by George King
During the past few years, my beloved nephews and I have embarked on a journey to visit all the Big Ten Football stadiums and experience game day activities at those most iconic campuses. Each campus has very unique rituals, and it has been a great memory-maker for us.
Our decision to do this started during our annual visit to Notre Dame. This campus is the center of college football. There is no stadium that has legends larger than the football gods of South Bend. Rockne, the Four Horsemen, Leahy and Gipp all played here. Ronald Reagan, a future President, was in “Knute Rockne Story”, a movie is still evokes emotion today. When you walk the hallowed grounds of Notre Dame, shivers run up your spine, as this is the birthplace of college football. Listening to the band perform, watching the team march into the stadium led the most recognizable fight song in all of sports is one great experience that is a must do on any college football fan’s bucket list. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Fighting Irish are what the Yankees are to baseball, a national treasure.
During that same year 2011, we decided to do the state of Michigan. Visits to both East Lansing and Ann Arbor were put on our calendars. Although both teams played competition that was far inferior, we entered these gridiron cathedrals. Just hearing “Hail to the Victors” in person is indescribable. However hearing it over twenty times as the Wolverines defeated Delaware State.. we’ll just say it was too much. State’s history is not as rich as their big brother in Ann Arbor, but it still has very passionate and knowledgeable fans. MSU has Sparty, and the boys loved the picture with him!
As the season came to a close, the boys and I watched a game on television. We started to talk about next season, and when the camera panned the crowd of corn cob wearing fans, my nephews shouted, “Let’s go there.”
Well the decision was made, Nebraska was our next destination. Nebraska entered the Big Ten in 2012, so it was not originally on our list, but we started planning our trip in December 2011. Our nine-hour journey was dominated by corn. This most boring trip and needed to be spiced up. Our trips always have side journeys to interesting sites along the way. Well, western Iowa is the home on John Wayne, Bob Feller, and the bridges of Madison County. These mini-journeys have fun and an educational purpose, which is a good sell to my brother as the boys need permission to miss an occasional day of school.
Big Red is huge in Nebraska. Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest city in Nebraska on football Saturday. All the consecutive sellouts are amazing, but as the fellow in the seat next me told me, “there is really nothing to do in Nebraska but watch football.”
While walking to the game, a young man with a camera asked to talk to me. He was from the Omaha paper and the boys and I were in Sunday’s edition as Fans of the Game. He interviewed us and later sent me a copy of the photo that proudly hags in my foyer. We enjoyed Nebraska, the game, and the memories of visiting this school during their inaugural year of Big Ten Football.
During the drive home we decided to do another red-clad team, and it was “On Wisconsin.” What a beautiful campus, and sitting on the shores of Lake Mendota was the stadium, Camp Randall. It was an active military base during the Civil War and was even used to hold Confederate POWs during the conflict.
Wisconsin has resurrected its football program since the arrival of Barry Alvarez as coach, who is now currently the AD. That place knows how to do football. The tailgating in Wisconsin is second to none as the haze of cooking brat’s fills the sky. The aroma would make Jenny Craig quit any diet, as brats and beer are Wisconsin staples. At the start of the third quarter, the crowd and my two nephews went nuts as they played “Jump Around”. The vibration is so great you can feel the movement of the stadium. It must be on your list for Big Ten stadiums, as Camp Randall really does rock!
We finished up our season with visits to Illinois and Northwestern. Illinois was like watching football in a mortuary, as there has been not much to get the Illini faithful excited. Northwestern plays fun football, and Pat Fitzgerald has that team very competitive. Interest is improving, but the crowd generally small. Big Ten powers regularly outdraw Northwestern at their home field. For us, it was Go Cats!
At the start of the 2012 season, trips to Ohio State, Iowa, and Purdue were on the agenda. In September, the boys and I headed eastward to Columbus, Ohio and the “Shoe”. Our trip had two great stops along the way.
First, we stopped at the Hoosiers Gym in Knightstown, Indiana. After having the boys watch the movie the week before our visit, both of them became Jimmy Chittwood as they were shooting baskets in the gym that Gene Hackman once stood in for the 1985 film. It is a wonderful stop and the guides are very accommodating. The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle is also good stop for any sports fan.
On Friday, we arrived on the campus of Ohio State University. As we walked toward the stadium, we saw the practice facility and the Woody Hayes statue. This large statue of the legendary Ohio State coach was a reminder of his impact on the Buckeyes. We made it to the campus early and watched the team march to the stadium. The boys slapped high fives with the Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller. Watching the Ohio State Marching band perform the Script Ohio during halftime was an experience I will always value.
However, my nephews really wanted to meet Brutus. The boys have pictures with Sparty, Herbie, Bucky, Brutus and now Harkey. These pictures to me are super valuable as they will always represent the great times we had doing this, and if God allows me a long life, I would love to show these photos at their respective weddings. I have enjoyed the trips to all these schools as they all celebrate football Saturday in their own way.
Next year, we visit Minnesota, Indiana, and Penn State and our journey will end. It was a great time that allowed this uncle to value the time with his young nephews, as I know I have given them a lifetime of great memories that are simply priceless.