This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 11.
We're going to do something different on this one, because none of us live in Tampa and therefore don't get much opportunity to do tailgating. Personally, I make it to far more road games than home games these days. So instead, we're going to talk about some of our favorite USF road trips. Toro is up first, and then Ken and I tell our favorite stories after the jump.
Toro Grande's Favorite Trip - Duel in the Desert, 2006
I own a few prized possessions that are USF related. I've got an actual game used football helmet that currently is prominently displayed in my living room to the annoyance of my roommate, a Cali girl that knows nothing about football. I have David Mullins game used football jersey, which is ironic because I'm not sure David Mullins ever played in a game. (ed. note: Yes he did, as a quarterback in 2002, and possibly as a linebacker in 2004, although there are no defensive stats to prove it.) I have Raphael Toren's basketball practice gear which he never got to use because the NCAA declared him ineligible before he even played a game, thus I treasure this the way a baseball card collector prizes an error card. But by far the biggest and best is that I have every road game ticket for every USF sporting event I've ever attended. I don't keep home games, just road ones. And that collection is over 100 tickets. Top that, people.
Obviously that's not just football and men's basketball. I've got everything from volleyball weekends in Philly and Pittsburgh, random women's basketball weekends against Southern Miss and Tulane because that means New Orleans as well as the Beau Rivage and I have a gambling problem, many USF-UCF baseball games, softball NCAA tournament games against UF, Bethune-Cookman, and FAU, as well as five different post-season men's basketball tournaments, and all the bowl games not counting the Sun Bowl. With the exception of USF sales staffer Mike Stuben, I'd argue I've been to as many games with as many different sports on the road as anyone that wasn't getting paid to be there. Nobody loves the road trips like me.
But asking me to pick a favorite is like asking me to select a favorite child. The West Virginia '06 and Auburn '07 games were probably the sweetest victories. Showing up at the C-USA basketball tournament in Cincinnati in '02 wearing orange jumpsuits with the names of UC's arrested players on our backs was a pretty spectacular moment as well. The '02 Thanksgiving weekend was probably the nadir. Though we beat FSU in the first round of the NCAA volleyball tournament in Gainesville, we lost to UF in the second round, then men's basketball got their doors blown off by Florida in the same building the following day. And that was also the weekend Cincinnati football beat ECU on the road, making the Bearcats bowl eligible and denying me a trip to Hawaii over Christmas for the Hawaii Bowl, not to mention screwing over a 9-2 team that was 4-0 against C-USA opponents despite not being in the league yet. Not good times.
But for sheer fun, I'm going with USF men's basketball playing in Las Vegas in '06 for my 30th birthday. Coach McCullum announced we were playing in UNLV's December tournament at the annual Athletics Auction. I saw him after he got off stage, and actually hugged him I was so happy. My beloved Bulls playing in my favorite city on earth was possibly the best birthday present ever. So I immediately put together a Web page inviting everyone I had ever known in my life to come. And then I realized the same thing that everyone with a birthday in mid-December realizes eventually; no one gives a crap about your birthday because it's so close to Christmas.
But I did manage to round up Justin, Chris, and Flavia for a weekend of freezing fun (it actually snowed on the strip while we were there) in Sin City. I remember showing Flavia how to get free drinks at O'Shea's while you play $5 craps, and being stuck $100 by the time we got our first two Corona's. I remember flopping two sets in three hands at Bellagio, and losing both in spectacular, stack-off fashion (this trip dropped my career Vegas winning record to 5-2). I remember how we had the run of the city, as we ended up at the very hip and always popular Ghostbar at The Palms one evening, and had the place nearly to ourselves. I remember freezing to death while having to take a picture every five feet in front of every Vegas landmark because I was with a female that had never been to Vegas before. I remember that Tony Romo was just starting to become a nationally known quarterback... and Justin is a dead ringer for Tony Romo. We might have tried to use that to advance ourselves in line at a club. I remember the amazing soft pretzels at the Thomas and Mack Center that were like manna from heaven after all the drinking we did prior to each of the three games. And I remember that if you ask a cab driver in Vegas "where should we go," you're only going to ever get one answer, and that's because they get a commission to take you there. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
But the basketball things I remember are this. One, it was Kentrell Gransberry's coming-out party. He wasn't eligible until the second semester, so these were his first games, and you could see he had all the tools to become an elite player. He showed an ability on the block that we had been missing since Will McDonald left. We knew we had a center now, and he was only going to get better. I also remember that Texas A&M Corpus Christi was a very good team, and clearly the class of whatever league they were in (they did end up in the NCAA Tournament), and that it was obvious Lon and Kevin Kruger were going to have a special year together at UNLV.
A cool side note. The team and most of the traveling fans were staying at the Monte Carlo, and we were as well. After we lost to UNLV, we had only one bus taking donors, fans, and team back to the hotel, and there were more of us then there were seats. The last thing a team that just lost wants is a bunch of donors and fans sitting next to them reminding them of the game they just failed to win. There were about six of us, including my group of four, that we just didn't have room for. I got off the bus, and figured we'd just take a cab back. But Coach McCullum wouldn't have any of it. He insisted all of us get on, even though we were literally standing in the aisle all the way back. He wouldn't leave anyone, not even fans, behind. It might not have worked out for Coach Mac at USF, but a classier and nicer man you won't find in college basketball.
It's the moments like that, as much as the ones on the field, that make traveling with the Bulls so special. If you truly bleed green and gold, I encourage you to start your own road game ticket collection. You'll be very glad you did.
Voodoo 5's Favorite Trip - Kansas, 2006
Even though the Bulls didn't win this game, my favorite road trip was the one to Kansas in 2006. I flew up to Kansas City, met up with Toro and a few of his buddies, and had a ridiculously good time. There was barbecue. There was Royals baseball. There was Mike Stuben trying desperately to get himself on the Jumbotron during some Hy-Vee promotion. There was a radar gun behind the right field fountains that led to clandestine wagering. There was legitimate wagering at a Missouri casino, where I tread water and Toro cleaned up. There was the stunning moment when we found out there was a dude on the KU dance team. There was Ean Randolph nearly winning the game with a touchdown catch in the last 30 seconds, but the ball skipped off his hands. There was the summit meeting between Jim Leavitt and Mark Mangino, which at first was funny for the incredible size difference between the two, but has since become about 100 times more interesting.
Oh, and there was a pregame side trip that will be hard to top.
After I got to Lawrence, the USF fans started drifting away from the alumni tailgate tent. A few people started heading towards Allen Fieldhouse, and I just took it upon myself to tag along. I'm not even sure I knew where they were going, but I just wanted to see some of the campus before the game started. We all went inside the athetics museum, saw their 1988 national championship trophy (the "Danny and the Miracles" team), and read up on their immense basketball history. Then something really awesome happened. Unbeknownst to me, Joe Tomaino, USF's director of major gifts, was in the group, and he talked a museum attendant into letting us all into the actual fieldhouse to look around for a few minutes.
Even when the lights are off and the building is empty, it's hallowed ground. The bleachers go on and on, all the way up to the rafters, stuffed into every corner of the place. You can feel the history and imagine the atmosphere when there are 16,000 screaming fans crammed into those seats for a big game. A long string of Final Four and national championship banners hang in the rafters, and an equally long string of honored jersey numbers hang along one of the baseline walls. (In retrospect, it makes the women's team winning the 2009 WNIT in that environment an even bigger accomplishment.) It's everything I would ever want for USF basketball, but I know I'd have to live to be 100 to have any chance of seeing that kind of history.
Ken's Favorite Trip - Auburn 2007
To me, nothing will ever top the 48 hour trip that me and a group of friends took to Auburn. I didn't get any sleep Friday night because I knew that I would miss the 4:30am wake up call, and because I was excited about playing an SEC team at their place knowing we could pull off the miracle. After grabbing donuts and coffee, we were all ready to go. The ride up was pretty uneventful, we listened to the complete discographies of Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and for the rest of the ride up Rivals Radio. We saw the occasional USF marked car we passed on I-75, which met with nice blaring of the horn and putting the horns up, which they politely returned. After crossing the state line into Georgia, everyone decided to run into the nearest gas station to purchase our libations for the night.
We were nothing if not consistent. After finding our hotel in beautiful Columbus, Georgia, we decided to eat at the finest establishment Columbus had to offer we made the hour trip over to Auburn.
Once we arrived in Auburn, we tried to find a place to park, which we surprisingly did with ease. After walking 10 minutes to find a place to drop the cooler and tent, we found an empty space next to some Auburn fans and decided that it was good enough. We found out quickly that we made the right decision once we found this guy 2 tents down.
AU Pimp and his crew were gracious hosts, and they were more than happy to show us around the greater Auburn-Opelika area. He did tell us before we headed into Jordan-Haare that we had to go to two places, Toomer's for a lemonade, and the greatest place I will ever eat on a roadtrip, Momma Goldberg's.
I probably spent half my budget there eating their nachos, sandwiches, and huge cheap beers. Like everyone else, the people at Momma G's were extremely nice, and hoped that we had a great time at the game. After finishing up at Momma Goldberg's we walked what seemed like forever to finally make it inside the stadium. I thought that the pregame show was awesome, and that this gives me goosebumps whenever I think about it.
War Eagle (via bigshoop)
The Auburn fans were worried that the bald eagle was sent off, because when he is sent off, Auburn was sent off. Everyone knows how the rest of the game went, but when Grothe to Hester happened, I flipped out and starting hugging everyone around including a couple of Auburn fans. Someone could have punched me in the face and I probably would have hugged him too. After fearing for my life for about 30 seconds before every single Auburn fan saying good game we made it back to the car and started our 5 mph ride out of Auburn.
The best part of the trip though was after the game and I had to run in a gas station to fill up. As I was paying the guy behind the counter and I had the following conversation,
HIm: "You follow them USF guys that beat Auburn?"
Me: "Yes sir, that was one hell of a game tonight."
Him: "Well then your gas is free tonight, I love it when someone beats those bastards. ROLLLL TIDE!"
That about sums it up right there.
So what is your favorite roadtrip story? And if you have a knockout tailgating recipe share it with us. Bubba Burgers and Doritos are starting to wear us down.