Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dartmouth Big Green 27 at Columbia Lions 7 (NCAA Football, Ivy League) - October 25, 2014

These days, I am more interested in seeing games at new venues than visiting places I have already been. More succinctly: so many stadiums, so little time. Of course, road trips are the best way to do that, since I've seen a game in every major stadium in New York. But there are still some smaller college facilities in the city and surrounding area that I have yet to add to my venue count, so I'll be focusing on those going forward. This weekend was perfect for fall football so I checked the schedule and found that the Columbia Lions, in the midst of a 16-game losing streak, were hosting Dartmouth in an Ivy League game on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions play at Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium, another doubly-named venue that honours more than one wealthy alumnus. Kraft, of course, is the owner of the New England Patriots, who contributed $5 million to the Columbia athletics department in 2007 and had the field named after him as a result, while Wien was another philanthropist whose $6 million donation in 1984 helped build the new stadium.

It was homecoming for Columbia, so a big crowd was on hand but that still left plenty of seats, especially on the visitor's side as you can see above. The stadium is a couple of blocks from 215 Street station on the 1 train, in Inwood, the northernmost neighbourhood on Manhattan Island. That's the Henry Hudson Bridge in the left background above, which leads to the Bronx. All tickets are $15 for assigned seating, but you can pretty much sit where you want if it is high enough. There were concession stands but the lineups were huge, so I didn't bother trying anything. This is a pretty basic football stadium, but that's all you need for this level of competition.

Dartmouth came in 4-1 and ranked 18th in the FCS while Columbia was 0-5 and ranked 121st of the 124 schools in the FCS (Savannah State, Houston Baptist, and Davidson were worse). Needless to say, a close game was not expected. Dartmouth scored on their first drive, going 75 yards in 10 plays, capped by a 33-yard run from Kyle Bramble (#22 below, fumbling on another play). The drive took only 3:19; the Lions took 3:23 on their first possession but only moved 20 yards on 5 plays. In other words, time of possession didn't mean much.

Dartmouth added a field goal and scored a touchdown early in the second quarter when Alex Park connected with Victor Williams to make it 17-0. Although the Lions managed a touchdown to make it relatively close, the Big Green ended the half with another touchdown pass from Park to Williams. The Lions never threatened again, passing on 50 of their 67 plays from scrimmage to move the ball but all of their drives eventually stalled. Cameron Molina (below) was their leading rusher with 29 yards on just 10 carries.

Dartmouth added a field goal in the third quarter and the teams played the fourth without any real intensity to make the final 27-7 for the visitors. This was the 4th time this season that the Lions scored exactly 7 points, once they scored 6 and the other time they exploded for 28 in a game they lost by 33 to Monmouth. In other words, Columbia football is really, really bad. At least the weather was great.


I had planned to see the Jets hosting the Bills on Sunday but put my ticket up for sale to see if I could make a small profit and surprisingly, it was sold. I skipped the game, won handily by the Bills as the Jets try their best to enter the Marcus Mariotta sweepstakes. My interest in seeing pro games in New York City is waning; the teams here are mostly crap yet their tickets are priced as if they are champions in waiting. I'll be seeing games when the secondary market prices tickets more realistically, but other than that will be concentrating on finding compelling sports road trips.

Next Up

I'm off to London in two weeks. The centrepiece is the NFL game between the Jaguars and Cowboys which should be a blowout, but I've also four soccer games during my three days there, including Manchester City at QPR, for which I have already acquired a ticket in the second row. Can't wait for that! Check back to see how my first international trip in over a year turns out.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Montreal Impact 1 at New York Red Bulls 1 (CCL) - October 22, 2014

Two months ago I discovered that the New York Red Bulls were playing in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) and had been drawn into the same group as the Montreal Impact.  The other team in the group was FAS from El Salvador, who visited Red Bull Arena in August, losing 2-0.

The Impact meanwhile beat FAS twice and the Red Bulls in Montreal to stay perfect in Group 3. If the Red Bulls defeated FAS in San Salvador, then the final group match between the two MLS clubs would decide the group winner. I was sure New York would have no trouble on the road, so I decided to purchase a ticket to this match back in August. I had a $25 coupon from StubHub that could only be used for a Red Bulls home game, so I selected a good seat down low, which cost me $3 once the coupon was applied. I was pretty proud of myself for this foresight. Of course, New York drew 0-0 with FAS, giving Montreal the group and rendering the game essentially meaningless.

When Wednesday turned out to be a downpour, I considered abandoning the match altogether. The Red Bulls would not be playing any of their regular starters, and all that was motivating Montreal was seeding for the quarterfinal stage. I left my camera at home rather than risk it getting soaked on the way to work. But the rain let up late in the afternoon, allowing me to make the short journey to Harrison. Gary from Royalty Tours joined me and we made our way to the stadium.

There were few silly enough to bother wasting their Wednesday evening here, and the Red Bulls game staff applauded each fan that entered. Once inside, though, the rain was no longer a problem as the entire seating area is covered by an overhang. Red Bull Arena is one of the nicer sports facilities in the New York area and it was a unique chance to enjoy a game with perhaps only 1,000 fans in the stands. The actual attendance was never announced, but I know that many with tickets didn't bother to attend.

Before the game, there was a moment of silence in honour of the events in Ottawa earlier that day, which surprised me a bit. Given that the visitors were from Canada, it was a nice touch. After a scoreless and rather dull first half, the Impact got on the board first when Jack McInerney converted a goalmouth pass from Andrés Romero in the 71st minute. It looked like this would hold up, but Connor Lade, recently recalled from the New York Cosmos, somehow deflected the ball past a perplexed Evan Bush to tie the game with just 5 minutes to go. The game finished 1-1 and the Impact fell to fourth among the eight group winners (they would have been seeded second had they won). They will play Pachuca of Mexico in the quarterfinals that take place in late February and early March. Mexican clubs dominate the CCL, winning all six titles so far, but there are only two left in the competition (the other is América). DC United is the only other MLS team, with three Costa Rican sides and one from Honduras completing the field.

The Habs are out of town when the Impact host the second leg (which takes place between March 3 and 5), so not that great for a sports road trip, but I'll still follow the action to see if Montreal can pull off the upset. You should too, these international club competitions are given short shrift by many fans outside of Europe but they offer some exciting matches, this one excepted.



Monday, October 20, 2014

New Orleans Saints 23 at Detroit Lions 24 - October 19, 2014

Sunday morning in Detroit dawned bright and beautiful, perfect for a morning marathon. Not that I would be able to run in one. No, the city was conducting a race in the area surrounding our hotel, which left us somewhat stranded. As Sharpy and I tried to complete the short drive to Ford Field, we were stymied on all sides, unable to get across Michigan Avenue or Trumbull Street to make our way to the stadium. After a few fruitless attempts at finding a way through, I gave up and parked the car about 3 blocks from the hotel (after driving a couple of miles) and Sharpy and I walked the mile and a half to the stadium in under 30 minutes. In the end, this was a bit of good luck as parking spots on the street would have been hard to find with so many being taken by those participating in the marathon.

I wrote about Ford Field last season, and have little to add. I can say that Pride Plaza was much more active this time, and the food at the Detroit BBQ stand looked so good that I wish I had saved room for it. The ribs and pulled pork sandwiches were very enticing, but having just eaten at the Hockeytown Cafe, I was unable to partake.

Last year, I arrived earlier and in worse weather, so the crowd was far smaller. It shows how you really can't judge a stadium on a single visit; I ranked Ford Field lower because of the poor pre-game experience last year; if I took my trip this season, it would have ranked higher.

Inside, the experience was much the same, except for one difference: the crowd was much more energetic. Last year, the Lions won an exciting game against Bears in the game I saw, but I don't recall much about the fans or the atmosphere. That might be because I was sitting in the Family Fun Zone. This time I was seated a few sections away, and I found the fans to be full-throated from start to finish. And what a finish it was.

The Game

The Lions were 4-2 while the Saints were 2-3 coming off their bye week. A close game was expected as Calvin Johnson was again out injured, with Detroit favoured by 1.5 points. After a scoreless first quarter, Drew Brees connected with fullback Austin Jackson on a 13-yard pass and run to give the Saints the lead. The Lions only points in the half came on a 21-yard field goal from Matt Prater that hit the upright and bounced through. From 21 yards. Unbelievable. The Lions have struggled with kicking this season, missing 10 of 15 and cutting two kickers already. Could that have been a turning point in the Lions season? Little did we know how important that bounce would become. Shayne Graham knocked through a 27-yard kick as time expired to make it 10-3 Saints at the half.

The second half saw the Saints start with the ball and score just over a minute later on a beautiful 46-yard pass from Brees to Kenny Stills, but the Lions responded with their own touchdown with Joique Bell (hidden above) scoring from a yard out.

The Saints added a field goal early in the fourth to make it a two-score game, and after Matthew Stafford was intercepted, another Saints FG made it 23-10 with 5:24 left. At this point, some fans decided to leave. Why, I'll never know. Five minutes is an eternity in the NFL. The Lions promptly scored on their next possession with Golden Tate hauling in a pass after cornerback Corey White misplayed the pass. Tate then outran the entire Saints secondary for a 73-yard touchdown leaving 3:38 on the clock. The Lions kicked deep for a touchback and all Brees needed was a couple of first downs to seal the game, but instead he threw the ball to Glover Quin of the Lions who returned it to the 14. Those fans who left must have enjoyed hearing that on their radio.

Anyway, the Lions moved just 5 yards in 3 downs, leaving them with a fourth down. Stafford's pass to Reggie Bush was stopped, but a flag was on the field (one of 21 accepted penalties on the day). Saints defender Rafael Bush was called for pass interference and the Lions had another chance. This time, Stafford connected with Corey Fuller for a 5-yard touchdown to tie the game. Prater converted and the Lions had the lead! An amazing turnaround! Never leave early! But there was still 1:48 left, more than enough time for Brees to drive the Saints into field goal range. Thankfully for the home fans though, it was not to be. He scrambled for one first down but could not find an open receiver the other times, and a fourth down toss fell incomplete with 21 seconds left as the Lions completed the improbable comeback. This was not a great game as a whole, but man, those last five minutes were a lot of fun.

With Denver and Dallas stealing all the headlines, another D team might be the one to watch out for, because of its D. Detroit has the best defence in the league and are quietly waiting for Megatron to return. Could they be a surprise contender for the NFL title? This game will certainly give them some confidence but I'll wait to see how they do in London against the Falcons before I anoint them any further.

Next Up

Speaking of London, my next big trip is in three weeks when I fly there for four football games and one football game. I've already got my ticket for Man City at QPR just two rows from the pitch, so I can't wait for that. In the meantime, I'll have a few posts on the MLB postseason, awards, and some other hot topics, so keep checking in from time to time.



Sunday, October 19, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 0 at Detroit Red Wings 1 (OT) - October 18, 2014

The 2014-15 NHL schedule is not conducive to my goal of seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road in every city by the end of 2016. I always look for trips where the Leafs will visit at least two rinks within driving distance in 2 or 3 days. Now that most of my remaining venues are in the Midwest though, this is quite a bit more difficult as Toronto is close enough that they almost never have a road trip to two proximate rinks. So I am forced to pick only single games this year and then hope for better luck next season. As I am also working right now, I am limited to weekend jaunts, which reduces my options choices even more. When the schedule came out in July, before I had found my job, I decided on the game in Detroit on Saturday, October 18, and Carolina and Columbus on weekdays in 2015. With the job, those last two are no longer on the schedule, so my Leafs road venue list will only increase by 1 this season, with Joe Louis Arena the lucky beneficiary.

Joe Louis Arena

A few days before I visited, there was an announcement that a city creditor had agreed to develop the riverfront area, a plan that would see JLA demolished in 2017. The Wings are already expecting to have a new arena open by then, so this was not big news, but I realized that this would likely be my last visit to the Joe (which is not saying much, I have only seen one other game there).

Located next to the Detroit River, Joe Louis Arena was opened in 1979 but seems like it is twice its age. When the Islanders move to Brooklyn next year, JLA will be the third oldest rink in the league behind Madison Square Garden and Rexall Place, and one of only two without a corporate name (MSG is the other). Without suites, there is only a single concourse and the upper bowl (200s) is still very close to the ice. There is no reason to sit in the lower level as the views from upstairs are excellent and quite a bit cheaper. Lower level tickets range from $110-220 while those up top go from $47-80, although there is variable pricing and the Leafs game was even costlier than this. There are specials though, including a $59 Fan Pack which includes 2 tickets, hot dogs, and soft drinks for $59 for select (in other words not select) games.

Sculptures of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, and Alex Delvecchio greet you as you enter through the Gordie Howe Gate. The arena looks small but can hold 20,027, second in the league behind the Bell Centre. Concourses are therefore very crowded and restroom lines can take an entire intermission to peter out. Aisle seats are advantageous so you can sneak out during a break in the action and save yourself 15 minutes of waiting during the intermission.

Get there early (gates open an hour before game time) and wander around, noting the historical touches that detail the history of this Original 6 franchise, including those recent Stanley Cup banners.

Food is bland but relatively cheap (a slice of Little Caesars is S4), with sandwiches the most intriguing option at $9. Still, I would eat before or after at Tommy's Bar and Grill (above), a bar just a few minutes away that has an incredible grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and bacon for $5. The place is packed for the pregame, but more manageable afterwards as many fans need to make the trek back home to the suburbs. Ciccarelli's (owned by the famous agitator of the 80s and 90s) and The Anchor Bar are two more establishments nearby - note that Ciccarelli's is only open for events. Hockeytown Cafe, next to Comerica Park, offers free shuttles should you be staying up in that area, or you can take the PeopleMover elevated train at 75 cents per ride.

Of course, the famed octopus gets some love too. Not sure why he is so angry though, the Wings have been a perennial contender since the early 1990s.

Being an old barn, there are few amenities. There are no replays except of goals, and no stat boards or other information to pass the time during the commercial breaks. One thing I did appreciate was TVs in the concourse showing college hockey before the game. In general though, JLA is a very functional rink and the Red Wings don't bother putting on a show to entertain you, since the team is entertaining enough as it is. After the game, stick around because exiting the arena also takes a long time, with most fans using the main gate to return to the parking garage across the street.

All-in-all, Joe Louis Arena is where I would like to be a season ticket holder. A successful team, relatively convenient location with decent and affordable bars nearby, and a distinct lack of hype and noise. I hope the Red Wings maintain this atmosphere in their new arena, which I will be visiting as soon as it opens.

The Game

My friend Sharpy joined me for this trip and we splurged, getting seats three rows from the ice in the end that Toronto would attack twice. The teams had played the night before in Toronto with Detroit dominating in a 4-1 win. This time, Jonathan Bernier started for the Buds against Jonas Gustavsson, the ex-Leaf who is now backing up in Detroit. Gustavsson had been the goat in a couple of games that we had attended previously, and we hoped that would continue. Of course, you know it wouldn't.

The teams showed no signs of fatigue in a fast-paced first period that finished scoreless but had plenty of chances for both sides. The same can be said for the second and third periods too.  In other words, the game went to overtime knotted at naught. It may sound boring but it was quite an exciting tilt, especially as it became obvious that a single goal would likely win the game.

Unfortunately for Toronto, that goal came off the stick of Henrik Zetterberg with 9.9 seconds left in overtime as he came in to the zone unmarked and one-timed a pass from Niklas Kronwall (above). The puck hit the tip of Bernier's pad, then the post, and slid over the line for a goal. It happened right in front of us, but we didn't bother to stand up to see the celebration, glumly sitting there while everyone around us cheered. Oh well, at least the Leafs got a point.

Although the result was not favourable, this was a very enjoyable evening for 64 minutes and 50 seconds. l'd rather see a battle like this with back and forth action and quality goaltending than a 7-3 drubbing.


l have seen 9 periods of NHL hockey this season plus two overtimes and only six goals.

My Leafs on the Road record is now 9-11-3. I still have Phoenix, Winnipeg, Chicago, Minnesota, Carolina, Columbus, and St. Louis left to see in the hopes that the final tally will be above .500. With my other trips taking up various weekends this year, all those seven cities will have to be hit in the 2015-16 season. Hope the schedule helps.



Friday, October 17, 2014

How to Visit San Francisco without Visiting San Francisco

After visiting TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis last weekend, there is still one more NFL venue that I need to see to retain my membership in Club 122, namely Levi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers. The NFL schedule is difficult to plan around, and I really only had two or three weekends in which I could make the trip out west. After much deliberation, I decided to go in December, as the 49ers host San Diego in the only Saturday with games this season. That opens up Sunday and wouldn't you know it? The Bills are in Oakland. Of course, Saturday night is free, and the NHL has obliged by matching up a couple of playoff disappointments in St. Louis and San Jose, just minutes away from Santa Clara, where Levi's Stadium sits.

As I began to look at flight tickets, I chanced a peek at the ECHL schedule and was pleased to find the Stockton Thunder home on a Friday night. So that makes a nice three-day, four-game trip to San Francisco with two new venues. Except I won't actually spend any time in San Francisco. After landing at the airport, I'll make my way south to Santa Clara and use that as my base, with trips to Stockton, San Jose and Oakland before returning to the airport, which is actually in San Mateo County. So I guess I'll call this one the 2014 Bay Area trip.

The full schedule is below:

Fri Dec 19 Idaho at Stockton (ECHL) 7:05
Sat Dec 20 Chargers at 49ers 1:30
Sat Dec 20 Blues at Sharks 7:00
Sun Dec 21 Bills at Raiders 1:00

As always, check back for the exciting recaps.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Colorado Avalanche 2 at Boston Bruins 1 - October 13, 2014

Why was I in Boston on Columbus Day after spending the weekend in Minneapolis? Flights back to New York were too expensive even months in advance, but flights to Boston on Sun Country were not. From Boston, I was able to book a cheap flight to Newark, although in hindsight, a bus would have been even cheaper.

Anyway, I chose Boston because the Bruins happened to have a matinee game against the Avalanche. My friend Dom would also be attending so I met him at South Station and we made our way to TD Garden. I visited here as part of my quest to enter Club 122 back in January (Leafs won!) but was happy to spend the afternoon here, as the Garden is one of the league’s better venues, although it is also one of the most expensive. We found loge seats from a friendly neighbourhood scalper and ended up sitting behind several of the players’ wives (view from the seat below). They can be distracting in more ways than one; they are obviously attractive and very well dressed, but what is less appealing is that they are not at all interested in the game. Their children bounce around while the wives have conversations with each other, sometimes standing at inopportune times. Not a major problem but a minor inconvenience; I found it interesting that they really couldn’t care less about the action on the ice, even when their husband was out there.

Other than that, not much else to say. I usually won't post here when I revisit a stadium I have seen before, unless it is for a Toronto game, but this afternoon affair had a surprising finish.

The Game

The Avs came in having been shutout through their first two games against Minnesota, while Boston was also struggling to score, netting only three goals in three games, going 1-2 in that time. A low-scoring tilt was expected, and that is exactly what happened, even with both teams starting their backups.

After a scoreless first period that saw some good saves by both Colorado's Reto Berra (above) and Niklas Svedberg of Boston, the Avalanche finally managed their first goal of the season 7 minutes into the second when Jamie McGinn’s wrist shot trickled through Svedberg’s arm. It should have been stopped, but the Avs weren’t complaining. Boston tied it on a power play a few minutes later after Loui Eriksson took a pass and slid the puck into the net behind a sprawling Berra. The only other highlight was a fight between Adam McQuaid and Cody McLeod in what must be the latest battle in an ancient Scottish feud. McQuaid won decisively.

The third period was similar to the first, with chances at both ends but no goals. It looked like overtime would be required until Colorado began to press with about 30 seconds to go. A couple of shots were saved but Boston could not clear the zone. A shot from the point by Jan Hedja was kicked out by Svedberg, right onto the stick of Daniel Briere, who scored into the gaping net as time expired. The green light indicating the end of the period was on, so at first it looked like the goal would not count, but the shot had entered the next with half a second to spare; the goal judge was just too slow to activate the red light. Colorado went wild while stunned Bruins fans looked at each other in disbelief. Really an incredible ending to what was a pretty average NHL game. It was so unbelievable that the scoreboard operator took a while to update the final score.


The Bruins wore their very cool third jersey, with Zdeno Chara sporting a matching shiner. I like that the scoreboard uses this logo as well, a nice touch that shows somebody is paying attention to the little things in Boston.

The winner was Briere's 300th career goal. He's now just 260 behind teammate Jarome Iginla, who had played for the Bruins last season.

Next Up

I’m in Detroit this weekend for another episode in my Toronto on the Road series as the Red Wings and Leafs engage in an Atlantic Division battle. Sunday sees the Saints at the Lions in what should be an intriguing game – can the Saints offense overcome the #1 defense in the NFL? Check back next week for the recap.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Detroit Lions 17 at Minnesota Vikings 3 - October 12, 2014

The fun part about Club 122 is that you are always trying to maintain your membership. Franchises in the Big 4 leagues move on occasion, while those that stay put open new venues on a regular basis, so there are always cities to revisit. This season sees the 49ers playing out of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara,  so every member of the club is heading to the Bay Area at some point this year. Meanwhile, the Vikings are using temporary digs at TCF Bank Stadium, which for some doesn't qualify as a necessary stop. It does for me though, and so I spent the weekend in Minneapolis, my fourth time there in the last five years. With the Golden Gophers playing on Saturday, it made for a great weekend. Until the Vikings took the field.

I wrote about TCF Bank Stadium in yesterday’s post, but there are a few differences when the Vikings are the home team. The ribbon boards are covered with Vikings signs or NFL sponsors (you might be able to see that above), and the field is also repainted with Minnesota in gold and purple instead of maroon and gold. The Vikings also appear through a gate meant to evoke a Viking attack (below). Sadly, this image did not take root in the minds of the team.

The most surprising difference though was in the food prices. Nearly everything was a little more expensive for the NFL game. The bread bowl stew went from $5.50 to $6 as an example. Check out the two menus below – an extra $2 for chili renders it overpriced and no longer an option.

Other than those superficial changes, the stadium was identical, with no special Vikings displays. As the team is only here for two seasons, there is really no need to personalize it beyond what has been done. Again, if you want to see TCF Bank Stadium, go for the college game and wait for the Vikings to open their new stadium in 2016.

The Game

With Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush both injured, points promised to be scarce. The Vikings have a terrible rushing offense without Adrian Peterson, and Detroit has the best defense in the league. The game would be decided by Teddy Bridgewater, making his second career start. Could he pass the Vikings to victory? Ummmmm, no.

I told my buddy Eddie (who has now seen games in all 32 current NFL venues) that this would be a very low-scoring game and was promptly made to look foolish at Matthew Stafford drove the Lions 80 yards on just 7 plays, hitting Theo Riddick for the touchdown just four minutes in. That was the highlight of the game. After that, it was punt after punt after punt (14 in all). On a couple of occasions, Detroit attempted field goals. Matt Prater, recently signed after being cut by Denver, missed his first field goal from 50 yards out (above), although he hit his second just before halftime from 52, giving the Lions a 10-0 lead at the break.

The Lions added another touchdown early in the 3rd quarter on a 1-yard run from Joique Bell to make it 17-0, while Prater hit the upright with his third attempt on their next possession. The Lions are 5-15 on field goals so far this season, but it is expected that Prater will stabilize the situation; there were swirling winds throughout the game that made kicking a bit more difficult than it would normally be. Bridgewater meanwhile failed to impress. His line of 23-37 for 188 yards is nothing special, but being sacked eight times and throwing three interceptions and fumbling the ball (above) make it a very bad day indeed. The Vikings avoided the shutout with a late field goal.


The NFL gets a lot of bad press from its stupid and drunk fan base (one stole a prosthetic leg in Philadelphia this past weekend), but fans here are among the best in the league. The team placed an ad in the free program stating “We are Vikings not Barbarians” and everybody followed along. Sure, there were a couple of drunks here and there, but Minnesotans lack the chip on their shoulder that so many other fans seem to possess, enjoying the game despite it being really an ugly affair for the home team. I've seen three NFL games here and never had a problem nor seen one. Looking forward to my next visit when the Vikings open the new stadium in two years.

Both visiting teams scored 17 points on the weekend. The Vikings just needed 3 touchdowns to match the Gophers score. So close and yet so far.



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Northwestern Wildcats 17 at Minnesota Golden Gophers 24 (NCAA Football, Big Ten) - October 11, 2014

This season sees the Minnesota Vikings playing out of TCF Bank Stadium while their new stadium is being built on the site of the Metrodome. TCF Bank Stadium is the relatively new home of the Big Ten's University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, having been opened in 2009. As part of Club 122, I would have to revisit the Twin Cities to see this temporary venue. The key was finding the best weekend for sports. The Wild recently opened their NHL season, and there are a couple of weekends when they are home on a Saturday night before the Vikings play on Sunday, but both of those are in the winter, when weather can wreak havoc with weekend travel plans and outdoor games can be a bitter experience. My friend Eddie suggested Columbus Day weekend, as the Golden Gophers were home on the Saturday. I had yet to see a Big 10 football game, and with Monday being a holiday for me, that was obviously the better option.

Saturday was a picture perfect fall day, with temps just above freezing as we arrived at the stadium at 8:30 for the 11 a.m. start. Parking was $30 a block from the stadium but that came with $20 for coupons at the bar next door, so not a bad deal. Those on a budget can find free street parking a few blocks away. TCF Bank Stadium reminded me a bit of Lambeau Field in its exterior design, not tall and encircled by windows along the top. It is still bright and shiny, and you should walk around, taking note that each Minnesota county is honoured by being cast in stone that is inlaid in the bricks as you can see below. It is actually quite an impressive sight.

Tickets were $50 at the window for upper deck seats, although we probably could have done better with the scalpers. The stadium is relatively small, with no suites separating the upper and lower bowls, so there are no bad seats in the place. The corners on both levels are benches, as are the east end zone seats. but they do rent seat backs if you need one. The west end zone is temporary seating necessitated by the Vikings, with the large scoreboard just above.

My favourite part though is the maroon seats with gold seats interspersed to spell Minnesota with a giant upside down W on the lower level.

The single concourse is more than spacious enough for the 50,000 or so fans that are in attendance. Food options include some that are not found elsewhere, including a bread bowl with stew for $5.50 that is more bread than stew but still worth the price. I recommend checking out the portable stands in the horseshoe area on the west side of the stadium, where you can get burnt ends from Dave’s BBQ ($9) or a cup of chili from Jax’s for $6, both of which are good options on a cold morning. Beer is also available, with many fans partaking local lager Grain Belt while Miller Lite was the swill on offer.

TCF Bank Stadium includes posters high on the wall celebrating the university’s many successful sports teams. Football has seven national championships, but the last came in 1947. Their last Big 10 title was in 1967, so their futility equals that of the Maple Leafs. Could this be the year both end 48 years of frustration? There is also a Hall of Fame but it was not open to the public either time I went to check it out. There are a lot of private parties at the bars around the stadium, which is one of the better campus neighbourhoods I have seen, with the Big 10 sports bar on Washington Avenue offering a good breakfast with $3.75 tall boys of PBR to get you ready for the game.

All in all, a Golden Gopher football game in October is tough to beat for a sports traveler. It is a Power 5 conference without the Power 5 hype. The stadium is new and properly designed; they didn’t try to add all the bells and whistles that many new venues feel are necessary but end up detracting from the experience. This was the only weekend this season when both the Gophers and Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium, so if you want to see both on one trip, wait for 2015. But if you can only see one, I recommend the college team here; it is just a more enjoyable experience.

The Game

The Northwestern Wildcats were the visitors, coming in at 3-2 (1-1 Big Ten) while the Golden Gophers were 4-1 (1-0 Big Ten). This was a throwback affair with Minnesota running the football 39 times to only 15 passes, while Northwestern kept the ball on the ground for 34 plays, but passed 50 times. The teams exchanged scores, with Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner scoring twice on sneaks from the 1 (he’s #7 above crossing the goal line) while Justin Jackson (below being tripped up) scored on an 11-yard pass from Trevor Siemian. The Wildcats added a field goal to end the half down 14-10.

The third quarter was scoreless as defense dominated, and when Minnesota kicked a field goal early in the fourth, it looked like that might be enough especially after Solomon Vault muffed the ensuing kickoff and the ball tumbled out of bounds at the 3-yard line.  But Northwestern was not perturbed, and calmly marched 97 yards on 13 plays, with Siemian (throwing below) scoring from 2 yards out to tie the game at 17.

Overtime was in prospect for about 13 seconds. That is how long it took Jalen Myrick to return the kickoff 100 yards for the home team, sending the crowd into an extended celebration. I was standing at the goal line where Myrick scored, and could see the enormous hole open up at the other end. Myrick blazed through and never looked back, racing down the left sideline and into the end zone. After that, Northwestern had two meaningful drives, and got to the Minnesota 33 on one of them before a 4th down pass fell incomplete as the Gophers held on to win 24-17.

Despite running 30 less plays and being outgained 393-274, the Gophers emerged victorious, highlighting the importance of special teams and return yardage. This was the type of football game I like, where long drives are more common than the big play. Northwestern had two drives of 16 plays that resulted in their first half touchdown and field goal, along with their 13-play touchdown. Minnesota had two drives of 11 plays resulting in 10 points; their other touchdown came on a 6-play drive that covered 75 yards. Sadly, I am in the minority in my preference for a 24-17 game rather than a 41-38 affair. Most football fans seem to like as many points as possible, as evidenced in this TMQ column. I like Minnesota's style and am hoping they continue to do well this season, showing the country that football is not all about flashy plays.

Colourful Volleyball

The plan that evening was to watch a junior hockey game as the NAHL’s Minnesota Magicians were at home in Richfield, a southern suburb of Minneapolis. During the football game however, it was announced that the Golden Gophers volleyball team had a game that evening and those with a football ticket would be granted free admission. For a cheap Canadian, this was a dilemma. Did I want to drive 15 miles and pay $15 to see hockey, or walk 5 minutes and pay nothing to see women’s volleyball? The presence of several bars near the campus answered my question. We decided to hang out at Buffalo Wild Wings (a good postgame destination if you like large crowds) for a few hours and made our way to Williams Arena to watch the Golden Gophers take on the Scarlet Knights from Rutgers.

There was a surprisingly large crowd of 3,300 fans already there as we found seats behind the court. The match wasn’t close though, as Minnesota swept Rutgers in three straight sets. The entire event lasted just over an hour, but it was fun to see. I always enjoy when teams promote their other sports this way; Duke did the same thing last year when baseball ticket holders got in free to see the eventual national champion lacrosse team. Going forward, I’ll be checking out all the sports on campus to see if any other doubleheaders can be scheduled. Stay tuned to find out what trips will be planned in 2015.