Tailgates and Touchdowns

 

Not that I’m counting the days or anything but the college football season kicks off on August 28th with the NFL following shortly after on September 4th. With this in mind, here are my choices for some epic trips based around football, grub, libations and a few side excursions along the way.

Destination: Chicago, Illinois & South Bend, Indiana
September 5th – September 7th

MLB Game Day: Pirates/Cubs at Wrigley Field

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Wrigley in early September is tough to beat unless you’re a Cubs fan when come July your squad is already out of the baseball race. For me, the friendly confines are always a party and I’ve found a day game at the ballpark trumps just about anything else. With the Cubs boasting some of the best young talent in the game still marinating in the minors, late summer might give a glimpse of the stars called up for a preview against Pittsburgh.

Eat & Drink: Wrigleyville. There are too many to count so check out these options…

College Game Day: Michigan/Notre Dame at South Bend

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For me, this is the entrée of the trip and the whole reason for the weekend. The Wolverines and Fighting Irish have been playing against each other dating all the way back to 1887. This October is the last game between the two for at least the next five years. Two storied programs at Notre Dame Stadium. Yes.

Eat & Drink: LaSalle Grill. If you can get in, this is a Four Diamond Award winner and in South Bend, that’s saying something. Reservations are a must so get working on that now. If you’d prefer to do as the Romans do while in town, turn your attention to Frank’s Place. Frank’s is “South Bend’s Original Neighborhood Bar,” featuring daily lunch and dinner specials while offering everything from hamburgers to steaks. A hometown favorite.

NFL Game Day: Bills/Bears at Soldier Field

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I’ll be honest with you, this could be a game time decision. It’s the first week of the NFL and any bar in Chi-town is a perfectly acceptable alternative to watch all the games. Nursing a hangover with the hair of the dog that bit you at Soldier Field does have a certain charm to it as well.

Eat & Drink: Twin Anchors

One of Sintatra’s favorite hangouts, experience the reason Ol’ Blue Eyes had a bodyguard stand by the payphone so patrons couldn’t alert their friends of Francis’ preferred dinner location.

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September 26th – September 29th
Destination: Lincoln, Nebraska & Kansas City, Missouri

College Game Day: Illinois/Nebraska at Memorial Stadium

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You’re not going to find a more devoted fan base than Husker Nation so there’s a reason that Memorial Stadium on game day becomes the third largest populous in the state behind the cities of Omaha and Lincoln. Too much talent has graced the field to not appreciate the history here and while visiting Illinois isn’t going to confuse anyone with Florida State or Alabama, a Saturday game in Lincoln holds bucket list status for me. Why this game? It makes for an ideal place setting for a Monday night feast in neighboring Kansas City and spreads out the long weekend for plenty of BBQ, jazz and the like.

Eat & Drink: Misty’s. A Lincoln institution dating back to 1963, the prime rib and steaks will remind you why Nebraska is synonymous with beef.

NFL Game Day: Pats/Chiefs at Arrowhead MNF

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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are on the grand stage in one of the loudest stadiums anywhere against a KC squad that’s vastly improved with Andy Reid at the helm. All-everything running back Jamaal Charles and an up-and-coming defense are looking to make a statement against the Pats at Arrowhead and all we have to do is drink beer and munch on some brisket approvingly. Touchdown us.

Eat & Drink: This is like choosing from sportsbooks in Vegas. It’s all good. In particular, Arthur Bryant’s, LC’s Barbeque and Oklahoma Joe’s.

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October 3rd – October 5th
Destination: Knoxville & Nashville, Tennessee

College Game Day: Florida/Tennessee at Neyland Stadium

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Despite no allegiance or connections to the Vols whatsoever, Neyland Stadium has always been on my radar. Smack dab on the banks of the Tennessee River, the field that sports the orange-and-white checkerboard end zones and a seating capacity of over 102,000 just oozes the electricity of SEC football . Throw in the visiting Gators and this should be nothing short of classic.

Eat & Drink: When you think of Knoxville, you’re not thinking pizza and Italian food. All the more reason to see what’s up with Pizza Palace  and why it’s been around for over 50 years.

NFL Game Day: Browns/Titans

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If Johnny Manziel isn’t the starting QB by this time in Week 5 then something has already gone terribly wrong for Cleveland…again. Having said this, I expect Johnny Football to bring his own version of honky tonk to The Music City and provide an entertaining game against a Titans defense looking for a knockout.

Eat & Drink: When in Rome, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. Burger Up is another apparent religious experience when it comes to ground round and brew. Then there’s the ultimate in bar-b-que at Jack’s . You’ll run across a myriad places that are worth your time so be prepared to book another trip to get in Round 2.

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October 24th – October 26th
Destination: New Orleans & Baton Rouge, Louisiana
{On the Side: Airboat Tour}

How about gliding across the bayou in an airboat and getting a behind-the-scenes look at one of nature’s ultimate landscapes? What a rush. With the chance to see gators and other wildlife, including swamp people, this might be the dark horse as the most fun activity on the trip.

College Game Day: Ole Miss/LSU at Tiger Stadium

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Under the lights in Baton Rouge is like no other. When people talk about the premier college football environments in the nation, very few, if any, top Tiger Stadium at LSU. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out former running back Jeremy Hill’s appreciation for his alma mater that is now tattooed across his back.

The fact that Ole Miss is slated to be a competitive, preseason Top 25 team this year lends to an even better rivalry game. Buckle up.

Eat & Drink: Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. I’m not sure I can do this feast justice. It’s what you’d expect Louisiana to perfect with chicken, the sauce, slaw, neighboring Texas Toast and the like. It’s a phenomenon down South that the rest of the country isn’t currently privileged to. Once you experience Cane’s, you might be looking at real estate in The Pelican State for a closer proximity to all the goodness.

NFL Game Day: Packers/Saints at the Superdome Sunday Night Football

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Aaron Rodgers vs. Drew Brees. Who Dat! Nation bringing the noise and the festivities. Expect a few Cheeseheads to crash the party. This is big time. You might even run into Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth while you’re at it. Pregame on Bourbon Street. Postgame on Bourbon Street.

Eat & Drink: Commander’s Palace. World renowned and undeniably New Orleans. This is where Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse learned their craft. If you can schedule it for this trip, you’ll experience a dining opportunity that most never will. If they’re booked, you’ll always be assured the city’s best beignets and coffee at the original Café Du Monde on Decatur Street.

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Airboat Tour pics from Sallie 014 - rev_1

 

November 8th – November 10th
Destination: Seattle, Washington

College Game Day: UCLA/UW at Husky Stadium

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Granted, Seattle in November isn’t going to bring the Chamber of Commerce out for pictures but the new Husky Stadium has to be seen to be believed and with a powerhouse match up against the Bruins, I’ll brave the elements for a chance to see some high level gridiron action. Similar to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, you’ve got to love a water adjacent venue where you can tailgate on your boat before kick-off.

NFL Game Day: Giants/Seahawks

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The defending Super Bowl champions are looking for a repeat and in this game they’ll be going after Peyton’s little bro, Eli. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be wild and if you survive then you can tell your grandkids about that time you saw a Seahawks game at Century Link Stadium and lived to tell about it.

Eat & Drink: Mike’s Chili Parlor. If you’re a chili fan then a place that’s been serving it up since 1922 and has the accolades to go with it should fit in nicely in The Emerald City’s traditional Fall weather offerings. If chili isn’t your thing, give Slim’s Last Chance a chance .

*Stay tuned for a follow up feature on more sports trip ideas including hoops and pucks from amateurs to the pros.