Florida State fans have a reputation of being mediocre travelers. Nothing like Alabama or Ohio State. But give the Seminole Nation credit. They were all over North Texas during the weekend for the OSU-FSU game Saturday night.
The game at JerryWorld drew over 61,000 fans, and there appeared to be few neutral parties. Virtually everyone was in OSU orange or Florida State garnet. The Cowboys might have had a slight fan advantage, but still, there had to be at least 25,000 Florida State fans in the building. Quite the turnout consider Tallahassee, Fla., is about 900 miles from Dallas-Fort Worth.
This was an old-hat road trip for me and for OSU fans. Been to Dallas a lot. This was OSU’s third game in DFW in its last 15 games overall — the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Purdue on Jan. 1, 2013, followed by the Cotton Bowl Classic game last season against Missouri and now Florida State. And the Cowboys play at TCU later this season.
Anyway, here are the highlights of our short and familiar trip.
We stayed in Las Colinas, just southeast of DFW Airport. We went down to Arlington for dinner Friday night to hook up with Fox- 23 (Tulsa) sports director Nathan Thompson. Nate and our man Johnny Damon went to high school together in Bartlesville, which is an impressive collection of talent in the Oklahoma sports videography realm. But I told them not as impressive as the Norman High School dynasty of Oklahoma sports media, classes of 1974 through 1981. Dean Blevins (KWTV-9), Bob Barry Jr. (KFOR-4), myself and Mike Steely (107.7 the Franchise) all came through Norman High.
Anyway, we went to dinner at Babe’s Chicken House. They’ve got 10 spread out over DFW. Fried chicken, fried catfish, chicken fry steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, cream corn, green beans and biscuits, served family style. Each Babe’s is set in old downtowns, with rustic and vintage decor. Really cool spots.
I never had been to downtown Arlington. I always think of Arlington as Six Flags, the Ballpark, now JerryWorld and Interstate 30, connecting Dallas and Fort Worth. The old turnpike. Arlington, of course, is a huge place, with a population of 374,000 at the end of 2011. But before it became the size of Tulsa, Arlington was a regular Texas town. And it’s trying to keep its downtown alive.
Babe’s sits in sort of a town square, next to the Arlington Music Hall, where a Johnny Cash revue is upcoming. Really neat-looking building. Turns out, city fathers throughout the Metroplex recruit Babe’s to come to their downtowns, helping with revitilzation, because each Babe’s draws as many as 400,000 customers a year.
Babe’s are located in Roanoke, Carrollton, Frisco, Sanger, Arlington, Garland, Burleson, Cedar Hill and Granbury. I’ve been to four now, and they’re all outstanding. The cost per person is something $14. You walk away full and thinking of old-time Sunday dinners at your mom’s house.
The upscale district is an interesting place. Home to the new College Football Playoff headquarters. Home to corporations that attract business visitors en masse during the week. Home to Yuppies (is that still a word?) living in condos.
We stay at Las Colinas a lot because you can get fantastic hotel rates on the weekends. We stayed this weekend at a full Marriott for $94 a night. During OU-Texas weekend, the Courtyard goes for $79 a night; it’s $179 a night during the week.
The Marriott this time was loaded with Florida State and OSU fans. We shared some TV time with a Florida State group. We came back from dinner Friday night and noticed the Colorado State-Colorado game on a lobby television. Our new OSU beat man, Kyle Fredrick Fieldhouse, grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., so naturally is a big CSU fan. The Marriott, like most swanky hotels, has a meager cable TV lineup, so we didn’t get Fox Sports1 in our rooms. But it was in the lobby. So we sat down and watched the second half. When we got there, Colorado led 17-7. Colorado State dominated the rest of the game and won 28-17. The Fieldhouse was quite pleased.
The next morning, I woke up early — I always do on the road — and was rewarded with college football at dawn. Penn State-Central Florida from Dublin was on ESPN2. So I watched football into the afternoon, until Johnny Damon called to grab some lunch. We went down to a little Italian cafe in the heart of Las Colinas and had a slice of pizza and shared a salad. The cafe had UCLA-Virginia on, so we watched more football.
Las Colinas is the headquarters of the Cotton Bowl during game week. The Omni hotel hosts the Cotton Bowl functions. We’ll see if OU and OSU make as many Cotton Bowl trips as they have recently (three of the last five years). The Cotton Bowl now is a major bowl and unaffiliated with any conference.
As I’ve told you in the past, the Bush Turnpike is a game-changer in DFW. Getting from the guts of Dallas to the affluent northeast suburbs of Plano and McKinney and Frisco, getting from North Dallas to Las Colinas, from Las Colinas to Arlington, it’s all gravy now, compared to the old days, thanks to the Bush.
We got to the stadium easily and got into the stadium easy. My old days of covering the Dallas Cowboys taught me the easy way to get to JerryWorld’s north parking lot, and we sailed right in. We parked right next to the officiating crew, which was arriving at the same time. They were from the Pac-12 and did an OK job, from what I could tell. Missed that pass interference committed against OSU’s Jhajuan Seales, but those things happen.
The stadium remains a marvel. The giant video screen is must-watch television, either live or on replay. My established method is anything on the far side of midfield, I’m watching the video. Anything on my side (we’re in the corner pressbox), I’ll watch live.
OSU fans clearly love JerryWorld. They keep coming back strong.
We walked half the interior suite level of JerryWorld. An escalator took us up to our level, dumping us at Cotton Bowl headquarters. Then we walked the hallways, which are filled with photos commemorating the Dallas Cowboys’ storied success. Not much of it recent, of course.
After the game, we shot a video on the field and you get a different sense of the awesomeness of the place. It’s quite the spectacle, with light shows and Ford trucks dangling in one end zone, the giant video board hanging above your head, the seats and suites that seem to stretch to the sky except you can’t see the sky because the roof is closed. One heck of a place to play a football game.
MORNING IN DALLAS
The great thing about games in DFW is that you can get home quick. Sometimes, I drove home after the games. I didn’t do that this time, because the older you get, the harder it is. We stagged back to the hotel room sometime around 2:15 a.m., I got to sleep around 3 a.m. and my phone alarm went off at 6:45. I know I was tired because I was disoriented when the alarm went off. I’m a light sleeper. I wake up fully charged almost every morning. Not this time, I didn’t know where I was, I was worried about getting the alarm off so I wouldn’t wake my wife except she wasn’t with me. It was a weird feeling.
I had slept with the curtains open. The Dish wants a room pitch-black in which to sleep, but my Marriott room looked out over a beautiful Las Colinas lake, with some cool lighting. I left the curtains opens. I’d rather have the Dish with me, though.
Anyway, I got cleaned up, got downstairs by 7:15 and met Johnny Damon for the trip home. I try to get back for church when I can, and I could. So Johnny Damon was a trooper; he had been up all night producing his video packages for newsok, but he rode along with me in the video department’s Jeep Cherokee, then I dropped myself off in Norman and he went on.
Driving Dallas early on a Sunday morning is easy. No traffic. The only problem I saw — which I never had seen before — were local peace officers parked off the interstate, ready to pop on for speeders. Not much crime to monitor, I suppose, so they look for interstate income. But once we cleared Denton, that worry was gone.
I pulled off in Gainesville to stop at a Whataburger for breakfast, but the Gainesville Whataburger is two miles off I-35, so we weren’t doing that. We zipped back onto I-35 and waited until Ardmore. Whataburger can be slow, and the car in front of us must have ordered breakfast for Cox’s army, but we finally were back on our way. I like Whataburger because I like their milk shakes. They’re thick. Lots of people talk a thick shake. Whataburger actually produces a thick shake.
Anyway, we got to Norman at 10 a.m., so our timing was perfect.