When planning the college football extravaganza on Oct. 9 in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the most common question I got was, "Why?" Why would I attempt to see five college football games in one day? The only I answer I could come up with was, "Because I can."
It hasn't always been this way, but for me there's college football and then there's everything else. I watch and enjoy other sports, but college football is the one that I'm willing to do insane things for, like drain my bank account to drive to Miami, spend a week there and see two bowl games or drive to 16 hours to Clemson, SC, on 30 minutes sleep.
I've done whirlwind trips like this before, like a weekend in Grinnell, Iowa, to see two D3 basketball games or an up-and-back 18 hours in Denver to see a Frozen Four, but nothing nearly as ambitious as this. The goal was to see five college football games in one day: Baylor vs. Texas Tech at the Cotton Bowl, Arkansas vs. Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium, Wyoming at TCU, Arkansas State at North Texas and Tulsa at SMU.
The result was an amazing and tiring experience that lasted 22 hours and somehow didn't sour me on college football. Would I ever do this again? No, once is enough. Was it worth it? You bet it was.
Drive for 5, Starting at 5
On normal days, I hate mornings. I fight my alarm clock and struggle to get up, out of bed and on to the office. But when my alarm sounded at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, I was up and out of bed. I had things to do and was on a tight schedule.
Twenty minutes later I was out the door and on the road to the Metroplex. The first order of business was to pick up a friend from college who lived in Norman and was going to accompany me on this journey. The second was to arrive at TCU's Amon G. Carter Stadium when its ticket office opened at 8:30 a.m.
Stop No. 1 was TCU. This wasn't for the first game of the day. No, this was to get our tickets for the Horned Frogs' game against Wyoming. Because TCU's will call would close at halftime and the game started at the same time as Texas A&M-Arkansas, we had to come here first. When we'd return seven hours later, the third quarter will have started and the Frogs would be up 38-0. For now though, it was all about getting our tickets and getting to the Texas State Fair.
Fried Beer is Not Nearly as Good as it Sounds
Game 1 is Baylor and Texas Tech at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It's a neutral site oddity that makes about as much sense as Iowa State and Kansas State playing at Arrowhead Stadium. It's a case of taking one game that works, OU-Texas or Kansas-Mizzou and trying to apply the same theory to a much lesser game.
Sure, Baylor and Texas Tech both have large alumni bases in Dallas and sure, the Texas State Fair is still going on during the game, but just placing a conference game in the same set of circumstances as another successful conference game will not guarantee the same results. Surprisingly, though, almost 50,000 fans did show up for the game, which was more than I was expecting.
The Baylor-Texas Tech game at the Cotton Bowl is best for people who want the OU-Texas experience but hate traffic and impossibly large crowds. That's pretty much me. I've been to OU-Texas and won't return until they move the thing out of the Cotton Bowl. I hate the Cotton Bowl because it's decrepit, there's only one way in and out creating an enormous traffic jam on game day and there's not nearly enough parking for it. Throw the Texas State Fair on top of it and you have a massive fustercluck that's not worth going through if you have no rooting interest in the game.
Today's game, however, was quite pleasant. The traffic wasn't terrible, we were able to park reasonably close to the stadium and a ticket was very easy to come by for my buddy from college, who didn't have a way into this game. The fair was even more enjoyable than it was on OU-Texas weekend because there weren't nearly as many people there and you didn't have to wait in line for everything, especially the fried beer I'd heard so much about.
I had high hopes for the fried beer, but sadly it was horrible. How horrible? Think back to the worst, most stale beer you've ever tasted in your life. Maybe Natty Lite out of an open can that's been sitting on your coffee table since that party you had last week. Now imagine using it to wash down some salty, undercooked dough. That's pretty much what it was like.
The game itself wasn't nearly as stale. Texas Tech and Baylor's defenses took turns being horrible and by the time it was time to head to Jerry World, it was 35-21, Texas Tech. As we were leaving the stadium, Baylor added another big play for touchdown to cut the lead to seven right before half.
The next goal was to get to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington in enough time to find a place to park and get into the game in time for its 2:30 kick. This would be the only game we didn't have tickets for, so once we were in, it would be smooth sailing on our way to five games in one day.
The Insanity Bowl
Going from the dilapidated Cotton Bowl to the opulent Cowboys Stadium signals a drastic change in the importance of our first two games. The difference between an 11 a.m. kickoff on Fox Sports and a 2:30 kickoff on ABC is the same as the difference between the two stadiums. One is for those not close to ready for primetime and one is for those who are a lot closer. (What about all those years OU and Texas had an early kickoff at the Cotton Bowl? Simple. That game is important because it's OU and Texas. Not because it's at fair park. They could play the OU-Texas game at UT-Arlington's football stadium that has no football team and it would still be a really big deal.)
But are Arkansas and Texas A&M really ready for primetime? Not by a mile. Both teams proved this fact with monumental breakdowns in their only two losses of the season, Arkansas to Alabama and A&M to Oklahoma State. Are they even ready for a bowl-like atmosphere in Jerry World? Well, probably considering how insane the fan bases are.
We have Arkansas fans, who are certifiably set-you-on-fire insane and Texas A&M fans, who are insane in a way that only people who argue endlessly on what kind of dog their mascot should be can be. This was the bowl game of crazy and most of the seats were full, with the exception of a couple of sections in the far reaches of the stadium.
What was surprising was how few non-partisan observers were there. Almost everyone in attendance was wearing something that signaled themselves to be a Hog or an Ag except me and my friend. Then it dawned on me that were the only two people in a three-state radius actually willing to be in the same place as these two fan bases.
That's probably why it was easy enough to find someone willing to sell us a nose bleed ticket for less than 50 percent of face value so we could say we saw a third of a game that was broadcast to a third of the country before high-tailing it out of Arlington before the traffic for the Rangers' playoff game became so bad that we would miss the TCU game entirely.
Aside from finding a way into the A&M-Arkansas game, the only thing stopping us from actually seeing five games in one day was the possibility of whiffing on the TCU game. By kicking off at 2:30 and not being bogged down by endless ABC commercial breaks, the TCU-Wyoming game was going to go much quicker than the game being played 20 minutes away.
Fortunately, we were able to navigate MLB playoff traffic and get to I-30 and on to Fort Worth in time to get to TCU. Parking was easy. We found what looked like a faculty and/or big-money donor lot and asked if we were good to park there. "Sure, it's after halftime. What are you doing here, anyway," was the answer.
We swam upstream against a river of people leaving Amon G. Carter Stadium because we were the only idiots in the world trying to get into the place to see the tail end of a TCU butt-kicking. By the time we got to our seat, the Frogs were up by 38 and were easily marching the ball down the field against a worn-out and defeated Wyoming defense. A couple of plays into the fourth quarter TCU was back in the end zone and up by 45. We had seen what we came to see and it was on to Denton to see UNT.
Progress is Over the Highway
As much as I like the lovable North Texas Mean Green, their stadium isn't exactly the nicest in the country. In fact, it could be one of the worst. It's small, the track that circles the field creates horrible sightlines and to call in a glorified high school stadium would be offensive to glorified high school stadiums.
Fortunately, there's hope on the horizon for UNT football. Right where I-35 forks into E and W and across the street from beautiful Fouts Field is a new stadium with suites, better sightlines and all the bells and whistles UNT's current home doesn't have. There's hope for a better future for the Mean Green.
Unfortunately for Todd Dodge, that future may not including him because there wasn't much hope for the Mean Green against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves capitalized on early turnovers and took a 21-7 lead right before we left for SMU. As ASU crossed the goalline, one of the donors in front of us yelled, "This is just like last week!" While another shouted, "Maybe we should give him another four years!"
There aren't a lot of good feelings for the once bowl-bound Mean Green, who are staring down the barrel of a sixth consecutive season of nine or more losses. But as the sun sets on our marathon day and on Fouts Field, there's always the chance they'll see progress in the future.
The End of the Road
What North Texas will probably try to emulate in the next few years is what's currently happening at SMU. The Mustangs took a new stadium, added a new coach, mixed it with Texas' fertile recruiting base and now have a program that is on the rise.
SMU has seen the kind of success TCU is having and right after (well, OK, two years after) saw the darkness North Texas is going through. The result is a fan base that both expects victory and fears complete disaster. Against Tulsa, both outcomes were completely possible. Life for a team on the rise in one of college football's Minor Leagues means a game against a team like Tulsa can result in a 50-point win or blowing a big lead late and taking a giant step back.
The final hurdle to five games in one day was getting to SMU's plush new stadium before halftime when its will call closed. This was accomplished by leaving Denton around the same time SMU was kicking off and hoping the combination of June Jones and Todd Graham throwing the ball all around Ford Stadium would give us enough to time to get there even if we ran into traffic.
Fortunately, this was the case because we ran into traffic at I-635 and Highway 75, which will guaranteed to have a traffic jam even after the apocalypse. Cockroaches driving Daiwoo Nubiras will still be stuck in traffic at that God-forsaken intersection long after the last remaining human has turned into petroleum deep below the earth's surface.
Thankfully, Jones and Graham don't know the meaning of ball control and we got there in time to see the last five minutes of the first half, which took about 25 minutes to play. The second half saw SMU score a touchdown to go up, 21-7, only to have its offense stall to the tune of 15 plays and three punts on the next three drives.
Tulsa scored twice to make it 21-18 and in the only game we would get to see the end of, we at least got to see a close game. SMU somehow managed to run out the remaining 6:45 of clock, despite Jones' steadfast refusal to run the ball. When Kyle Padron scrambled for a first down on third-and-four with Tulsa nearly out of timeouts, the game was essentially over and SMU held on for the win to end our whirlwind day.
Cramming for College Football Culture 101
The only thing the five games in one day trip lacked was the true college football cultural experience. I'm a fan who enjoys tailgating, staying for the entire game and experiencing the local flavor after the game. You get very little of that when you're rushing from one game to the next trying to keep a tight schedule.
What we did experience, was everything college football has to offer all in one day. There were teams fighting to stay competitive in a BCS league, two teams who consider themselves elite programs playing in a bowl-like atmosphere, one team trying to break down the sport's glass ceiling, one team on the decline and another on the rise.
It was a season's worth of college football packed into one amazing and exhausting day. When my head finally hit my pillow at 3 a.m., 22 hours after my day had begun, I felt a small sense of accomplishment. Not because I'd done something unique, I'd be very surprised if we were the only two people who had this idea. I'd still be surprised if there weren't at least a couple dozen people who had done it. But because I had survived and maintained my level of interest in college football. I wasn't sick of it and almost wished there had been another game at the end to add to the experience. Almost.
Special thanks to D, The Todd, Elk, Eric and everyone else who made the DFW Fab 5 Saturday possible and memorable.