Hartnett: Don’t miss these college game days
Brian Hartnett | Monday, October 6, 2014
Those of us who tuned into ESPN’s “College GameDay” last weekend were treated to even more than Katy Perry’s hard-hitting football analysis, as interesting as that was.
ESPN’s flagship college sports program also granted us a look into the Grove, the 10-acre wooded area on Ole Miss’s campus where tailgating may be taken more seriously than the upcoming game itself. As I saw Ole Miss fans dressed to the nines for their big game against Alabama and tailgating setups that included chandeliers and champagne fountains, I was reminded of one of the things that makes college football great — the different atmosphere at each school.
Indeed, unlike the NFL — where a game in Cincinnati may be indistinguishable from a game in Charlotte — many of the big-time college programs have a distinguished air, filled with tradition, history, school spirit and several other intangibles.
As someone who made a college football destination list — I prefer that term over “bucket list” at my age — last season, I thought I’d share some of the places where I’d love to take in a game, sorted by the power-five conferences.
It’s tempting to take a trip to see the defending national champions at Florida State, but I’d imagine any rational person would end up with a throbbing headache after three hours of war chants. Instead, I’d recommend Memorial Stadium at Clemson, one of two college stadiums dubbed “Death Valley.” The Tigers pay homage to the real Death Valley by rubbing a rock taken from there and then run down a hill in an entrance that has been called “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”
The Big Ten has supersized stadiums at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, but as a Notre Dame student, I’ve heard too many horror stories of unruly and downright hostile fans are at these locales. Instead, I’d recommend a place known for its friendliness, Nebraska’s home at Memorial Stadium. Few states are as linked to its college team as Nebraska is, and the Cornhusker faithful continue to show their support — they’ve sold out the last 333 games entering this season. Plus, few sights are as visually appealing as the sea of red that washes over the stadium in Lincoln.
It is said that everything is bigger in Texas, and the Longhorns’ Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium proves that to be true — it holds more than 100,000 fans, a 7,000 square-foot Jumbotron, a 500-pound drum and a 1,800-pound live longhorn, among other things. The stadium is also situated right in the heart of Austin, Texas’s self-proclaimed “weird” city, where there’s no shortage of things to do on a weekend.
Most Pac-12 stadiums are in big cities but lack exciting atmospheres. The opposite is true at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, which is situated in mid-sized Eugene but is known for being one of the loudest stadiums in the nation. It also doesn’t hurt that the Ducks play flashy on the field, both with their spread offense and their ever-changing Nike attire.
I could easily write another column about all the SEC schools I want to visit — Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida, Alabama and Auburn are near the top of my list. But since I love tradition, I’ll give a nod to Texas A&M. Every football weekend in Aggieland features bonfires, midnight yell practice and copious references to “Gig ‘em” and the 12th man.
Football does exist outside the top tiers. And while I’d love to see the incredible natural setting at BYU, I’m even more interested to see the pageantry that surrounds a game at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Black Knights may no longer be a powerhouse, but their tradition is still second to none, as the Corps of Cadets parade into Michie Stadium and players who will soon be commissioned officers make a patriotic entrance.
Figuring out which of these venues to visit may be just as difficult as ESPN’s decision to pick a GameDay spot. But regardless of where you go, you’ll be contributing to the tradition, lore and atmosphere that surround America’s greatest game.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.