Every sports fan has his or her bucket list of experiences to accomplish before ascending to the pearly gates of Tiger Stadium — er, Heaven.
Attend a Super Bowl. Sit atop the Fenway Park’s Green Monster. Touch the Stanley Cup. Not get punched by Metta World Peace … formerly (and ironically) Ron Artest.
That’s a pretty epic list, but what about something more immediate and reachable? Try a college football game — that takes more than four hours to get to.
Barring injury, there is no such thing as a bad road trip.
Trust me. I went to New Jersey.
Now, there is nothing inherently evil about the Garden State. I mean, you can make jokes about fist pumping, quarterback Snookis and new jerseys to no end, but that’s a different matter. Though I must say, I saw no gardens. Or sunshine.
In due seriousness, New Jersey wasn’t the first place I would pick for my first true football road trip. The game was not played in the Meadowlands but instead featured the team picked to finish last in the Big East and a good opponent from a mid-major conference. With eight fumbles between the teams, the game was as ugly as, well, Jersey.
But the trip itself made the experience worthwhile. Post Managing Editor Adam Wagner, Assistant Copy Chief Joe Fox, Assistant Sports Editor Rob Ogden and I planned, executed and completed the trip in exactly 48 hours.
And because of that, none of us knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into.
The trip covered five states and nearly 500 miles each way. With a little math, we decided to leave Athens by 4 a.m. Saturday to put us in picturesque Piscataway at least an hour before the game. Leaving that early cleared the roads — except for a blinding fog, jaywalking deer and an unfortunate raccoon.
The voyage began in good spirits, as we laughed at the idea that the long road in front of us might lead to New Jersey. But as the miles piled up, the gas tank drained and the driving around us became absurd, the inevitable truth sank in.
No turning back. Piscataway or bust, even though we did consider just going to Boston at one point.
We arrived at High Point Solutions Stadium in plenty of time and enjoyed our work covering the game. By 7 p.m., we were back on the road and Athens bound once more.
This time, the group’s mood was less jovial: the eastward trip seemingly took forever, and the second half would take jut as long. Less than 20 minutes after leaving Piscataway, a young female driver tried to exit the freeway from the middle lane and nearly pushed us off the road. Kudos to Rob for his ninja-like reflexes, and at least she used her turn signal, albeit after trying to execute her turn.
After traversing Maryland, Pennsylvania and foggy West Virginia, the group arrived safely in Athens. By 4 a.m. Sunday, we were tired of seeing each other and gladly parted ways.
But the trip was an overwhelming success. Ohio lost, New Jersey lived up to its stereotype, and we filled the gas tank three times. We would do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe.
How else would we have found out about “Waldo Run Road” or “Flinderation Road” in West Virginia? Have you ever brushed your teeth at the Arby’s in Mechanicsburg, Pa.? I have. See an Appalachian sunrise amid the fog of the rolling hills in Maryland? I’ve done that too.
Like most things in life, road trips are about the trip. Otherwise, they’d be called something lame like “destination finding.” In all, we drove 17 hours in a 1999 Toyota Corolla to watch a football game. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why we did it, but I am so glad that we did.
Maybe the grass is greener on the way to the Garden State.