Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How to Be a Rutgers Fan at Nebraska -- 2017 Edition

39 States down, 11 to go.

The football team at Rutgers University plays away to the University of Nebraska this Saturday.

This could be bad. Very, very bad. Unless you're a Cornhuskers fan.

Before You Go. Nebraska is on the Great Plains. It produces extremes of weather: Very hot in Summer, bitter cold in Winter. Many years ago, Nebraska was playing Colorado on the day after Thanksgiving, and ABC was broadcasting the game, and it was not only very cold, but windy, with the flags all being straight out. It was so cold! (How cold was it?) It was so cold, someone set a parking lot portajohn on fire, thinking it would help the fans outside who couldn't get tickets warm, and thick black smoke drifted over the stadium, making people think there was a more serious fire going on.

This still being September, your problem is going to be heat, not cold. Temperatures for Saturday are expected to be in the low 80s in daylight, and the mid-60s at night. Although the Lincoln Journal Star and the Omaha World-Herald, the State's 2 largest newspapers, are predicting rain for Sunday, Saturday should be dry.

Except for its Western edge, far at the other end of the State, which is in the Mountain Time Zone, Nebraska is in the Central Time Zone, an hour behind New York and New Jersey. Adjust your timepieces accordingly.

Tickets. Yeah, surrrre! Nebraska football hasn't played to an unsold seat at home since October 20, 1962. I'll save you the math: That's 55 years. JFK was President, the Cuban Missile Crisis was going on, and nobody outside England (and a few people in Hamburg, Germany) had yet heard of the Beatles. You wanna get in? Go to a resale service. (A legal one. Not a scalper. They can't be trusted.)

Officially, all tickets are $57. Unofficially, who knows until you log on to the ticket sites.

Getting There. It's 1,296 miles from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan to the State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska, and -- oddly -- the same distance from High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey to Memorial Stadium, home of the 'Huskers.

Knowing this, your first instinct will be to fly. A round-trip flight to Lincoln Airport will include a changeover at O'Hare in Chicago, but it could be gotten fairly cheap, under $800. Bus 52 will get you downtown in a little over half an hour.

Would you prefer the train? Amtrak has the Lake Shore Limited leaving Penn Station at 3:40 PM on Thursday, and arriving at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM on Friday. The California Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2:00 PM, and arrives in Lincoln at 12:08 AM on Saturday. The reverse trip would leave Lincoln at 3:26 AM on Sunday, arrive in Chicago at 2:50 PM, switch to the Lake Shore Limited at 9:30 PM and arrive back at Penn station at 6:23 PM on Monday. Round-trip fare is $384 -- given the mileage, a cheap trip by Amtrak standards. Haymarket Station is at 277 Pinnacle Arena Drive, a 15-minute walk from Memorial Stadium.

With Greyhound, you have to change buses 3 times: In Pittsburgh, Chicago and Omaha. Round-trip fare is $448, but it can drop to $390 with advanced purchase -- but that's still more than the train. The Greyhound station is at 5250 Superior Street, 3 and a half miles northeast of downtown. Bus 41. So you're really better off taking the train than the bus.

Driving there would be long, but simple, as Interstate 80 can be taken from North Jersey to Lincoln, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. You'd take Exit 401 to Interstate 180 South to the campus.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Iowa, and 1 hour in Nebraska. Total: A little over 22 hours. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic (you'll be bypassing Cleveland and Chicago, unless that's where you want to make rest stops), we're talking about a 30-hour trip.

Once In the City. Nebraska was dominated by Native American tribes until the Europeans came, starting with Spain in the 1690s. France arrived in 1703, and war between them broke out, with each side getting local tribes on their sides. A massacre near present-day Columbus wiped out Spanish attempts to settle the Plains until 1762, when, desperate for cash during the French and Indian War, France ceded the Louisiana Territory to Spain. The French got it back, but sold it to the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 cleared the path for Statehood -- and for the American Civil War. Originally, the capital of the Nebraska Territory was Omaha, because of its location on the Missouri River (across from Council Bluffs, Iowa), but upon Statehood in 1867 (they celebrated the 150th Anniversary this year), it was moved to Lancaster. While the County it's in still holds that name, the City was then renamed for Abraham Lincoln.
Although its eastern border is the rather wide Missouri River, Nebraska is the only "triply landlocked State": To reach an ocean, gulf, or bay from Nebraska, one must travel through at least 3 other States or Canadian Provinces. To wit: Either south through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to the Gulf of Mexico; north through South Dakota, North Dakota and Manitoba to Hudson Bay; or west through Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon to the Pacific Ocean.
The name "Nebraska" comes from the other river, besides the Missouri, that dominates the State, the Platte: "Ni Brasge" meant "Flat water" in the language of local tribes. Congressman William Jennings Bryan, nominated for President by the Democratic Party in 1896, 1900 and 1908, was called The Boy Orator of the Platte, but his speeches and his support were said to be "like the Platte: A mile wide and a foot deep."

About 1.9 million people live in the State, with nearly 1.1 million of them living in the Omaha and Lincoln areas, the easternmost 15 percent of the State. Omaha its largest city, with about 450,000 people; while Lincoln, its capital and the seat of its State university, has about 280,000. At 394 feet high, the State Capitol building is the 2nd-tallest in the nation, topped only by Louisiana's. (The tallest building in the entire State is One First National Center, 634 feet high, at 1601 Dodge Street, downtown Omaha.) And Nebraska is unique in that it is the only State with a unicameral legislature: A single house, rather than Senate and a House of Representatives, House of Delegates, or, as we would say in New York and New Jersey, an Assembly.
The State House in Lincoln

ZIP Codes for Nebraska begin with the digits 68 and 69. The Area Codes are 308 for the Western part of the State, and 402 (with 531 overlaid) for the Eastern part, including Lincoln and Omaha. The sales tax is 5.5 percent.

O Street, part of U.S. Route 34, divides Lincoln's street addresses into North and South. Addresses west of Salt Creek are labeled West, but east of it, they are not labeled East. At any rate, addresses in downtown Lincoln increase eastward from Salt Creek. StarTran operates local buses, but they stop at 9:55 PM on weekdays and 7:05 PM on Saturdays (Husker gamedays), and don't run at all on Sundays. A single fare is $1.75.

Going In. Memorial Stadium is about a mile north of downtown. Bus 55. The official address is One Memorial Stadium Drive. Don't drive in: Despite all those tailgate parties, those are people who have bought season passes. The University website specifically says:

While there is no single-game parking sold through Nebraska Athletics, there are a several convenient ways to get to the stadium on game day.

Fans are encouraged to use the easy-to-use game day shuttle service through StarTran. Shuttle service to and from the stadium begins two hours before kickoff with the last shuttle 45 minutes before kickoff. Shuttles will return to the lots immediately after the game. For more information click here.

The pick-up and drop-off points in 2017 will be:

  • Southeast Community College (88th and O Street)
  • SouthPointe Mall (27th and Pine Lake Rd.)
  • North Star High School (Six blocks east of North 27th and Folkways Blvd.)
  • Holmes Lake (70th and Van Dorn)
  • Westfield Shopping Center (66th and O Street)
  • MSC (901 West Bond)

  • Memorial Stadium opened in 1923 with a capacity of 31,000, and the demand for tickets raised it to 48,000 in 1964, 62,000 in 1966, and by the 1972 season had been expanded to 73,650. A later round of expansions brought it to 81,000 in 2006 and 87,147 in 2013. The installation of wider seats reduce capacity to the current 85,458.
    Despite its classical architecture, reminiscent of so many other 1920s stadiums that, officially and otherwise, were memorials to the dead of World War I, sight lines are not great: No stadium in FBS (formerly Division I-A) has a larger percentage of its seats outside the 20-yard lines. The huge crowds, like St. Louis Cardinals fans nearly all dressed in red, has led to the nickname The Sea of Red.
    The stadium was dedicated to all the Nebraskans who served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War -- both with veterans still alive at that point -- and the 751 citizens of the Cornhusker State who died in World War I. Later, plaques would be dedicated to the 3,839 who died in World War II, the 225 of the Korean War, and the 422 of the Vietnam War.

    Each corner has an inscription:

    • Southeast: "In Commemoration of the men of Nebraska who served and fell in the Nation's Wars."
    • Southwest: "Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory."
    • Northwest: "Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport."
    • Northeast: "Their Lives they held their country's trust; They kept its faith; They died its heroes."
    The field runs north-to-south. In 1970, the grass was replaced with AstroTurf, and in 1999, Nebraska became the 1st college football team to use FieldTurf. In 1999, the playing surface was named Tom Osborne Field.

    Food. Nebraska is Midwestern, but it was so long in the Big Eight, and then in the Big Twelve, that it hasn't yet figured out what the Big Ten schools figured out long ago: Food is important.

    Aside from a nice $8.00 beef brisket sandwich, there's nothing special about Memorial Stadium concessions. You're better off eating before and after the game.

    Team History Displays. Nebraska is one of the most storied programs in college football, but until 1962, their historic moments were few and far between. Then came Bob Devaney, for whom their basketball arena is named; and Tom Osborne, for whom the playing surface at Memorial Stadium is named.

    Osborne had played quarterback at Hastings College in Nebraska, but was moved to receiver for the San Francisco 49ers in 1959 and the Washington Redskins in 1960 and '61. He was then cut, and went to the University of Nebraska for graduate school.

    In 1962, Devaney was named Nebraska's head coach, having been the head coach at Wyoming (a neighboring State, though hardly a neighboring school), and before that having served on the title-winning staffs of Clarence "Biggie" Munn and Hugh "Duffy" Daugherty at Michigan State.

    The Cornhuskers hired him after they'd had 6 straight losing seasons, and he turned the program around: They went 9-2 in that 1st season, and haven't played to an unsold seat at home since. On November 3, 1962, the sellout streak started, as 36,501 fans came to see them lose to Big Eight neighbors Missouri 16-7. The streak is now at 356 consecutive games.
    Interestingly, from a New York perspective, the '62 Huskers went to the Gotham Bowl, held at Yankee Stadium on December 15. In a bit of foreshadowing, they played the University of Miami, and won a thriller, 36-34. But only 6,166 fans came out, leaving The Stadium with over 60,000 empty seats, and the Bowl was never played again.

    In 1964, Devaney named Osborne as an assistant coach; in 1969, offensive coordinator; and in 1973, Devaney was named athletic director, handing the head coaching duties over to Osborne. He remained in charge through the 1997 season, the year Devaney died, had the field named for him in 1999, got elected to Congress in 2001, left Congress to run for Governor in 2006 but lost the Republican Primary to the incumbent, and then served as athletic director from 2007 to 2013.
    Stadium plaque honoring Devaney and Osborne

    He is still alive, age 80, and now has a statue outside the stadium, showing him posing with Brook Berringer, the quarterback on his 1994 and '95 National Championship teams, who was killed in a plane crash in 1996, right before he would have been selected in the NFL Draft.
    Osborne laying flowers at the statue, in Berringer's memory

    On the east side of the Stadium is the Husker Legacy Statue, honoring the 4 National Championship teams that they officially claim: 1970, 1971, 1994 and 1995. They don't represent any particular players, but were modeled after a photograph taken during the 1995 Nebraska-Kansas State game.
    Various polling organizations have also awarded Nebraska National Championships in 1915, 1921, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1983, 1984, 1993 and 1999, but only the 4 on the statue are considered official, although they shared the 1970 title with Texas, as the polls were split.

    Nebraska was in the league officially known as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association from 1907 to 1964, but nicknamed the Big Six from 1928 to 1948, the Big Seven from 1948 to 1957, and the Big Eight from 1957 to 1964, at which point it was officially renamed the Big Eight Conference.

    They won the Conference Championship in 1907, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1940, 1963, 1964 1965, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995. (The gap between 1940 and 1963 was due to the rise of the University of Oklahoma as a football power.)

    In 1996, the Big 8 took on 4 Texas teams from the dissolved Southwest Conference, and became the Big Twelve Conference. Nebraska won the title in 1997 and 1999. In 2011, they moved to the Big Ten. They won a Division Championship in 2012, but lost the Championship Game, and haven't added to their 43 Conference Championships.

    Nebraska has won the Orange Bowl in 1964, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1983, 1995, 1996 and 1998; the Cotton Bowl in 1974; the Sugar Bowl in 1975, 1985 and 1987; and the Fiesta Bowl in 1996 and 2000. Despite their entry into the Big Ten, they've only been in the Rose Bowl once, and that was before the Big Ten winner got an automatic berth there, in 1941, when they lost to Stanford.

    Three Huskers have had their uniform numbers retired: 20, running back Johnny Rodgers, from the 1970 and '71 National Champions, and in 1972 the school's 1st Heisman Trophy winner; 60, center Tom Novak, from the late 1940s; and 64, offensive tackle Bob Brown, from the early 1960s. Also winning the Heisman at Nebraska have been 1983 running back Mike Rozier (30), and 2001 quarterback Eric Crouch (7).
    "Johnny R, Superstar"

    Cornhuskers in the College Football Hall of Fame include:

    * From the 1910s: Ends Guy Chamberlin and Clarence Swanson.

    * From the 1920s: Tackle Ed Weir. Tackle William "Link" Lyman also played for them in the early 1920s.

    * From the 1930s: Coaches Dana X. Bible and Lawrence Jones, fullbacks George Sauer and Sam Francis, and tackle Forrest Behm.

    * From the 1950s: Halfback Bobby Reynolds. Center Mick Tinglehoff also played for them as the '50s turned to the '60s.

    * From the 1960s: Devaney, Brown, and guard Wayne Meylan.

    * From the 1970s: Devaney, Osborne, Rodgers, and defensive tackle Rich Glover, from Jersey City.

    * From the 1980s: Osborne, Rozier, and center Dave Rimington, the only 2-time winner of the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman. Mount Holly, New Jersey native Irving Fryar, later a 5-time Pro Bowler with New England, Miami and Philadelphia, also played for that 1983 team that came within a missed 2-point conversion against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl of being crowned not just National Champions, but perhaps the greatest team ever. (The Huskers would finally get their revenge in the 1995 Orange Bowl.) The year before, they also had future San Francisco Super Bowl running back Roger Craig.

    * From the 1990s: Osborne, Frazier, tackle Will Shields, linebacker Trev Alberts, and defensive end Grant Wistrom. From the 2000s, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh might join them.

    There are 5 Nebraska players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lyman, Chamberlin, Tinglehoff, Brown and Shields. Their Heisman winners had less luck. Although Rodgers won the 1974 Grey Cup with the Montreal Alouettes, a knee injury -- in practice, no less -- with the San Diego Chargers ended his career in 1978. Rozier had an unremarkable pro career with the USFL's Pittsburgh Maulers and the NFL's Houston Oilers. And Crouch was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, but, like Osborne, they wanted him as a receiver. He refused to switch, and the only pro action he saw, after bouncing around the NFL, was with the 2005 Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europa and the 2006 Toronto Argonauts in the CFL.

    For many years, Nebraska's big rival was the University of Oklahoma. The rivalry was usually played on Thanksgiving weekend. In 1959, Nebraska beat Oklahoma, ending the Sooners' 74-game conference winning streak. In 1963, Nebraska won a game that the Big 8 refused to postpone, despite President Kennedy's assassination the day before.

    On November 25, 1971, they met in Norman, Oklahoma with the Huskers ranked Number 1 in the country, and the Sooners ranked Number 2. The entire country was watching that Thanksgiving Day, and, like a few other games in that period, was hyped as "The Game of the Century." It lived up to the billing, and Johnny Rodgers and company won 35-31. In 1978, Nebraska won the regular-season game, as Number 4 beating Number 1 Oklahoma, but a rematch was set up in the Orange Bowl (which then took the Big 8 winner), and Oklahoma won it. In 1987, Oklahoma was Number 2 when they beat Number 1 Nebraska.
    As Keith Jackson of ABC, who broadcast a few of these,
    including the 1971 "Game of the Century," would say,
    "These two teams just... don't... like each other!"

    The Big 8's conversion into the Big 12 put the teams in separate divisions, as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were put in with the Texas teams to balance the divisions out, ending Huskers-Sooners as an annual rivalry. Nebraska's move to the Big Ten makes the matchup even rarer: They haven't played since Oklahoma beat them in the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game, and are not scheduled to meet again until 2021 in Norman, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of that Game of the Century. Oklahoma leads the rivalry 45-38-3, but it's 42-23 Oklahoma since 1943, 11-7 Nebraska since 1988, and 6-2 Oklahoma since 2000.

    Nebraska played neighboring Missouri for a Victory Bell, with Nebraska leading the series 65-36-3, but with the Huskers moving to the Big Ten and the Tigers to the Southeastern Conference, it is unlikely to be played again, except maybe in a bowl game.

    With the rise of the University of Colorado as a football power in the late 1980s, they replaced Oklahoma as Nebraska's day-after-Thanksgiving game, as the Cornhuskers-Buffaloes game became, despite also being a bordering-States matchup, more than just another Big 8 matchup. Nebraska leads the series 49-18-2; 40-8-1 since 1962; 17-7-1 since 1986. With Nebraska now in the Big 10 and Colorado in the Pac-12, this game hasn't been played since 2010, but will be played in Lincoln next season.

    A rivalry with neighboring Iowa would seem like a natural, given both teams' status as the sports team in their respective States. But being in different leagues meant that they met only sporadically, and, while Iowa State was in the Big 8/12 (and still is), they never developed a rivalry with Nebraska. But Nebraska's move to the Big 10 began the awarding of The Heroes Trophy. It has replaced the Colorado rivalry as the day after Thanksgiving rivalry. Nebraska leads the series 29-15-3, but, since the trophy began, it's a 3-3 tie.

    Stuff. There is no official team store at Memorial Stadium. Husker Headquarters is located at 1120 P Street, 5 blocks south of the Stadium. And the University Bookstore is at 1500 S Street, 1 block south and 2 blocks east of the Stadium.

    In 2008, Mike Babcock published the coffee-table book University of Nebraska Football Vault. It is probably the most comprehensive single-volume history of the program. Osborne published a memoir in 2000, Faith in the Game: Lessons on Football, Work, and Life. In 2005, Michael Corcoran published The Game of the Century: Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in College Football's Ultimate Battle, November 25, 1971. In 2008, the DVD Tom Osborne's Nebraska Cornhuskers was released.

    During the Game. You will almost certainly be safe. Nebraska fans are a friendly bunch, with the occasional exception. The Colorado rivalry brought one of those out in the late 1980s, as Buffalo fans got a bit too big for their britches, and started some nasty taunts, inspiring Husker fans to invoke the cancer-stricken Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese, with the chant, "Sal is dead, go Big Red!" Osborne put a stop to that.

    Nebraska has a good band, and "The Cornhusker Fight Song" and the "Go Big Red" chant are real rousers. The student section is known as the Boneyard.
    There are 2 mascots. Herbie Husker has been around since 1974, and a childlike Lil' Red was added in 1994. Whether he's supposed to be Herbie's son isn't clear: He's actually taller (even with Herbie's cowboy hat), and there's no facial resemblance. At the start of the game, they ride a tandem bike onto the field, and Herbie rides in front, so, even if he's not the Dad, he's definitely the commanding officer.
    When Devaney was coach, he had the defensive team wear black shirts, to differentiate from the red-shirted offense. Therefore, even though Nebraska wears red jerseys -- and, on occasion, all-red uniforms -- at home, the defense remains known as the Blackshirts.

    Nebraska's roster had included Keyshawn Johnson Jr., but he's officially listed as being on a leave of absence, and expects to return next season. He's a freshman, so they'll treat this as a redshirt season. Like his father the ex-Jet, he's a receiver, and wears Number 3 in college. (His father wore it at USC, and wore 19 in the NFL.)

    While there are minor-league sports teams in the State, the nearest major-league ones are far away, in Kansas City and Denver. So Husker football is pretty much all they've got. That, and the program's success, is why they've sold out every home game for 55 years.

    Indeed, on December 4, 1982, while the worst recession between the late 1930s and the late 2000s was at its depth, and the Farm Belt was particularly hard-hit -- and you thought President Ronald Reagan's tax cuts had helped -- 16,000 Nebraska fans managed to go to a game. Against Hawaii. In Honolulu. And Aloha Stadium only seats 50,000 people. They turned it into a neutral-site game. (Nebraska won, 37-16.)

    So the fans can be excused for the banners around the stadium, indicating their places of origin, much like the bigger English soccer teams: "Californians for Nebraska," "Floridians for Nebraska," and so on. And perhaps they can even be forgiven for their variation on the Wisconsin Badgers' and Green Bay Packers' Cheesehead hats: Cobheads.
    No, I wasn't making that up.

    After the Game. As I said, your safety should not be an issue. Getting out in a hurry will be, so don't: Stay for the postgame band performance, which will allow the crowd to thin out a bit. Most of the good places to eat, including a few chains, are to the south of the Stadium, between O and S Streets, between Canopy (6th) and 14th Streets.

    If you want to see your favorite European "football" team in action before watching the Cornhuskers play "handegg," the top soccer bar in the State is Captain Jack's Bar, at 140 N. 12th Street at P Street, 5 blocks south of the Stadium.

    Sidelights. The 7,907-seat Bob Devaney Sports Center, a.k.a. The Bob, opened in 1976 at 1600 Court Street, about a mile northeast of the Stadium. Bus 41. It was been replaced as Nebraska's basketball arena in 2013, by the 15,500-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena, 400 Pinnacle Arena Drive -- or, if you prefer, 6th & R Streets. Bus 55.

    Nebraska doesn't have any major league teams, and isn't even all that close to any. From Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, the Kansas City sports complex is 203 miles to the southeast, downtown Minneapolis is 434 miles to the northeast, downtown St. Louis is 443 miles to the southeast, the Pepsi Center in Denver is 487 miles to the west, and the United Center in Chicago is 521 miles to the east.

    In fan percentages, according to 2014 studies, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs each seem to have about 15 percent, while the closest team, the Kansas City Royals, don't even register. In the NFL, they prefer the Kansas City Chiefs to the east to the Denver Broncos to the West. In the NBA, they're all over the place, favoring the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, and whatever team LeBron James is playing for this season. In hockey, forget the St. Louis Blues, even though they're a bit closer, and the Chicago Blackhawks, a little further away: It's all about the Colorado Avalanche. In soccer, it's Sporting Kansas City over the Colorado Rapids.

    Nebraska has 2 minor-league baseball teams. The Lincoln Saltdogs are in the independent American Association, and won the Pennant in 2009. They play at Haymarket Park. 403 Line Drive Circle, a 15-minute walk west of Memorial Stadium, via a pedestrian overpass over I-180.
    About 50 miles to the northeast, and reachable by Lincoln by Greyhound, Megabus, or (only once a day in each direction, late at night) Amtrak, is Omaha. The Omaha Storm Chasers, formerly the Omaha Royals, have been the top farm team of the Kansas City club since their founding in 1969. They won 4 Pennants in the old American Association, and 3 since moving to the no-longer-aptly-named Pacific Coast League, for a total of 7: 1969, 1970, 1978, 1990, 2011, 2013 and 2014.

    From 1969 to 2010, they played at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, built in 1947 as Omaha Municipal Stadium, and renamed in 1964 for the Mayor who got it built and brought pro baseball to town. Prior to the O-Royals, it hosted the Omaha Cardinals from 1949 to 1959, and the Omaha Dodgers in 1961 and 1962. From 1950 to 2010, its capacity of 23,145 and its nationally-central location made it the home of the College World Series.
    Because the CWS forced the Storm Chasers on the road for much of June, 2 new ballparks were built, 1 for each. Rosenblatt Stadium was demolished in 2012, and the land has been used for an expansion of the city's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. 1202 Bert Murphy Avenue, about 2 1/2 miles south of downtown. Bus 13.

    TD Ameritrade Park Omaha opened in 2011, with 24,000 seats, with the possibility of expansion to 40,000. Creighton University also uses it for baseball. 1200 Mike Fahey Street (like its predecessor stadium, its street was named for the Mayor who got it built). Bus 30.
    The Storm Chasers moved to Werner Park, at 6,434 seats much easier to fill. in 2011. A statue of Omaha's greatest sports hero, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, stands outside. 12356 Ballpark Way, in suburban Papillon, 14 miles southwest of downtown. Not reachable by public transit.
    Only 1 U.S. national soccer team game has ever been played in Nebraska, and it was the women's team, not the men's, playing Sweden to a 1-1 tie on July 13, 2010, at Michael G. Morrison, S.J., Stadium on the campus of Creighton University in Omaha. (Creighton is a Catholic school, and "S.J." means "Society of Jesus," making Morrison a Jesuit priest.) Attendance: 6,493. 1804 California Street, about 5 blocks west of TD Ameritrade Park.
    Grover Cleveland Alexander, winner of 373 games, one of the earliest Baseball Hall-of-Famers, hero of the 1926 World Series, and a native of Elba, Nebraska, is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in nearby St. Paul, where he lived his last few years. That's pretty far: 119 miles northwest of Lincoln, and you'd need a car.

    Lincoln has the Nebraska History Museum, at 131 Centennial Mall North; the Lincoln Children's Museum, just across the street at 1420 P Street; the University of Nebraska State Museum, at 645 N. 15th Street, 2 blocks east of Memorial Stadium; and the Sheldon Museum of Art, at 1209 R Street, 2 blocks south of the stadium.

    The Beatles never performed in Nebraska. Elvis Presley did. He sang in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska Coliseum in Lincoln on May 19, 1956; and at the Pershing Municipal Auditorium on June 20, 1977, on what turned out to be his last tour. Built in 1926, the Coliseum still stands, hosting Cornhusker volleyball, at 1350 Vine Street. Bus 55.
    The Pershing Center, as the newer building is now known, also still stands, downtown, at 226 Centennial Mall South. Both buildings seat about 4,000 people.
    Elvis sang 7 times at the Omaha Civic Auditorium: Twice on May 20, 1956; twice on June 30, 1974; once the next day, July 1, 1974; on April 22, 1976; and on June 19, 1977. This was the concert taped for a CBS special that was to air at Christmastime, but the footage was considered unusable. (Most of what was shown was from 2 days later, in Rapid City, South Dakota.) After he died on August 16, it aired on October 3. Roy Carr and Mick Farren, authors of Elvis: The Illustrated Record, said that Elvis looked so bad, "Had it been shown during his lifetime, it would have caused more irrevocable damage to what was left of his career than almost a decade of starring in third-rate movies."

    The Civic Auditorium was home court for Creighton University basketball from 1955 to 2003, and was home ice for minor-league hockey teams. The NBA's Kansas City-Omaha Kings played some home games there from 1972 to 1975, before dropping the Omaha from their name and committing to Kansas City -- at least, until 1985, when they moved to Sacramento.
    And it was the site of the Vice Presidential Debate of October 5, 1988, in which the Republican nominee, Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana, was asked about his level of experience and maturity. He was 41, younger than any President had ever been, and this was relevant because, just since World War II, Franklin Roosevelt had died in office, Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack and a stroke, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed, Ronald Reagan had been shot and survived, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford had been shot at, and Richard Nixon had been forced to resign.

    Quayle had been in the Senate for 8 years, and the Congress overall for 12 years. He said, with some justification, that this made his experience comparable to that of JFK. But his Democratic opponent, Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, pointed out that he served in the House of Representatives with JFK, and knew that JFK's goals for serving the American people were very different to Quayle's, and said, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." It didn't change the result of the election -- Vice President George Bush still won a landslide over Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts -- but it forever branded Quayle as a whiny nincompoop, an image he fought hard, with occasional counterproductive results.

    The Ralston Arena opened in 2012, making the Civic Auditorium obsolete, and it was demolished last year. At the moment, the site remains vacant. 1804 Capitol Avenue. The new arena is the home of the Omaha Lancers of the U.S. Hockey League. 7300 Q Street, in Ralston, 8 miles southeast of downtown Omaha. Bus 13.
    There is 1 President with a tie to Nebraska, despite the 3 tries of William Jennings Bryan. On July 14, 1913, Leslie Lynch King Jr. was born at the family home in Omaha. But Les King Sr. was abusive to his wife, and she divorced him, moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and marrying a man named Gerald Rudolph Ford. Her new husband adopted the son and gave him his own name, and he became a University of Michigan football star, a Congressman, House Minority Leader, Vice President, and, from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977, the 38th President of the United States.

    But in 1970, no one knew that House Minority Leader Jerry Ford had a chance of becoming President. And he had become so identified with Michigan in general, and Grand Rapids in particular, that hardly anybody knew (although he did) that he had been born in Omaha. And the house where he was born, a house of which he had no memory, was demolished. After he became President, a reconstruction was built. 3202 Woolworth Avenue, about 2 miles southwest of downtown. Bus 36.

    His Presidential Library is on the Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, and his Presidential Museum, unique among such, is not in the same complex, or even the same city, as his Library, but is rather in his hometown of Grand Rapids.

    Most TV shows and movies set in Nebraska have been Westerns. The 1939 film Union Pacific inspired a 1958-59 TV series. The following season, 1959-60, Pony Express was syndicated. More recently, from 1989 to 1992, ABC aired a show about the Pony Express, The Young Riders, with Stephen Baldwin as William F. Cody (the future Buffalo Bill really had ridden with the Express), Josh Brolin as James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, and Christopher Pettit as a young, not yet notorious, Jesse James.

    Also in 1989, CBS aired a Nebraska-based sitcom titled Heartland, starring Brian Keith. Ironically, the theme song was sung by that New Yorkiest of singers, doo-wop legend Dion DiMucci. The year before, CBS aired First Impressions, with Brad Garrett playing an Omaha insurance agent, but it tanked.

    Movies set in Nebraska tend to be either Westerns, or based on the 1958 killing spree of teenage psychopath Charlie Starkweather. Exceptions: Boys Town (starring Spencer Tracy as the Omaha-based orphanage leader, Father Edward Flanagan), Fail Safe, Election, and 2 of Jack Nicholson's better films, Terms of Endearment and About Schmidt.

    And many films set in Nebraska weren't filmed there at all: Caddyshack was filmed in Florida, Children of the Corn in Iowa, Boys Don't Cry in Texas.


    Nebraska football is an institution. Possibly, on gameday, a madhouse. But, if you can get into the asylum, it's one of the great experiences in American sports.

    Monday, September 18, 2017

    How to Be a Red Bulls Fan In Columbus -- 2017 Edition

    This Saturday night, the New York Red Bulls will go to Ohio to play the Columbus Crew.

    Before You Go. Columbus can get really hot in the summer. The Columbus Dispatch website is predicting the high 80s for Saturday afternoon, and thankfully dropping to the high 50s for the evening. It could be very uncomfortable before the game gets underway. Dress lightly, leave the scarf at home, and stay hydrated.

    Columbus is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to set your clocks back.

    Tickets. The Crew are averaging only 15,007 fans per home game this season, 22nd in Major League Soccer, dead last. It's about 75 percent of capacity. Which does beg the question: Why did Columbus get an MLS team? Why not Cleveland or Cincinnati, the more proven major league cities?

    In the case of Cincinnati, it's probably because somebody thought that Cincinnati couldn't support a team by itself. As we have since seen with FC Cincinnati, that may have been a bad guess. As for Cleveland, native Drew Carey, a part-owner of MLS' Seattle Sounders, explained to me on Twitter (He is as nice as he seems to be on TV) that they didn't have a suitable stadium, and that they didn't want to have 50,000 empty seats in the Browns' new stadium.

    Fans of visiting teams are placed in Sections 115, 116 and 117, behind the south goal. Tickets are $27.

    Getting There. It's 536 miles from Times Square in New York to Capitol Square in Columbus, and 547 miles from Red Bull Arena to MAPFRE Stadium. Flying may seem like a good option, and you can get a nonstop round-trip flight from Newark Liberty to Port Columbus International Airport for $787. You could get it cheaper, but it wouldn't be nonstop.

    Amtrak does not go to Columbus. Its main train station was demolished in 1979 to make way for the Columbus Convention Center (which is too bad, because it was just 2 blocks from where the Blue Jackets' Nationwide Arena ended up being built), and it is now the largest metropolitan area in America that doesn't have Amtrak access.

    Greyhound's run between New York and Columbus is about 14 hours, with no change of buses necessary, costs $132, and dropping to as little as $120 with advanced-purchase. The station is at 111 E. Town Street, at 3rd Street, downtown, 2 blocks south of the State House.

    If you decide to drive, it's far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

    The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you'll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern pandhandle of West Virginia, and into Ohio all the way to Columbus.

    If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, and about 2 hours and 15 minutes in Ohio. That’s about 9 hours and 15 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter Ohio, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Columbus, it should be no more than 11 hours, which would save you time on Greyhound, if not flying.

    Once In the City. Founded in 1816, Columbus, named for Christopher Columbus, celebrated its 200th Anniversary last year. It is easily the largest city in Ohio by population, with about 860,000 people, to a mere 397,000 for Cleveland and 299,000 for Cincinnati. But its metropolitan area has just 2.4 million people, still larger than Cincy's 2.2 million but considerably smaller than Cleveland's 3.5 million, because Cleveland has a much larger suburban area.

    High Street is the street address divider between East and West, and Broad Street serving as the divider between North and South. The southeaster corner of High & Broad includes Capitol Square, with the State House. The sales tax in the State of Ohio is 5.75 percent, rising to 7.5 percent in Franklin County, including the City of Columbus.
    The Ohio State House. No, I don't know why
    they stopped building it before finishing the dome.

    ZIP Codes in Columbus begin with the digits 432, and the Area Code is 614, with 380 overlaid. The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) runs buses, but no rapid transit rail system: No subway, no elevated, no light rail, no commuter rail. The fare is $2.00.

    Going In. Columbus Crew SC (Soccer Club) moved into Columbus Crew Stadium when it opened in 1999. It was known until 2014 as Columbus Crew Stadium before naming rights were sold to a Spain-based insurance company (Mapfre the company doesn't spell its name in ALL CAPS, but the stadium's name usually is), the Crew moved into the 22,555-seat MAPFRE Stadium after playing their 1st 3 seasons (1996-98) before 90,000 empty seats at Ohio Stadium.
    The official address is One Black and Gold Blvd., at 20th Avenue, about 3 1/2 miles north of downtown, near the Indianola Shopping Center. Number 4 bus, then a 15-minute walk: 2 blocks north on 4th Street, 2 blocks east on Hudson Street, then south on Silver Drive. If you drive in, parking is $10.
    America's 1st soccer-specific stadium, it was built at a cost of just $39.3 million -- and looks it. Ohio Stadium may have been vast, but it is an architectural marvel. MAPFRE Stadium is not: From the outside, and even a bit from the inside, it looks like an oversize high school football (gridiron) stadium.

    They won the MLS Cup in 2008, and reached the Final again in 2015, losing to the Portland Timbers despite playing at home. The Stadium also hosted the MLS Cup Final in 2001 (San Jose beating Los Angeles), 12 games of the U.S. National Team, and 6 games of the 2003 Women's World Cup (including a 3-0 U.S. win over North Korea). It's hosted the 2001 and 2003 NCAA men's soccer championships, high school football, and concerts.
    Of those 12 USMNT games, 8 were wins, 3 were ties, and only 1 has been a loss. Of the 8 wins, 4 were against Mexico, all of them 2-0 or "Dos A Cero" wins. Unfortunately, the most recent USMNT game there was the 1 loss, to Mexico last November 11, in a World Cup Qualifying match that probably (and much too late) cost manager Jurgen Klinsmann his job. Previously, being 8-0-3 there, Columbus was a fortress for the Stars & Stripes, but arch-rival Mexico fears it no longer.
    The field is natural grass, and is aligned north-to-south.

    Food. Being in Big Ten Country, where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Columbus soccer stadium to have lots of good options. Unfortunately, the club website does not include a concessions map, so I can't tell you where these items are sold.

    Levy Retail runs their concessions, as they do for all the athletic facilities at nearby Ohio State University. According to the Crew fan blog Massive Report, "MAPFRE Stadium will now include Columbus staples, Schmidt's Sausage Haus, Jeni's Ice Cream, and Hot Chicken Takeover." They also cite a "200-square-foot 'Drink Local' are conversion of the southwest concession stands near Gate 6, which will feature Columbus and Ohio beers."

    Team History Displays. The Crew won the MLS Cup in 2008, and reached the Final in 2015. They won the Supporters' Shield in 2004, 2008 and 2009. They won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2002, and reached the Final in 1998 and 2010. However, there appears to be no commemoration for any of these achievements in the areas viewable by fans.

    The Crew have no retired numbers, and have no team hall of fame. Although they are a charter MLS franchise, they have neither a 10th nor a 20th Anniversary All-Time Team. However, Hunt, one of the league's founders, and the Crew's founding owner (and, of course, better known as the founder of the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs), has a statue in his memory outside the stadium.
    Because of Hunt's role in founding the league, the Crew, and FC Dallas, those 2 teams play each other for the Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup. The Crew have won it 6 times to Dallas' 3.
    The Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup

    Because the trillium is the State Flower of Ohio and the Provincial Flower of Ontario, the Crew and Toronto FC play each other for the Trillium Cup. The Crew have won it 6 times, TFC 4.
    Columbus and Toronto players walk onto the field
    past the Trillium Cup

    Stuff. The Crew SC Shop is in the southwest corner of the stadium, inside Gate 5. They sell the usual stuff you would find in an MLS team's gift shop, including jersey customization. Whether they sell yellow hard hats like the ones on their club badge, I don't know.

    Unique among MLS teams -- unless you buy the San Jose Earthquakes' attempt to link themselves to previous teams that had that name, and even then, they're only the oldest in San Jose, not in the entire Bay Area -- the Crew are the oldest team in their metropolitan area. After 20 years, they do have some history.

    Steve Sirk of The Columbus Dispatch has chronicled this in 2 books about the team: A Massive Season: Sirk's Notebook Chronicles the 2008 Columbus Crew; and Kirk Urso: Forever Massive: Memories from the 2012 Columbus Crew.

    A DVD of the 2008 MLS Cup Final is also available -- but you don't want that, because the team they beat was the Red Bulls. (November 23, 2008, at what's now named the StubHub Center in Carson, California. It remains the furthest the Red Bulls have ever gone, though they have now matched that, and can beat it on Wednesday night.)

    During the Game. Since Columbus is not Cleveland or Cincinnati, and neither of those cities has an MLS team, with the Crew standing in for both, the Cleveland-Cincinnati rivalry does not come into play. Since Columbus is not Cleveland, and Pittsburgh doesn't have an MLS team, the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry is also absent. (Indeed, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are a Crew farm team.) And since Detroit doesn't have an MLS team, the Ohio-Michigan rivalry doesn't happen here, either.

    In other words, a person living in Cleveland can have legitimate rivalries with Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, and with Detroit/Ann Arbor, with no real inconsistency. But that's not that strange: A Yankee Fan can have Boston as a rival in baseball, Philadelphia in football -- and a Met fan can have it the other way around -- and another Tri-State Area team in hockey.

    The Crew -- named in an attempt at both alliteration and the desire to appear "hard-working" -- do have regional rivalries with the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC. But the Red Bulls aren't particularly rivals with the Crew. You should be safe in your club gear.

    With their logo showing 3 men wearing hard hats, the Crew bill themselves as "America's Hardest Working Team." Since they did get to their league's final last year, there is some justification for that. They are one of the few MLS teams to explain their badge on their club website: It's round, as are most German clubs' badges, due to Columbus' German heritage; an inner ring, making it look like an O for Ohio; diagonal stripes, to suggest upward movement; the number 96, to note their status as a charter MLS club in 1996; and a checkerboard pattern, as "a symbol of our passionate fans and their unwavering support." (How a checkerboard pattern reflects that is a mystery to me. The University of Tennessee does that, but Columbus is pretty far from anywhere in Tennessee.)
    Apparently, Crew Cat was a tomcat.

    The Crew hold auditions for singing the National Anthem, as opposed to having a regular singer. For their 1st 19 seasons, their mascot was Crew Cat, but in 2015 he was replaced by S.C., who is billed as Crew Cat's son.
    Previous mascot's son? Maybe. New? Definitely.
    Improved? I don't know...

    The north end of the stadium is home to the supporters' organizations, now collectively called the Nordecke -- German for "north corner." The groups include the Hudson Street Hooligans (HSH, in Section 141), Crew Supporters Union (CSU), and La Turbina Amarilla (Spanish for "the Yellow Engine"). These groups tend to wave black and gold checkerboard flags, and also Ohio State Flags (not to be confused with Ohio State University flags) with the red, white and blue color scheme replaced with the Crew's black and gold.
    HSH are not actually hooligans, but they are, to borrow the word that first gained usage in Italy, "ultras." Their motto, "Ne Cum Pedicabo," is Latin for "Don't fuck with us." They spell it out on their website: "It is definitely an adult section, for the most diehard -- be warned." Message received: Visiting fans trying to "take" the section, as in the style of English hooligans of old, are in for an unpleasant surprise.

    In 2003, at a time when Columbus was the smallest market in MLS, someone noted that Kevin Keegan, legendary as a Liverpool and Newcastle player but not so successful as a manager anywhere, had taken the Manchester City job and, in response to the hated Manchester United, called City "a massive club."

    So Crew fans picked it up, and ran with the ironic word, until they won the 2008 MLS Cup and actually became, at least by North American standards, a massive club. Now, the word "Massive" goes on just about anything Crew-centric, and usually refers to the players' heart and the fans' passion.
    Instead of the "O! H! I! O!" chant started at Ohio State, and picked up by funk band the Ohio Players and later by the Blue Jackets, the main chant is that of the city: "Co! lum! bus!" They do "When the Crew Go Marching In," "We love ya, we love ya, we love ya, and where you go we'll follow," "I Just Can't Get Enough," and a variation on a traditional English soccer chant: "I know I am, I swear I am, Columbus 'til I die!" And they roast their rivals, as many other teams do, to the tune of "My Darling Clementine":

    Build a bonfire
    build a bonfire
    put Chicago on the top
    put Toronto in the middle
    and we'll burn the fucking lot!

    They borrow from Elvis Presley with, "I can't help falling in love with Crew!" and the Beatles with, "We all cheer for the yellow soccer team!" and "Hey, Crew, don't make it bad... "

    After the Game. The area is called Old North Columbus, but the stadium is in the middle of a triangle formed by Interstate 71, a railroad and the State Fair complex. So it's not really in any neighborhood, much less a bad one. As long as you didn't instigate anything you (and, if you drove in, your car) should be safe.

    As for where to go for a postgame meal or drink, there's a Frisch's Big Boy (Frisch's Restaurants owns the trademark for the former Bob's Big Boy in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky) at 2375 Silver Drive, a 5-minute walk from the north end of the stadium. If fast food isn't what you're looking for, you may have to get back to downtown Columbus.

    The most famous bar, perhaps in the entire State of Ohio, is the Varsity Club, across from the OSU Ice Arena and 3 blocks north of Ohio Stadium. 278 W. Lane Avenue, at Tuttle Park Place. High Street, the eastern boundary of the OSU campus, has been described as "a zoo" on home football Saturdays, although that won't affect you as a visiting soccer fan.

    I can find no references to places where New Yorkers gather in or around Columbus: The sites that usually list bars for football fans in exile don't seem to have references to where Yankees, Mets, Giants or Jets fans go when they live nearby.

    If your Red Bulls visit to Columbus coincides with the European soccer season (this one doesn't), and you want to watch your favorite club while you're in town, you can try one of these:

    * Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich: Fado, 4022 Townsfair Way. Number 16 bus. If you don't see your club listed (especially if it's not an English one), this is probably going to be your best shot.

    * Arsenal: Hendoc's Pub, 2375 N. High Street at Maynard Avenue, about 3 1/2 miles north of downtown and 2 miles west of MAPFRE Stadium. Number 2 bus from downtown. Warning: This is the home bar for the Hudson Street Hooligans, and some of them might be in attendance. If you are discreet, or at least polite, about your Metro fandom, you should be fine. But don't try anything stupid: You know what happened when NYCFC fans tried to get into Bello's in 2015.

    * Liverpool: McClellan's Pub, 6694 Sawmill Road in Dublin, about 17 miles northwest of downtown. Bus 1, 2 or 11 to 5220 N. High Street, then Bus 33 to Dublin-Granville Road and Sawmill Road.

    * Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham: Zauber Brewing, 909 W. 5th Avenue at Delashmut Avenue. Number 5 bus.

    Sidelights. Columbus may have only 1 major league team if you don't count MLS (and, by now, you should), but it's a decent sports town, and here’s some of the highlights:

    * Nationwide Arena. The Columbus Blue Jackets and their original home were inaugurated in 2000, about a mile northwest of the State House, in the Arena District, near the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, in an area that includes their minor-league ballpark and their Convention Center.
    The Arena has hosted NCAA Tournament basketball, "professional wrestling" and concerts. Knowing of Ohio's pivotal role in national elections, President Barack Obama held one of his final 2012 campaign rallies, with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z performing.

    Despite its youth, the Arena already has a tragic history. On March 16, 2002, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil was struck in the head by a deflected puck during the Blue Jackets' game against the Calgary Flames, and died from her injuries 2 days later. As far as can be determined, she is the only fan in the NHL's nearly 100-year history to be killed in a game-related accident. As a result of her death, the NHL mandated safety netting around the goals in all its arenas.

    The official address is 200 W. Nationwide Blvd. Several bus lines will get you there.

    * Huntington Park. Just 2 blocks west of Nationwide Arena, at 330 Huntington Park Lane, this 10,100-seat stadium has been home to the International League's Columbus Clippers since 2009. Since moving in, they've won Pennants in 2010, 2011 and 2015, giving them a total of 10 Pennants.

    * Cooper Stadium. Opened in 1932 as Red Bird Stadium, and renamed for Harold Cooper, the Franklin County Commissioner and team owner who kept professional baseball in the city in the 1950s, this stadium was one of the most successful ballparks in the minor leagues. It was also one of the largest, seating 17,500 people at its peak, and 15,000 in its last years.

    Initially, it was home to the Columbus Red Birds, a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals (also nicknamed the Redbirds), and to a Negro League team, the Columbus Blue Birds. The Red Birds won Pennants in 1933, 1934, 1937, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1950.

    The Cardinals moved them to Omaha in 1955, and a new team was brought in, the Columbus Jets, a farm club first of the Kansas City Athletics, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This led to the stadium being renamed Jets Stadium. They won the Pennant in 1961 and 1965, before being moved to Charleston, West Virginia after the 1970 season. The Pirates restored Columbus as their Triple-A team in 1977, the Yankees took over in 1979, the Washington Nationals in 2007, and the Cleveland Indians in 2009.

    The Clippers were a Yankee farm team from 1979 to 2006, infamous as the bad end of "The Columbus Shuttle," George Steinbrenner's pipeline from Triple-A ball to the Yankees and back. As a Yankee farm team, they won IL Pennants in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1987, 1991, 1992 and 1996. All told, Columbus baseball teams have won 19 Pennants.

    Cooper Stadium was closed after the 2008 season, but instead of being demolished, it has been converted into an auto racing facility. 1155 W. Mound Street, 3 miles west of downtown. Number 6 bus.

    An April 24, 2014 article in The New York Times, showing baseball fandom by ZIP Code, shows that, despite being considerably closer to Cincinnati (107 miles) than to Cleveland (143 miles), the Indians still have a slight edge on baseball fandom in Columbus, on the average having 28 percent to the Reds' 22 percent. The September 2014 issue of The Atlantic Monthly had a similar map, showing that the Browns are more popular in Columbus than the Bengals.

    Cincinnati is the nearest MLB and NFL city, while Cleveland is the nearest NBA city. If it had teams in those sports, Columbus would rank 29th in population in MLB, 26th in the NFL, and 25th in the NBA. So don't hold your breath.

    * Ohio State. The most famous building in the State of Ohio is Ohio Stadium, or, as ABC Sports' legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson called it, The Big Horseshoe On the Olentangy -- home field of the school usually referred to as "THE... Ohio State University." How big is it? The official seating capacity is currently listed as 104,944, making it the 4th-largest non-racing stadium in the world. 411 Woody Hayes Drive (formerly Woodruff Avenue), 3 1/2 miles north of downtown. Number 18 bus.
    Value City Arena opened in 1998, at 555 Borror Drive, across the Olentangy River from the Stadium. It hosted the NCAA's hockey version of the Final Four, the Frozen Four, in 2005. The Bill Davis Stadium (baseball) and the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium (track & field) are part of this complex as well.

    From 1956 to 1998, Ohio State played basketball at St. John Arena, across from the Stadium at 410 Woody Hayes Drive. It was at this arena that the Buckeyes played the 1959-60 season in which they won the National Championship. Coach Fred Taylor is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with 3 players on this team, although 1 is in as a coach: Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, and "sixth man" Bob Knight.

    It was also at St. John that Elvis Presley sang on June 25, 1974. Early in his carer, Elvis played 2 shows at the Franklin County Veterans Memorial Auditorium on May 26, 1956. Built in 1955, it was demolished in 2015, and an Ohio Veterans Museum is being built on the site. 300 W. Broad Street, on the Scioto River, just across from downtown. (The Beatles played in Cleveland and Cincinnati, but not in Columbus.)

    Columbus has never hosted an NCAA Final Four. Nor has any other Ohio city. The 13,435-seat University of Dayton Arena, built in 1969, 74 miles west of Columbus, has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other facility: 107.

    * Indianola Park. Home ground of the Columbus Pandhandles, one of the 1st professional football teams, from 1901 to 1926, before the glut of early pro football doomed them. Along with the Canton Bulldogs, in the 1910s they dominated the Ohio League, one of the NFL's predecessors.

    They are best remembered for the 7 Nesser brothers (sons of German immigrants, there were 8, but Pete, 1877-1954, the largest of them, didn't like football and didn't play; there were also 4 sisters): John (1875-1931), Phil (1880-1959), Ted (1883-1941), Fred (1887-1967), Frank (1889-1953), Al (1893-1967) and Ray (1898-1969). Knute Rockne, who did play a little pro football before going back to Notre Dame to coach, said, "Getting hit by a Nesser is like falling off a moving train." In 1921, Ted's son Charlie (1903-1970) played with the Panhandles, marking the only time a father and son have played in the NFL at the same time, let alone for the same team.

    The Indianola Shopping Center is now on the site, 3 miles north of downtown. 1900 N. 4th Street at 19th Avenue. Number 4 bus.

    Currently without an NBA team, a May 12, 2014 article in The New York Times shows basketball allegiances in the Columbus area are mixed between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. But once you get into the suburbs, it becomes more Cavs territory. My guess: Ohio State students from elsewhere, some of whom end up staying in Columbus, stick with their old home teams; while some stick with LeBron James (who's played for both the Cavs and the Heat), and some adopted the Cavs regardless of LeBron.

    The aforementioned Ohio Veterans Museum is now scheduled to open in Summer 2018.

    Ohio Village is a recreated 19th Century community, sort of an updated, Midwestern version of Colonial Williamsburg. 800 E. 17th Avenue, at Velma Avenue. Number 4 bus. The Columbus Museum of Art is at 480 E. Broad Street, at Washington Avenue. Number 10 bus. The Center of Science & Industry (COSI) is across from the Veterans Memorial Auditorium site, at 333 W. Broad Street, at Washington Blvd. Number 10 bus. The James Thurber House, home to the legendary author and humorist, is at 77 Jefferson Avenue, at N. 11th Street. Number 6 bus.

    Farther afield -- with no public transportation available -- the Armstrong Air & Space Museum is in the hometown of Neil Armstrong, the late 1st man to walk on the Moon. 500 Apollo Drive in Wapakoneta, just off Interstate 75, 87 miles northwest of downtown Columbus.

    No Presidents have come from Columbus, but Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley lived there while they were Governor of Ohio. Alas, there was no official Governor's Mansion during their times in that office. The Ohio Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden has only been the Governor's Mansion since 1957. 358 N. Parkview, in Bexley, about 4 miles northeast of downtown. Number 10 bus.

    McKinley's historical sites are all in or near his hometown of Canton, and I'll discuss them in my Cleveland trip guides. Hayes' home, Spiegel Grove, and his grave and Presidential Library are in Fremont, 106 miles north of Columbus. Warren G. Harding's hometown of Marion is 51 miles north. Dying in office in 1923, he remains the last President to have lived in Ohio. As with both locations, there is no public transportation to there from any of Ohio's major cities.

    Marion was also the official hometown of the Oorang Indians, a pro football team made up entirely of Native Americans, led by Hall-of-Famers Jim Thorpe and Joe Guyon. The problem wasn't that some of the players used their Native names, which included animal names like Ted Buffalo, Gray Horse, Big Bear, Eagle Feather and War Eagle. The problem is that they were party animals, not getting the rest they needed. As quarterback Leon Boutwell noted:

    White people had this misconception about Indians. They thought they were all wild men, even though almost all of us had been to college and were generally more civilized than they were. Well, it was a dandy excuse to raise hell and get away with it when the mood struck us. Since we were Indians we could get away with things the whites couldn't. Don't think we didn't take advantage of it.

    As a result of their wild ways, they went 3-6 in 1922, and 2-10 in 1923, and folded. I say Marion was their official hometown because they were a "traveling team," playing just 1 of their 21 games in Marion.

    The tallest building in Columbus is the Rhodes State Office Tower, named for the longtime Governor who ordered the Ohio National Guard to fire on the protestors at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Completed in 1974, it is 629 feet high, and every bit as ugly as the Administration it memorializes. 30 E. Broad Street, downtown, across from the State House.

    While lots of movies have been shot and/or set in Ohio, Columbus hasn't been a popular location for them. There have been 2 TV shows set in Columbus: Family Ties, the 1982-89 NBC sitcom that introduced us to Michael J. Fox; and Man Up!, an ABC sitcom set in nearby Gahanna that tanked and was canceled after 13 episodes in 2011.


    Columbus may be Ohio's largest city, but aside from being the State capital, it's known for 2 things: Ohio State football, and Ohio State anything else. But a Columbus Crew game could be fun, and it's close enough for a comparatively easy New York Red Bulls roadtrip.

    How to Go to a Football Game In Idaho

    38 States down, 12 to go. The football team at Boise State University, the most popular sports team in the State of Idaho, hosts the University of Virginia this coming Saturday.

    Before You Go. Being sort-of in the Rocky Mountains, Idaho can get cooler and then colder sooner than New York does. Being sort-of in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho can get rainier than New York does. Precipitation is not scheduled to be an issue next Saturday, but low temperatures might be: Mid-60s by day, but low 40s at night. Definitely bring a jacket.

    The Idaho Panhandle is in the Pacific Time Zone, 3 hours behind New York, because it shares economic and cultural links with adjoining Washington State and its eastern city of Spokane. The southern part of the State is in the Mountain Time Zone, 2 hours behind. This includes Boise, where this game will take place.

    Indeed, the shape of Idaho doesn't make sense: The Panhandle probably should have gone to Washington, and the rest of the State to stand on its own or to neighboring Montana or Utah. Or maybe the Panhandle, and eastern Washington and Oregon, should have been merged into a single State, which has been discussed. The combined region is sometimes called The Palouse.

    Tickets. BSU got over 31,000 for all 6 home games last season, and 2 were close enough to capacity to be considered sellouts. That was roughly the case the year before, too, and they got 31,581 for their home opener 2 weeks ago, against Troy University of Troy, Alabama, a school many of those fans probably had never even heard of. Getting tickets might be difficult.

    Students are seated in the northeast corner, so those sections are unavailable. Midfield seats are $65, south end zone seats are $43, and north end zone seats are $28.

    Getting There. It's 2,470 miles from Midtown Manhattan to the Boise State campus. Knowing this, your first instinct will be to fly. You can get a flight from Newark to Boise Airport, but it won't be nonstop. Round-trip fare would be a little over $800. There is no bus service from the airport to downtown.

    Amtrak does not go to Boise, making its only stop in the State in Sandpoint, 500 road miles to the north. Greyhound goes there, with a round-trip fare of $452, but it can drop to $375 with advanced purchase. The station is at 1212 W. Bannock Street.

    Knowing that, if you really, really want to drive... Get onto Interstate 80 West in New Jersey, and stay on that through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah. Outside Ogden, Utah, at Exit 168, switch to Interstate 84 West. Take that into Idaho, and get off at Exit 54, which will take you into downtown Boise.

    Not counting rest stops, you should be in New Jersey for an hour and a half, Pennsylvania for 5:15, Ohio for 4 hours, Indiana for 2:30, Illinois for 2:45, Iowa for 5 hours, Nebraska for 6:45, Wyoming for 6:30, Utah for 3:30, and Idaho for 3:45. In total, that's around 41 1/2 hours. Given rest stops, we're talking more like 56 hours -- almost 2 1/2 days.

    Once In the City. During the American Civil War, when Congress was considering organizing a new territory in the Rocky Mountains, eccentric lobbyist George M. Willing suggested the name "Idaho", which he claimed was derived from a Shoshone language term meaning "the sun comes from the mountains" or "gem of the mountains." Willing later claimed he had simply invented the name. And the origin of the name isn't the only strange thing about the State.
    The State House in Boise

    Idaho gained Statehood in 1890, the 43rd State, and is home to about 1.7 million people. About 225,000 of these live in the largest city, Boise -- and that's pronounced "BOY-see," with an S sound, not "BOY-zee," with a Z sound -- which is also the capital. It was founded in 1862, and was named for an exclamation made by a French guide: "Les bois, les bois!" (The wood, the wood!) The river, a U.S. Army fort, and finally a city were then named "Boise."
    Idaho is 89 percent white. There are more Native Americans and people of Asian descent living there than black people. This explains why it has voted Republican in every election but 1 since 1948, and even in 1964, it came closer than any State other than the Deep South and his home State of Arizona to going for Barry Goldwater.

    It's also why far-rught groups like the Aryan Nations and the "Christian Identity" lunatics have found Idaho to their liking. The Ruby Ridge incident of 1992 was in Idaho. And while we associate the dumb right-wing freak Sarah Palin with Alaska, not only was she born in Sandpoint, but got her degree (somehow) from the University of Idaho.

    Other than that, while its nickname of The Gem State speaks to its jewelry production, Idaho is most famous for its potatoes, producing about 1/3rd of the nation's spuds. Indeed, while the State's license plates call it "Scenic IDAHO" and show mountains, they also say, "FAMOUS POTATOES," even though there's no picture of a potato on one -- or on their State Quarter, which shows the State Bird, the peregrine falcon.

    The State sales tax is 6 percent, but it rises to 6 1/2 percent in Boise. The Area Code is 208, and ZIP Codes start with the digits 83, 837 in the Boise area. The local daily newspaper is the Idaho Statesman. Main Street and Warm Springs Avenue divide streets addresses into North and South, and 1st Street divides them into East and West.
    What amounts to a skyline in Boise.
    The Eighth & Main Building is at center,
    the State House dome to the right.

    The Downtown Circulator, a streetcar system, is under construction. But even if it were ready, it wouldn't help you get to the game. Valley Regional Transit runs the buses. A single fare is $1.00, and and all-day pass is $3.00.

    Going In. Boise State's stadium opened in 1970 as Bronco Stadium, and was renamed Albertsons Stadium in 2014, when naming rights were purchased by Joe Albertson, head of the Albertsons grocery chain. Capacity was 14,500 when it opened, and was expaned to 20,000 in 1975, 30,000 in 1997, and to the present 36,387 in 2012.

    It is about a mile and a half south of downtown, across and on the Bosie River. The official address is 1400 Bronco Lane. Bus R2 from downtown. (That's R2, not R2-D2.) If you drive in, parking is $15.

    The stadium is a horseshoe, open at the north end. The playing surface is named Lyle Smith Field. Smith played football and basketball at the school in the 1930s, served as the school's football coach from 1947 to 1967, and its athletic director from 1968 to 1981. He moved the program up from junior college to the NAIA in 1968, NCAA Division II in 1970, and Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1978. After him, it moved up to Division I-A (now FBS) in 1996. He died a few weeks ago, at the age of 101.

    The field is laid out north-to-south, and has been artificial turf since the stadium opened. And not just any artificial turf: Since 1986, it's been blue, first AstroTurf, and, since 2008, FieldTurf.
    Albertsons Stadium, with their training facility,
    Caven-Williams Sports Complex, at the northwest corner

    Due to its distinctive color, it is known as the Smurf Turf. They're used to playing on it, visiting teams aren't, so the effect is similar to how the Boston Celtics knew the dead spots on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden, while visiting teams couldn't avoid them.

    The NFL banned colors other than green for fields (aside from the end zones) in 2011, but, contrary to myth, the NCAA has never done so, not even with a grandfather clause allowing Boise State to kee theirs. In 2014, Eastern Michigan became the 2nd FBS school to adopt a nontraditional color, going gray. None of the major conference schools have done so, though.
    Admit it: You thought that if any school was going to go
    with a nontraditional color, it would be a "hippie" school
    like the University of Colorado, or the University of Oregon,
    or the University of Washington, or UCLA, man.

    Since 1997, the stadium has hosted a bowl game, even though Idaho is not exactly a warm-weather destination as bowl cities are generally known for being. It was called the Humanitarian Bowl until 2011, when they decided to go with a local name (like Miami's Orange, New Orleans' Sugar, Dallas' Cotton, Atlanta's Peach, and so on), and began calling it the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It is the longest-running cold-weather-city bowl in the country.

    The Taco Bell Arena, the 12,644-seat home to BSU's indoor sports teams, is opposite the northwest corner of the stadium. It was known as the BSU Pavilion from its 1982 opening until 2004.
    Food. It's "mid-major" college football, so don't expect anything spectacular. But I've read that a particular favorite item of the locals are the mini-donuts with caramel dipping sauce.

    Team History Displays. Boise State won the Big Sky Conference title in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980 and 1994; won the Big West Conference in 1999 and 2000; won the Western Athletic Conference in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010; and have won the Mountain West Conference in 2012 and 2014.

    That's 18 league titles in a span of just 42 seasons, and includes undefeated seasons in 2006 (13-0, including an overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl) and 2009 (14-0, including another Fiesta Bowl win, over Texas Christian). However, due to strength of schedule, their final poll rankings were only Number 5 in 2006 and Number 4 in 2009. They did, however, win the Division I-AA National Championship in 1980.
    Display inside Albertsons Stadium.
    That's Lyle Smith in the hat.

    Although they have minor rivalries with Brigham Young, Nevada (the main campus in Reno, not UNLV), Fresno State and Hawaii, Boise State's biggest rivalry is with their cross-State opponents the University of Idaho.

    UI is located in Moscow, Idaho, and I once read a Sports Illustrated article that didn't make them look good. They were doing silly categories for college football. They said the best college town was Austin, home of the University of Texas. They listed a tie for the worst: "1. Pullman, Washington, home of Washington State. To party, students must drive 10 miles to Moscow, Idaho. 2. Moscow, Idaho." (Actually, it's 8 miles, as close as the campuses of USC and UCLA.)

    Their teams are called the Vandals. The original Vandals were an East Germanic tribe, from present-day Poland, and sacked Rome in AD 455, thus the creation of the term "vandalism" for property damage. Good name for a football team, although it's not clear what damage they could do to a bucking Bronco, as Boise State calls its teams.

    They first met in 1971, and Boise State leads the rivalry 22-17-1. But when BSU moved to the Mountain West in 2011, their schedule was such that they had to give up an interleague game, and they chose Idaho. Idaho then refused to play BSU in basketball. They still don't like each other much. Now members of the Sun Belt Conference, UI have a losing record all-time, but are 3-0 in bowl games.

    Boise won every game from 1999 onward, including all 10 games since the institution of the Governor's Trophy in 2001.
    Boise State players with the Governor's Trophy,
    inside Idaho's indoor stadium, the 15,200-seat Kibbie Dome

    There is not much of a rivalry with Idaho State University, in Pocatello, which plays in the Big Sky Conference and whose teams are called the Bengals. UI hates ISU much more than BSU does. They succeeded Boise State as Division I-AA National Champions in 1981.

    Boise State has one player in the College Football Hall of Fame, and one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they're not the same player. Linebacker Dave Wilcox starred for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1960s, and he's enshrined in the Pro Hall in Canton. Randy Trautman was a defensive tackle at BSU from 1978 to 1981, and he's in the College Hall in Atlanta. He never played in the NFL, instead playing for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.

    A statue of centenarian Lyle Smith stands outside the stadium. He did live long enough to see its dedication.
    Stuff. There is no team store at the stadium. The Bookstore and Bronco Shop are in the same building, but with different addresses: 1700 and 1910 W. University Drive, respectively.

    Boise State Football: A Photographic History, a coffee-table book, was published by the University in 2009. The DVD Out of the Blue: A Film About Life & Football at Boise State was produced last year.

    During the Game. You're a visitor, and have no reason to antagonize the locals. Don't do that, and your safety won't be an issue. You wanna talk potatoes, go ahead. You wanna talk about the Smurf Turf, critiquing is okay, insulting is not. And stay away from the subject of neo-Nazis, as they're understandably sensitive about that.

    Bronco players are led out of the tunnel at the beginning of the game by a horse and rider, with the first player out carrying The Hammer, awarded to the last game's best special teams player, or to the player with the biggest hit.

    The noise level at Albertsons Stadium, led by the Blue Thunder marching band, has been measured as high as 123 decibels -- above the 120db threshold of human pain. Bronco fans chant "Boise! State!" with opposite sides of the stadium answering each other. 

    After the Game. Be nice, and you'll get nice in return. You and your car (if you drove in) should be safe.

    Most of the nearby places to eat are on South Broadway Avenue (U.S. Routes 20 & 26). To the south of the Stadium and the River, going south from the Stadium, there's a Chili's, a Burger Belly, a Starbucks, a Subway, a Wendy's, a Burger King, a Noodles & Company, a Del Taco, a McDonald's, a Little Caesar's, a Taco Bell and a Pizza Hut. Among non-chains, there's The Pie Hole, the Suds Tavern, Cobby's, R Bar, and Flying Pie Pizzeria. If that's not enough choice for you, there are other choices north of the Stadium and the River.

    If you're a fan of a European soccer team, you can get your fix at the Double Tap Pub, at 409 S. 8th Street, downtown.

    Sidelights. There are no professional, even minor-league, football, basketball or soccer teams in Idaho. The State does have 2 professional baseball teams. The Boise Hawks play in the Class A Northwest League, 5 levels below the major leagues, and are currently a farm team of the Colorado Rockies. They play at the 3,452-seat Memorial Stadium. 5600 N. Glenwood Street.

    They've won 6 Pennants: 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2002 and 2004, and have won their Division 10 times, most recently in 2012. Previously, the Boise Braves won Pennants in 1956 and 1958. So that's 8 Pennants for Boise.

    On the other side of the State, the Idaho Falls Chukars play in the Pioneer League, a Rookie league, 6 levels below the majors, as a farm club of the Kansas City Royals. They play at 3,400-seat Melaleuca Field, at 568 West Elva.

    Idaho Falls teams have won 7 Pennants: As the Idaho Falls Russets in 1952, as the Idaho Falls Yankees in 1963, as the Idaho Falls Angels in 1970 and 1974, as the Idaho Falls Braves in 1998, as the Idaho Falls Padres in 2000, and as the Chukars (a bird indigenous to the area) in 2013.

    Boise has a minor-league hockey team, the Idaho Steelheads, winners of the 2004 and 2007 Kelly Cups as ECHL Champions. (For geographical reasons, the letters officially no longer stand for anything, much less their original "East Coast Hockey League.") They play at the CenturyLink Arena, built in 1997 and seating 5,000. 233 S. Capitol Blvd. downtown.

    The Idaho State Historical Museum is at 214 S. Broadway Avenue, 3 blocks north of the river. The Discovery Center of Idaho is at 131 W. Myrtle Street, also downtown. Yes, there is an Idaho Potato Museum, but it's in Blackfoot, at 130 NW Main Street, 256 miles southeast of Boise, closer to Idaho Falls (29 miles southwest of it). So it's a bit of a trek.

    Neither Elvis Presley nor the Beatles ever performed in Idaho. Idaho has never produced a President, or even a Vice President. The closest it has come is when Sarah Palin, born and educated in Idaho but living most of her life in Alaska (including her brief term as Governor), was nominated by John McCain to run on the Republican ticket in 2008.

    The tallest building in Idaho is just 323 feet tall, and carries the rather unimaginative name of the Eighth & Main Building, for its downtown Boise address.

    Few TV shows have been set in Idaho. The most popular is the briefly-running 2012 spinoff of the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite. Other than that film, the best-known movie set in the State is My Own Private Idaho, whose title was taken from a B-52's song.


    Idaho is beautiful -- if sparsely populated, and partly populated by some people who are unpleasant by choice. But that shouldn't be a problem at a Boise State football game. Your only problem there could be the assaults on your eyes by the Smurf Turf and on your ears by the Blue Thunder and the fans they egg on. You could still enjoy yourself.