Some time ago, I decided that among my various travel goals I would include a sports-related one: making my way to all 14 of the football stadiums belonging to current member institutions of the Big Ten Conference. So far, progress has been minimal. How minimal, you ask?
Well, so minimal, that my Sept. 23rd visit to Ross-Ade Stadium, home of the Purdue University Boilermakers, marked just the third stadium I've been able to check off the list up to this point — the first two being Michigan Stadium (or the Big House) in Ann Arbor and Spartan Stadium (yuck!) in East Lansing.
On Saturday, three hours or so past the crack of dawn, a friend, my brother, and myself squashed ourselves into my brother's black Ford Focus and took to the freeway, heading south for the great(ish) state of Indiana, America's Crossroads, as they say. West Lafayette and the campus of Purdue University were just under four hours away, and despite almost getting into an accident about ten minutes in (I wasn't driving, I swear (really though, I wasn't)), we made it there with a couple hours to spare before game time.
Upon parking in some lovely gentleman's yard for the reasonable price of $20, we stepped from the vehicle into the 90-degree weather and just so happened to spot Isaac Haas, a center on the Purdue basketball team, getting into his own vehicle and zooming off somewhere. The dude we paid for parking confirmed that the "basketball house," where some of the team members live, was right across the street. So that was neat-o, gang.
I want to tell you that we moseyed over to the Brown Street Overlook and took in the scenic view of the Wabash River and the skyline of neighboring Lafayette; that we sat down at All Fired Up! and painted our own pottery; that we checked out the 100,000 books for all ages at the West Lafayette Public Library; but unfortunately, we did none of these things. I only just found them, like right now, on homeofpurdue.com.
What am I talking about though? Of course we didn't do those things; we were there for a football game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Purdue Boilermakers. And objective number one after arriving was finding some sustenance. This, naturally, led us to the Stacked Pickle, a sports bar and grill along Northwestern Avenue.
Michigan fans more than sprinkled the establishment — they might have even accounted for more than half of the patrons in the place — but we promptly discovered that the wait time for food was an hour and a half, which just wouldn't do. So we meandered over to the bar and ordered Jägerbombs and beer, the perfect vitamins for a sunny, hot-as-hell day.
Two or three drinks and a few Jimmy John's subs later, we were getting our tickets scanned to enter the stadium. Stupidly, we walked all the way around the concourse when we could have taken a much more direct route to our seats, but we had some time to kill anyway. I cannot say that anything about the facility particularly stood out to me — and maybe you've heard that Jim Harbaugh wasn't exactly impressed, either? — but maybe I was just too focused on the game that was about to kickoff.
In the sweltering (autumn?) heat, we took our seats in the south end zone, armed with full water bottles from the concession stand that we would soon need to replace. Michigan kicked to Purdue to start the game, and we buckled in for a first half that felt like two quarters of sitting in a sauna.
Sandwiched between a rather large Michigan fan on my left, my brother on my right, and a girl who graduated from Purdue (but annoyingly kept talking about Ohio State for some reason) in front of me, the first half of the game was tight in more ways than one. Going into halftime, the boys in maize and blue had lost their starting quarterback and were losing 10-7.
Needless to say in the age of the Internets, Michigan would come out in a big way in the second half and go on to win 28-10, completely shutting down the Boilers in the final two quarters. And (!!) the sun stopped harassing us a little ways into the third quarter as it went down behind the press box. So there was that too.
Afterwards, we took ourselves and our sweat-soaked shirts (that's a pleasant image, isn't it? — though I'm exaggerating) and flew out of town as fast as traffic would allow. This was not because we had anything against West Lafayette. It was actually because we hadn't planned in advance and one of the nearest (and cheapest) hotels we could find was an hour north, and there was more football on television later that night that required our eyeballs.
One night in a truck-stop-style Super 8 just off I-65 later and our football weekend was at an end. Except for Sunday, when the Detroit Lions would get screwed out of a win on the final play of their game against the Atlanta Falcons. It's always something with them, I swear...