Row the Boat: The Cotton Bowl with a Side of Foolishness

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January 2nd 2017
Published: January 3rd 2017
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One of the greatest experiences in the history of college football is the Cotton Bowl, and now I can say I've seen it live. I started my master's degree in Science Education at Western Michigan University back in September. I had no idea that they would do as well as they did; few people outside the program itself probably had any inclination that the team would go undefeated in the regular season, win their conference championship, and then play in the Cotton Bowl. That was a pipe dream, but it was as good as anyone could hope for. And now, here we are on January 2, 2017, and the WMU Broncos did all of those things. Last year was the first bowl game win ever for the program, and this year they break through and go as high as they possibly could. The only thing that would've made it all, well, perfect, was a win. But that was not to be.

As a realist in this situation, and as someone who grew up in SEC football country, I thought the Cotton Bowl would go one of two ways: either it would be a close game or Wisconsin would absolutely destroy Western Michigan. I would say that a one-possession final score qualifies as a close game. We were never in control, but until the final 2 minutes of the game, it could have potentially gone either way. That interception in the 4th quarter swung the game in Wisconsin's favor, and our onside kick that went out of bounds pretty much gave the game to Wisconsin. But we never gave up. Even after both of those seemingly nail-in-the-coffin errors, we were still in the game until about two minutes were left, when Wisconsin converted on third down and we were out of timeouts. The final score was 24-16, and if not for the missed PAT, it would've been a more "normal looking" 24-17. At any rate, the game has been played, and we found out that Western Michigan was indeed no top-5 school, but that it could match up with most any school in the country and give a good fight. Here's hoping for even more next year, my Broncos.

Okay, so I feel a little like an idiot admitting this, but I had a massive brain fart when it came to booking my hotel for the game. I was holding two ideas in my head without there being any cognitive dissonance: On the one hand, I knew I was going to the Cotton Bowl, and so I booked a hotel near the Cotton Bowl Stadium, not AT&T Stadium, where the game actually was being held. Yet I also knew that I didn't need to worry about the weather because the game would be inside a domed stadium. I knew the Cotton Bowl Stadium was not domed. So, it wasn't until I woke up this morning and had a few moments to put my thoughts together that I bothered to look at the Cotton Bowl website (and my ticket!), which had information about AT&T Stadium. Oops. That was a timely save. Imagine if I had showed up at the wrong stadium and just waited for hours with nothing happening! So, I knew I would need to leave about 20 minutes earlier than planned due to the extra distance I hadn't thought of earlier. No problem. I was up early enough. A little too early, actually.

I woke up around 6:45 AM and started to get ready. My hotel last night wasn't exactly stellar, but it got the job done. I was surprised to find very little traffic in Dallas at 7:30 AM on a Monday morning. I used to live in Atlanta, and that would never have happened there. Maybe I got lucky with the New Year's holiday that most people had today, since Jan 1st was on a Sunday. Whatever it was, the drive was uneventful. I found a Steak n Shake off the exit to the stadium so I got a decent breakfast in before heading over there. Who really wants to pay stadium prices for food and drinks?

At the stadium, there were many parking lots that charged $40. No thanks, since that was almost the price of my ticket to the game. I found a spot for $20, not too far out, and considered myself fortunate for that. I meandered around the Texas Rangers stadium, a block or two away from AT&T Stadium, and then made my way to that one. At 9 AM, there was a fanfest that was free with a ticket to the game. According to the website, the WMU fanfest was in the Miller Lite Plaza, but I'm pretty sure they got that backwards. They had more Wisconsin stuff there, and it was already pretty lame. Then about 15 minutes before the gates opened, the Wisconsin band and cheerleaders came in and gave a short show. Yep, somebody definitely screwed up the logistics here.

After they finally let us in the stadium, I had to go all the way to the 4th level, around to the other side of the stadium, and then back down to the bottom to get to my seats. Yep, somebody definitely screwed up the logistics here. Anyway, I wanted to get a pin, as I do with all the bowl games I attend. Naturally, you could only get one with the purchase of an official Cotton Bowl lanyard to hold your official ticket. So I got it, of course. It was convenient, since the tickets were so big and you had to show it to the ticket checkers every time you wanted to get back in. Around your neck, no problem. Searching for a folded mess in your pocket, maybe problematic.

The only part of the game experience that I really hated was the group of Wisconsin people seated in our section. It was meant to be a section for WMU fans, but I know everyone there probably ordered their tickets through secondary ticket brokers, like me, so they got what they could afford. But I swear, these were some of the most obnoxious fans I've ever had the misfortune of being around. I was quite proud of the way my fellow WMU fans behaved in spite of the taunting and ill-mannered comments from the Wisconsin people around us. They called our players "boys" and "sissies" and "afraid," aside from wishing physical harm on our quarterback. Very crude. And then the ongoing commentary about how such-and-such player on their team would've made the catch, or the block, or the tackle. You would've thought Wisconsin had run away with the game, but they were never more than two scores away, and for the last part of the game it was much closer than I'm sure the Badger fans would've liked it. Afterwards, as I was getting to the aisle to leave, some random Wisconsin girl (wearing Green Bay Packers gear, no less), looked down her nose at me and said, "Guess your boat sank." I don't know her. Why would she feel the need to do that? I guess some people just have nothing else to bolster their sense of self-worth than by denigrating those around them. I was very proud of my fellow Broncos for not indulging in similar conduct.

After the game, many of us stayed around to cheer on our players with the band, and I couldn't believe how many people were still wanting to get a Cotton Bowl souvenir from the merchandise table on the WMU side. I would've expected many dejected fans just wanting to get out as quickly as possible. What I saw, instead, was a fan base that still felt proud of their team. It was refreshing and energizing. As I got to my car and started the long drive back, it made me a lot less downhearted to see all the WMU fans still yelling "Row the Boat" to each other. Keeping rowing, my friends. It's a great day to be a Bronco.

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