In a little over a month from now, several of us will transition from our normal everyday lives to a state of unreality. Those unprepared will crumble under the pressure. They will neglect to go to bed early enough the night before. They will forget to pace themselves. They will drink too much. They will eat too much. They will forget to wear sunscreen. They will bring too much beer. They won't bring enough beer. They will forget the all important pre-tailgate "movement," and find themselves staring down that aqua colored plastic hotbox, facing a decision that has racked the brains of man since the beginning of time..."go dirty" or "suck it up." Let me tell you brother, your day can go from festive to f***ed in a hurry.
But that's a home game. Most of us in an extreme emergency at a home tailgate have the option to, well, go home. Whether you forgot your tickets, ran out of money gambling with The Dogans, or you just sharted...you have options. Not so on the road. It takes some careful planning to make a trip to a road game. Tickets are often harder to come by. Hotels are often booked near campuses. Parking flat out sucks. To save money...and your sanity...your plans should be locked down right now.
Taking a look at the road slate for 2008 Michigan Football, you should know that you are left with very few decent road trip options. Three of the games could be considered "premium" games with high cost tickets and lodging, and the other two might not be worth your effort. Here's a brief look:
Notre Dame (9/13/2008), despite their failed attempts at "Returning to Glory" or "Rising From the Ashes," still sell out every game, and Michigan vs. Notre Dame continues to be a sought after rivalry. Unless you have a friend in the ticket office, or a big donor in your circle of friends, you may be looking to ebay and stub hub for tickets at this point. On the positive side, the drive from Ann Arbor to South Bend is a piece of cake. However, South Bend is not a metropolis, and traffic is horrendous anywhere near game time. Arrive very early and still expect a horrible parking place about a mile from the playing field. All decent parking is reserved for the prestigious contributors to ND athletics. If you haven't made the trek, the campus is a "must see." There is a real Michigan-Law-Quad-feel to the place, and of course despite hating it, you need to gaze upon the golden dome and tip your hat to Touchdown Jesus.
Penn State (10/18/2008) is without a doubt the best game atmosphere in the Big Ten. The White Out will give you chills, and the passion of the fans is equalled only by their welcoming attitudes...basically the anti-OSU. The drive is long and without substance. You will swear there is no way that there is a prestigious University in this barren part of the country, and when you arrive, you will find that there are no hotel rooms anywhere close to campus. Depending on how long you wait to book rooms, you may be a hour or two away from Beaver Stadium. Right now, you are probably in the ballpark of the hour-away hotels. By September, you will be staying in New York or Cleveland, and are better off staying home...unless you come in an RV.
Penn State has no equal when it comes to RV tailgating. There is basically a city of Winnebagos that are lined up as far as the eye can see, with more food and drinking games than even the most seasoned tailgater can handle. Tickets, if you didn't win the lotto last Wednesday morning, are kind of difficult to come by. And while the fans are typically gracious, you don't want to find yourself stuck in the middle of the Penn State section, particularly the student section. You can never be too careful when dealing with a team that has found itself on the losing end of a matchup for 12 seasons.
Purdue (11/1/2008) is probably your least problematic option. We are talking November though, so it might be chilly for those of you that have a tendency to get cold. You can probably still get some tickets, but the stadium experience at Ross-Ade leaves something to be desired. As an away fan, it is second-class at best, which I have documented time and again. On a positive note, the drive is not bad at all, about the same as the trek from Ann Arbor to Chicago, and there are decent hotel options within 30 minutes of the stadium, if not on campus. Typically, our contingency finds itself in Kokomo, Indiana on the night before the game...but that is for different reasons (hello HipHuggers).
Minnesota (11/8/2008) is something you want to avoid at all costs. Unless you have some nostalgic love for the Metrodome, which won't be housing the Gophers when we return in 2012, don't bother making the 10 hour trek to the arctic in November. It will be cold. There is not much tailgate area. The stadium is disconnected from the campus, and consequently there is a disconnected feel from the fans.
There is one HUGE positive however...they sell beer during the game.
Ohio State (11/22/2008) will mark the 39th anniversary of the 1969 game. Tickets are nearly impossible, parking is horrible, and Ohio State fans are half-breed idiots that are just waiting to discuss their dominance over you in some kind of hybrid English-Carnival Worker language. This game is for the advanced tailgater and die hard fan only. You do not bring your wife/girlfriend/mother/sister to this game, or you will likely find yourself needing to fight an ape-like Buckeye fan to defend her honor. Win or lose, you sprint to your car at the closing bell, and if your smart you bring a neutral jacket to cover your Michigan gear for that run. The drive is again on par with Ann Arbor to Chicago, so that's not a problem. The problem is that if you go .5 mph over the speed limit, you and your Michigan plate will be pulled over by a scarlet and grey police cruiser.
Hope to see you in the white jersey sometime this year.