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Tales from West Point

My tens of loyal readers parents out there might recall last year’s wildly ambitious Tales from series. I had an umpteen week plan to do something loosely football related near NYC and blog about it for your reading pleasure. It was roughly going to be one-part fish out of water, six-parts bourbon and one-part No Reservations style snark. Salt to taste.

Well, as you may recall from my yet to be written piece Tales from Sterling Cooper, my grand plan for a football fun infused fall didn’t jive with my employer’s plan for me. For example, their ideas required me to work 42 straight days last fall.

In a row.


It was advertising’s version of defending the option. Slowly, but surely, it is just going to grind you into making undisciplined mistakes. Like forgetting if you have the quarterback or the pitchman. Or which shot glass is clean. (After 42 days, none of them are clean, you stopped giving a shit around day 17 and stopped using them entirely about day 25.)

Well, as my landlord doesn't accept defective Barking Carnival tote bags for rent payments any more (fool him once, shame on him ...), something had to give. I let you down. I'm sorry. It won't happen again. I promise we can make this work this time. I can change. In fact, I did change ... jobs.

I’m not really sure when or why I decided I had to catch a game at West Point during last year's undertaking. But it was one of the first places I felt like I had to go. As a fan of a big time college football program, there are things you really need to do to increase your enjoyment of the sport and make yourself a better person.

You should see a game in every stadium in the conference. As a Texas fan, this will allow you to appreciate how the other 90 percent live. (My game at Oklahoma pitted the Sooners against the Aggies in an epic battle of evil versus terrible.)

You should pick one season and attend every game. Bonus points if you did it in the fall of 2001 and watched the TSA confiscate scally’s fingernail clippers. Best use of my tax dollars ever.

There are places in college football where you don’t have to strain to smell bourbon or to hear a crowd.

Even if you’re there in July.

The Big House.
The Cotton Bowl.
The Swamp.
The Rose Bowl.
The Horseshoe.
Death Valley.
Happy Valley.

There’s something magical about knowing you’re standing in the exact spot some guy stood 50 years ago and passionately and pig-headedly proclaimed that that coach didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. He was also probably hoping to stay as long as he could so he could avoid a nagging woman at home. Feel a kinship yet? You owe it to your family name to catch as many games in these places as you can. Seriously.

Making it to West Point’s Michie Stadium for a football game might not have the instant cachet of some of those other joints, but it should be high on your list. In fact, right now, bump it up a few spots. Because if attending the San Diego State-Army game on September 10, 2011 doesn’t light up your spine, there’s something wrong with you.

I can assure you, no matter your political stance, that a halftime including a wall of WTC first responders, a speech from "America’s Mayor" and an American flag that was literally 100 yards and sideline to sideline will get your attention. As will honoring a Medal of Honor recipient between quarters. That folks like this can find time to put a football game in there makes it even more impressive.

Also, and more on this later, it is absolutely gorgeous up there on the Hudson. I had an uncle who once said it was a shame for upstate New York that the city got all the glory. He's completely right. It's stunning up there and heavily under appreciated.

I have a theory I've been developing about San Diego the last dozen or so years:

The biggest douchebag you know has lived in San Diego.

If it's not true for you, turn to your left and ask that person. If not, turn to your right and repeat. I guarantee you it's true more than it should be if it was just a random coincidence. So ... you know ... not only were the Black Knights fighting on the gridiron for our freedom, they're also fighting doucheiness wherever it may be. Like the guy in front of me in head to toe red and black (checkered Vans, too) with a visor and Guy Fieri spiked, frosted hair. How he legitimately cheered wildly each time Army's option attack put the ball on the ground is beyond me.

Which reminds me. Army's quarterback is named Trent Steelman. "Trent Steelman. Quarterback for the Army Black Knights." This guy has no problem getting dames. Holding on to the football? Totally different matter. He puts balls on the carpet better than my dog does.

But, dude's willing to shoot and get shot at so I don't have to. Hats off to you, my man. And best of luck. Beers are on all of us.

Perhaps most striking about the West Point game day experience is just how actual military schools behave. Here's a hint: It's nothing at all like the chest puffing buffoonery you see with the March of the Wooden Soldiers over on the Brazos. Turns out, it's just ingrained and natural at West Point and makes you realize game day in College Station has more in common with a costume party than it does any sort of actual military endeavor.

For example, Army’s video scoreboard is called "Knight Vision." The fancam that scans the crowd, looking for rowdy fans? It’s the FLIR cam. As in Forward Looking Infra Red. As in the the eyes of an attack helicopter. Instead of a dot race, they have a tank race. Campus security is provided by actual MPs ... with M-16s and Humvees. Ads around the stadium are for defense contractors. Little, understated things that tip you off that these are people who walk the walk.

In fact, the biggest similarity I could find between the two game day experiences happened when we first drove onto Army's campus. There's a sign just inside the gate trumpeting their recent national championships. I remarked to my navigator that she clearly didn't contribute to West Point's 2010 Championship in Orienteering.

This is what we call foreshadowing.

So, we're at the game. The Navigator is friends with a West Point grad who tells her that there are two bars on campus. One serves seniors. One serves West Point grads. OBVIOUSLY, we decide we have to get a post game beverage at one of these places.

So, we're parked north of the stadium. There are shuttle buses that will take us back to the car. Our source tells us the adult beverages are east of the stadium. We strike out on foot. We pass the beautiful Cadet Chapel (where a middle aged woman, while running her hands over the front doors of the United States Military Academy chapel, tells her husband she "would kill for these doors." Uhhh. Good word choice, lady.) and keep heading east. Following our nose. It always knows.

We see a sign for Kosciuszko's Garden. "Sounds like a beer garden to me."

Turns out, it's heavy on the garden. Light on the beer. And now, according to Google maps, we're 3.5 miles from the car. Including a mile and a half of backtracking. We now live in a post shuttle bus world, too. I devise a plan worthy of the 2010 Orienteering National Champs. I decide I'll just go backwoods a little bit and cut from one road to another. Pop out right next to the car.

Turns out, this is what was actually between me and the car:

Oh. There you are.

Though grossly impractical for foot traffic, what did I tell you? Absolutely gorgeous.

Four days after returning to civilization, I get a text telling me "My friend told me we got the full cadet experience, especially grumbling that there was no liquor after a long walk."

These adventures are nothing if not authentic.