Pre and Post Game: The Best College Towns
Okay, you got anxious and showed up for the game three days early and you're twiddling your thumbs waiting for kickoff. Or the game is over, and traffic is jammed up tight enough to rival any Los Angeles car-clog.
You pull into the nearest gas station and ponder your next move. Should I stay, or should I go? Well, I am a bit hungry, and Lucy looks tired.
I wonder if the locals are nice?
Here is a quick snapshot of the best NCAA host cities near you. If I left your town out, don't get mad.
Add your city and tell us why your city should be added. Is it your restaraunts? Is it the scenery or is it the people that makes your hometown that "special" place to visit?
Everybody loves a good road trip, so tell us.
So without further ado, here they are in no particular order.
Gainesville Fla.: Gator-Girl Parties and More
If you are looking for fun in the sun then look no further.
Home of the Gators and birthplace of Gatorade. Gainseville is not just a party town as one might think, although on gameday you will find your share of Gator-Girl mixers.
You might be surprised to know that even though the median age in Gainesville is 27, it's been listed by Money magazine as one of the nation's "Most Livable Cities."
If you are staying in shape, bring your running shoes, and bike. It has received national recognition for it's jogging paths, and numerous bycycle routes.
Don't worry, if you are more concerned about an empty stomach or seeing the sites, then strap on your bib, pick up your camera and jump in the car.
There is literally close to an hundred historic sites, and no less than eight museums.
It doesn't stop there. Once you've wore yourself out, drop by Cafe Gardens, where you find yourself seated on a private patio, enjoying traditional American cuisine while being serenaded by any number of local artists.
It's a great place to hold out for a few days with plenty to do. Don't forget you are only a few hours drive from dozens upon dozens of some of the nicest beaches Florida has to offer.
Boulder, Colo.: Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
Ah...Boulder, Colorado, it just seems like people are a little happier here than some places.
The University of Colorado Buffaloes call Boulder home, as do some 293,000 people. It can be found less than 100 miles north of Colorado Springs, and sits due east of Roosevelt National Forest.
It's also home to some of the prettiest landscapes you will find.
Oddly enough it also boasts some of the weirdest weather too. When I was stationed at Ft. Carson I experienced 73 degrees in February, snow in May, and both snow and 72 degrees within two days of each other in early January. Needless to say I began carrying a parka in my car year round.
The weather doesn't get the people down, quite the opposite. You can find an individual skiing one day and hiking through the beautiful forests the next.
Much like any other college town they will proudly show their team pride but they will quickly scoot over to share a booth at the Hungry Toad Pub.
If you're real polite they might even show you one of their pristine fishing streams.
Either way, the air smells so clean you'll probably choke when you get home.
Eugene, Ore.: Where Nike Was Born
Eugene, Oregon, home of the University of Oregon Ducks.
I'll be honest I was but a wee tadpole when I heard about the University of Oregon and Eugene, via track and field news about Steve "Pre" Prefontaine.
He was arguably one of the world's best distance runners who tragically lost his life in a car wreck.
In later years his track coach Bill Bowerman gained recognition with scrap rubber and a waffle-iron when he invented the first Nike running shoes.
Then the ducks built a football team that re-awakened the sleepy little track town, and overnight Eugene became a mecca for arts and outdoor activities.
Truth of the matter, The "Emerald City" has always been known for rafting, kayaking, and cycling. It just took a little prodding from the football team to re-introduce it to everyone.
It's been said that Eugene is one of the nation's most tolerant towns...that perhaps is true as long as you leave your politics at home.
Pick any flavor of protest or anarchy and it's a decent bet that Eugene has hosted it at some point over the last two decades.
Regardless of the civil unrest you will find any number of adversaries dining together, or strolling along with the famous "nudeys." After all that arguing you work up an appetite then you have to walk it off.
Oh yeah, bring an umbrella.
College Station, a City By Any Other Name...
Home of Texas A&M Aggies, the city of College Station holds the rare distinction of being in existence, and being named because of a university.
So mind what you say about their Aggies, it is awfully personal if you belittle the town, people, or their school.
Otherwise if you want the experience of a citywide family reunion with all the fixings, then drop on down.
Surprise, surprise, surprise, you'll find a fine little winery and resort of the same name. Messina Winery and Resort hosts a nice place to get away from some of the town bustle, and you can enjoy a glass of Riesling or Shiraz while drinking in the vine laden scenery.
If wine isn't your thing, there is a chili cook-off everywhere you look and just about everybody is going to want your opinion. So bring your manners and an empty stomach and enjoy a lot of surprises that you wouldn't typically expect in a place called College Station.
Oh boy, almost forgot Tex-Mex again, and plenty of BBQ. You know...after all those museums and stuff, and football, most importantly.
Tempe Ariz.: Is it Desert or Dessert?
Tempe, Arizona, home of the Arizona State Sundevils: When it's sunny year-round you find stuff to do outside, year-round. It's really no surprise to find some kind of activity in the street or the park wherever you turn.
It's also no accident that the Fiesta Bowl is hosted here, as well as Superbowl XXX and the 2004 presidential debates...the list is endless.
The people are awesome and they will go out of their way to make sure your margarita has just the right amount of salt, or to point out the very best places to stay. Don't be surprised if you find yourself sleeping in the spare bedroom donated by one of Tempe's generous citizens that you buddied up with.
Don't get scared by the temperate reputation of the desert. You can enjoy comfortable weather from October to April without ever having to worry about an umbrella or the temperatures creeping above 72 degrees.
Did I mention the Tex-Mex? Mmmmmm, you better believe my belt is struggling when I'm at the airport, toying with the idea of one more night of margaritas.
Norman Okla.: The Sooner We get There The Better
Norman, Oklahoma: Home of the University of Oklahoma Sooners. Despite the stereotype of being exclusively dominated by nothing but white people sporting cowboy hats, you will discover a rich diverse culture encompassing almost every nationality under the sun.
Funny as it is, they're all sporting cowboy hats, isn't America awesome. The more the merrier.
Football pretty much dominates the culture here all year, but that's a good thing though, right?
Unbeknownst to many, Norman is home to the National Weather Center. If you happen to be a fan of meteorology then you will find you're in paradise as you geek out over the cloud structures. For the rest of us...
Hit me! Okay...okay...stay.
There is Riverwind casino, the state's largest casino, followed by Thunderbird and Goldby's gaming center. Between the three, you should find plenty to keep you occupied and otherwise penniless.
After you're broke, head back into town with your last few bucks for some comfort food.
Grab yourself a seat at Brothers Pub, grab a "Special K" burger and a pint of Boulevard Wheat and your troubles will...well the troubles will still be there but you will have at least had one helluva burger, and a damn fine beer.
The upside is football is always a topic of conversation and there is always plenty of jovial debate. Bring your colors and your money.
Oddly it's a place where opponent teams are always welcome, that is unless they're from Texas.
Starkville, Miss.: Clankety-Clank...Clankety-Clank
Starkville, Mississippi, home of the Mississippi State University Bulldogs.
Named for Revolutionary War hero General John Stark, the town boasts year-long activities and festivals besides being the proud residence of its state's largest university.
Supporting a population somewhere around 30,000 you won't find much in the way of traffic jams, however what it lacks in populace it more than makes up for in charm.
The one thing you must do is get down to the Starkville Community Market.
At the market you will quite literally find just about anything under the sun. You can load your basket with fresh produce in one place, clothe yourself at another, fill your belly, get an earfull of music, take a martial arts class, or even sell the shirt off your back.
Regardless of what you do, it's a haven for music of all genres, hosting some two dozen festivals throughout the year. Don't let the cowbells rattle you, everybody and their uncle has one hanging from their shop door, bicycle, or the front of their car.
Go to a home game and you'll think your teeth will fall out.
Oxford, Miss.: Need Someone to Listen?
Oxford, Mississippi, home the Ole Miss R..well I'm not real sure what their mascot is these days, but the students are leaning towards Admiral Ackbar of Star Wars.
If you see somebody talking to a statue on a bench don't worry, they are probably posing for a picture with the cast likeness of Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner, if they appear as if they are being talked back to just walk away slowly.
Oxford is a little smaller than Starkville, and only supports about 15,000 people. What's unique about this southern Eden is that it's another of those cool places to live.
Smiling faces everywhere, more statues, and Abner's Chicken on University Avenue. There is so much this town has to offer it would be impossible to list it all here.
I don't know if it's in the water, or the gravy 'n biscuits are just that good. Whatever it is, the Oxfordians all seem to be enjoying it. Chances are you will be too, the food is good everywhere and the people want you to come back.
Chances are, you will find your way back to Oxford, game or no game.
Morgantown W.Va.: Pass the Tater-Salad
Morgantown, West Virginia, home of the University of West Virginia Mountaineers.
Pull up a chair, and tell us 'bout yourself.
Don Knotts came out of Morgantown so you know it's gotta be downhome. It sits in the northern stretch of the state just below the Pennsylvania border.
You won't find a Starbucks on every corner, but folks will give you the time of day and wave back at you every time.
Don't be afraid to have a cold beer, but watch out for the mason jars or you might end up with your eyebrows shaved, lying in a bed of thickets. Happily that's the worst of the dangers when it comes to the hospitality offered by the simple folk of Morgantown.
So, as you're walking along and picnic tables suddenly appear out of nowhere, make sure you stop and cozy up to the townfolk, if you don't they'll just drag you off the street anyway.
Chapel Hill N.C.: Southern Part of Heaven
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home of the University of North Carlolina Tarheels.
It's been referred to as the Southern Part of Heaven after the title of the book by William Meade Prince.
Maybe it should be referred to as "My Blue Heaven" or at least the fire departments should, as they paint their fire-engines Tarheel blue.
Don't mention anything about Duke and you have indeed found a little slice of...well you know.
The town is all about the hoops, so make no mistake they do not joke around about playing basketball, and more recently football has resurfaced as a favorite pastime.
Regardless, Chapel Hill loves its sports, and the visitors that come with them. You might say the town is just friendly.
Trust me, just about all the places I've described add a little spice and flavor of their own.
They all have great restaurants, hotels, golf courses, museums, and everything else you could find in any city, but the colleges add something to their flare and the people will gladly show you.