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Announcing: It's Just a Game

About the book: Similar to how H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights uses high school football in Texas as a lens to look at society, Brian Carriveau’s It’s Just a Game observes adult amateur baseball in Wisconsin as a means to examine small-town America. The non-fiction book,...

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College Football Road Trip

There’s nothing quite like a road trip to a college town in the autumn.

In the North, the air might be crisp and the leaves may be changing colors while it may still feel like summer in the South. No matter the weather, nearly every town in Division 1 athletics revolves around its football team. The atmosphere is electric no matter where you go.

Every year since 2006 I’ve taken a college football road trip along with my wife to a different destination in the country, and we’ve never come away disappointed.

This annual tradition began modestly in 2006, a trip on a whim to nearby DeKalb, Ill.—somewhere within driving distance—to watch Northern Illinois while Wisconsin was on a bye week. We couldn’t have enjoyed ourselves more.

The level of football was obviously a step down from the Power Five conferences, but it was a beautiful day and the tailgate scene was fun. I thought to myself, I’d love attend other college football games and experience the same thing at places with a richer football tradition and more talented players.

If you’re considering taking your own college football road trip and have questions, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll share all the knowledge I have and would be happy to give suggestions. Email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Here’s a quick photo journal of our travels, along with some basic information and highlights from each campus. And yes, we wear our Wisconsin gear on every road trip. You wouldn’t believe how many conversations it starts. Fans are in awe we choose to visit a game as neutral observers.

2017—Colorado

Folsom Field—Boulder, Co.

Folsom Field—Boulder, Co

Fly into: Denver—It’s an easy half hour drive from Denver International to Boulder.

Eat: Avery Brewing Company—This could just as easily fall in the “Drink” category, but the food menu at Avery is almost as good as its tap list. It’s locally-sourced and delicious.

Drink: Boulder Beer Company—I was familiar with their Nothing Too Fancy Pale Ale prior to coming and wanted to try more. I had their Hazed Hoppy Session Ale while I was at the tap house and easily could have downed even more before leaving.

Experience: Pearl Street—Boulder’s pedestrian mall stacks up with the best of them in other college towns. On Friday night before the game we had a beer at the Bohemian Biergarten and a cocktail at License No. 1, a speakeasy-type cellar bar underneath the Hotel Boulderado.

Watch: Ralphie—Colorado’s live buffalo mascot is led onto the field by his handlers before the start of every game and halftime. Or at least he should when it’s not pouring rain like it was when we visited.

2016—South Carolina

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Williams Brice Stadium—Columbia, S.C.

Fly into: Charlotte—The most accessible airport near Columbia, S.C. is located in Charlotte, about an hour and a half drive away.

Eat: Southern Belly BBQ—Don’t go to Southern Belly expecting to get a rack of ribs. Focusing exclusively on sandwiches, you’ll come away feeling more than okay with their offerings. The meat is still smoked, slow roasted and delicious.

Drink: Swamp Cabbage Brewing Company—Located within walking distance of Williams Brice, Swamp Cabbage is the perfect accompaniment to the tailgating experience. Not sure it’s on their year-round menu, but the blonde ale with jalapeno was adventurous yet still approachable.

See: Take a walk through history with a self-guided tour of the South Carolina State House, ringed by many monuments and iconic palmetto trees.

Listen: Sandstorm—Played immediately before kickoff and after every Gamecock touchdown, the techno song whips the South Carolina faithful into a frenzy.

2015—UCLA & USC

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The Rose Bowl—Pasadena, Cal.

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L.A. Coliseum—Los Angeles

Fly into: LAX—As the second-largest airport in the United States, more than likely you’ll be flying into LAX if you’re coming to Los Angeles. But the other smaller airports in the greater L.A. can also be accessible.

Eat: Cacao Mexicatessen—Located in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles not far from Pasadena, Cacao has all the staples you’d expect, but the creativity takes it up a notch. You can’t go wrong with duck confit and pork belly tacos. Order from a counter and wait for an open table. The margaritas and micheladas are top-notch too.

Drink: Dog Haus—Located in Pasadena, we came after the UCLA game for drinks, but the sausages look absolutely declicious and get rave reviews. A good selection of West Coast craft beers and picnic table patio seating make it a great place to linger.

See: Sam Merrill Trail—Part of the San Gabriel Mountain Range, the trail can lead you to both Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point. The views are fantastic if you’re into hiking, but a word to the wise, the midday sun can be stifling.

Listen: These songs will stick in your head long after a trip to The Coliseum to see USC. “Fight On” is played after every first down and touchdown, while “Tribute to Troy” is played after every defensive stop.

2014—Iowa

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Kinnick Stadium—Iowa City, Ia.

Fly into: We were lucky enough to be within driving distance, but nearby Cedar Rapids is served by regional airports such as Chicago and Minneapolis. Des Moines is a longer drive but has the bigger airport.

Eat: Clinton Street Social Club—The atmosphere and ambiance is great, a retro speakeasy-type bar and restaurant in a second floor environment looking out on the university’s Pentacrest.

Drink: Mickey’s Irish Pub & Grill—Extensive craft beer on tap.

2013—West Virginia

Milan Puskar Stadium—Morgantown, W.V.

Milan Puskar Stadium—Morgantown, W.V.

Fly into: Pittsburgh—Take advantage of the opportunity to visit the original Primanti Bros. and try their signature grilled meat sandwich with cole slaw and french fries on top. Morgantown is about an hour and half drive.

Eat: Black Bear Burritos in Morgantown—Great burritos customized to your liking for cheap. Live music.

Drink: The Vintage Room—Upscale. Outdoor seating. Good wine selection.

See: Walk down the Mon River Trail along the Monongahela River in the autumn for picturesque fall color.

Try: A pepperoni roll, a regional specialty, and some home-distilled moonshine. Talk to the locals.

Listen: Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver after every Mountaineers win.

2012—Ole Miss

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium—Oxford, Miss.

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium—Oxford, Miss.

Fly into: Memphis, Tenn. Oxford is about an hour and half drive. While in Memphis eat at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken and take in the nightlife on Beale Street.

Eat: Ajax Diner in Oxford—Get the sweet potato casserole and thank me later.

Drink: Proud Larry’s—Haven’t heard many good things about the food, but fine for a drink. Patio seating is good. Live music venue.

See: The Grove. The best tailgating scene in all of football. Chandeliers in the tents. Girls in sundresses. Guys in seersucker suits. It takes hours to fully take in. Make sure to see The Walk of Champions.

Listen: To the Hotty Toddy chant before kickoff, one of the brashest in college sports.

2011—Oregon

Autzen Stadium—Eugene, Ore.

Autzen Stadium—Eugene, Ore.

Fly into: Portland. Stay at a McMennamin’s hotel for a Bohemian experience straight out of Portlandia. Eugene is just short of a two-hour drive away.

Eat: The Pizza Research Institute in Eugene—Vegetarian. Be ready to try something you never thought you’d try before.

Drink: The Bier Stein—Apparently they’ve moved since we visited, but craft beer taps inside a bottle shop made for a unique and unforgettable setting to both drink and buy beer for takeout. Ninkasi Brewery is great too.

See: Cascades Raptor Center—A nature center and wildlife hospital that gives you a chance to see eagles, owls, hawks, falcons and more in rehab.

Listen: Shout by the fictional Otis Day and the Knights plays before the fourth quarter every game at Autzen in homage to the scene from Animal House, which was filmed in Eugene.

2010—LSU

Tiger Stadium—Baton Rouge, La.

Tiger Stadium—Baton Rouge, La.

Fly into: New Orleans—We spent more time in New Orleans than Baton Rouge, which isn’t a bad idea. Baton Rouge is an hour and half drive.

Eat: A Po-Boy. We happened to be in town when the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival was happening  in New Orleans in November. But you don’t need to attend the festival to try one of the many Po-Boy shops.

Drink: A visit to Bourbon Street is a must, but if the frat boy atmosphere is overwhelming, anywhere on Frenchman Street is even better for drinks and brass band music.  The Howlin’ Wolf on Peters Street is the best kind of dive bar.

See: A tour of the above-ground burial sites in St. Louis Cemetery, complete with a stop at the Voodoo Temple.

Listen: The roar from Tiger Stadium has registered as an earthquake by seismologists.

2009—Virginia

Scott Stadium—Charlottesville, Va.

Scott Stadium—Charlottesville, Va.

Fly into: Richmond, Va.—About an hour’s drive to Charlottesville and plenty of wineries along the way if you’re into that kind of thing.

Eat: Mas Tapas in Charlottesville—Spanish-influenced taps, great for groups and sharing food.

Drink and Listen: Miller’s Downtown—Located on the Downtown Mall, this is where Dave Matthews used to bartend and play before getting big. Dave Matthews Band collaborator John D’Earth and his quintet still play a weekly gig here on Thursday nights.

See: Edgar Allen Poe’s dormitory room—Set among current student dorms, Poe’s room (No. 13) has been restored to original condition circa 1826. A glass door allows visitors to see inside.

2008—Texas

Darell K. Royal Stadium—Austin, Tex.

Darell K. Royal Stadium—Austin, Tex.

Fly into: Austin—Convenient.

Eat: Stubb’s BBQ—Stubb’s is fine, and a great live music venue, but I regret not going to a more highly regarded BBQ joint such as Iron Works.

Drink: Anywhere on the famous Sixth Street. There’s something for everyone’s taste and style.

See: Tour the intimate Austin City Limits venue inside the KLRU-TV studios. Then go on a nighttime river cruise to see nearly a million bats emerge from Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset. We went on pontoon boat and brought a six-pack of beer with us.  It’s a sight to behold.

2007—Alabama

Bryant-Denny Stadium—Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Bryant-Denny Stadium—Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Fly into: Birmingham, Ala.—About an hour drive.

Eat: Dreamland BBQ—This is a must. Going to the original Dreamland in Tuscaloosa is like going back in time. It’s a simple wooden shack and the ribs are served with white Wonderbread on the side to sop up the sauce.

Drink: The Houndstooth—It’s the right place to enjoy a rowdy crowd celebrating a Tide victory after the game.

See: Paul W. Bryant Museum—Located right on campus, the museum honors the career of the legendary Bear Bryant.

Listen: Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Synyrd. You’ll hear it 100 times on a Saturday game day.

And of course…

Wisconsin

Meeting Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne in Madison, Wis.

Meeting Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne in Madison, Wis.

Fly into: Milwaukee—Madison is about an hour and a half drive.

Eat: The Blue Moon—Simple burgers, sandwiches and fries done right on Old University Ave. The perfect place to eat either before or after the game for pub grub.

Drink: No stop in Madison is complete without a trip to State Street and its many establishments, but it’s a mile away from the stadium. Before the game, the many outdoor beer gardens along Regent Street are the place to be. The micro breweries in Madison are top notch too: Karben 4, Ale Asylum, Next Door Brewing, One Barrel Brewing, Vintage.

See: The Memorial Union Terrace on the shore of Lake Mendota is the perfect spot to sit outside and enjoy a warm weather day, especially at sunset. Live music.

Listen: Jump Around by House of Pain before the start of the fourth quarter has become a nationally-recognized tradition.

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