Before the trip even happened, my sister came down with flu-like symptoms. Since she was home for the holidays, my father and then my mother soon came down with the same illness. Post-Christmas, that house turned into a quarantine zone. Every day was a wellness-check/race to purge whatever the hell had infected my family before the day of our flight.
Fortunately for my dad and my sister, they completed their race. My mom though was still suffering. But she was determined to fight through it. So to the airport we went, ready to head to sunny California.
And we were immediately greeted with a two-hour flight delay.
It could have been worse. We could have been stuck in their for the entire day like the North Dakota fans were that evening. I’m pretty sure most of Fargo re-located to DFW that night. No delay or even cancellation would bring that fanbase down, not after they had just won their own national title the previous day. We hoped that our additional prolonged exposure to championship fans would rub off on us.
Perhaps the way the flight went should have told us otherwise.
From the moment we took off, the plane was hit with constant turbulence. It wasn’t too big deal for anyone that had done their fair share of air travel, including anyone that has had the joy of flying on the puddle-hoppers from O’Hare to South Bend. However, there was one boy, somewhere around the age of twelve, who simply could not handle the flight. To put it gently, he lost his damn mind.
Screams of “WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME?!”, “WE HAVE TO GO BACK NOW”, “I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE”, “I’M GONNA DIE” and other assorted screams of terror filled the plane for the first hour or two of the flight. We came to find out later that the flight attendants and pilots had a serious discussion about performing an emergency landing to remove the child from the plane. The screams were that loud and that constant.
To give you an idea about the volume, both my fiancée and I were finishing up the last episodes of Breaking Bad. I had noise canceling headphones on, volume cranked to max, plane engine drowned out, but that child…that child came in loud and clear. And for someone with a history of anxiety issues myself, watching the last season of Breaking Bad with a child screaming bloody murder at 40,000 feet because of rough turbulence and no hope of alcohol because of suspended beverage service was one hell of a cocktail to consume for most of the flight.
To make things even better, a One Direction reject was sitting right in front of this kid. I call him that because my mom, dad, and sister had the pleasure of sitting in front of him and were treated to this guy name dropping people at “his label” to impress some wannabe-groupie that he met at DFW who, I might add, made some passenger move seats on a full flight so they could sit together. So this genius tries to “calm” this boy down. His way of doing so: “Don’t worry, man, planes rarely crash in mid-air. They crash during takeoff and landing.” The child, realizing, unlike One Direction Reject, that we still had yet to land, completely lost it.
At some point, there we got respite from the screaming as the plane finally seemed to be cruising comfortably. That pleasantry was abruptly ended by the plane taking a rather sizable and sudden drop which legitimately gave me a quick scare. The kid resumed his terror, a passenger two rows in front of us began puking, and the girl setting next to me started shaking, crying, and praying that this plane would allow her to arrive in LA alive.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever been so thankful that a plane landed. I have never wanted off a plane more than that circus of a flight.
But before I could leave, One Direction Reject treated us to one more laugh. His new-found wannabe-groupie wanted his number so they could hang out. His response: “Just Facebook me.”
Welcome to LA!
After the pure insanity of the flight, I couldn’t help shaking a feeling that something was going to go horribly wrong. I shook it off, convinced I was still scarred from the disaster that was the Alabama beatdown I witnessed last January. It was gameday and I was about to mark off a bucket list sports venue with a trip to the Rose Bowl.
This gameday’s activities though were going to be decidedly different than my usual tailgating habits. With my mom still very much under the weather, we were going to collectively all take it very easy. We decided to get to the game a couple of hours early and just take in the sights of the Rose Bowl before Auburn arrived and maybe have a hot dog or two and enjoy the beautiful California weather.
Two out of three of those actually happened. We were immediately struck by how corporate the entire event had become. If you didn’t have your own tailgate planned, bought a ticket for an “official” tailgate, or had an invite to a corporately sponsored tailgate (all held in its own fenced-off area), you weren’t even getting a cup of tap water until you entered the stadium. However, you were more than welcome to purchase all kinds of official BCS Championship merchandise a multiple kiosks in the area.
We found a spot in the shade, along the same fences keeping us out of the fancy corporate tailgates. My dad mentioned how much the corporate transformation reminded him of what the Super Bowl has become. He remembered being able to scrape enough money together to head to Super Bowl X in 1976 and an extremely expensive secondary market is really the only way for a casual fan to enter that kind of a game these days. The BCS games have long since been heading in that direction, but just not to the same extreme. At the time of the game though, rumors were circling around the Dallas area that the 2015 College Playoff Championship at Jerry World would head heavily in that direction. A couple of weeks later, the local newspaper confirmed that the cheapest ticket currently available was $1,900 for a “premium” package that included some pregame activities like the fenced off tailgates behind us.
As far as the value for a “normal” ticket, we will have to wait and see, but the future looks less and less fan friendly every year. There was a distinct feeling from both my father and I that the tickets we got to a game in California would be far easier and more affordable to obtain than a game in our own back yard.
Here’s the most obvious part of this piece: The Rose Bowl is an incredible venue.
When you walk to your seat inside the stadium, that is all there is: the seats and the field (and a jumbotron). Concessions and bathrooms all live outside the stadium proper in a concourse reminiscent of a state fair. The surrounding mountain background looks as if it was a painting. I bleed blue and gold, but I do not envy the job Brain Kelly and his staff have recruiting against UCLA would can claim that field as their home.
Pre-game, it was clear that Auburn had the numbers advantage in the stands. I would wager it was somewhat around a two-thirds majority. And they were LOUD, cheering anything Auburn that popped up on the jumbotron, going especially nuts when replays of their Alabama and Georgia miracle wins aired.
I also experienced what I like to call the most SEC thing ever pre-game: a member of the Duck Dynasty family sat a few rows behind us with his wife.
When the game kicked off, it felt like it was going to be the reverse of what I witnessed last year. Auburn was simply owning the game. They were going at a strangely slower pace than they had all season, most likely trying to keep the ball out of Heisman winner, Jameis Winston’s, hands.
Winston though looked like a deer in the headlights. It wasn’t until the end of the half to where he looked even somewhat comfortable being in this game. Still, Auburn had a commanding 21-10 lead going into the half and it felt like twice that. We, and all Auburn fans, felt beyond comfortable with the result.
We were all so incredibly wrong.
Now is probably a good time to introduce you to the Auburn fans sitting directly in front of me, Bobby Dale Jr. and his friends. I never really meet Bobby Dale Jr., but his drunk friends were seemingly screaming his name every thirty seconds.
So what kind of guy is Bobby Dale Jr.? As one of his friends put it, they “are all on the short bus to hell” and Bobby Dale Jr. was the driver.
I’m not sure if Bobby Dale Jr. and his friends really remember anything that happened at the game. It seemed someone from their group was bringing multiple fresh beers every five minutes or so. At the prices the Rose Bowl was charging, I would not doubt that they spent somewhere between $200-$300 dollars before the game was over.
Bobby Dale Jr. also had a blonde girl next to him. We initially thought it was his girlfriend until we randomly heard “WAIT! YOU HAVE A GIRLFRIEND AND YOU’RE HITTING ON ME?!” out of nowhere. That didn’t stop Bobby Dale Jr. or her as there were multiple drunken sloppy make out sessions throughout the game.
I felt like I had been transported into a dorm party planted into the middle of just the biggest college football game of the season. I was snapped back to reality that this guy was in fact, twice the age of a college student as his ex-wife apparently called him multiple times (after I believe he drunk dialed her). He later eloquently stopped answering her calls with an “F*ck her, she burned my ass” and then proceeded to make out again with the blonde girl a few minutes later.
At one point Bobby Dale Jr. asked my father for my sister’s hand in marriage. My father responded with a resounding no. When asked for a reason why, his response was simply “why do you think?!” I am 100% convinced that Bobby Dale Jr. failed to figure out why his sloppy drunk ass was not a desirable lifelong partner.
Bobby Dale and his group of friends annoyed practically everyone — it didn’t matter if it was an Auburn or Florida State fan. I know every fanbase has their brand of idiots, but it is quite a rare treat to be presented with the bottom of the barrel in such circumstances.
I guess I should bring up how Florida State fans acted after Bobby Dale Jr.’s antics.
I wasn’t around any that caused any problems and my section and I got fair exposure as our section was pretty well split, only slightly outnumbering FSU fans. They did however provide their own moments of entertainment.
One inebriated FSU fan attempted to climb a railing to take a shortcut to his seat below. His first attempt failed miserably, somehow falling backwards and away from his seat. The second attempt didn’t far much better and had the same result. By now, most of our section and a few rows of the one below were watching this hilarious display of motor function. His third attempt was a charm and drew a nice cheer from Auburn and FSU fans alike.
Superb halftime entertainment to say the least.
The only other incident of note in my area was an FSU couple arguing with an Auburn couple some time in the third quarter. I have no idea about what, but fans immediately behind them were recording the whole thing and dying laughing. Whatever happened, the Auburn fans lost as security gave them the boot. However they did manage to find some Auburn fans to harbor them for the remainder of the game.
Bobby Dale Jr. and his friends.
During the second half, the BCS fat cats decided to bring our attention to the 25-yard line to salute the creator of the BCS. It seemed rather strange and just a bit ironic as well.
A video package played on the jumbotron, chronicling the creation of the BCS and praising its successes. The proud father of the BCS stood and watched the glory of his creation. A creation that he would then be forced to watch come to an abrupt end.
Congrats and thanks for creating the BCS! Here’s your award, now watch your greatest achievement die right before your eyes.
Any comfortable feelings about the game left with 10:55 left in the fourth quarter as an FSU TD took the once 18-point Auburn lead down to a single point.
Winston was seemingly gaining confidence on every play and looking every bit like a Heisman winner. The Auburn defense was now the one looking like the deer in the headlights. They were worn down, gassed, at a loss for how to stop an FSU drive.
Auburn’s offense responded with a long, dominating drive that ended just short. While a touchdown would’ve certainly made everyone feel a lot better, Auburn had a bit of swagger back. It was as if they sent a message to the Seminoles: “this game is ours and we can turn it on whenever we want.”
There was only 4:42 left in the game. Surely, the Auburn defense could find a way to hold on that long.
Then this happened:
I never saw the Auburn player fall on the kickoff, but I could still see the impending disaster. I had seen too many Notre Dame kickoff coverages fail far too often.
Kickoff was down the middle and the near-side members of the Auburn team moved in to swarm. On the far sideline though, lane integrity was compromised. I could the lane opening from my seat, I sure as hell knew Kermit Whitfield saw it. As soon as he made his initial cut I let out an audible “oh shit” and watched in horror as he finished his 100 yard TD return.
I’ve never seen a fanbase deflate so quickly. It was “ow my balls” a thousand-fold for them. Even I felt like I received the same kick everyone else did. The slight hope of Auburn putting up a fight on defense turned into sheer terror that Florida State just struck a blow Auburn couldn’t recover from.
Tre Mason clearly did not suffer from that terror. Leaving only 1:19 on the clock, Mason put Auburn back on top 31-27. Hope was back, even with “too much time” screaming in the back of my mind.
It turns out it was indeed too long — 13 seconds to be exact.
FSU and its fans went crazy. Auburn attempted one final shot at a miracle and failed.
Perhaps with some better blocking, it would’ve worked. Perhaps one less Auburn tunrover makes the difference. Perhaps not missing a field goal in the first half gives Auburn a chance at an overtime shootout. Perhaps if Auburn makes one more defensive play during the final drive, the clock runs out on FSU.
All the possibilities drive you insane, especially during a long walk back.
As we walked out, the smell of fresh-grilled hot dogs immediately hit my nose. The very same area in which we couldn’t find a snack to save our lives was now filled with multiple vendors selling hot dogs and drinks for cheap. I probably would have partaken in one too had my own stomach not been turned by the end result.
A store selling official BCS gear about a quarter of a mile from the nearest official kiosk by the stadium was selling all inventory for 50% off. This even included a collectible coin that I got my sister for Christmas.
History had been made, the BCS was dead, and now it’s on clearance.
The next morning my fiancée, my sister, and I took a stroll down the Santa Monica Pier to end our vacation.
Auburn fans were still out in force still exchanging “War Eagle” to each other as they passed, even the morning after a rough loss. My sister had made peace with the loss as well. After the season that Auburn had, getting the title game was a miracle in itself. Come so close was brutal, but she still considered the season a success.
After we arrived at the end of the Santa Monica Pier, the end of Route 66, our vacation had come to an end. It was time to head back and bid California as well as the BCS farewell.
As we left the pier, we saw Cirque du Soleil beginning construction tents for a show. One circus left town and another swooped in to replace it.
And college football will be ready to do it again next year.