It’s here! This is it! It’s the weekend we’ve been waiting for and we’re PUMPED!!! It’s not Ohio State at Michigan (yet) or a Conference championship with Navy in it (yet), or a CFP Bowl game (yet), but it is the 500TH GAME IN COLLEGEFOOTBALLFAN.COM HISTORY!!! I started this back in September 1979 visiting my sister Mary Kay and future brother-in-law Gunther at the University of Rhode Island. We watched URI host Delaware that day, coached by the Legendary Harold “Tubby” Raymond, to lose, 49-14. UD went on to win the D-2 National Championship that year. QB Scott Brunner of the Fighting Blue Hens went on to play for the NY Giants. The most memorable play was an onsides kick by URI to start the second half. It was kicked as a perfect spiral and the left end caught it down field over his shoulder for the most perfect onside kick I’ve seen until this day. On the next play, the URI TB ran over 40 yards for a TD, but like I said, they got clobbered. I bought a Meadowlands season ticket package that season with Bob “Cat” Marcello and Kenny Gallagher to see two Syracuse home games while the Carrier Dome was being built on their campus way upstate. SU assistant coaches included Tom Coughlin and Nick Saban. I wonder what ever happened to those two? I saw them play Penn State for what turned out to be my first of 96 games now played by the Nittany Lions. Who knew I would meet John Massimilla, a recent PSU grad at the time, working out at the same YMCA and end up getting together with him, his wife Kelle, their kids, and a lot of good friends to continue to do this right up to this year. I also saw the Orange face West Virginia whose QB was a guy named Oliver Luck. His son now happens to play QB for the Indianapolis Colts. I went down South on vacation from my first job for Thanksgiving week to visit my Auburn buddy, Charlie Murren. I also met Charlie at the same Y near home where I met John. I had been down to “The Plain” the year before to see the Tigers host Georgia in the only tie, 22-22, that I ever witnessed at the D-1 level (now FBS). This vacation though was centered around the Iron Bowl – Auburn vs. Alabama at Legion Filed in Birmingham. I got to sit in the student section with Charlie and watch the Bama players stroll down the field in civvies to check out the turf. The Auburn voices were in fine shape. “If you can’t go to college, go to Alabama!” From across the field, the Crimson Tide band played and their fans cheered and sang in unison, “Hey Auburn! Hey Auburn! We’re gonna beat the hell out of you!” Oh yeah? The retort was fired back musically as well, ” Around the bowl and down the hole, roll, Tide, roll” I was hooked. Then as the Tide players strolled back the other way down the field, one loan figure stood with his hands behind his back leaning against the goal post with his trademark Houndstooth hat on. He seemed to watch his players with pride and with anticipation of how he would expect them to play against their hated rival that afternoon. Finally, a voice from the Auburn student section rose above all the others, “Hey look at him! He’s so drunk he has to lean up against the goal post!” War Eagle! Large schools, small, whatever, that season motivated me to do what the great ABC Sportscaster Chris Schenkel always used to say and I always loved to hear him say it, “College Football! What better way to spend an Autumn afternoon!” Since that first game in 1979, I’ve been to 499 college football games, 120 + stadiums, big ones ,small ones, neutral sites, and going with friends or meeting new ones across the country, it’s been a fantastic trip. My book, Tales from the Tailgate, captures the first time I had seen each of the 119 FBS teams in existence up to 2007 play for the first time. I take pride in that I started the project and I finished it. I just wish I had had the time to promote it, but a career to support my family was the priority. Now I’m up to all 129 FBS teams with the addition of Charlotte when they played at Old Dominion this year. The games are exciting most of the time, the fans are great to be around, the tailgating is good wherever I go, the spirit and passion is fantastic, travel experiences are an adventure, getting to visit various parts of the country for the first time are awesome, and the memories are worth all the time, effort, and money I’ve put into this, and I don’t have one regret. Of course, I’ve had great support from my wife Laurie to continue this adventure that I started before I knew her. She’s had some great experiences and some laughs along the way with me and at me. And my kids grew up enjoying the game and traveling to places a lot of kids haven’t gotten a chance to see while growing up. There were a lot of side trips along with going to games. Alex even selected the University South Carolina where she went to college with the admission one day that I had actually influenced her to go to a school with a big football program. She wouldn’t have it any other way. Our son Eric, now in the Navy, played four years of high school football, and though I continued to go to college games, I never missed one of his. And he had a great experience playing in the high school program at Lenape Valley Regional here in NJ. That experience taught him things like working hard and how to be part of a team which is making him successful in what he does today. Saturday will not be comparable to any of the aforementioned games we also cannot wait to attend later this season. This one will be played between two disappointing teams: 3-7 Rutgers and 2-8 Army.
The irony of this is that my two favorite teams are Penn State and Navy! However, I will still enjoy this one. This is the type of game I generally look for, two comparably skilled teams who will play a close game for three or four quarters. I enjoy that and the diversity of college football. There are so many teams, so many campuses, different style offenses , rosters the change completely almost every four years, new coaches the come on board, some who figure out how to survive, new teams on schedules every year. For coaches it’s work. For me it’s a lot of fun. The seasons go fast, and it seems like it takes forever for each fall to get here, but it’s all worth the anticipation and planning and the fun it all brings. That fun in particular comes along with the many friends I’ve brought to games and even made along the way. It’s a tribute this Saturday that I actually have two busloads of friends coming up to West Point to celebrate with me. It means more than anything to me as many come from long distances for this unique celebration of a 500th football game. I wish I could have had enough for two more busloads, but for various reasons other couldn’t make it. No problem. Bob Marcello and Charlie Murren and my sister Mary Kay and Gunther will be there to enjoy the festivities. John Massimilla and company are excused. Penn State hosts Michigan tomorrow. I won’t quit doing this for as long as I can, and if there’s a chance to go meet up with a friend who lives some place near a game I want to see, we’ll hopefully be able to get together. I’ve know some of my friends since I was in grade school, and others I’ve met the past few years. This is going to be a great time. I’m really looking forward to it. This is the true highlight of my season. You’ll probably read a brief Game Review here on Sunday, but I hope what I’ll really have a lot of pictures of memories not only for this weekend , but also a lot of good memories about all the good times I’ve had doing this for the past 36 years. What a great ride this has been…Navy has to win this week and next to host the AAC Championship…D3 starts its playoffs this weekend. 32 teams. And the Big Boys can’t get eight spots for the 129 competing at their level. Something’s wrong here. I got a feeling it won’t be the traditional Mt. Union – Wisconsin -Whitewater Invitational this year. We’ll be checking the results on Sunday.