Sunday morning I flew back home to Dallas from Columbus, bringing an end to the MSF-La Quinta College Football Road Trip.
As I sat on the plane, editing videos and reliving the incredible amount of fun had over the preceding 36 hours, there was one thought that kept coming back to me over and over. And it made me smile every single time.
And the thought was this: I just spent an entire weekend immersed in love.
(Though, unfortunately, it was not the kind Kevin alluded to with his Photoshop hilarity featured in this preview of the weekend…)
A Special Weekend in Columbus
First off, I have to begin this final recap with a huge shoutout to La Quinta. They made this entire trip possible while giving me the freedom to tell the stories of each weekend how I saw fit.
And though I’d have had a blast if I’d made each trip alone, getting to share it with family, a best buddy for life, a great old friend and a pretty new one, and then this weekend with Kevin and Jen, made it one of the more memorable experiences I’ve ever had.
I can’t say it enough, so I’ll just state it simply (and boldly!): thank you La Quinta.
So, yes, there was a lot of love being felt for La Quinta all weekend.
There was also the love between a community and its college football program, which the people of Columbus so obviously feel for their Buckeyes and the many traditions that make Ohio State football so special.
And based on how Urban Meyer and the team entertained fans in the end zone after the game with a heartfelt rendition of “Carmen Ohio”, and other songs, I’d say the feeling is mutual.
And there was, of course, Kevin’s love for his Buckeyes, which has been one of his defining qualities for as long as I’ve known him and has never waned.
How serious of an Ohio State fan is Kevin? He dresses up like Woody Hayes on gameday.
There was even the love shared between two old friends, in this case me and Kevin, for whom time may change but the laughter and fun times always stay the same. (Yeah, just go ahead and cue this.)
And, perhaps most notably, there was the burgeoning and so clearly obvious love between Kevin and his lovely lady friend Jen, an amazing woman with an infectious spirit who I met for the first time this weekend yet who already feels like a close friend.
Yes, once again, this past weekend’s edition of the MSF-La Quinta CFB Road Trip was special and memorable for so many reasons beyond the actual game itself.
But what made this trip even more special is that the game, in this case Ohio State versus Purdue, featured one of the most exciting sports finishes I’ve ever witnessed first hand.
And, being an IU grad who (of course) loves seeing Purdue lose, it goes without saying that I loved how this game turned out.
What an amazing series of events to experience.
So…you know how the game ended, and how it looked from Section 24B, but how about the rest of the weekend?
Join Kevin, Jen, and I as we have more fun than should be possible in 36 hours in Columbus.
Friday Night Fun
Unlike the previous three trips, I didn’t drive to this one. Dallas to Columbus was just a bit too much to try do to twice in one weekend. So I made my way to the airport for a direct flight from DFW to Columbus.
This was my first flight since beginning watching Lost, which I’ve been catching up on through the wonder of Netflix over the past couple of months. As you might expect, I found myself sizing everyone up in the gate area and as they got on the plane…you know, just in case we ended up stranded on an island.
Fortunately, my plane took off and arrived on time – which one can no longer take for granted when flying American, or so I’ve been told – and I made an easy airport connection with Kevin and Jen, who had just driven in from Indianapolis.
As you can tell from the pic above, the weather in Columbus wasn’t ideal, but who cares? When you’re with great friends and having fun, even the most overcast, rainy day is full of sunshine, smiles, and blue skies.
We eventually navigated through the raindrops and construction to arrive at our comfortable lodgings for the weekend.
As everyone always seems excited to do as soon as we get to the hotel room, Kevin and Jen immediately bounded onto the bed.
I, on the other hand, turned my attention to the goodies that had been left for us to enjoy, having not eaten much during my day of travel.
And when I turned back, completely unnecessary PDS (public displays of spooning) had commenced.
After indulging in a teeny taste of Indiana’s finest – Sun King beer, which Kevin and Jen had brought along as a special treat for me – we decided to make our way towards Columbus’ famed German Village.
Our first stop: Plank’s Bier Garten.
There, we enjoyed a pitcher of some of Columbus’ finest locally-brewed ale and ate the first of many of brats that we would consume over the weekend.
Kevin was enjoying the sausage so much he couldn’t even be bothered to smile for the damn picture.
After the bier garten, it was onto a little place called Victory’s.
Here, one particular victory – of Hoosier hoops over Ohio hoops – was about to be triumphantly experienced.
If you really think I could have – or would have – left that establishment without setting a new standard for such a game, you don’t know me very well. To me it was a matter of state pride. Indiana, I represented.
I don’t have many outstanding, useful, awe-inspiring, ladies-love-it skills…but consistently tossing poorly inflated basketballs into an undersized hoop from about 8 feet away is one of them.
But this was not the only victory to occur at Victory’s.
I also succeeded in snapping some candid shots of the lovebirds, which I think pretty accurately capture what the general feeling was like being around them all weekend.
Then, before leaving, we got a picture of Kevin standing next to his other love.
And then…it was time to head back to the hotel. Which we did. In true, exuberant, sing-a-long style.
Some nights just demand it.
And then it was bed time*, but not before Kevin and his sweet t-shirt stared awkwardly into the wall lights for no apparent reason.
* – It has been rumored that it wasn’t actually bed time, and that Kevin and I might have delivered a, shall we say, inspired dual performance of “Walk On The Ocean” by Toad the Wet Sprocket…but I will neither confirm nor deny this salacious allegation, nor will you ever be able to pry my laptop out of my hands long enough to access the video.
Gameday Saturday in Columbus!
Every other game during the MSF-La Quinta CFB Road Trip has been an evening start, so we’ve always had plenty of time to sleep in on Saturday morning. Not so this weekend. The Buckeyes and Boilers were set to kickoff right at noon, so we had to be up and at ‘em early Saturday morning.
And we were, quickly making our way to the breakfast nook for some jzoise.
After breakfast, Kevin made us return to the room so that he could prune his beard. It’s the kind of attention to detail Woody Hayes would have demanded.
Really, Kevin just wanted to look good on camera while giving us a quick tour around Ohio Stadium, which he did so well here while we walked along Woody Hayes Drive:
And along the way towards St. John Arena, where we planned to watch the Skull Session Kevin mentioned, we ran into a number of interesting characters.
Here, Kevin comes face to face with his unfilled destiny: being Brutus the Buckeye. This should have happened some time along the way.
Jen also ran into Brutus:.
And she simply had to get a picture with the man sporting the best hat/glasses/jacket trio we saw all day. He also had a great laugh.
And here are a couple of, well, let’s just call them very committed Buckeye fanatics.
Next up, it was time for the “Skull Session,” where Ohio State’s band – known as “TBDBITL” (The Best Damn Band In The Land) – warms up and performs before every home game.
The videos we took actually didn’t turn out great, but this video from 2011 does a great job of capturing what this unique experience is like:
After enjoying the tunes, we bopped on over to The Varsity Club to check out the packed pregame experience offered there.
Kevin informed us that the last time he pregamed at The Varsity Club, he saw four people throw up. So we were prepared for a wild scene.
It was actually a bit more chill than I’d anticipated, perhaps because the area where we chose to congregate, though packed, seemed populated mostly by older folks.
We enjoyed ourselves, despite being packed in like sardines, even taking an “anniversary shot” in honor of it being close to the one-year anniversary of Kevin and Jen’s courtship beginning.
Soon it was time to head over to the stadium, which looked like it could be a rather unpleasant experience based on the gathering clouds overhead.
But the rain stayed away, and the sunlight even peeked through at just the right time as we walked past the main entrance to Ohio Stadium.
Once inside, I was impressed with the respect paid to Ohio State’s glorious football tradition.
There were towering banners like the ones pictured below for all of the Buckeye’s biggest legends, as well as smaller banners for the other great players that built Buckeye football into what it is today.
And I loved the stained glass windows at the main entrance. (Sorry for the glare in the pictures.)
You know what else I loved? Jen playing the “Hello Game” as we made our way to our seats.
And, of course, how could anyone not love and be impressed by TBDBITL performing Script Ohio before kickoff?
Then the game began.
If you missed the recap of the final thrilling minutes above, here it is again:
And yes, if you’ve never been to an Ohio State game or seen one on TV, the people do make the O-H-I-O gestures with their arms at numerous times through the game.
The folks seated behind us showed how it’s done.
Needless to say, they were quite happy with how the game turned out.
A 29-22 Ohio State victory in overtime might not have been what everyone was expecting coming in, but certainly no one left the stadium feeling bad, as the finish was simply too entertaining not to thoroughly enjoy. Well, unless you’re a Purdue fan.
We did make sure to get a group pic a little further down, with a better background of the stadium. Jen made sure the picture turned out fabulous.
After the game, it was onto the after party, the River Jam on Lane, which was going down just a hop, skip, and a jump from the stadium.
With large TVs showing college football, tasty drink treats, and a live band playing a fun assortment of hits, it was a good time.
Unfortunately, that meant unnecessary dancing in broad daylight took place.
And Jen offered up an excited toast/salute as well, though she wouldn’t appreciate it if I told you what she was saluting. So we’ll just keep that between three of us…
I know Kevin was ready to salute the T-shirt designers who came up with these:
We then decided to make our way back to where we’d parked, not knowing how long we’d be allowed to keep Effy there. Once we arrived, we stumbled upon a rather interesting brew called “Bleeding Buckeye” from the local Elevator Brewing Company.
Kevin and I had to give it a try, which resulted in this awesome picture:
And speaking of cool beers, I also stumbled across one of my favorite beer name/label combos ever, for Ichabod Pumpkin beer, which I’ll randomly share here just for the fun of it:
This weekend reminded me how much better the Midwest does beer than Texas. But I digress…
We hung out around the stadium for a bit longer, checking out a few more bars and grabbing a snack from a food truck, before deciding to retire to the hotel room for the evening.
We left at the perfect time to capture this picture from the parking garage:
Once we got back, Kevin got caught up on the latest from around the world of college football…
…and Jen pretty quickly displayed the effects of being out late Friday night, up early Saturday morning, and expending tons of energy during every waking moment since.
We, of course, had to snap a group picture.
Jen eventually woke up to yank Kevin back into bed with her while I third-wheeled it over on the other bed with chips and salsa.
With a 9:00 flight looming for me the next morning, 11:13 was about as late as any of us wanted to stay up.
We shut out the lights soon thereafter to end what had been quite the nice little Saturday and, overall, a spectacular, marvelous, even magical (to steal Jen’s word) weekend.
And why not?
Happiness is what we all strive for every day. And love, in all its forms, is the most genuine source of happiness available to us in this wide, wonderful world. That makes them two pretty worthy subjects to have top of mind, in my book anyway.
Each week of this trip has been filled with love – the love of friends, the love of family, the love of school, the love of sport, even the love of food, drink, and merriment. Being engulfed in so much love, you can’t help but feel anything other than happiness.
And when I look back on this road trip experience, that will be the prevailing feeling: happiness.
An old friend commented on a picture that I posted to Facebook this weekend that I always look so happy in the pictures I post, the vast majority of which, recently, have been from the four MSF-La Quinta Trip weekends. It makes sense that she would say that. That sure is how I’ve felt.
This past weekend in Columbus was a perfect example of the best kind of happiness, the kind where seeing other people happy is the source for your own positive feelings.
From seeing fans across the city so happy to be enjoying a fall football Saturday; to the look of the joy on the face of the old man seated behind us once Ohio State’s comeback was complete; to the complete and utter affection and adoration shared between Kevin and Jen…this was a weekend where it was so incredibly easy to notice and revel in the love and happiness all around.
That’s what college football can be, at its best and more pure.
The negative issues with college football are obvious. Shoot, we spent this past weekend at Ground Zero for many of those issues, especially the ones dealing with the hypocrisy inherent in big-time college sports. And you can’t just ignore those issues when viewing college football in totality.
But so much vitriol, much of it warranted, has been spewed out about college football that it can be easy to forget about the great many joys it can bring:
Families coming together for Saturdays; the lasting memories of thrilling games like Saturday’s; the camaraderie evident in a team full of triumphant young people celebrating a hard-fought win; wonderful traditions that pass through time like the Skull Session.
And on and on.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been fighting a pretty severe case of sports burnout lately. Which is why this trip came at the perfect time for me. It reminded me about everything I love about sports, so little of which is captured when viewing the games through a TV screen (especially if watching solo to get a quick turnaround on a blog post).
Sports, especially college football, are so much better as a shared experience and especially so when you can be there to experience the community and participate in the atmosphere. That’s when you create memories you can see and feel and taste and hear and…relive.
Those are the memories that last. Those are the memories filled with love that can always bring you happiness.
I figured I’d learn a lot about college football during these four weeks. I did not anticipate gaining a new perspective on love and happiness. But I ended up doing both, this weekend especially.
Thank you La Quinta for giving me this opportunity.
Thank you Bryce, Genesis, Aaron, Kristin, Kevin, and Jen for sharing it with me.
And thank you to every reader who followed along as we shared our stories with you.
This has been my most rewarding experience as a blogger.
You might think my body would be tired or sore from so much travel, or my hands and fingers exhausted from so much writing and posting. Nope. Not even close.
There is just one part of me that might qualify, as Kevin described so eloquently this weekend as we were walking back from the stadium to our car:
“I’ll you what is sore: my face…from smiling, and laughing.”
There sure was a lot of both these four weeks.
I’m sorry to see it end, but I’ll be smiling and laughing from the memories forever.