Chopping with the 'Noles

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September 28th 2019
Published: September 29th 2019
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It’s one month into college football, and I’ve now been to stadiums in four of the Power Five conferences (only the Pac-12 is left). And in five weeks, I’ve attended seven games. The home team has won every single time.

This week found me in the ACC, watching NC State on the road, yet again. I bet they want me to stop doing that. The home team this week was Florida State, the Seminoles, in Tallahassee. When I was a teenager, Florida State was THE team to beat. And the town I spent part of middle- and all of high school in is exactly 100 miles away from the campus. In fact, the CBS affiliate for our town has been based in Tallahassee for as long as I can remember. So FSU was pumped into our living room during their decade of dominance, the 1990s. We could find FSU gear all over town, and Wal-Mart had a special section of Seminole swag for a long time. That is no longer the case.

FSU won two national championships during the 1990s, not to mention numerous ACC titles. Their most recent championship came in 2013, but it has been downhill since then. Way downhill. Their current coach is in his second year, and FSU was left home during the bowl season last year for the first time since the 1980s I think. They had the longest active streak of bowl appearances (though the vacated season due to NCAA violations during that stretch of consecutive years is a subject of debate), but that ended. And the season this year hasn’t been the best. But they can thank me for attending their game this weekend, since it put them on the winning side. They have a winning record now, for the first time this season, and they’ve won two consecutive conference games for the first time in three years. You’re welcome, ‘Noles.

I also took this weekend as a time to visit with the family, since I would have to pass through there, and it would be a good stopping point for the trip. Like Birmingham was last week. Basically it was the same distance from my place to Tallahassee as it was to Starkville. But this time I didn’t need to pay for a hotel, and the game ticket was about the same price. In the end, though, the experience wasn’t nearly as much fun as last week.

I had hoped to find a cheap FSU shirt at Wal-Mart, since they’ve been carrying FSU apparel in Tifton for years. No such luck anymore. I guess the decline of FSU and the rise of UGA in the football world has tilted that marketing balance in the same direction. It just meant I would need to leave a little earlier to get to a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee. Yes, I hate Wal-Mart, so the fact that I’ve written about them in four sentences now should tell you something. I found a t-shirt there in Tallahassee, and when I got to campus, the cheapest one I could find was at least $11 more than what I paid. And that difference in price was what I paid for lunch at my addiction, Whataburger. Seriously, someone help me. At least I’m pretty sure there won’t be any Whataburgers around my future locations until late November. Anyway, my shirt was gold, since FSU colors are garnet and gold. I got a maroon shirt at Mississippi State last week, and honestly, I can’t really tell the difference between garnet and maroon. And then there’s crimson and scarlet, and you go figure that out.

I considered leaving my car at the Whataburger, since it was just under a mile from the stadium. I didn’t see any signs telling me that I wasn’t allowed to park there for gameday, but I didn’t want to risk it. Besides, none of the increasing volume of traffic on this street was stopping. If parking had been permitted, I’m sure it would’ve been filled up by then. Or maybe not, since it was still about four hours to kickoff.

But I got my delicious food and then made my way closer to the stadium. I found a Mormon church basically across the street, and their lot was nearly empty. It cost $30, which is more than I’ve paid all season. Convenience, though, and since I was by myself, with no experience to guide me on where the best parking would be, I accepted this price. In the end, it was a good choice in terms of location and ease of exit. Still, that’s too much to pay to park anywhere.

Once I parked, I crossed the street to the campus. This is the first time all season that I’ve been truly alone at one of these games. My first five games involved travel buddies. Last week, I met up with Riley at halftime. This week, nobody. And since I had never wandered around the campus, I just followed a few signs, a few herds, and saw what there was to see. Despite the sun setting, it felt like the day got hotter as I was there. Even after the sun set when we were in the stadium, the humidity was brutal. I never thought I would be that hot when it was dark outside.

But this was still around 4:30. The game didn’t start until 7:30, and the gates wouldn’t open until 5:30. So I found the tennis complex and looked around. Then I strode underneath lots of old trees covered in Spanish moss, which is ubiquitous in the area. It made a cool effect on the path, though. Almost felt like a tunnel. There was the campus bookstore, which didn’t have anything I wanted besides air conditioning. And I stumbled across the Integration Statue and Integration Plaza. It was a cool idea, celebrating the diversity in the history of FSU. Lots of people were congregated there, not so much in celebration of integration but because there were benches and some shade. It’s also next to the student center, and the soon-to-be-built student center, which was definitely an eyesore. Two huge construction cranes, a big dirt lot filled with rubble and machinery, and some barricades to prevent anyone from entering the area.

Near 5:00, I started to make my way back to the stadium. Doak Campbell Stadium. Bobby Bowden Field. In my wanderings, I had taken in the heart of the FSU campus, and it’s not bad. I didn’t see any “historic” looking buildings, but I think the university dates from the second half of the nineteenth century, so there may not be any such buildings. I also saw a big circus tent next to the stadium, so that was unique. And there were lots of tailgates, but they were spread out all over, not congregated in any one location. Yeah, they became more concentrated closer to the stadium, but I didn’t see anything too crazy.

At 5:30, the gates opened as expected. No hassle, whatsoever. Some older ladies were handing out paper fans in the shape of FSU football helmets. But no water, like at Mississippi State last week. The lines were efficient. No bags? Come in this way. Let me scan your ticket. Enjoy the game. No removed hats, no emptied pockets, nothing. For better or worse, we all got in without a problem.

The stadium concourse underneath the seating looked like it had been built in the 1950s and hadn’t been upgraded. Lots of aluminum, pretty cavernous, and one lady even said she felt like she was in the “belly of the beast.” Her friend replied that they were! Okay. But it goes all the way around, the and stands selling concessions are in the middle, not in the wall closest to the seating. There were some vendors in the outer wall, though. I got my usual souvenir soda ($6) and went to find my seat. It was in the sun, and even with this cold drink, I was going to melt if I had to sit there the entire time. So I wandered through the underbelly of the stadium.

In the nearest end zone, I found that the metal gate for the entrance to the field was up. So several of us non-official personnel walked right onto the field. I thought this was normal, but it was not. I was there for at least five minutes, taking pictures, staying in the shade, watching the NC State cheerleaders, and really just taking in the view of this stadium with so much history. Then the ushers started motioning for us all to get off the field. I was around the corner from them, so I didn’t see at first. Just some people were moving rapidly away from me. When I came back around, the gate had closed and I had a moment of panic. But then a side door was open, and an usher asked for my credentials and I just kinda laughed and walked out the door. Oh, well.

I made my way to the other side of the stadium, in the shade, and saw the view of the big-ticket donors during the game. I didn’t stay long, then moved to the opposite end zone from my seats. This is where they kept the horse and where Chief Osceola, the FSU mascot, stays until just before the game. It’s one of the most well-known traditions: Chief Osceola rides out onto the field with a flaming spear, and just before the game starts, he plants the spear at the center of the field. I was glad to get to see it in person as the game kicked off.

The other tradition that I knew about FSU was the tomahawk chant. In the 1990s, it took over the sporting world. Living in Georgia, we got it from the south (FSU) and the north, since the Atlanta Braves used it, too. But you see it on TV all the time, if you watch any FSU games. I was very much looking forward to experiencing it in person. And yes, I did participate, too. Growing up a Braves fan, I had no trouble doing it with the crowd. It does get loud when everyone is yelling the same thing, and the band is playing the war chant, and all those arms or chopping away. I didn’t find the stadium to be very loud, but when the chop was going, it definitely became deafening. Not like cowbell-level deafening, but a whole new level of loudness for the stadium.

Since it’s been a down year (or three) for FSU, the attendance wasn’t full, as I expect it has been in years past. But it was pretty full. The students almost filled the section. But after halftime, the fans (as usual, I’m beginning to find across college football) slowly began to trickle out. This game, however, was pretty miserable for large stretches, so I don’t blame them.

After the Marching Chiefs (the band) played the team onto the field, after the three paratroopers landed on the field, and after Chief Osceola planted the flaming spear at mid-field, the game began. And it was pretty terrible, for the offense of both sides. I don’t remember how many rushing yards each team had, but at one point late in the game, I saw that it was almost nonexistent. If either team made any moves, it was through the air. But FSU was sacked so many times, they might have had more positive rushing yards before all those negative ones. FSU got on the board first, with a field goal. At the end of the first quarter, that was the only score. NC State got a pair of field goals early in the second to go up 6-3, and everyone was grumbling. Then the FSU offense woke up and scored two touchdowns before the half, taking their 17-6 lead into halftime after an NC State field goal bounced off the goal post. Things were looking up for the home team.

It was family weekend, so there were lots of families around me—parents with their college-aged children and others. The majority of these people left at halftime. It lessened the crowd noise but freed up some space all over. But honestly I was miserable due to the humidity.

The second half of the game was basically identical to the first half. Lots of nothing to start, and then in the fourth quarter, both teams woke up again. So many time outs, reviews, and injuries combined to make this the longest game I’ve attended in a while (that didn’t go into overtime). Almost four hours in total. And over half the people had gone by then. Probably a third were gone at the end of the third quarter. The final score was FSU on top, 31-13.

It was my first night game of the season, and it was never put away until the fourth quarter. So that was good. I just wish I hadn’t felt like I was sitting in a swamp the entire time. (Speaking of the Swamp, there were several Florida Gators fans in the audience, and the FSU fans treated them with the same disdain I did. We do have that in common. Oh, and I wore my UGA baseball hat, like I did at West Virginia, but this time I got four or five “Go Dawgs!” from various people throughout the game. Also, it appears that I like to wear gold when I go to an NC State game.) Traffic was pretty easy getting out of Tallahassee, at least the way that I went.

Additional photos below
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3rd October 2019

Home Teams
Sounds like these teams should pay you to attend!

Tot: 0.538s; Tpl: 0.021s; cc: 13; qc: 45; dbt: 0.0213s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb