Sports Travel: College Football Must Sees
College football has a tradition that no other North American sport can boast. Travel. College football fans are more prone to pack up the tailgating supplies and head to an opposing venue than any other fan.
That's why I felt it was important to compose a list of the best places for any fan to visit.
There's something electric in the air for any college football weekend, but even more so when you pick your travel destination for the year and prepare for new experiences.
For those of us who can't afford to travel whenever we get the urge, planning out trips is critical to our year. Perhaps you have the ability to make only one trek per year, making the decisions even more important, so that you can visit everywhere on your list before it's too late.
I consider myself to be a fan of the sport of college football as a whole, rather than any specific team, which makes my vantage point unique. I enjoy the traditions of all schools and make sure to take in as much of the atmosphere as possible.
To truly enjoy a college football road trip, try visiting as a fan of the home team. Don't make a trip to Alabama as an Auburn fan and expect to have the best experience possible.
While I'm sure the Tide fans would be respectful, think how much more exciting it would be to join in the cheers and walk through the parking lot with people shouting "Roll Tide!" in your direction.
If you do make the trip as an opposing fan, try to mingle with the home fans. I've done this on several occasions, and I've been sure to be welcoming to any fans visiting my tailgate.
I always see it as something to take pride in when someone spends their hard earned dollars to make the trip to my home stadium.
Located near Ann Arbor, Mich., I find myself at a lot of Michigan home games and have become a fan over the years. I've spent a lot of Saturday mornings and afternoons hanging out with fans from Iowa, Utah, Miami (OH), and Appalachian State.
On the other hand, I've traveled to Clemson, Notre Dame, Boston College, and Penn State, and enjoyed the hospitality of the tailgaters. The people and places are what college football is all about.
Whether its based off of tradition, local cuisine, campus events, game atmosphere, or anything else, these locations (in no particular order) have all made the cut as places I would like to experience. Let me know some that I may have to consider adding.
I thought I'd get my home town tailgating spot out there first. If for no other reason, it's great to be able to say you were at the "Big House" and were part of the 110,000 plus people in attendance. Pick up the "My stadium is bigger than your stadium" t-shirt for a keepsake.
The tailgating situation is good around the stadium, but not great. Fans park on the college's golf course next to the stadium, and you'll see everything from a blender powered by a motorcycle to fine china and silver.
Perhaps the best moment is when you first walk into the stadium. The new renovations may change this, but the venue is very unimpressive from the outside. The majoirty of the seating area is below ground level, creating a "wow factor" when you realize just how big it is.
To make the experience more memorable, wait for Ohio State to come to town and pay a little more for your tickets.
Tiger Stadium - LSU
The only thing that needs to be said for the first of two Death Valley's on our list is that the noise from this stadium has registered on the university's Richter scale. The fans know football and partying, so it's only natural that those two things go together.
The fact that the vast majority of games hosted at Tiger Stadium are night games only intensifies the excitement. The tailgating and the atmosphere are nothing less than electric on a football Saturday. You may see some of the more unique dishes in all of college football at a tailgate down on the Bayou. Walking around and just taking in the free smells ignites the senses.
Notre Dame Stadium
Any trip to South Bend, Ind. is a trip worth remembering. If Norman Rockwell painted a college football experience, this would be it. There are no out-of-hand parties or drunk students passed out on the quad on Saturday morning. Instead, most students take in the pep rally on Friday night and get ready for Saturday.
Game days are filled with activities from book signings at the library to the band concert and the players' walk to the stadium. Students are throwing footballs all around campus and setting up food stops to raise money for their dorms. No trip is complete without a steak sandwich at the Knights of Columbus right on campus.
Once in the game, you'll be treated to the band and the Irish Guard making their entrance. With the mascot leprechaun leading the way, the student section goes through cheer after cheer (learned at the pep rally to start the season and refreshed every week since) with great synchronization.
Maybe it's media bias, but there's something touching about the whole thing. Watch the faithful light candles at the grotto and a father walking his son across the grass with Touchdown Jesus in the background. This is college football at it's best.
Red River Rivalry - Cotton Bowl
While it may be "Big Tex" that welcomes everyone to the Texas State Fair, it is the football that keeps people coming back.
Texas and Oklahoma face off in the Red River Rivalry every season at the Texas State Fair. That's right, a state fair around a football game. Everyone in the family is sure to enjoy this tradition. Food, rides, games, and football make this event more than just football.
Texans take pride in their food, and the fair has become showcase for all things fried. Whether your in the mood for a Twinkie; a peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich; Oreos; cheesecake; banana split; or Coke-a-Cola, it's all fried at the Texas State Fair. That's right, batter-fried Coke. I don't want to know how they do it, it's just great that they do.
You would think that a game between Texas and Oklahoma hosted at the Texas State Fair would be a home game for the Longhorns, but that's not the case. The game is by all standards a neutral field game. Not one Oklahoma fan has used the road game excuse this year for their team's loss. That says something. The fans show up in droves, and the game usually has a big say in the Big 12 championship. It's the complete recipe for football.
The Rose Bowl
Nothing matches the tradition and pageantry of the Rose Bowl. While this game holds a special place for fans of the Big Ten and Pac-10, all fans of college football will find this special. The game dates back to 1902 and has been held continuously since 1916
The venue is serene to begin with. Situated in beautiful Pasadena, Calif., the game was originally started to raise funding for the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. No trip to the game would be complete without checking out the parade. All of the floats must be completely covered in roses or other natural greenery. Some have been known to take up to one year to complete.
With a late-afternoon kickoff most years, the pre-game ceremonies take place in the sparkling sunlight of southern California, and by the second half the fans are witness to a spectacular sunset over the mountains.
Camp Randall Stadium
With all due respect to Nebraska's Sea of Red, I've never seen a picture of Madison, Wisc., that wasn't completely red in the background. The fans are loyal and passionate, and are what makes Gameday special in Madison. The stadium is located right in the middle of campus and is close to downtown. Tailgates, bars, restaurants, and parties all seem to mesh into one big event.
The state of Wisconsin knows brats and beer, and that's what you'll find plenty of. Maybe it's a cold weather thing, but is there nothing better when snow is on the ground and you can see your breath.
The Wisconsin Marching Band adds to the excitement with a pre-game concert on campus and the rousing "Fifth Quarter" on the field. Be sure not to leave your seats after the third quarter, because you don't want to miss the entire stadium dancing to House of Pain's "Jump Around." Led by the student section, the fans jump with limbs flailing until the stadium shakes beneath them.
Sports should not be mentioned in the same context as national pride or patriotism, but it's hard not to root for the military academies. When walking around the West Point campus, one cannot help but reflect on the brave men and women who have in the past and are currently serving our country.
Gameday on campus starts three hours before kickoff with the cadet parade on The Plain. Inside the stadium, the Corps of Cadets sits together and makes for one of the most impressive student sections, with everyone in uniform. Be ready for a cannon blast after every Army score.
Michie Stadium, located at the West Point in Upstate New York along the banks of the scenic Hudson River, is one of the most majestic places to take in a game. In the fall, many people head through this region just for a relaxing ride through the foliage. Imagine taking in a game with such splendor as this backdrop.
Be sure to be at College Station, Tex., by midnight the night before your game because you wouldn't want to miss "Yell" practice. That's right, Texas A&M holds practice to teach fans and students how to yell properly. The noise generated by these 70,000-plus fans puts to shame many larger stadiums.
The noise generated to support the defense is just deafening. Yet, once the offense takes the field, not a sound is made. Not only do they practice it, they execute with great precision when it counts.
The "Twelfth Man" is a great tradition that dates back to E. King Gill. Legend has it that A&M was so battered during a contest against Centre College, that the coach called into the stands for a former member of the team. Gill never got into the game but stood ready on the sidelines in case the coach needed him.
In honor of his willingness to be ready for his team, the student body stands during every second of every game.
Also, don't forget to bring a date, because after every score, when the cannon fires, an Aggie is allowed to kiss his/her date. When the Aggies score on the field, the Aggies score in the stands.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium - Florida
A compliment is only as good as it's source. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "It's the loudest, most obnoxious and notorious piece of real estate in all of college football." I'm sure they didn't mean that as a compliment, but whenever you get under the skin of your rival that much, you're doing something right.
"The Swamp," as it's affectionately called, is one of the toughest places for visitors to travel. The stadium is situated as a closed bowl for the most part and has a very steep seating angle which makes you feel like your on top of the action yelling down at the players. The noise is unparalleled. With the stifling heat, drenching humidity, and boisterous fans, The Swamp is sure to provide a couple points of home field advantage.
Just ask Keith Jackson and those Gatorade commercials. I feel like I need to pay homage to the stadium just for providing us with the drink. Besides, do you need another reason beyond the lovely co-eds dressed for the heat?
The sad news is that this season we had to say goodbye to George Edmondson Jr., aka Mr. Two Bits. He always got the crowd worked up with his "two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for the Gators stand up and holler." The almost 60-year old tradition has sadly come to an end as he's hung up his yellow shirt and orange-and-blue-striped tie.
Memorial Stadium - Clemson
As promised, here's the other Death Valley domicile on our list. The first things that someone notices on their way to the Clemson stadium are the paw prints. Just follow the orange paw prints on the rural roadways and you'll find yourself in the frenzy that is Clemson football.
When you arrive at your tailgate, no matter what team's gear you're wearing, just mention something derogatory about the University of South Carolina and you'll be in. The Southern hospitality is overwhelming no matter what, but the one thing that Clemson has a passion for is beating the Gamecocks.
The tailgating is spread out all over the surrounding areas of Memorial Stadium and the fun and food are in good supply. On my trip, I met a fan who turned a fire truck into a giant beer tap. On the back of the truck were three tap handles and each one dispensed ice cold beer. He told us to help ourselves any time we were thirsty. Now that's hospitality.
When you make your way into the game, be sure to get yourself ready for "the most exciting 25 seconds in college football." The entrance made by the Clemson players on their way into Memorial Stadium was born out of necessity. Clemson players used to walk from their locker room outside of the stadium and run down the hill in the end zone simply to get to the field.
Now, the players actually take a bus around the stadium to be dropped off at the top of the hill to carry on the tradition. Placed atop this hill is Howard's Rock. The white flint rock was brought back by a loyal Tigers fan from Death Valley, Calif.
The rock was placed atop the hill and players now rub it on their way into the stadium as cannons fire, the band starts up "Tiger Rag," and the giant orange paw flag races down the field. This kicks off the madness as a blinding amount of orange-clad fans create an enormous amount of noise for the defense and then turn it off like a switch when the scoreboard commands "Silence. Offense at work."