By Mark Nagi
Long time readers of my articles/columns/poetry know just how much I love going to sporting events. The gluttony, the angst, the tension… There’s nothing better than sports.
During an eight-day period in October, me and my girlfriend drove over 4500 miles, going through eight states, two provinces and two countries.
And we saw three great sporting events along the way.
We started by driving from Knoxville to Geneseo, NY, home of the greatest small college in the world, SUNY Geneseo. On Saturday, October 8th, we were approximately 750 miles from Knoxville, but the Tennessee/LSU game was first and foremost on our minds.
At high Noon we settled in at the bar at Kelly’s Saloon (one of America’s truly great dive bars) to watch the Vols and Tigers. Being that upstate New York isn’t a college football hotbed, we were the only ones that cared about the game. Tennessee recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and never looked back, on their way to a 40-18 rout.
So far so good on this trip!
We spent the night with friends in Rochester and then bright and early the next morning we drove to Orchard Park to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Buffalo Bills.
For years I’ve joked that if the SEC were ever to expand into professional sports, the Buffalo Bills should be their first call. Is there a geographical tie? No, my friends there is not, but they’d be a perfect cultural fit. The entire town rallies around that team. Bills flags and license plates dot seemingly every few feet in western New York.
The fans are… how can I put this… insane. Walking through a Bills tailgate is something every sports fan should experience at least once in their lives. We didn’t see anyone jump through a table, but the revelry was in full gear by the time we arrived.
We met some of my old fraternity brothers in the appropriately named “Mud Lot,” had some pregame drinks, and ventured into Highmark Stadium on a cold, gray afternoon. The Bills, led by their gazelle of a quarterback named Josh Allen, destroyed the Steelers 38-3.
Bills games are always fun, even more so when the team is good. Buffalo is a Super Bowl contender and I hope that this is the year they finally win the Lombardi Trophy. I don’t think any long-suffering fan base deserves it more.
The next morning, we drove to Niagara Falls, and then over to Toronto for the night. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays were already eliminated from the playoffs, or we would have stopped by the artist formerly known as SkyDome for a game.
Realizing that we were that far from Montreal, we decided to continue our journey east. Despite growing up in Albany, and I had never been to Montreal, which is only a three-hour drive from my hometown.
We spent the next day touring the city (lots of history there) and on the Wednesday night we got to see something really neat. The first night of the NHL season, the Canadiens hosted the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. These are two of the so called “Original 6,” historic franchises that are among the most popular in the game.
Even though the Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 (the NHL’s longest drought) and the Canadiens have been waiting since 1993, fans live and die with every game.
On this night, supporters for both teams packed the Bell Centre, and watched a thrilling 4-3 win for Montreal. Back at the hotel I tried to watch the postgame report, but it was in French so… yeah.
The next morning, we started the long journey back to Tennessee. We stopped by Watertown, NY, for lunch. I spent three years in Watertown, home of my first full-time TV gig, and then visited Scranton, PA, the fictional home of “The Office.”
We finally got back to Knoxville around 5 p.m. on Friday, October 14th. We were happy to be home and exhausted from the trip. Rest was needed.
But I kept thinking about one thing…
What if the Tennessee/Alabama game this year is special, and I didn’t go because I was “tired?”
Saturday morning, we got back on the road, parked just off campus, and walked to G-10 and Circle Park, where we had friends tailgating.
Well, you know the rest. Tennessee would beat Alabama 51-48, in one of the greatest college football games ever played. Fans stormed the field, goalposts were torn down and tossed into the Tennessee River, and a 15-year losing streak was ended.
I could still smell the cigar smoke a couple of days later.
So that was the trip. It was one I’ll never forget. It would have been a good time even if we hadn’t had any tickets scanned.
But why would you want to do that?