In the old days of Arkansas playing in the Southwest Conference, nothing seemed very far away. Lubbock, for sure. Austin was the next furthest, then Houston, but Dallas? Ft. Worth? Waco? College Station? Not very far at all.
Fayetteville, Arkansas is 28 miles from Westville, Oklahoma and 44 miles from Jane, Missouri. It is in the far northwestern corner of the state of Arkansas, which (surprisingly) is number 29 of 50 in land mass---pretty close to the middle.
It’s 318 miles (about 5 hours) from Memphis.
Road Trips in the SEC are not to be undertaken lightly from Fayetteville, even those to “nearby” places like Oxford and Starkville. The trip to Gainesville, Florida, though, is a bonewrecker. 975 miles, 16 hours (with very few potty breaks); it’s not one you make very often. I only made it once.
Surprisingly, though, I made quite a few trips to Columbia, South Carolina (917), and it seemed much closer (probably because I broke the trips up more).
Lexington, Kentucky is a paltry 700 miles from Fayetteville (and the shortest route is through St. Louis!).
I, however, lived in Malvern (Central Arkansas), so most of my SEC excursions started from there. My northwest Arkansas friends would rendezvous at my house, then head south and east.
On with the tour!
Florida “GO, GATORS!!!”
What SEC fan cannot close his/her eyes and hear (to the tune of “Jaws”) “Go, Gators! Go Gators! Go Gators! Come on Gators, Get Up and Go!”) (if you can’t here you go). Considering that they’re legitimately ranked #1 going into this season (2009), and have the hardware in the trophy case, it’s a chant that reverberates through the SEC and college football---and it’s accompanied by that infamous “Gator Chomp” motion made by the entire crowd at “The Swamp” (Ben Hill Griffith Stadium at Florida Field).
Florida claims “Two Bits” as its own, and I must confess I just don’t get it. Probably the most impressive thing about the Florida experience (in the stadium, and aside from the display of sheer, unadulterated talent on the football field) is the moment when the Pride of the Sunshine Band plays “We Are the Boys From Old Florida”, and the entire crowd sways as they sing.
Off the field, aside from the large, impressive campus and GREAT strip of bars and campus hangouts just off-campus, I have to say (and this is a “family” blog): How does the University of Florida EVER lose a heterosexual recruit??? I just need somebody to explain that to me. Use terms I can understand, and go slow. I mean, the “Va Va Voom” factor is waaaaaaay off the scale, and women outnumber men on campus. Let me be clear, and repeat: How does the University of Florida EVER lose a heterosexual recruit??? Add the fact that you’re about an hour and a half each direction to the beach, and factor in the swimsuit coefficient….
I’m throwing in my favourite picture of Nathan and me, ever. Doesn’t look like either of us any more, but it’s my favourite. Those who know me (and him) and harken back to the Houston Nutt era at Arkansas will understand EXACTLY what we’re parodying here ;-). The rest of the SEC, y’all have all fired coaches too. Ole Miss fans: yeah, good luck with that…hope y’all like your new coach. BWAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh scuse me i did it again this is supposed to be a “neutral” tour i so sorry….
This is not my picture below (I think it’s Scott Hamilton’s but not sure; if the owner will come forward I’ll give him/her credit). I’m going to go ahead and set it up: We drove 1,000 miles in my new minivan, “Big Red”, dragging a trailer full of tailgate equipment, with 4 full-sized dogs and 4 full-sized men, to Gainesville, Florida. We picked up another at the airport (and yes, I hit a big bump, and yes, he bumped his noggin). We had a great time. See the aforementioned paragraph concerning Florida coeds and just-off-campus bars. With everything that happened, I got exactly 1 hour sleep. There is a reason I am not in the picture below, but AM at the game. (Just fyi, there are no bail bondsmen available in Alachua County, Florida, after 2:00 am; I know, for I stood outside the courthouse with the phone book and my cell phone, calling every one of them. Those inside the courthouse at the time--you know who you are ;-). JR made a very noble sacrifice on that trip. That’s all I’m saying.
It was a long trip back to Arkansas; we lost the game and several didn’t get to see it (and Nathan and I had some pretty severe hangovers in that picture, and it was pretty damn hot in that stadium).
Road Trips are da bomb.
South Carolina “GO COCKS!”
South Carolina shares a distinction with Arkansas: we’re the only teams in the SEC that practice cannibalism. Yep, you heard it here. At Arkansas, we say that when we eat the flesh of the boar (pulled pork bbq), the spirit of the fighting boar comes into us and we are Rabid Hogs.
Chicken is definitely on the menu in Columbia, South Carolina, a pleasant city about the size of Little Rock, on GameDay. As is the case in most of the SEC, those people know how to throw a tailgate party for 90,000 of their closest friends. The big deal in South Carolina is the “Cockabooses”. The stadium is not on-campus, it’s at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds, and backs up to a more-or-less abandoned railroad track. Years ago, someone got the bright idea of buying up cabooses and placing them on the tracks behind the stadium; that’s where the serious tailgating occurs. No expense is spared on those particular tailgates, but they’re invitation-only, and my invite must’ve gotten lost in the mail….any Carolina fan reading this is welcome to invite me to their Cockaboose! ;-)
Columbia has a great downtown bar/restaurant scene, and the Carolinians are hospitable to visiting fans like all good Southerners should be. They are truly dedicated to their team, and pack their large, loud stadium with garnet-and-black clad partisans who know how to tailgate and know how to support their team (for the first half, anyway ;-).
Until my last trip, I’d never really gotten a good look at their campus; it’s lovely. Every brick is soaked in the traditions of “The Old South”; a truly nice place to visit.
They don’t really have a “War Cry” as such—except for that damn rooster. The Stadium PA plays a rooster cry (a real one) when they need to get the crowd jazzed. It’s annoying as all get out.
Sorry I’m mixing these games up; the evening/night pictures are from my last South Carolina (and last Razorback) Road Trip, in 2006. The one flag picture, below, is from my FIRST trip to Columbia—the infamous game in which Hoot used up all the quarterbacks and was running frantically up and down the sidelines asking all the players, “Did you play QB in high school?” But, I digress….
Back to 2006: DMAC does it again. I didn’t get the actual TD, was too busy screaming.
Kentucky, “GO CATS!!!”
Like Fayetteville, Lexington, Kentucky is a long way from the rest of the SEC, both physically (it’s 88 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio) and mentally (it’s 88 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio).
What strikes you immediately as you near Lexington is the absolute beauty of the countryside. Some of the finest horse farms in the world are on display for your visual enjoyment as you drive by on the road---the beautiful, long “bluegrass”, the white split-rail and stone fences, the superb horseflesh---there’s no doubt at all you’re in Kentucky.
Kentucky’s campus is large, modern, and sprawling. The fans are gracious and welcoming, but you can tell: they like football just fine, but they consider football as a nice warm-up for basketball season. Basketball is a religion in Kentucky. Interestingly, Rupp Arena (the basketball facility) is downtown, while Commonwealth Stadium (football) is on campus.
Regardless, these nice folks will be delighted to welcome you to their football game (so they can talk a little round ball on hard wood with ya).
I’ve made it to Kentucky twice; the first time, the field was torn up badly from a drought; the second was one of my legendary road trips---and a 7-overtime football game. I was going to post that story on this post, but realized it deserves its very own space, so I’ll save it for later in the fall.
My camera goofed up on these photos (and it was these messed-up photos that made me say, “Grrrr” and buy the Nikon when I got back to Arkansas).
Arkansas fans reading this: Commonwealth Stadium is what War Memorial would look like if they put the upper decks and skyboxes in.
Calling the Hogs in Commonwealth:
Vanderbilt “That’s all right, that’s OK, We’re Gonna Be Your Boss Some Day!” (Ok, not really, “Go ‘Dores!!!”)
Like Georgia, I have no photos of Vandy, and it’s probably just as well. As a road trip, Vandy gives you the opportunity to eat at one of the many restaurants up and down Broadway in Nashville (my favourite, Amerigo’s, is still there). You can go to the Country Music Hall of Fame and see Elvis’s “Solid Gold Cadillac”; you can tour the beautiful antebellum homes “Belle Meade” (What’s the only racing silk ever retired from Churchill Downs? Belle Meade Plantation’s.) and the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. Margaret Mitchell, touring Nashville as a young girl, toured Belle Meade and observed the pock marks in the stone from the minie balls, and heard the story of the Lady of the Plantation standing down Grant’s army on the front steps, and wrote those stories into her epic novel, Gone With The Wind.
Speaking of Grant, he used the beautiful First Presbyterian Church to stable his horses (it’s still there; he and the horses are dead). The Maxwell House hotel was the preeminent hotel in town when President Theodore Roosevelt, visiting, drained his coffee cup, slammed it down on the table and loudly declared it to be “Good to the Last Drop”.
A quick trip south of Nashville will take you to Franklin, a quaint small town (now a suburb) which has preserved its downtown as a shopping district (ladies love it). You can eat at a good ol Tennessee “meat and three” there (we call them “cafe’s” in Arkansas).
One of my favourite things in Nashville: the Southern Baptists have their world headquarters there, a series of impressive skyscrapers. Nestled between them, with the State House diagonally across the street, is the Kit Kat Klub. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions….;-)
Don’t forget, while in Nashville, to stop by the stadium and watch your team play Vanderbilt.
Mississippi State “GO! STATE! GO STATE!!!”
“What can I say about that suit that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan; it looks bombed out and depleted.” ---Dave Chappelle
Thanks, Dave, I’ll take it from here.
What can I say about Starkville, Mississippi that hasn’t already been said about Afghanistan; it looks bombed out and depleted.
Look, if you’re going to Starkvegas, just remember a few quick things:
- You’re going to hear every uncouth, crude, crass word you’ve ever heard, twice. Serious cussing. From Grandmas, housewives, and 8 year olds.
- They didn’t get the memo on Mississippi’s “The South’s Warmest Welcome” tourista slogan. Well, it’s understandable; as soon as they get electricity and indoor plumbing, there’re gonna be some big changes there.
- The KFC and the Burger King run out of food early on GameDays (in case you were looking for that gourmet Starkvegas dining experience).
- If you decide to tour “The Hump”, their basketball facility, just remember to dodge the pieces of it that are falling off in the floor.
- Understand that “the bird” is the official Mississippi State University Greeting. You will get it from cute coeds, old men, old ladies, and children (they start ‘em young).
- Beware of flying objects: bottles, beer cans, assorted other things (they won’t throw cowbells at you, they keep those). Cute little 20 year old Razorback cheerleaders have been taken to the hospital from Scott Field with injuries sustained from flying objects (true).
- If you’re a man: for once, hold the drinking to a minimum. Two main reasons: (a) you need all your faculties in case you have to defend your wimmins, and (b) the men’s room is a walled-off brick enclosure---no roof (thank God, I’d hate to consider the reek otherwise), which is just one big open concrete floor with a trough cut into the floor around the walls and pipes along the walls. The pipes run water continuously. The floor –more or less- slopes toward the walls. You walk up to the nearest wall, whup it out, and let ‘er rip. Well, three of the walls, because the fourth has a line of open commodes. Some gentlemen are using the commodes right-side-up; some are using them upside-down (driving the porcelain bus). If using the wall, beware: if Dad comes in with his 3 year old, the 3 year old may or may not have grasped the concept of “aiming”, and if he stands behind or beside you…well, it’s a 3 hour drive back to Memphis (civilization) with stinky wet shoes and sox. (But Dad will be proud, because as they leave, the 3 year old will hurl the F-bomb at any visitors; Dad’s learned him right!) Honestly, with the men’s room like that, I just can’t imagine the “Little Shop of Horrors” that the ladies’ room must be.
- Cowbells. Everybody’s got one. They’re handed down in families. It’s a Cow College (hence the name, “Moo U”). Despite the SEC’s rigid enforcement of the “No noisemakers” rule, again, that message didn’t filter into Stankvomit (the next Moo U’er that shakes one of the GD things in my face is going to get it shoved up his….er, well, again, this is a family blog.)
- Ole Miss’s country relative. Sigh. If you’re a Southerner, it’s like this: no matter how urbane, sophisticated, elegant or educated you are, no matter if you live in the most luxurious home in Buckhead, Highland Park, River Oaks, Pulaski Heights, Mountain Brook, Belle Meade, Germantown, Belhaven, the Garden District, Mockingbird Valley, Charleston or Palm Beach, somewhere in your family there lurks a band of toothless hillbillies one step out of the Cotton Patch. These relatives will pile in/on the pickup (no point in locking the trailer since Cousin Cletus knocked out the window---he thought it was open and throwed his beer can out of it), and come to visit you (preferably while you’re entertaining your boss and his wife, or your law partners and their families, or some tennis partners from the club). They’ll pile out (Cousin Cletus, his wife Cousin Wanda---you know, she looks a lot better since Aint Lurline got her that job as a waitress down to the BP Truck Center out on the Interstate and she was able to buy some teeth to replace them that Cousin Cletus knocked out that time---and all the little Cletus’s and Wanda’s) and announce their intention to stay the night at your place en route to Talladega (so as to save on a Motel 6 room). So it is with Ole Miss and State. The Staters are Ole Miss’s raggedy-ass relatives.
The best thing about going to a game in Starkville is that, on the way home, you can indulge yourself. If you’re from LA (Lower Arkansas), you can stop at the original Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, MIssissippi (on the River) on Highway 82 on your way home. If going home via Memphis, you can stop off at the Rendezvous for some dry ribs or the original Interstate Barbeque on 3rd Street (if it’s before dark) for a “Sampler Platter”.
Nevertheless, Go Hogs! Herewith are some representative photos of Stankvomit Tech, a.k.a. Moo U, a.k.a. Mississippi State University:
Be afraid, be very afraid. What they lack in numbers, they make up in crass:
It’s sad when the visitors section outnumbers the home team’s:
This concludes my “Road Trip” tour; hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Nobody could have enjoyed going as much as I did. I can’t go any more, but I’ll always have the memories.LINKS TO ALL 5 CHAPTERS OF THIS SERIES: