Heading off to Lubbock Friday afternoon with the KU football team. Sadly, Laura is staying behind to help cover senior day for soccer and the opening two days of KU swimming and diving home season. Certainly will miss my grand travel partner. A big part of the fun my work allows is traveling to various Big 12 cities often with Laura. Thought I’d share my rather peculiar looks at each of the schools starting in the Deep South heading north.
Texas A&M: Easily the best spectacle in the Big 12. The troops marching into the stadium, the male Aggie yell leaders dressed all in white with their unique and confusing cheers, guys kissing their dates after each A&M score and the mascot collie, Reveille.
Reveille is very special. Considered a cadet general and the highest-ranking member in the Corps of Cadets, if Reveille decides to sleep on a cadet’s bed, that cadet is required to sleep on the floor. By tradition, if Reveille barks in class, that session is cancelled. The last time KU visited, Reveille VII was just coming off probation for nipping its handler and for unruly barking (bet the cadets didn’t mind some classes being cancelled though) which forced an early retirement. Reveille VIII awaits KU’s next visit.
Since I’d rather not drive to College Station, my explorations have been limited. I’ve seen a lot of College Station though. Standing in the press box, which seems high enough to actually be in space, you can see the curvature of the earth off in the distance of the flat Texas plains. Very cool.
Texas Tech: Always the greatest welcome in the Big 12 if you can stand the heat. A heckler that has done research greets every player and coach. Even the wives take some heat. Rips everyone.
I’m told there are great parts of Lubbock that I haven’t seen, but as far as I am concerned once you’ve done the Buddy Holly Museum, you’ve seen all you need to see. Outside of football and a brief basketball run with Bob Knight, Tech has to be the worst overall athletic school in the Big 12.
My favorite moment at Tech had to be the KU upset in 2001. Former football player/basketball player and troubled soul Mario Kinsey quarterbacked KU to an overtime victory. It also was the season former AD Al Bohl fired Terry Allen with three games left in season. It was well known Bohl wanted Allen out. The sight of him having to shake Allen’s hand after the overtime victory and the look on his face was classic.
Texas: Starting the night before with the nightlife along Sixth Street, a visit to Austin and Texas always seems too unreal to me. Bevo, their longhorn steer mascot, always looks completely drugged to me. Everything is too big.
There used to be a track around the field. Pulling that up, the space became a giant pasture. It seemed as though the fans were in another county. I understand the stands have been moved in much closer now. We’ll have to see how that works for photography with all their cheerleaders and big timers that float in front of the camera at the worst times while craning for a view. Of course the site of some of their female cheerleaders wearing chaps makes up for some of the inconvenience.
Baylor: Right off the bat you can’t get a Coke at the stadium. Waco is the home of Dr. Pepper. I can’t relate too much to you about Waco. Often we have driven to Dallas to see Laura’s parents before driving to Waco just for the game. Friends Mason Logan and Beau White swear by the Crazy Wings and Big O beers at Georges. One of these years, we’ll make it.
Oklahoma: Laura’s alma mater. I grew up despising OU as a Nebraska fan. Since Laura and I have been together, I have made my peace with them because Laura does love being a Sooner. Her best line ever? “Isn’t the campus beautiful? It is so flat.” Flat? Beautiful? I love her.
What she will agree with me is that OU is cheerleader hell. Can any school have so many cheerleaders taking up so much space? The Roughnecks, their male yell leading group, and their booming guns are painful. You used to have to climb into the stands to get from one end to the other. Now you have to do a shimmy dance behind the benches and retaining walls.
Shooting a game at Oklahoma led me to ask KU and my boss for an expensive 600mm telephoto lens since shooting at any Big 12 southern school is very limited due to the space and the old Southwestern Conference love of cheerleaders. I didn’t get too far. I later came back and asked for the same lens since we needed it for the Laura’s overhead photos during NCAA basketball games. I had the lens the next week. Enough said.
I do like the Boomer Schooner, but I’ll never forget the year it rolled over at the Orange Bowl. That’s the Husker in me still coming out.
The Border Crossing, sadly closed now, had great Mexican food. Loved watching Laura’s father swallow freshly cut jalapenos like candy always claiming he’s had hotter. LaLuna in Campus Corners is now our favorite.
Oklahoma State: The bathrooms in the press box are paneled in leather. The stalls are solid wood. There is a basket at each sink filled with toiletries. The only thing missing is an attendant. Why couldn’t T Boone Pickens have saved a few million on the bathrooms and opened up the sidelines just a bit. Besides the plethora of cheerleaders, there is just no room to shoot. Painful. But, it is hard to beat Eskimo Joes for burgers and fries, and the Hideaway might have the Big 12’s second-best pizza.
Colorado: I’ve made it clear how much we love visiting Boulder, but then we get home and look at the Weather Channel to see heavy snows like this week. Arizona looks better and better for retirement. I never sense any real football passion at Colorado unless they are winning big. Even though you have to climb into the stands to get behind the benches, it isn’t too hard for work. The old basketball fieldhouse is attached to the stadium on the west side. Super old, super small. Scares me to think I shot basketball in that barn.
The highlight always is the best live animal mascot in all sports. Nothing matches Ralphie, the buffalo, storming out of its pen dragging his handlers around the field in a near futile attempt for control. Way back when, I saw Ralphie get away from all but a few handlers. Watching Ralphie toss them around like rag dolls was a site never forgotten. What an animal. How I wish I could have seen buffalo roam the plains.
Kansas State: They used to have the best milk in the world. In their old trailer press box, KSU had an old milk machine. You’d lift the big handle and out would come the coldest, richest milk. For all I know it had been drawn from cows right across the street. Of course you can smell those same cows when you are in the stadium with a north wind. What I like is that they don’t really care. Their fans are fine being country. They are the tailgating champions of the Big 12. Harley Day I’m sure is scheduled for KU’s visit next week.
Everyone knows the story of their rise from the depths to the heights under Bill Snyder and then falling after he left only to amazingly rise again with Snyder back at the helm. Sidelines once were barren for work. Then they got completely out of control as victory-starved freeloaders were everywhere. Recent visits have been pretty sane. Things could be wild again in a week.
Once, a high school friend in a total stupor came down out of the stands to accost referees on the field for what he believed was a bad call. Amazingly he was simply sent back to his seat in the stands. Back then, KSU needed every fan they could get. At least I had no trouble IDing the photos for the paper.
Kansas: Easily the best sidelines in the Big 12. Plenty of room. The cheerleaders understand their job is to cheer for the fans and not stand watching the game. Sure, I’m prejudiced, but it really is a great place to work now that fans fill the stands for great backgrounds.
Big Jay is cool. I now know the guys inside the suit. They are generally crazy but lots of fun. Never been a fan of Baby Jay. I died laughing at the site of the ransom note sent by students that kidnapped Baby Jay years ago. The black tape over the eyes and mouth was hilarious.
The setting of the stadium is wonderful. I wish tents didn’t completely line the hill. I used to love looking up to the hill and see the fans watching games on blankets in peace and harmony. The smoke of today’s grills used to be the smoke from a lot of weed back in the 70’s. I doubt a huge peace rally could be held in the stadium today as it was back then. I loved Lawrence when it really was weird.
Missouri: What makes KU playing Missouri in Arrowhead every year great? Not having to drive to Columbia every other year on some of the worst Interstate in the United States.
The best sight in the Big 12? Easily the empty seats in the stadium as Missouri falls behind in the second half. I have never seen fans exit faster. I’ve seen a lot of games in my years with KU when the stadium was virtually empty as early as the third quarter.
I had to swing my monopod once to protect a girlfriend from unruly fans. Former football media relations director Mason Logan came out to his Chevy Blazer after a game to find nylon rope tied throughout his front suspension. My car has been urinated on every night at the team hotel. A MU student once swore he was going to wait for me after the game to “kick your ass.” He was long gone, along with most of the fans, in the fourth quarter. I miss that fun.
I also miss Shakespeare Pizza. It doesn’t get better than that. And, that is about the only good thing I can say.
Iowa State: The team always stays in Des Moines, so Ames is the biggest mystery for me. It does seem like RV heaven though with very loyal fans, and I’m told some great barbecue. During the Terry Allen years, Laura worked as the academic advisor for football. At one particularly cold and blustery game late in the season, she had on so much blue, cold weather KU gear she looked like the cutest little Smurf I have ever seen. Sorry, folks. Nothing more.
Nebraska: Gee, wonder why I saved Lincoln for last? Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The sidelines are incredibly tight. The end zone “knot hole” section, from where I saw my first Husker game when I was eight, has become their handicapped area. You can’t shoot in front of these fans and all the local photographers have squatting rights for the few end zone areas.
There used to be an old man that actually sat on the sidelines in full fan gear in the early 70s. I once asked why and was told the man that helped recruit Johnny Rodgers sat wherever he wanted. Couldn’t argue with that.
The stadium itself is now ridiculous. I love the fact they preserved the old portions of the stadium, but most seats added when the glory years began were in the end zones. Then they added a monstrous suite area and press box and other additions after that. Everyone likes to mention that when the stadium is full it’s the third biggest city in Nebraska. As you drive up to the stadium now, it doesn’t look like a pretty city. Laura agrees that Oklahoma’s stadium looks much the same.
However, once inside, there is no prettier site my eyes have ever seen. I still get chills every time the band plays and the red balloons rise to the heavens after the first score. Herbie Husker sucks, but Lil’ Red is the best non-live mascot going. I do love my time there.
I could go on and on. Visiting my aunt and uncle is very special. Give me the fish burrito from OSO Burrito, and I am one happy man. Now if only Nebraska could find some offense.
That’s probably enough about the Big 12 from the eye of a very offbeat photographer. Hope you enjoyed the trip.