Maryland game. Then I decided to pick up another two tickets—and my girlfriend's sister and good friend Andrew Kupec were then thrust into Sportsgasm '07.
It's weekends like these that can define your life. This is where legends are made—the college football road trip.
Kupec arrives at Boston College campus at about one o'clock Eastern Standard Time. For the entire weekend he is armed only with a half-full backpack and the heart of a champion. He had planned to bring only the clothes on his back and shorts to sleep in until finally I convinced him to bring along a long-sleeved shirt and a coat.
Contrary to his misconception, Delaware and Maryland in November have about the same weather as Boston in November. No, we were not traveling below the Mason-Dixon line—and game time temperature was an estimated 35 degrees. My forward thinking and knowledge of Kupec's intuition—or lack thereof—saved us from a whole lot of whining on Saturday night.
I went to my last class of the day. Of course it had to be Calculus—as I mindlessly jotted down notes, the only Xs and Ys I wanted to think about were the weak side receiver and the tight end.
As soon as class was over it was time to hit the road. We had 350 miles to cover and the high expectations of an extraordinary weekend to fulfill.
We took off from Chestnut Hill around 2:30 with me, my little brother, Kupec, my friend Dan, and my mom quarterbacking the first leg of our journey. I felt like Bobby Petrino taking over for the Falcons with Joey Harrington at QB—high excitement crushed by a quarterback traveling substantially below normal expectations.
In Petrino's case, normal expectations were a plus-60% completion percentage and a quarterback rating higher than room temperature. Our expectations were the speed limit—which my mom insisted on driving 10 miles per hour under. However, slow driving and Tappan Zee Bridge traffic could not dampen our spirits.
We then left my hometown in northern New Jersey a little before 8:30, needing to catch Dan's 10:40 train down to College Park. I was quarterbacking the two minute (two hour) drill of this drive. Would I be Matt Ryan vs. Virginia Tech—or Matt Ryan vs. Florida State?
Come on, who out there could doubt my driving ability? I handled that Jersey Turnpike better than anyone since Tony Soprano.
We made it into Wilmington with time to spare—enough time, in fact, to be approached by a homeless man on a bicycle with pegs. Homeless people make me about as uncomfortable as Britney Spears on back to school night. I just never know how to handle the situation.
Then as we tried to find our way out of "beautiful" riverfront Wilmington, Kupec and I became lost in not the nicest of neighborhoods. I decided we should turn around, which seemed like a good idea until we pulled up to a light with another car waiting in the exact same line as us.
I knew someone was wrong here, and you guessed it—it was me. I quickly turned onto another one way road, nearly crashing into another car, hung a quick U-turn, and then took a scenic tour of the Wilmington projects at 11 o'clock on a Friday night.
We finally made it out of Wilmington after running several red lights and making several illegal U-turns, and we were on our way to the University of Delaware. We got there in about twenty minutes, ran a red light just outside of my girlfriend's dorm (yeah, that could have ruined the trip real fast), and finally met the warm embrace of my girlfriend.
The euphoria was once again brought back to reality, as we realized Kupec still had no place to sleep and it was 11:30 already. We stuck to his weekend slogan that "everything is going to be alright, alright," and headed out for the night. We went to a house party hosted by the Ultimate Frisbee team, so I knew we were in for an interesting time.
Lo and behold, the minute we walk in the door a guy approaches me about my Boston College hat and tells me he's going to kick my ass because I'm not a Rutgers fan. Shitty logic, but some quick thinking and Kupec sweet talk backs the guy off—and he even hands us two beers.
We head down into the basement where we end up meeting a whole cast of characters—including a guy who had just returned from Iraq, who Kupec and I held a ten minute shouting match/conversation with. Although he wasn't traveling with us, he had the enthusiasm a trip like ours could have used. This guy was like John Starks in his prime—pure electricity.
A few minutes later, two girls starting kissing each other a few steps away from Kupec, prompting his jaw to drop and a stare that lasted a good thirty seconds before he introduces himself. Then Kupec starts a conversation with an Asian kid at the party who I end up calling Naroki and Kupec ends up sharing an awkward dance with later on.
Before we leave, Kupec intimidates one of the kids living in the house and tells off a girl who had previously not given him any cranberry juice.
After heading off to a shady outdoor tiki bar, we head back to the dorm. We need to rest up for a big day tomorrow. One of my girlfriend's friends is kind enough to allow Kupec to sleep in her room, and we mentally prepare for the Saturday Sportsgasm.
Wake up call is about 11 a.m. as we struggle to wake up. However, we know a huge day is ahead, and our lethargy doesn't last very long.
Breakfast at Panera Bread starts our morning at about 12. We then prepare for the game as I get decked out in my University of Delaware jersey and look forward to my first taste of Division I-AA football.
We hop on the UD shuttle, and Kupec and I immediately decide it's time to start firing things up a bit. We start chanting "Let's go Delaware" and "We love Rich Gannon," yet no one seems to be joining us.
We take this as a direct slap in the face and try to get everyone fired up. This prompted my girlfriend's friend to yell at us that we don't even go to the University of Delaware. We simply played along and I told everyone we were from Canada and wanted to experience college football.
Kupec thought me stating we lived in Canada should be backed up with an Australian accent. No one ever said he was the brightest kid in the world—but he means well.
We arrived at Delaware's stadium. If you were wondering, college football lives there, and Kupec and I wanted to let everyone know that. I was pretty amazed by the fan support that Delaware draws, as Kupec and I estimated the attendance at about 25,000, and coming from the source that is a pretty accurate guess.
It was really a cool experience as the University of Delaware carries a pretty solid fan base, and I was completely fired up about receiving my very own pair of thunder sticks, while Kupec was not as thrilled. The game was fast-paced with both teams playing lots of offense and not so much defense.
The end of regulation was completely insane. Delaware was stopped on fourth down, but then made a defensive stand and got the ball back around the fifty with under a minute to play. A few quick passes got them inside the ten and another pass got them to the one yard line.
With ten seconds left, Delaware threw a quick pass to the right and the man was tackled short of the end zone. Yes—Delaware ran a pass play from the one that was complete and stopped short of the end zone.
Earlier in the game I commented to Kupec that I had never seen a scoreboard that displayed the tenths of a second for a football game: foreshadowing, I think. The quarterback rushed the team back to the line and seemingly snapped the ball and rushed it in with about 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
Richmond stormed the field thinking they won, but then the refs finally signaled touchdown and Delaware went nuts. It was a truly wonderful sight that was only missing a leaping Doug Flutie to top everything off.
In overtime each team continued to not play defense, except for the third overtime where both teams missed field goals, with Delaware missing a 22-yarder to win the game. The fourth overtime was two plays long as each team scored on the very first play.
The game ended on a Delaware prayer into the end zone that was swatted down, giving Richmond an amazing five-overtime victory. I would have liked to see Delaware win, but I was incredibly satisfied with seeing one of the most exciting football games I've seen in my life at any level.
The next stop was Maryland—we were running late, but there was more college football to be seen.
We headed down I-95 on empty stomachs but far from empty spirits. Our beloved sidekick Kupec was almost lost to, how do you say, "relationship crisis," but we persevered. The ride down was tense as we were rushing to make the game, but the frequent yells of "College Park, Bubba Sparx" helped lighten the mood.
We arrived on campus at around the eight o'clock start time, but we were forced to park in another zip code, yet somehow still on the enormous campus that is the University of Maryland.
I understand now what Billingsley meant when he said he would miss the lights in Friday Night Lights—because you know what, I miss the lights too. Looking up at that giant stadium and those glaring lights, my inner football player kicked in and I knew it was go time.
For me, go time is now grabbing a hot dog and rocking my SuperFan shirt, not strapping on the shoulder pads and throwing on the jersey, but I felt equally as fired up.
I got into the stadium just as Boston College scored to tie the game at seven apiece. We got to our seats, two rows from the turf right next to the Boston College band. It's true what people say—you never realize how big they are until you sit that close. I can assure you, Baldwin is that big. He's a big mascot, ladies and gentlemen.
Throughout the game, Boston College's defense struggled to stop anything. Matt Ryan was being outdueled by Maryland's backup quarterback. Maryland came out ready to play and was taking it to the eighth-ranked Eagles.
BC took a 21-20 lead just after halftime, but that would be the only lead they had all game. Maryland responded well when it looked like Boston College was finally making their move. They would go on to score 22 unanswered points before Boston College tried valiantly to orchestrate another late game comeback.
However, all was not lost. I got a high five from Baldwin and made my girlfriend's dreams come true by getting her one too. Also, I was made aware by my girlfriend on a couple of occasions that Matt Ryan was good-looking. Thought I'd pass along the information.
The night was over, our college football extravaganza was over, BC's outside shot at playing in the national title game was over—but it truly was a memorable trip.
So the lesson, ladies and gentlemen, is that college football lives here. College football lives in Newark, Delaware and in College Park, Maryland. It lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts and in Los Angeles, California.
It lives in Tuscaloosa, Lincoln, and Ann Arbor. It lives in places like Death Valley, Happy Valley, the Big House, and Tiger Stadium. It lives in the hopes and dreams of young boys and the memories and fallen dreams of men.
College football lives in every one of us, and for one weekend was defined by two boys—check that, men—who were on a mission to find college football inside themselves. And now I'm proud to say today, mission accomplished.
If John Mellencamp makes this last section into a song for next season, I expect all royalties.
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