Monday, November 2, 2009

College Football Road Trip Extravaganza Round Two: Chicago


Loyal readers, welcome back for part two of my three week College Football Road Trip Extravaganza. I have some exciting things for this week, including the debut of what will surely become a column staple, and an opportunity for reader participation (that's you!).

After trip number one (Ann Arbor, MI), I already found myself wishing for nothing more than the luxury of spending the upcoming college football Saturday on my couch, armed with the remote, sweatpants, and a six pack. But there shall be no rest for the weary, so onward I proceed. What’s on tap for this week? Penn State at Northwestern in Evanston, IL. I will be attending the game with my buddy Mike and my friend/Mike's girlfriend, Beth. Beth - a Penn State alumnus - is very excited to support her beloved Nittany Lions and cross yet another Big Ten stadium off her list (she wishes to see Penn State play in every opposing conference venue). Mike goes to the University of Michigan, so he is, shall we say...less excited. We will be spending the weekend in Chicago, a city that this increasingly well-traveled blogger and weekend nomad has yet to experience first hand. So without further ado, let’s get you right into the action with a retro-look back on the weekend that was.



Trip #2: Penn State at Northwestern - Evanston, IL

Friday

Friday - 2:00 PM: Assuming an entirely uncomfortable sedentary position on the ground in Bradley International Airport while frenetically trying to finish a paper on my laptop that is due by midnight tonight. Holy procrastination, Batman! And why am I sitting on the floor, you ask? Because the fine folks of Bradley International didn’t find it necessary to place seats anywhere in remote proximity the power outlets on the walls. Super. Hartford manages to continue it's relentless streak of plaguing my very existence.

Friday - 3:30-4:40 PM (Flight from Hartford to Philadelphia): FranticallytypingasfastasIcantofinishthispaperontime.

Friday - 4:40 PM: Arriving in Philadelphia and enjoying a picturesque aerial view of Lincoln Financial Field (home of the Eagles), Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies), and the Wachovia Center (home of the 76ers and Flyers). I love that they are all right next to each other. These truly are auspicious times for Philly sports fans, as it's not often that a city has four playoff caliber professional sports teams. And in the wake of the Phillies' salvation inducing World Series Title last fall (and second consecutive World Series appearance this fall), a collective burden has surely been lifted from these previously beleaguered fans' shoulders. Meanwhile, the two geniuses behind me debate furiously over which facility is the football stadium and which one is the baseball park. Apparently the field goal uprights, endzones, and GIANT EAGLES LOGO at the 50 yard line weren't enough of a hint. Ouch, my brain...

Friday - 4:45-6:30: Flight delayed in Philadelphia, using the downtime to proofread my paper. Good times.

Friday - 6:31-8:00 PM (Flight from Philadelphia to Chicago): StillfranticallytypingasfastasIcantofinishthispaperontime.

Friday - 8:01 PM: Arriving in Chicago. Putting the finishing touches on my paper in the terminal and preparing to submit it online. Phew. It is at this point I discover that, much to my chagrin, I have to pay $7 to use the Wi-Fi at Chicago O’Hare Airport. Really, Chicago? Even Bradley had free Wi-Fi, the place without seat-adjacent outlets located next to Hartford. Hartford! At this time I begin calling upon any God that will hear my prayers to ensure that this is the first and last time during this trip that I find myself thinking of ways that Hartford is superior to Chicago.

Friday - 8:51 PM: After navigating my way out of the absurdly large Chicago O'Hare Airport, I take the train into the city, where I witness my first of many Halloween costumes for the weekend. This one is a gentleman in his early twenties adorning an NBA reffing uniform with the name "Donaghy" affixed to the back, carrying a money clip filled with monopoly money. Awesome. Love it. (If you don't find that to be worthy of a chortle, Google "Tim Donaghy" or "NBA Reffing Scandal.") This is an immediate glimpse into the savvy of the fans in this, one of the truly great American sporting cities.

Friday - 9:30 PM: I get off the subway in downtown Chicago, and realize that amidst the hustle and bustle of finishing my paper, I failed to bring with me the walking directions to my hotel. Oh dear. What street was it on? Woban? Wombat? (Actual street name: Wabash) Hell if I know. Well, I sure hope the locals are friendly...

Friday - 9:33 PM: I am instantly blown away by the beauty of the skyline against the Chicago night sky. Breathtakingly gorgeous. At this point, I don't even mind wandering aimlessly through downtown without the slightest inkling as to where I am going. Truly a sight to behold - the skyline, not my aimless wandering.

Friday - 9:47 PM: After an enjoyable conversation between a gregarious chap on the street wearing a Blackhawks sweater who was very amused by my Hartford Whalers hat, I now possess a quasi-sense of direction, a modest knowledge of important street names, and am heading in the (hopefully) general direction of my hotel.

Friday - 10:15 PM: Arriving at my hotel. Who needs directions? Not this guy. Clearly I have not been influenced by nearly two decades of friendship with my buddy Justin, the Tsar of Getting Lost. The man could lose his way walking to his mailbox. But, I digress.

Friday - 10:16 PM: I find out from the hotel desk attendant that my name is not on the reservation. Apparently, and unbeknownst to the hotel, my four friends and I are sharing a four person room. Oops. Time to do some serious weaseling out of this situation.

Friday - 10:17 PM: As the desk attendant scathingly explains to me that the reservation is for only four people and that I am not one of them, I receive the following text from Beth (who made the reservation): "Ya don't go to the hotel desk, just call Jon (our friend who was already at the hotel) since the reservations are for 4!" Splendid.

Friday - 10:18 PM: In what my travel-weary brain thought was a clever way to beguile the stone-faced attendant into allowing me access to the room, I tell him that I am only meeting up with my friends there. Brilliant, I know. The attendant then, without the slightest flexing of a facial muscle or even the blink of an eye, averts his gaze to my luggage and then stares back into my eyes. At this moment, he could win a staring contest with a brick wall. Never have I seen such a cold, emotionless expression. I begin to fear that I may turn to stone. Just look away, Conor. Approximately ten seconds of horrendously uncomfortable silence later, I manage to finagle my way into calling up to Jon and acquiring the room number. I then slowly back away from the demon behind the counter, make my way to the elevator, and attempt to regain a healthy blood pressure.

Friday - 11:00 PM: After the arrival of the rest of the entourage, we hit the town to seek out a taste of the Chicago nightlife. We end up at The Tilted Kilt, a downtown restaurant/bar. In this fine establishment, I am subjected to two hours of bad service, overpriced drinks, and the delusional ranting of a crazed Detroit Lions fan attempting to justify his claim that Calvin Johnson is the best player in the NFL. Ouch, my brain. Then again, if the Patriots went 0-16, I wouldn't be able to form a coherent thought for the remainder of my natural life.

Friday - 3:00 AM: After a relatively forgettable evening, it's time for bed. Big day tomorrow.

Saturday

Saturday - Not Nearly Enough Time Later: Absconded from my morning slumber by the thoroughly unwelcome sound of a cell phone alarm. Now, we tackle the obscenely difficult endeavor of five people showering in a single hotel bathroom. This could be an Olympic event: The Hungover Group Shower Relay. Seriously, who wouldn't watch that? Don't even try to tell me you wouldn't. Fun for the whole family.

Saturday - 10:00 AM: After the requisite greasy breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts, we take the train to Wrigleyville (the area surrounding Wrigley Field) for some pregame festivities. Giddy with excitement.

I must say, I was very impressed with Wrigleyville. It somewhat resembles Yawkee Way, Lansdowne Street, and Brookline Ave (the streets surrounding Fenway Park), which was a very welcome site to these eyes. Moreover, as a devout and loyal Bostonian, I love the remaining old-school major league ball parks, and you can't get much more old-school than historic Wrigley Field. Truly a great experience for any sports fan, even though I didn't actually enter the legendary venue.

Saturday - 10:30 AM: We then proceed to bar-hop our way throughout Wrigleyville, especially enjoying the various Big Ten-themed locales. Among the teams represented with their own bar in the immediate area: Penn State, Minnesota, Michigan State, Central Michigan (home of the Chippewas!), Ohio State, and Iowa (or as Beth would say, "[expletive deleted]-ing Iowa," due to the heartbreak suffered by her and all of Nittany Nation at the hands of the dreaded Hawkeyes).

Saturday - 11:00 AM: Being the fearless fans that we are, we end up spending a healthy amount of time in the Iowa bar, all the while decked out in Penn State blue and white (I'm sure that Mike - a Michigan man through and through - would like me to point out that he was only adorning such colors because he lost a bet with Beth). This leads to a horrible dilemma. Currently, Iowa is among the most hate-able teams in college football. They are not exciting to watch. They have caught lucky break after lucky break this season, en route to amassing an undefeated record that they have no business possessing. They needed two consecutive blocked kicks to defeat a FCS opponent at home in their season opener. They stand on the precipice of marring an entire college football season by displaying their boring brand of football in the BCS National Championship Game. The dilemma? Their fans are the nicest people you will ever meet. Strolling into an opponent's bar while decked out in your own team's colors would result in a ruthless lambasting by the vast majority of fan bases. It is walking into a proverbial lions den of impending insults and ill will. But we weren't even met with so much as a crooked glance. The Iowa faithful merely went about their business, concerning their efforts on supporting their Hawkeyes. The extent of their barbs consisted of a quip along the lines of "Sorry to have beaten y'all." Very classy fans, but god do I hate that team. Again, in the words of Beth Herbert, "[expletive-deleted]-ing Iowa."

(My one gripe: Dear Iowa Fans,
There are many things in this world that are yellow and black...you don't all have to be bumblebees for Halloween. Seriously, shake it up a bit. That is all.)

Saturday - 11:58 AM: I receive the first of many texts from my buddy Rubin regarding the day's crop of games. One thing you must know about Rubin: he is the quintessential sports pessimist. His complete and utter lack of all things positive regarding his teams is nothing short of astonishing. He is a Patriots fan who doesn't like Tom Brady. He is a Red Sox fan who anticipated a shellacking at the hands of the Angels this October (which they concurrently received - I blame him...and Papelbon). So in honor of Rubin, I am creating a new tradition for the blog: exhibiting the best of his dreadfully despondent yet unintentionally hilarious texts. And you, the reader, have an opportunity to choose what to call this segment. Some preliminary potentials: The Rubin Report, Angry Adam, Rubin Rage, Texts of Fury, etc. Feel free to leave comments or send emails to arondothehorn@gmail.com with suggestions! So here it is, the inaugural installment of Texts of Fury (name pending). Prepare yourselves for an unrelenting assault of profanity and pessimism, the likes of which only Adam Rubin can deliver.

The following texts are regarding Saturday's Iowa/Indiana game. Rubin attended Penn State, so he naturally harbors a unique, unbridled hatred of Iowa. Warning: If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, or suffer from any cursing-induced medical conditions, please skip ahead to the coverage of the game itself. These messages may be jarring - even with the expletives deleted. You were warned.

11:58 AM: I would do terrible, awful, unspeakable things for Indiana to beat Iowa.
12:08 PM: I’ve had it with Iowa. And are there even any attractive women in that whole state?
12:19 PM: Man I hate refs. They’re going to do anything they can to [expletive deleted] Indiana out of a win.
12:27 PM: Second time they’ve [expletive deleted]-ed Indiana. Looking like SEC officials.
Ba-Zing!
1:09 PM: [expletive deleted]-ing Iowa and their mother[expletive deleted]-ing luck.
1:13 PM: (Regarding THIS ABSURDLY RIDICULOUS PLAY) I just can’t get over it. It hit four guys and never crossed the line. How does that happen???
1:19 PM: The refs are absolutely [expletive deleted]-ing Indiana. This is absurd.
1:34 PM: Fourth time the refs [expletive deleted]-ed Indiana. This is absolutely disgusting. So flagrant that they were told to call for Iowa.
1:40 PM: Five picks by Stanzi (Iowa’s QB). Even if Iowa wins, they need to drop in the rankings.
1:41 PM: 24-14 Indiana at the start of the fourth. These officials are so very bad. Worse than SEC officials.
Again with the SEC zinger!
1:47 PM: 24-21 Indiana. [expletive deleted] Iowa.
1:54 PM: 28-24 Iowa.[expletive deleted] this [expletive deleted].
1:56 PM: This Iowa team is so bad and nobody is ever going to know it.
2:08 PM: 35-24 Iowa. They should still fall in the rankings. They’re so bad. Unfortunately, none of the voters actually pay attention.

How fun...like a cursing mad-lib. That, my friends, is one grumpy dude. Luckily, his Nittany Lions would give him something to smile about later, but not without him voicing his displeasure (to myself and Beth, via text message) as the game was going on.

Saturday - 3:30 PM: Gametime

After thoroughly enjoying ourselves in Wrigleyville, we hop on the train to Northwestern's campus in Evanston. We then experience Evanston's "tailgating" scene, which is fairly representative of the atmosphere of a Connecticut high school football game (which is not exactly high praise). We then make our way into charming little Ryan Field to take in some good ol' Big Ten football. Highlights from the game:

  • The Penn State Alumni Association tailgate, which consisted of a massive portable pavilion complete with food, drink, and more PSU fanfare than you could shake a stick at. Totally put any local tailgating efforts to complete and utter shame. However, given the size of Northwestern's following - with respect to PSU's - this is certainly a forgivable offense.
  • Mike obsessively monitoring the gamecast of his beloved Michigan Wolverines (as they took on the Illinois Fighting Illini) on Beth's BlackBerry. This was truly difficult to watch. Not the gamecast, but the emotional roller coaster that was Michael Swift, as he was unable to watch his Wolverines for the first Saturday since enrolling in the fall of 2005. It was reminiscent of watching a child scamper down the street in hopeless pursuit of an ice cream truck as it obliviously drives off into the distance. Nothing but disappointment can come from such a situation. Michigan ended up losing to previously 1-6 Illinois 38-18. Ouch. Let's change the subject, shall we?
  • More Texts of Fury from our favorite pessimist, Mr. Adam Rubin. Here are some of the best (keep in mind that Penn State won this game 34-13).
4:01 PM: Hmm...definitely lacking some explosiveness today
4:10 PM: I’m really worried about the play of our defense. Some adjustments are definitely needed...
4:25 PM: [expletive deleted] me. Bull[expletive deleted].
4:27 PM: Somebody needs to light Kafka’s [expletive deleted] up. This is [expletive deleted].
4:42 PM: There were just three receivers in a three square foot box all covered by one guy. Morons.
4:43 PM: Damn our special teams.
4:44 PM: Does Northwestern actually have an offense? This is like playing Madden. Just QB draw every play.
4:55 PM: This sucks. How can a team’s performance be so volatile?

There will surely be many more Texts of Fury next week when Penn State hosts Ohio State in the most important remaining game on the Nittany Lions' schedule. Be excited.

Thoughts on the game:

This game had a strange appeal to me. Despite being a Michigan fan (and thus having no vested rooting interest) and having attended games at such grandiose venues as Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium (and thus being rather underwhelmed by the humble sight lines of quaint Ryan Field), I found myself developing an unexpected affinity for the events unfolding before me. Thanks to Penn State's enormous and well traveled fan base, and Northwestern's lack of sufficiently fervent fan support, the crowd ended up being split approximately 50/50 between PSU and NU fans. This may sound like a detriment to the game; ostensibly nullifying the partisan crowd atmosphere that makes college football so special. But anyone within earshot of Ryan Field on Saturday night would vehemently disagree.

The early events of the game found Penn State - an overwhelming favorite - stumbling out of the gates and showing an unmistakable emotional letdown following last week's resounding win at The Big House. Penn State's offense was so anemic and their porous defense had such difficulty containing Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka's gutsy scrambling, the mighty Nittany Lions actually found themselves trailing the resilient Wildcats 10-3 in the second quarter, and 13-10 at the half.

This unexpected competence against a clearly superior opponent acted as a galvanizing force to inject an unfamiliar electricity into the chilly midwestern air, the likes of which patrons of Ryan Field have likely not experienced for quite some time. Northwestern had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and the team's deeds on the gridiron had the NU faithful hanging on every snap. Conversely, the well represented Penn State supporters - wholly and utterly blindsided by Penn State's lackluster performance - were litterally hemorrhaging a palpable sense of anxiety into the same air. Losing to the Wildcats would be nothing short of devastating for PSU; a season-defining loss that would taint an otherwise successful campaign with the unmistakable stigma of disappointment.

This dichotomy in the stands created a bowl game-like atmosphere, akin to a neutral site game between two well fervent fan bases. Penn State fans were holding their collective breath, displaying wild swings of emotion with every play. Why is this so close? We can't let this team keep hanging around. Conversely, Northwestern supporters were simply enjoying the ride and entertaining notions beyond their wildest realistic pregame dreams. We can hang with these guys. We can pull this one out.

Ultimately, this only lasted for three quarters, as Penn State put on a veritable offensive clinic in the fourth quarter, blowing the game wide open en route to a deceivingly one-sided 34-14 victory. This long awaited offensive explosion simultaneously quelled the unexpected high hopes of Northwestern fans as well as the unremitting stream of Rubin's chronic text-complaints. But for three quarters, this game had the makings of something special, which is more than even the most optimistic Wildcat fan could have anticipated. If only for three quarters, all of those who claim a stake in Northwestern football felt as though they could hang with the Big Ten's elite. Great experience, great atmosphere...God I love college football.


Saturday - 9:00 PM: After devouring a desperately needed post-game meal with the fervor of a homeless man wolfing down a free Big Mac, our batteries are recharged and it's off to the hotel to prepare for Halloween festivities. For the second time today, I am giddy with excitement.

Saturday - 9:09 PM: If there is anything more entertaining than Halloween night in a fun city, these eyes haven't seen it.

Saturday - 10:39 PM: Texas 41 Oklahoma State 17. Wow.

Saturday - 10:37 PM: Oregon 47 USC 20?! What?!?

Saturday - 11:45 PM: Yankees 8 Phillies 5. Damn it all.


Saturday - 12:00 AM-3:00 AM: After preparing our costumes, we set out for a night of Halloween belligerence - Chicago style. Among the highlights:
  • Mike taking up two entire seats on the subway with his state of Connecticut costume.
  • How do I phrase this diplomatically? Hmm...let's go with scantily clad females everywhere. I may or may not have sent a text message or two to some friends back home that described this observation slightly more candidly.
  • The vast majority of people actually understanding my Rich Rodriguez costume.
  • Having a random, twenty minute in-depth discussion of the college football landscape with a dude in a Captain Crunch costume.
  • Being introduced to the business end of an Oxy-Clean spray bottle being weilded by a bearded gentleman dressed up as the late Billy Mays.

  • Realizing that whatever I was sprayed with was not detrimental to my health or well being.
  • Witnessing four guys dressed up as the Jamaican bobsledding team from "Cool Runnings" carry a toboggan above their heads in a crowded bar all night long.
Sunday - 3:02 AM: Daylight savings time + different time zone + alcohol = confused body clock.

Sunday

Sunday - 9:00 AM: Time for the Hungover Group Shower Relay round two. By now, we are exceedingly proficient at this endeavor. Bring on the Russians.

Sunday - 10:00AM-2:00PM: Squeezing in as much as possible into our final day in Chicago, we set out to take in the sights that this lovely city has to offer. I won't bore you with tedious tales of tourism, but I will provide some of the most memorable images of this aesthetically beautiful locale for your viewing pleasure.
View of the Chicago skyline from Grant Park.

Breathtaking view of the Chicago River leading into the heart of the city from a bridge on the way to Navy Pier.
Aerial view of the city from the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier.

Saturday - 2:01 PM: Mmmmm....deep dish pizza. Heavenly.

Saturday - 2:10 PM: Time to make my way to the airport for my 4:00 flight. Sigh. Farewell, Chicago. Until next time...

Saturday - 2:30 PM: Upon discovering that the Blue Line (the line that leads to the airport) subway station at Jackson is closed for the day, I embark on a frenzied mission to find an alternative way to make it to the airport on time. Keep in mind, I have to be at work at 4:30 AM Monday morning, so missing my flight is not an option. After a Usain Bolt-like sprint around several blocks, I find a bus that will take me to the nearest stop on the Blue Line.

Saturday - 3:00 PM: Still on the Blue Line.

Saturday - 3:20 PM: STILL ON THE EFFING BLUE LINE.

Saturday - 3:22 PM: Arriving at massive Chicago O'Hare Airport. My flight leaves at 4. Oh dear.

Saturday - 3:45 PM: I have the following exchange with a US Airways service representative.

Me: "I need to print out my boarding pass for my flight. It leaves at 4:00."
Representative: "What is your destination?"
Me: "Philadephia, then Hartford."
Representative: "Nope, you are going to Charlotte. It leaves at 4:15. Hurry up."

Oh, joy.

Saturday - 3:47 PM: After leaving a Looney Tunes-esque cloud of dust at the service counter, I sprint through the crowded terminal and make my way through the security checkpoint.

Saturday - 4:13 PM: I board my flight, and with 120 seconds to spare. Take that, karma. You can't teach that skill.

Saturday - 4:15 PM-6:45 PM: (Flight from Chicago to Charlotte) The most recent Bill Simmons column and a nap. Just what the doctor ordered.

Saturday - 7:00 PM: Now in the Charlotte Airport, I realize that I have failed one of my lifelong goals: never being in the same state as Jake Delhomme. Curiously, I am now fighting an undying urge to throw fluttery interceptions into double coverage. It's uncanny. I now focus all my willpower on making a concerted effort not to accidentally throw my luggage into crowds of unsuspecting travelers.

Saturday - 7:05-7:20 PM: Watching the end of the Packers/Vikings game at an airport bar with a pilot who unceasingly curses Jake Delhomme's name in between massive gulps from his 22 ounce beer. Mind you, we are not watching the Panthers game. He has ample opportunities to direct his ire towards Brett Favre, yet his verbal assault targets solely Mr. Delhomme. Ladies and gentlemen, the Jake Delhomme era! The pilot then finishes his beer, utters one final obscenity, then says, "I've got a plane to fly." Oh dear. Please not my plane please not my plane please not my plane.

Saturday - 7:40-9:30 PM: (Flight from Charlotte to Hartford): Epic nap.

Saturday - 9:35 PM: Having survived an ear popping session the likes of which would bring tears to the eyes of a spartan warrior, I make my way to the lot to be picked up by my Mom.

Saturday - 10:00 PM: Picked up at the airport by my Mom, who arrives with a two foot sub containing appromately 35 pounds of meat. Moms are the best.

Saturday - 10:45 PM: Home, finally. Have to be at work in 5.45 hours. Damn it all.

What's up next? After this David vs Goliath-type match-up, a notable change of pace is waiting in the on deck circle: a showdown between two Big Ten powers vying for a league title (assuming that karma finally catches up with those [expletive deleted]-ing Hawkeyes).

Trip #3: Ohio State at Penn State - State College, PA

Stay tuned and stay classy, my friends.

Chicago Slideshow
video

3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Despite my pessimism, I'd like to point out that I'm currently 2-for-2 this year so far (Sox bit it in the ALDS (bonus points since it was Papelbon that epic failed), and Brady is mediocre at best).

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  3. Ladies and gentlemen, Ragin' Rubin!

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