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The Auburn Trip

September 17, 2007

I have the hookup for the Yahoo! Mash beta, for any of you who might be interested. So far it looks like a poor man's Facebook without any sort of user base, but it is early in the development process.

This past weekend was eventful, as it was my first ever trip to Auburn, Alabama. My bro Matt is a Mississippi State grad, and M-State had a football game on Saturday down there, so we had a tangible reason to make the trip.

The plans were made relatively quickly -- just a week out from the game -- but in the interim I managed to come down with bronchitis. Lucky me. I hit up the Minute Clinic at CVS on Wednesday, recovered on Thursday and Friday (missing work in the process), and I would have spent the weekend resting had I not already committed to go.

Matt cut out of work early so we could make the five hour trip to Auburn with time to spare on the back end, but we ended up spending a good half hour or so looking for my maroon Mississippi State hat, the one that has the words "Cranially Endowed" written on the inside. It was nowhere to be found, so we finally gave up and hit the road.

The trip down was nondescript, but that's easy for me to say since I slept for a vast portion of it. Unfortunately for us, once we made it to town, Matt and I had a tough time finding the Econo Lodge where we stayed. Matt's directions said North College Street, but the motel was actually on South College. The upside was that we drove through the main stretch of Auburn's college recreation area three times, which looks like a fun place.

Matt made a mix CD for the trip that he played on the way down (and played several times throughout the weekend.) Most of the tracks were hard rock songs that fell a bit out of my area of preference, though "Perry Mason" by Ozzy Osbourne was a hilarious addition and became a running joke for the trip.

By the time we were settled in at the Econo Lodge, it was time for us to get some sleep, particularly with the MSU/Auburn game set for an 11:30 a.m. kickoff time. With plans to wake up at 7 a.m., going out late wasn't compatible with what we had planned.

One great perk with the Econo Lodge is that it came with a complimentary breakfast at the adjacent Waffle House. It wasn't an "anything you want scenario", but the pancake, two eggs, and coffee I had filled me up nicely. That sure beat any continental breakfast I've ever had. Matt and I debated how much the Waff is comped for that meal; my guess was $3 per person (since it means guaranteed business for X number of guests) and plus there are upsell charges for extras, like the cheese and ham I had put in my eggs.

All of the Waffle House staff was wearing Auburn orange t-shirts; our waitress told us that they were forced to do so and that she was pulling for Mississippi State. Some people will say anything for a tip, I suppose, though she at least seemed sincere about it. The place was *packed* with Auburn fans, though our timing was perfect as we landed a plum booth seat right before a big rush hit.

We coerced Ashlee (Pounce's girlfriend) into ringing the MSU cowbell during pre-game tailgating.

From there it was on to the tailgating area near Auburn's stadium. It wasn't a madhouse scene, but there weren't exactly a bunch of spots open for parking. Luckily we were able to scout out a somewhat open area. Soon enough we were joined by the crew that we did our pre-game partying with, including my friend (and Matt's former roommate/fraternity brother) John Pouncey, who went through airport hell the day before when his flight from Pensacola to Atlanta was diverted to Montgomery and inexplicably held on the tarmac there for hours. John's dad (who was in the mix with us in the tailgating) literally drove through Montgomery while John was stuck on the plane, but the airline wouldn't let him off the flight.

Properly primed, we made our way to the stadium. Our tickets were at Will Call, which happened to be on the opposite side from the gate we had to enter through. By the time we made it inside, the game was just underway.

During the tailgating, I blasted myself with a strong spray-down of Coppertone 30 sunscreen. Spray-on sunscreen is a real blessing for someone like me who burns easily, and it makes it easier to avoid missing a spot or two like what tends to happen with lotion.

But even that spray-down coating made it difficult to handle the brutal beating that the sun provided. Thank goodness Matt brought along a bandana, which I ended up using as a modified hat/turban. My "cranially endowed" MSU hat would have been very much in order at that point, but alas, I had to improvise.

Auburn's Jordan-Hare stadium is a great place to see a game. There doesn't appear to be a bad seat in the house, and even with our end zone seats, we had a great view of the action. I'll say this about Auburn fans: they were very classy. I was expecting to catch hell for wearing Mississippi State colors (maroon and white striped button-down shirt with a maroon undershirt) but no one said a negative word. I'm sure it depends on the opponent (read: Alabama), but in this case there was no harassment.

Mississippi State, a heavy underdog, shot out to a 13-0 lead, much to my brother's pleasure. I was pulling for State, but I don't have the strong emotional attachment (and alumnus status) that Matt does with the school.

Auburn snuck back into it late, and it was 14-13 Tigers at the half. I figured: here we go again, tease the MSU fans and then let them down.

Christian Ducre signaled touchdown for Mississippi State.

It happened that Mississippi State starting QB Michael Henig, who threw six interceptions vs. LSU, fractured a bone in his throwing hand early and was pulled out for health reasons after the first drive. This was a huge blessing in disguise for MSU, which turned to RB Anthony Dixon and kept the long throws to a minimum (the other two QBs threw for a combined 25 yards, to give you some idea of how conservative the playcalling turned.) Nothing personal against Henig, but I promise you that had he stayed in there, Mississippi State would have lost that game. In this case, it was addition by subtraction.

In a related note, Auburn's defense was unable to make any big plays since the RBs protected the ball well. Meanwhile, Auburn's offense stalled out in the second half, and into the fourth the 14-13 score remained as it was at halftime.

MSU took the lead with a Christian Ducre TD run with less than six minutes to go, making it 19-14. Auburn had one final drive which ended on a fourth down incompletion, and incredibly M-State pulled off a huge road upset win.

The post-game atmosphere on both sides was more shock than anything. Auburn, which lost at home to USF the week before, was stunned. The fans had a collective disbelief on their faces as they quietly filed out of the stadium. Meanwhile, MSU fans were high-fiving, jumping around, and trying to make the reality sink in that, yes, they had won at Auburn for the first time since 1999.

MSU 19, Auburn 14. Final. The scoreboard doesn't lie.
We had planned to go back to Nashville following the game, but in the excitement over the win, I was talked into staying for the night, getting up very early, and hustling to Nashville for the Titans/Colts game the next morning.

Following a little post-game tailgating (where the peer pressure to stay for the night was tremendous), we headed over to Pouncey's friend Matt's house. He had a really nice place, with a gorgeous HDTV mounted to the wall. The video quality was great, though it was frustrating at times with people inexplicably choosing to watch the regular definition ESPN and ESPN2 feeds over the HD counterparts. I had to do a click to ESPN2 regular, click to ESPN2 HD comparison to get everyone to understand. Though, once they saw for themselves, there was no debate.

The only downside was that UCF's ugly mustard-yellow uniforms look even worse in HD. It's not Oregon Ducks terrible, but UCF went retro in a hideous way. Then again, they don't have water fountains at UCF's brand-new football stadium, so the uniforms aren't the only problem for that school.

I knock Nike's ugly uniform designs all the time, but Adidas should be ashamed of this.
On the upside, UCF came close to beating national powerhouse Texas on Saturday, so at least their on-the-field performance was on target. And their black uniforms are nice; if being too hot for them to wear black is an issue, then pull an LSU, wear white at home, and make Texas don their burnt orange uniforms. Whatever the case, those yellow jerseys need to be deep-sixed ASAP.

Our group went to dinner at the Mikata Japanese steakhouse, one of those places where they cook the food in front of you and put on a bit of a show. My old friend Neck Pain began creeping in at about that time, but I had some medicine (baclofen and soma) with me that I figured would knock it out.

The meal was delicious, and our plan was to head back to the house, get ready, and then hit the Auburn Saturday night bar scene. Unfortunately for me, the throbbing pain in the right side of my neck only got worse. It was a powerful muscle spasm, the type that, not diagnosed for so long, triggered migraines in me for years. I ended up taking an Imitrex, my emergency migraine medicine, since that usually works as a stopper. But, with the pain I was in, I was out for the night.

There's never a good time for severe pain, but it ended up helping things work out for the next day. Because I didn't go out, I ended up falling asleep on the big couch in the front room before midnight. I wasn't thinking clearly enough to set my alarm, which could have been disastrous, as the Titans/Colts game had a noon kickoff in Nashville.

Somehow, thanks to my amazing internal sense of time, I managed to wake up on my own at 5:15 a.m. I awoke to find my brother Matt (not to be confused with the Matt who owned the house we were staying at) asleep in a recliner next to me. He's almost as bad as I am about being tough to wake out of a deep sleep, but somehow I woke him up, we grabbed our stuff, and we hit the road. I drove Matt's BMW while he slept.

The margin for error proved to be razor-thin. Despite being somewhat turned around initially, I finally found my way out of Auburn to state route 280. We stopped only to hit an Arby's drive-thru for breakfast (where we were disappointed by them not giving us any napkins) and to fill up the Beamer with gasoline, and it was a straight shot up AL-280 and then I-65 North.

We made it to Greer Stadium in Nashville by about 11 a.m. I sprayed on another round of sunscreen and we headed toward the front of the Greer parking lot. Unfortunately, the line for the shuttle buses was very long, the longest I've ever seen there, and so we had a bit of a wait. The ride to LP Field was standing room only for us, which was somewhat nauseating for me. Motion sickness is a bitch.

Once we made it to the stadium, there was a swarm of people trying to get through the gates. Because of post-9/11 paranoia, pat-downs to get into NFL stadiums are commonplace. As always, it's not actual safety that's important, it's the perception of safety that is key. Anyone who was claustrophobic in that sea of humanity was shit out of luck; to get in within a reasonable amount of time, you had to force your way through the crowd.

Finally we made it to the front. After the 20 minutes or so of fighting through the masses, all the pat-down guy did was tap me on the right shoulder. Seriously. What a sham.

Once Matt made it through his pat-down, we made our way up to the 300 level. Since all we'd had to eat was breakfast at Arby's, some food was definitely in order. I decided to get a large Diet Coke and an order of deluxe nachos. The woman asked me if I wanted salt and jalapenos on mine, and I said yes. Only problem: she didn't say salt, she said salsa. So I was gypped on the double cheese that was supposed to come with it (instead getting cheese on one side and salsa on the other), and what's worse is that the salsa was filled to the brim, where the slightest variation in balance made it spill. And because I was in such a hurry to get to the stands, I didn't bother to grab any napkins. Bad idea.

We made it to our seats, with me dripping salsa, and like what happened at Auburn, the sun was blazing. I was trying to eat my nachos as fast as I could (to avoid the salsa spilling), though it was tricky. I ended up knocking over my soda, which could have been a colossal problem, but fortunately the lid was on tight and a spill was avoided.

As it turned out, the woman in front of me, who nearly received a not-so-nice-surprise in the form of a spilled drink, overheard me lamenting a lack of napkins and handed me a stack of hers. You've gotta appreciate unexpected hookups like that.

For all the effort and difficulty involved, the game itself was outstanding. It was difficult for me being a Titans fan and a Colts fan; I couldn't cheer against Peyton Manning and the team I'd pulled for since I was a kid, but cheering against the Titans at LP Field would have felt completely wrong. So I mostly just sat there and took in the great performance on the field.

Peyton Manning is a treat to see play in person -- his throws are amazingly accurate. For all of his audible-calling, he never gets the credit he deserves for being so spot-on with his throws. Marvin Harrison is great at crumpling to the ground as soon as contact shows itself; that's why, at only 175 pounds, he has managed to survive years of NFL battle with only minimal injury. Someone should make a point of teaching the art of the Harrison crumple to all small receivers entering the NFL.

The Colts won 22-20, but it was a thriller down to the very end. Matt and I snuck out of our seats with about 45 seconds to go, and as soon as the Titans were stopped on 4th down, we quickly ascended the stairs and headed out of the stadium. Even with confusion on where the green shuttle bus line began (they decided to move the line locations this year), we made it back to Greer quickly and then back home.

I managed to get somewhat sunburned despite the Coppertone spray; though it's not as bad as it might have been, perhaps because of the time I've spent building up a base tan in Matt's tanning bed. But next time, by hook or by crook, I'm bringing a hat.

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