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On the Alabama Road with the Cardinal and Gold: Part 1

By Greg Katz – WeAreSC

Well, after months and months of waiting, it’s finally here: USC vs Alabama in Texas. For many Trojans fans making their way to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for the AdvoCare Classic in Arlington, it might as well be New Year’s Day. The game has all the elements of a major bowl game, and we’re only in the first week of September.

For Trojans fans unable to make the trip and having to endure the painful hours until Saturday night’s kickoff, your humble WeAreSC correspondent is going to take you with us again as we present a special edition of On the Alabama Road with the Cardinal and Gold. The goal is to allow you to experience some of the electricity, sights, and sounds leading up to kick-off in the comforts of your laptop on the couch. So grab a cookie and a cold one and let’s get moving.

Thursday – Sept 1

6:30 a.m.: Upon awakening, I had to pinch myself that the Trojans were indeed playing Alabama and not a tomato can like Arkansas State to start season. Okay, so maybe the Trojans aren’t really ready for the No. 1 team in the nation, but Alabama is going to have to prove it to the Men of Troy that they are No. 1. At practice this week, there wasn’t any sense Clay Helton’s team was ready to wave the white flag and run away in fear.

7:00: My American Airlines flight out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County is scheduled to take to the air at 11:55, so there is some time to get things organized before heading to the airport. The good news is that by getting up early, I am already adjusting to the two-hour Central Time Zone of Texas. Hopefully, the Trojans will be able to make adjustments regarding the physicality of coach Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

7:30: As most of you that have read past On the Road blogs, I am not a big breakfast guy and stick to the basics, which means a bowl of oat bran and a glass of water. Boring I know, but my arteries always thank me like Clay Helton does after an Adoree’ Jackson tD punt return.

9:30: My traveling On the Road companion this time is Sharon,  my former high school girlfriend. We reunited about ten years ago, and she loves going to big sporting events and this game certainly qualifies. She’s never been to Dallas and wants to see what Texas looks like. I don’t know if Dallas really gives you a real Texas cowboy flavor, but I guarantee the heat and humidity of early September will leave her a lasting impression. Sharon arrives with her usual heavy suitcase. Where’s Zach Banner to carry her suitcase when I need him? This is a big man’s job.

10:45: Depart for JWA. Traffic flow on the 405 freeway is as smooth as tailback Ronald Jones ll getting past linebackers. Bulletin… change of valet plans… is an abundance of open parking spots across from Terminal 1, so I call an audible. Plenty of USC fans dressed in cardinal and gold are in the terminal. Suddenly, a guy with a cell phone is playing “Fight On.” You now know it’s USC college football season. There are a number of other non-Trojan fans on our flight. One guy is wearing his TCU shirt. Go Horned Frogs! Another guy is dressed in a red University of Arizona visor and a red collared shirt.

11:20: Boarding time.

11:30: There are so many Trojans fans on our Dallas flight that I feel I am at the USC Bookstore on game day. Before boarding, we decide to get some McDonalds for the flight because the food on the plane is, well, nasty. Like McDonalds isn’t? Yet to see a single UCLA fan making their way down to College Station for their battle at Texas A&M.

11:55: Take off.

12:30 p.m.: It’s a flight full of Trojans. You wonder if the turnout of cardinal and gold fans will match the numbers of a Notre Dame Weekender? Well, it never fails, just when I begin to use my computer in flight, somebody in the seat in front of me leans back and almost crushes my laptop. It happens on almost every flight. Gurrrrrr!

4:40 p.m. (CT): Arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Flight was uneventful, which isn’t a bad thing for a two-hour and 40-minute excursion. Like trying to run on Alabama’s NFL defense, here comes the big challenge of getting the luggage, getting to the National Car site, and trying to navigate to the Gaylord Texan Hotel and Convention Center, which will also be where Clay Helton’s Trojans will be staying.

5:10: As usual, the luggage is supposed to be picked up on one carousel but ends up on another without notice. To get to the rental car building, one must take a “Blue Bus” from the airport. How did UCLA get into the picture? The good news is as a National Car Emerald Isle member, it’s eventually a short walk to choose a car and drive away. BTW, we select an Altima. It’s a workmanlike car like Trojans newly named captain and senior middle linebacker Michael Hutchings.

5:45: The drive to the Gaylord Marriott in Grapevine is greatly aided by my I-phone navigator. Don’t know if I could have made it without “her” satellite help. Here’s hoping that new Trojans play-caller Tee Martin gives as good of directions to quarterback Max Browne as Ms. Electronic.

6:10: Arrive at the massive Gaylord Texan and quite honestly, it’s awesome. No wonder Jerry Jones elects to house his Dallas Cowboys here the night before home games. Inside the lobby, there are two large flags hanging – a USC and Alabama banner, respectively. We get a free room upgrade at check-in to the fifth floor and upon entering our room, the accommodations are truly outstanding. The upgraded room is 100 square feet bigger than our original 350 square footer.

7:00: We decide to head into downtown Dallas to pre-check Dealey Plaza, where Kennedy was assassinated and see some of the magnificent surrounding buildings all lit up. The sun is starting to set and the temp is still around 83 and very humid. The traffic heading into Big D has stops, starts, and accelerations. There is way too much road construction going on. What must the morning commute be like here?

7:50: After some unintentional misplays on some exit signs, we finally arrive at Dealey Plaza, site of the Kennedy assassination. Although we will take the 6th Floor Museum tour of where Lee Harvey Oswald became famous on Friday afternoon, we wanted to see this infamous location at night because the temps are cooler, and there is not the large amount of crowds around the area. There are, however, people still taking pictures of the location. After walking to different vantage points – including the “X” in the middle of Elm Street where the fatal shot was fired – we get back in the car and drive some 15 minutes to Klyde Warren Park where Friday noon’s pep rally with the Trojans Marching Band will take place. Hopefully, the weather will not wilt us all to pieces. The bigger challenge getting to Klyde Warren Park? Not driving the wrong way on a one-way street. I plead guilty…twice. Oy Veh.

9:00: Starving from not having dinner, I could almost go for a soggy Coliseum hot dog. Nearly back at our hotel, we see a BBQ place next to a 7-Eleven called “Baker’s Ribs.” The food was okay and the girl at the counter was nice, so if it was all about “just” eating, it was accomplished. It’s kind of like beating Colorado. It’s a win and that’s about it.

10:30: Before turning in, we decide to walk around the inside of the Gaylord Texas where there is a giant atrium surrounded by movie set-like buildings that emphasize old Spanish venues like the Alamo. Very cool indeed.This would have been a good location for a Wild Bunch l photo op.

11:05: There’s a wonderful sports bar inside the Gaylord Texan called the Texas Station, and that’s where all the action is. The two huge TV screens in the back by the bar make it seem like you are at a combination sports bar and drive-in movie. Everything in Texas seems big. There are a number of games being shown including Oregon State at Minnesota and, of course, the Dallas Cowboys hosting the Houston Texans. Much of the fan base in the sports bar area are Trojan fans, but there are some Alabama fans interspersed, as well. One guy is actually dressed wearing his black Oregon State shirt. He didn’t look too happy after the Beavers lost to the men from Minnesota.

11:20: Run into Trojans crack assistant SID Paul Goldberg in the sports bar area, and he says the USC football program and athletic department are arriving in two separate planes. The team plane is expected to arrive at the Gaylord Hilton around midnight. Meanwhile, there are a lot of NFL fans returning from the Dallas/Houston game. By the way, it seems that everywhere at this hotel, including the entrance and high atop the atrium, there’s a Dallas Cowboy 5-pointed star.

11:40: Although I wanted to see the team arrive, I also know that they could arrive much later if there were any flight delays. So, with that in mind, it’s time to call it a day and get ready for a full day of pregame buildup and touring on Friday. Talk to you tomorrow for Part -2 of On the Alabama Road with the Cardinal and Gold. Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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