Let me tell you a story about how College Station became a home away from home for my wife and me. The year was 2011.
My wife, fellow sports writer Kristi Dosh, wrote a story for Forbes.com about the Aggies’ new baseball stadium. She interviewed then-athletic director Bill Byrne for the article and subsequently was invited by him to attend the team’s football opener vs. SMU.
Since I was working from home at the time – translation: “out of work” – I invited myself along. Kristi was working from home as well, still practicing law, and with games spread out across the opening Labor Day weekend and A&M playing on Sunday, we decided to make an odyssey out of our visit.
We left Kristi’s home in suburban Atlanta on Friday afternoon and drove to Tupelo, Miss., where we spent the night. Saturday morning we drove to Oxford and watched Ole Miss take on BYU. Neither of us had been to Oxford and we both wanted to go. Following the Ole Miss game, our intention was to drive to Shreveport, La., where’d we’d call it a night and rest up for Sunday in College Station.
Not so fast my friend, as a famous college football commentator might say.
Little did we know that that Alcorn State and Grambling State were renewing one of the top rivalries in HBCU football that weekend in Shreveport. Neither did we realize many LSU fans use Shreveport as a base of operations to either travel to Baton Rouge for games or gather to watch amongst friends.
Shreveport hotel occupancy was tighter than a snare drum. A late-night phone call to Tim Brando was considered to inquire about accommodations in one of his many guest cottages.
We kept heading west on I-20. And kept going… and kept going… and kept going…
For those of you not well-traveled through northwest Louisiana and East Texas, there ain’t a lot there, brother. We crossed into the Lone Star State after midnight, weary.
Marshall, Texas, would prove to be our salvation, where an old-fashioned motel with the outdoor pool and outside room entries – those really freak out my wife – was the best we could do. It may well have been the Four Seasons. Our day started at 7 a.m. in Tupelo and was mercifully coming to an end shortly after 1 a.m. in Marshall.
Everything is bigger in Texas and it would be after noon on Sunday before we reached Aggieland. I believe in love at first sight when it comes to places. I experienced it the moment I stepped foot in Auburn, Ala. I experienced it again in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Madrid, Spain.
Kristi and I fell in love at first sight with College Station. It has no mountains, no beach, no waterfalls or towering trees; the landscape, in fact, is flat, brown and parched. But what College Station lacks in natural beauty it makes up for in spirit.
It is Aggieland. Aggie spirit oozes from every brick and bubbles up from the pavement. We were captivated.
Then, of course, there are the great Aggie people who truly make the place special.
I often compare my experiences as an outsider attending school at Auburn to my experiences as a fan traveling to Texas A&M. In both instances, I was overwhelmed by the welcome, the hospitality, the genuine friendliness. After sharing on Twitter that we’d be attending the game, Kristi and I were invited to a handful of tailgates, each promising to provide more smoky, porky goodness and alcohol than the last.
There may be tailgating as good as that in College Station elsewhere in college football, but there is none better. Brisket, ribs, barbecued chicken wings -– a true delicacy even for a non-wing guy like myself -– meats and sides and sweets fitting every description, all washed down by Shiner Bock. All Shiner beer is brewed in the nearby town of Shiner and if I could pick any beer to drink outside at a tailgate under an unrelenting Texas sun, it would be Shiner Bock.
Before this trip, I was a big stay-at-home-and-watch-every-game-on-TV college football consumer. I’d lock in from noon to midnight, feeling it was my responsibility as a college football commentator to watch and understand everything that happened each Saturday across the nation.
College Station cured me of this habit. It took Texas A&M and Aggies fans to remind me college football is an experience, not a TV show. College football is an event and a spectacle best appreciated in-person, on-campus with all your senses. College football must be eaten, drunk, smelled and heard to be savored, and that can’t be done from home no matter how large your screen might be.
Kristi and I return to College Station this week, where we’ll tour renovated Kyle Field. This will be the fifth consecutive year we’ve visited. We again will be visiting Lupe Tortilla, where I look forward to ordering the Poblano Chicken all year. We again will enjoy more than our fair share of “Aggie Dip” (cream cheese, Rotel, sausage, etc.). We again will look forward to catching up with our Aggie friends and making new memories at our home away from home.
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