Slender Man with his Trojan Horse

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October 24th 2020
Published: October 28th 2020
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I know what you're thinking: another lower-tier game in Alabama. Guilty. But in my defense, the lower level of FBS football has been much more attractive this season than in previous seasons, mainly due to price and availability. But one of the schools that I wanted to attend even before the pandemic was Troy. I drove past the school on the same trip that I visited Southern Miss, five years ago, and I was equally desirous of attending a football game here as there. the schedule for this season, however, favored Southern Miss in September and Troy in October. To be honest, Troy was a potential site for me for several weeks this season, but since I skipped last week (after attending for two weeks in a row), I felt the need to go somewhere this weekend. It's just so hard to find reasonably priced tickets, as well as football games where I only have to buy one ticket, and within a reasonable driving distance. Up until this point, halfway through the season, I've only attended 1 game with a friend. The rest have all been solo. So that has naturally affected my choices. But I digress.

Troy University is located in the town of Troy, Alabama. Big surprise. It has a large online presence, as well as several satellite campuses throughout the southeast. In fact, when I go to visit my family in South Georgia, there's a building on the side of the highway with the Troy name and logo on the side.

I didn't remember much about the town when I drove through it five years ago, so I wanted to make sure to spend as much time there as possible. The town of Troy is exactly 4 hours’ drive from Athens GA, and since I'm trying to save money on these trips this year, I elected to make this another day trip. So I left at 8:00 AM and got to Troy at 11:00 AM. It's an hour behind me, so it all works out. The game didn't start until 3:00 local time, which meant I had a little time to spend in the town. It rained pretty heavily as I approached Troy, but the rain slacked off once I got to campus. I parked at the visitor center and walked around what I believe is the main quad. It had a nice big fountain in the middle with a Trojan on horseback at the top. The campus, from what I could tell, was pretty compact. Most of the academic buildings and dorms looked to be within a two-block radius from this quad area. The campus bookstore was just down the steps, and since I had forgotten to bring a poncho and no umbrellas are allowed in the stadium, I felt the need to acquire something that would keep the water out. Unlike my last trip to Alabama. I also managed to get a pennant for my pennant wall back home and a face mask, since one of my goals this season is to collect the new face mask from every college football game I attend. After I spent more money than I wanted to, I headed back to the car and journeyed into the downtown area.

It's sad to say, but most of downtown Troy looks like the town that time forgot. I think it's in the process of revitalizing, with some new shops that were very clearly recent additions to the storefronts on the main square of the town. But my first goal was food. And boy did I find a winner.

I had done my research before I got to town this week, and there were two places I wanted to visit for sure: Flo's Kitchen, known for its soul food (my readers will know that I can't resist a good soul food kitchen); and another place called Dolce's, a bakery. I parked next to Flo’s, but I almost missed the restaurant. There is no big sign or anything, just a sign on the glass door that you can miss if you're not looking right at the door. It also didn't help that the door was standing open, my guess being to let people know the business was open. I found that, even though a good number of people in Alabama don't care too much for mask mandates or lockdowns, the restaurants do. Flo’s was not allowing dine-in, nor were any of the other restaurants I found in my research before I left town. So I ventured into the Kitchen and was greeted by an overwhelming smell of chargrilled food. I placed my order, which included some decadent bacon-cheddar-ranch fries, at which point I was told it would be ready in approximately 10 minutes. I was the only one in the restaurant, and no one came in while I was there. But they did have to-go orders lined up on the counter waiting for people to pick them up. So instead of loitering, I decided to walk to Dolce's, the bakery, but I was disappointed to find out that the hours listed online were not the same listed on the door. They were apparently having employment problems, and so the hours were more limited now than they had been. This meant of course that I didn't get my tasty baked goods, so I can't really say anything about their restaurant. Nevertheless, I decided to walk around the downtown square and see what was to be seen. As I've already mentioned, it looks like they are in the process of revitalizing the area, but there's still a lot of old signs and storefronts that have been closed for a very long time. I don't know how much of that has to do with the pandemic.

I got back to Flo's Kitchen, and I only had to wait for a minute or two before my order was up. I took it with me to the car and promptly made a little bit of a greasy mess on my newly acquired Troy poncho. Alas. After this, it was time to find some parking for the stadium. So I headed back in the direction I came from.

I'm not sure if it's the normal traffic situation at Troy, but there were very few—no—roads that lead from this side of town to the stadium. They had been blocked off by police or blockades or some kind of barrier, so I had to make a more circuitous route to the other side of campus. I did get to see a nice lake and an amphitheater with some columns, so at least I know the campus is bigger than what I initially thought. But I got to the other side of the campus, on George Wallace Blvd of all places, and it was pretty easy to find the stadium. Parking, however, was a different story. Immediately across from the stadium, I found makeshift parking lots, with poster board signs out front advertising the price of parking: anywhere from $10 to $15. But I wasn't really looking to pay for parking, so I ventured further down the side streets, one perpendicular to the stadium itself, as a matter of fact; not seeing any red curbs or no-parking signs, I parked along the side of the street across from an apartment complex, behind a row of other cars that had also parked along the side of the street. I did make sure to check to see if anyone had a parking decal for this, or some sort of ticket inside their window, but I saw none. I was hoping, like the Southern Miss game, that this would be fine and that my car would still be there when I got done with the game. Spoiler alert: everything was fine.

One of the things that surprised me about this game was that tailgating was allowed. At both of the makeshift parking spots that I mentioned earlier, tailgate parties were going on. In fact, these parking lots were just someone's yard where they were charging people to park. Capitalism. I'm glad that I went the extra 50 yards to find free parking. But I crossed over to the main area in front of the stadium, and there were even more large tents set up in the field in front of the stadium. Most of these looked like they were at least professional organizations that had set up meeting areas, but it was still a surprise in the time of Covid.

This weekend also happened to be Homecoming, which seems to be a pattern for games I'm attending this month. Several signs outside the stadium welcomed alumni, and during halftime, we got the requisite presentation of the Homecoming Court and the crowning of the Homecoming Queen. But there were appropriate signs placed at various intervals reminding people that we were in a pandemic, and that masks were required, and social distancing would be expected. Once at the stadium, I even saw the disks on the ground indicating 6 feet of distance between them.

This is also the first game I attended all season where I had a physical ticket. Of course, since most of the season has been a guessing game as far as who the opponent will be and whether the game will take place, the ticket did not list an opponent; it only said “Game 3”. It did have a date and time, however. I presented my ticket at the gate, and this was about as low tech as I've ever seen: no scanner at all just tearing off the perforated tab from the end. I suppose they trust people more here than in other places.

Troy's football stadium is called Veterans Memorial Stadium, but they abbreviate it as “The Vet.” I don't know about you, but when I talk about the vet, I'm talking about the veterinarian, not the veteran. I don't know if that's meant to be some kind of inside joke amongst Troy fans, but nevertheless there it is. I did like the way the stadium was built into a hillside, or perhaps a valley is more appropriate. You walk into the stadium on level ground, but the first glimpse you get is of the field down below, ringed by bleachers on three sides and a wall leading to the locker rooms on the opposite side. There's some seating at the top of the wall, and the main scoreboard is at the very top of the building. In between those seats and the scoreboard, a flat area exists where the Homecoming Court was displayed at halftime. No masks or umbrellas, contrary to my last Homecoming experience.

There are general admission seats in this stadium, but I had a ticket with an assigned seat. It happened to be on the front row, which I thought was going to be a good view. I was mistaken. First, I had expected that there would be a backing on this row, where I could lean back, because the description of the tickets said that it was going to be there. This was false. Instead, the first ten or so rows of these sections had hard beacher seats with no backing. Halfway up the section, and extending all the way to the top of this section, to the concourse, they did have backing, and at several times during the game, I considered moving up there to get some relief on my back. The second thing about these seats is that they are almost virtually on the level of the field. Most of the game, I couldn't see the actual plays, because the Troy bench, with all of the players spread out, was in front of me. Directly in front of me. There may have been 40 or so feet in between me and them, but that was still enough to make it difficult for me to see the action on the field at times. Still, it was basically at the 50-yard line so I can't complain too much.

One thing that really did make me happy was the marching band. As with other games I've attended this season, except Texas, the marching band stayed in the stands for the entire game. They occupied the end zone closest to the entrance gates, but they had the best sound and the best attitude of any marching band I've seen in a long time. They played fresh songs, and they kept the fans’ spirits up, even when things got to be unpleasant on the field. Another thing that I liked about the stadium is that souvenir cups are again only $4 here. A lot of the atmosphere felt like people knew each other, which I imagine is probably true, since the games this year were open primarily to students and season ticket holders. Very few single game tickets had been sold, and I'm assuming that I got mine from one of those season ticket holders.

That's all the good stuff. Now here's the absolute worst: a group of sorority girls sat in my row shortly before the game began, and they stayed the entire time. Normally, that would not be a bad thing on either account. However, not a single one of them, not a single damn minute of the game, wore a mask. And one of the girls had her mom and I assume preschool-age little sister in a cheerleader outfit sitting directly behind her, and neither of them was wearing a mask either. I don't know what else to say except that they were aggressively anti-mask. Not that they said anything against masks, because why would they? They didn’t have to, due to their actions. But there were several times, probably every five minutes of the game, when the announcer would come over the PA system and a message would show up on the big screen reminding fans that face coverings were required inside the stadium. Every single time, I gave them the side eye, but they never even acknowledged it. I think maybe some of the girls on the other end of the group—and there were I think nine of them in total—were making fun of the reminders and flaunting their lack of masks. Then in the third quarter, a new young lady showed up, and even though the sorority girls had left a single seat empty between me and them—ONE SINGLE SEAT—the one closest to me scooted away about 3 inches and told the new girl to sit between me and her. WTF. It was atrocious. In the fourth quarter, that girl got up and stood basically right behind me for most of the final 10 minutes of the game, since it was close and she was getting anxious and yelling at the refs; but the friend who had been closest to me for most of the game actually reached out and patted me on the arm and said, “I’m sorry. We're kinda crazy.” My only response was to nod and try not to laugh hysterically.

Also they had an invocation before the game, which is weird for a public university. Clemson is the only other place I can remember that happening in my travels. But this one was extra Jesus-y, and to no avail for the home team.

But what about the game? The opponent was Georgia State University, who, despite having a quarterback that reminds me far too much of the Slender Man, was favored to win by the FPI metric, though Troy was favored to win by Vegas. Both claimed that their respective prognostications would still make a close game. And they were right. One of the reasons I wanted to come to this game this season was to see the Troy quarterback, Gunnar Watson. He was supposed to be one of those standout quarterbacks in the Sun Belt Conference, but unfortunately, he was out of the game by the end of the first quarter. Georgia State scored first, with a touchdown, but then Watson led his team back down the field on the ensuing drive and scored a Troy touchdown. But when he passed into the end zone, he took a hard hit and fell to the ground. The trainers went to him immediately, and he came off the field. I got a very good look at him because he was basically right in front of me for several minutes on the sideline before they took him into the tent to look over any injuries, and then ultimately took him back to the locker room. But before he went into the tent, I could see him dry heaving along the sideline, which is never a good sign. So that was a disappointment for Troy, as well as for me, since I had hoped to get to see what he could do. His absence was greatly felt by the Troy offense because they got absolutely nothing going for the remainder of the first half. Georgia State scored a field goal at the beginning of the second quarter to go up by three, but Troy answered with nothing. Then mid-way through the second quarter, the Troy crowd really got into the game thanks to two huge plays by their defense: first was an interception deep in Georgia State territory that led to an easy touchdown, also known as a pick-6; and on the very next drive, after Georgia State got the ball back, the quarterback fumbled the ball on the second play of the drive, and a defender picked it up and ran it back for a short touchdown, which is known as a scoop and score. So within a very short amount of time, the Troy defense had scored more points than either offense had scored up to that point. Georgia State did manage to score again before the half, but it was only another field goal, and so the score at the half was Troy 21, Georgia State 13.

In the second half, things were decidedly more in favor of Georgia State. Troy got the ball to start the half, but for some reason, they opted for a flea flicker that ultimately did nothing except raise expectations unwarrantedly. On that drive, the replacement quarterback Jacob Free threw an interception inside the five-yard line, and it was all Georgia State after that. By the end of the third quarter, Georgia State had scored 20 unanswered points to go up by 12. But Troy wasn't out of the picture yet. Their offense finally got going, and early in the fourth quarter, they got their first offensive touchdown since Gunnar Watson had been taken from the game. But they couldn't stop Georgia State from scoring again, although they did hold them to just a field goal. This meant that there was only now an 8-point lead by Georgia State, which meant that Troy could tie the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. After a couple of awful drives by both teams, Troy got the ball back and did indeed get a touchdown. And then the quarterback overthrew the pass for the two-point conversion, and so with 37 seconds remaining in the game, Troy was still down by two. Any fan of college football knows exactly what happened next: they went for the onside kick with the hopes of getting within field goal range and kicking for a one-point victory as time expired. At least that was the hope. I was sitting right in front of the area of the onside kick, and it looked to me like Troy did indeed recover it. That was the ruling on the field, but of course, this being 2020, it was reviewed and overturned. Troy fans were quite vocal in their displeasure and disagreement with that call. But there was nothing anyone else could do, and with Georgia State taking possession of the ball, they took a knee and ran out the clock to secure their two-point victory on the road. FINAL SCORE: Georgia State 36, Troy 34.

I really have developed a knack for picking close games, which I’m very happy about when I don’t have any vested interest in either team. Entertain me! Give me a good game! And that’s what I got.

After that, there really wasn't much else to see or do. I listen to the band, which still sounded great even in defeat, and then made it back to my car and drove the four hours home. It feels like I've been to Alabama more times this season than I have in the past decade. I don't know why that is, and I don't expect that I'll be returning to Alabama for a football game for a long while. Why is that? Because I have exhausted all of the FBS schools in Alabama, except for South Alabama. But they charge for too much for their tickets, and they’re too far of a drive to warrant my attendance at their game.

Lastly, as with my last trip to Alabama, the rain began once I got to Atlanta and didn't let up until I got inside my apartment. Yet another reason to avoid traveling to Alabama anymore this season.

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