OK, it's a bit late for a weekend recap, but so what? It's my blog. You wanna make something of it? Why don't you come over here and tell me to my face? You throw that beer at me and I'm gonna go thermonuclear on your ass, beeyotch!
Sorry, I channeled Ron Artest and the Clemson-SC football teams for a minute. (And it wasn't funny.) Moving on to my review of our long weekend in Starkville, MS....
We left at the slightly more sane hour of 8 AM on Thursday morning. Typically, when flying out of town, we get the earliest flight available and leave our apartment before the sun is up in England. As predicted, we did in fact check e-mail and do a little web browsing from both LaGuardia and Memphis International Airport. At LaGuardia we stood at a high table outside a Starbucks kiosk and in Memphis we went to another terminal to the only Wi-Fi enabled gate in the airport. Not that there was any major news to track (other than the opening of Clinton's presidential library just across the border in Arkansas) but I was able to keep up with work and my other blogs for a few hours.
We got to Jackson, MS, in the middle of the afternoon where Liz's parents picked us up. We went straight to Corky's to meet Liz's aunt and uncle for an early dinner of pulled pork, brisket, sausage, onion loaf, baked beans, and slaw. That's what I ate, anyway. Corky's is a Memphis-based institution but they're expanding the business across the South, and I for one welcome our new barbeque overlords. After dinner we had a two-hour drive back to Starkville and an evening of “The Apprentice” on NBC. I haven't been watching the show all season and while I found this one episode interesting, it reminded me that I hate reality television and couldn't care less who stole which ad campaign ideas.
On Friday we met Liz's cousin for lunch at Harvey's (a Starkville institution) and I restrained myself by ordering the Tuscan chicken sandwich. Liz's cousin ordered the sandwich of the day: a country-fried steak on grilled sourdough with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. From just the one bite I had I must say it might have been one of the top five sandwiches I've ever tasted. I'm really tempted to try making this one at home, even though it would be but an echo of the glory that was the Harvey's lunchtime creation. I will need to find a good country-fried steak recipe for home use, though. Only for special occasions, of course.
We had dinner on Friday night at Gentry's, a new-ish restaurant just a few doors down from Harvey's. They have excellent steaks, one of which I enjoyed along with some grilled shrimp and their delicious brown bread covered with butter. For dessert we ordered their enormous chocolate cake and a smaller slice of coconut cake. It must have been fraternity or sorority formal night, because Gentry's was filled with well-groomed college students in tuxedos and evening dresses. Once again I was reminded that my college years are well behind me.
In case you hadn't noticed, food was a major aspect of the trip. It always is when we go to Starkville.
On Saturday, we went to the Mississippi State football game vs. Arkansas. Liz's parents have to arrive early to work in the president's box, so we went along early as well to check out the campus scene on game day. Right away we caught the Famous Maroon Band marching from a new amphitheater to the stadium, playing the school's fight song and leading the team to the locker room past cheering fans. We saw plenty of tailgaters (mostly in mobile homes or under makeshift tents instead of in parking lots), but none of them offered us any of their tasty barbeque treats. One group had set up a satellite dish and big-screen TV along with their grill and drinks. Now THAT'S tailgating! The student union and bookstore were busy with State fans loading up on school gear and cowbells. Just before we went into the stadium, we stopped by the MSU bakery for a scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream. Locally-produced foodstuffs is a benefit of a school with its own agriculture program.
About 45 minutes before kickoff we found our seats in Davis-Wade Stadium and got as comfortable as we could given the metal benches underneath us. One of the things I like best about college football is all the pageantry before games, most of which involves the band. The band took the field before the game and played the alma mater, the fight song, the national anthem, spelled out “MSU” and “STATE” to both sides of the field, and then lined up for the mascots and players to run out of the tunnel. Along with the usual guy in a bulldog suit, the school has a real bulldog trained to run out onto the field just before the team comes out. That bulldog was so excited, his trainer could barely hold him back. Throughout all of this activity, the crowd got louder and more anxious until the team came out and the fans went wild. Even pro teams don't get the support that home crowds give to their local college team. That kind of loyalty runs deep. From the way the fans cheered for the Bulldogs, you'd think they were playing for the national championship, instead of just playing out the string in a lousy season.
MSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Arkansas, but then the Razorbacks scored 17 unanswered points as they pushed the Bulldogs' defense all over the field. State had a great chance to score just before halftime, but questionable calls by the ref prevented them from getting a play off as the clock wound down. The Razorbacks kept converting third and fourth downs, and when a team does that, it's hard to keep them from scoring at will.
The halftime show was a tribute to America's armed forces. The MSU band played the fight songs for each branch of the military as a member of that branch presented the colors. They played more patriotic music as everyone in the crowd, Liz and I included, waved plastic American flags we were given as we had entered the stadium. I made several remarks about how we must be in a red state to get this kind of display, not that there was anything wrong with it. I don't have anything against our military, just its leadership in Washington, and I loved all the music. Thankfully,they didn't play an arrangement of Lee Greenwood's “God Bless the USA.”
In the second half, MSU again drove down the field, and lined up for a field goal which would have tied the game. But Arkansas blocked the attempt and one of their defenders ran the ball all the way back to make the score 24-14. Arkansas controlled the ball for the rest of the game, and though the Bulldogs did score again to get within three points, they couldn't overcome the mistakes on defense and lost 24-21. They played a tough game and except for a few bad calls and that one kick return might have pulled out a win. Their season finale is this Saturday against archrival Ole Miss in Oxford. Hopefully they can beat up on the Rebels and end the season on a positive note.
We consoled ourselves with a barbeque dinner at Little Dooey's (always mentioned on TV by the ESPN crew when they broadcast from Starkville, and if you were at our wedding you might remember they catered the picnic dinner) and a late showing of “The Incredibles.” The movie was a bit long but extremely funny. The illustrations of the hazards of capes were hysterical. We missed “Saturday Night Live” but caught nearly every replay of the Pistons-Pacers brawl and most of the commentary.
On Sunday we enjoyed a combination early Thanksgiving and early birthday dinner. We had chicken tenders, peas (green and black-eyed), fried okra, stuffing, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and more chocolate cake for dessert. How many great meals can a person have in five days? All of them, apparently.
Yesterday we returned to New York, stopping first in Jackson for lunch at the Cracker Barrel. We will know when the red-staters have taken over the country when someone opens a Cracker Barrel franchise in Manhattan. Until then, Liz and I will have to enjoy their biscuits and gravy when we travel to more rural areas. We got back around 10:30 PM and our cats greeted us at the door. From their level of activity (wrestling, chasing each other around the place) you'd think no one came to see them while we were gone. I guess the cat sitter doesn't get the full performance.
One thing I learned this weekend: I am not yet a caffeine freak. It took me three days to realize that Liz's mother serves decaf coffee. I figured this out after I didn't get the shakes from my two cups in the morning. And because I snooped in the kitchen cabinets. Despite my non-caffeine-addled existence, I was able to function like a normal human being. Maybe it's the combination of coffee and work that makes me jittery. It's good to know that I can switch to decaf and still get along OK. And that when I'm in Starkville, Liz's grandmother drinks the “hi-test” so I can always stop by her house for a pick-up. She's 91, and if her constant caffeine consumption has anything to do with her longevity, I should be around for a long time too.
Whew, that was close.
In the light of a new day, with Texas turning down the Pac-10's offer and the rest of the Big 12 gluing itself to the Longhorns as a rickety 10-team conglomerate, it really is hard to believe that the mighty SEC was looking hard at diluting its own major brand with a frantic expansion plan of its own.
Strangely, and just about everything about this tale is, that's precisely the advantage that Ohio State used to own, and it's precisely the edge that the Big Ten has forfeited in scheduling future conference-title games with the addition of Nebraska, a 12th conference member
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