Road Trip! Traveling for Football in 2014

I wondered if my 2014 football “journey” could top 2013. After all, I got to follow Missouri all the way to the SEC championship game. It was a mixed bag, which happens when you follow a professional team having perhaps its worst season ever and a college team in the midst of its best run of success ever.

Tennessee Titans

It’s hard to remember, but the Titans pasted the Chiefs on opening day 2014. Has there ever been a team with such a disparity between opening day and the rest of their season? On September 14, the Titans opened their 2014 against the Cowboys, considered to be one of the worst teams in the league. Well, we got to see one of the worst teams. Other than a Delanie Walker TD, it was a laugher.

The Titans promised improved amenities in 2014, and they were correct. For the first time, I could access other scores on my phone. I can’t say the Wi-Fi is amazing, but it’s better than the dial-up they had before. They also expanded their local beer selection, so I can pay $9 for a Blackstone Nut Brown Ale. The price, shall we say, is not nice. Bud’s $8, so you do the math.

After watching the debacle against the Browns on October 5, I attended the Titans/Jaguars game. The Jags had zero wins and the Titans had been defeated by at least 16 points in every game since the opener, save the 26-point rally by the Browns. Bobby Hoyer, everybody. I was there on October 12, as the Titans and Jaguars played one of the most boring games of the year. After leading most of the game, the Titans barely escaped blowing a nine-point lead in the final 37 seconds. Thanks to Gus Bradley wussing out and kicking a 50+-yard field goal with more than ten seconds left, the Titans escaped. The crowd was less than enthusiastic, except for the drunken woman screaming for Mettenberger (how prophetic) and Jeff Fisher.

I missed the Texans’ blowout (Titans needed two late TDs to make it less blowout-y) and spent the entire weekend in Nashville waiting for the Steelers game. The Steelers/Titans game has a rich history in our family, being Yinzers. I got up on Saturday and witnessed Missouri’s comeback to defeat Texas A&M. My cousin and his boys were the only Steeler visitors. In the first year the Titans were in Nashville, we bought 17 tickets.

It was stupid cold on November 17, and the Fireball/beer did no good. The Titans held a 24-13 lead, including a Nate Washington TD with less than a minute to go in the half in which the Steelers let Nate Washington go free and Mettenberger found him for the TD. Sadly we had to leave early due to frozen kids and missed the inevitable Steeler rally.

Missouri Tigers

We made a weekend of it, culminating in the November 22 showdown between Tennessee and Missouri. It’s odd now looking back to see that Missouri had to beat three teams who finished 19-17 in 2014 to get to the SEC title game, and were underdogs every week. They were at least tied in each of the games. I was happy to see Neyland at night as opposed to the noon throwaway kickoff the last two times the teams faced off (neither went to a bowl then). It was a fun game but ultimately meaningless. This was a meaningful game as any, with Missouri trying to get back to Atlanta and Tennessee trying to get eligible for a bowl for the first time in three years.

The best moment was the woman in front of me, a tired season-ticketholder, telling me to be quiet. There were 95,000 people in the stadium, and they all yelled about ten seconds later. I was a bit stunned by the comment, and kept it down, thinking about all of these die-hard fans rooting for a bunch of young adults and being highly disappointed for most of the past decade. It wouldn’t be Missouri without the game finishing with high drama, naturally, but they held on.

This weekend I’m heading up for a two-fer. I’m going to see the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs play the Indiana State Larry Birds. The last time the Mocs were in the 1-AA playoffs, it was 1984. After years of promise in the Southern Conference, including tying for the conference title in 2013 but being denied one of the 24 FCS playoff spots, they swept through this year to leave no doubt and got a bye. Imagine 1-A with a bye and a 24-team playoff. Anyway, it’s an opportunity to see history, hang out with my father-in-law, the one who follows Tennessee religiously with little to no payoff for a long time. I’m making this trip instead of heading back to the Georgia Dome to watch my school face the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide. I hear it might be televised.

On Sunday I’m going back to LP Field to watch the Titans play the Giants. I missed the 21-0 rally in 2006, led by Vince Young and Pacman Jones. This game promises to be less exciting, as both teams combined for 13 straight losses. The Jets are on tap next week. The Titans have the misfortune of having three home games in December when they are clearly in total disarray and hope to get a franchise player in next year’s draft. The Giants also seem disarray-ish but they have two recent Lombardis to keep them warm.

Every game I traveled to in 2014 was in Tennessee. I’m going to try to get back to Columbia next year to see what a Missouri SEC game is all about. The last time I was in town, Missouri had been just added to the conference. The in-game experience takes some adjustment, such as high prices for everything, trouble finding out what’s going on in the rest of the world and occasional unruly fans. Maybe it’s because my team is tire-fire bad, but it’s been more enjoyable interacting with fans of the other team this year. When they’re better, I have to get my mean back on.

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