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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ranking The Road Trips Of 2011

Ranking The Road Trips Of 2011
By Scott Rhymer

I have been fortunate to attend 102 straight games to see our Tigers play. Before that streak, I always took one or two road trips per year to watch Clemson play. Those travels have taken me to every ACC stadium, three SEC stadiums (South Carolina, Auburn, Georgia), multiple bowl cities, and College Station, TX.

Going to a game in Death Valley is always special. But as I have grown a bit older, I now enjoy traveling on the road to see Clemson play almost as much as I enjoy watching a game in Clemson.
Many times, the road trips are enjoyable because of the things you see and do away from the actual game day. In some places, the actual game day experience is the best part of the trip.

For those of you that are considering traveling to see Clemson play this year, I have ranked the road trips using the criteria below. I base these rankings on my experience in being at each of these games in the past (multiple times for all trips). I also base these rankings on the things that are important to me with a road trip, realizing that these criteria may not be that important to you

And, of course, there is always good and healthy debate when anyone tries to rank something! Here are my rankings from #5 must do down to the best trip of the year (#1).

#5-October 29th At Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Other than the visit to Columbia, this is going to be the shortest trip for most Tiger fans. Going to a city like Atlanta to watch college football can sometimes be a bit awkward. It is an easy day trip from Clemson, but Atlanta can also offer plenty to do if you want to make a weekend out of the trip. Most Clemson fans will park in the much-publicized areas right off of I-85/75 at North Avenue. But I would encourage you to come off of North Avenue towards campus where you can find churches and businesses with grass lots that allow parking for a reasonable fee. This will give you more of a “tailgate” atmosphere.

Travel-A
Only 123 miles from Clemson (2 hour drive).

Stadium Atmosphere-D
Bobby Dodd will be decked out with 20% of the fans being Clemson fans. While Tech fans don’t make much noise, they pipe in music and video at all times, which is loud but quite annoying.

Tailgating Experience-D
The Varsity is fun to do (once). Getting away from I-85/75 is key if you want a decent tailgating experience.

Local Attractions-B+
Atlanta has just about everything you could want to do, from professional sports to great restaurants and nightlife.

Overall Grade-C+

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#4-November 19th At NC State in Raleigh, NC
This trip once had a great lure because of the textile relationships between the two schools and both fan bases. As the textile industry evaporated in the region over the past 15 years, so has the lure of the Textile Bowl and the surrounding activities. State has struggled to shed the image of several high profile incidents in their tailgating lots over the past 5 years, although I have not encountered problems with State fans on a large scale while attending games in Raleigh. Twenty years ago, this trip would rank higher with me. For the large number of Clemson fans in the Tarheel State, this will be a higher priority game to attend.

Travel-C+
300 miles from Clemson (5 hour drive).

Stadium Atmosphere-B
Carter Finley is not the largest stadium in the league, but you do feel as if you are in a college football stadium (unlike Wake or Duke). State fans also care about football, something their friends in Chapel Hill do not have in common with them.

Tailgating Experience-B
The tailgating options in Raleigh, like many places, have been reduced by Wolfpack Club Donors and the expansion of campus facilities. But you can still have a public park in a grass area with fans that will arrive early to grill out and take in the full tailgating experience.

Local Attractions-D
While the mid-section of North Carolina is as nice as any region in the south, Raleigh itself is not full of attractions that turn into priorities on the trip to the game. With Carter Finley sitting on the outside of Raleigh and off campus, the options become even more limited around the stadium area.

Overall Grade-C+

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#3-November 26th At South Carolina in Columbia, SC
The great Clemson/Carolina rivalry will resume again this year with a trip to Columbia. The Gamecocks have won 2 in a row, so a Tiger victory in Columbia will be critical. This game has turned into an event, with people coming into town just to tailgate and hang out, even without tickets to the game. For a Clemson fan that has never been to the rivalry game in Columbia, I would say this would rank a bit higher for you. But for those of us that have spent many a day in Williams Brice, this is not a priority trip if you are going to be selective in your road trips this year.

Travel-A
Only 131 miles from Clemson (2.5 hour drive).

Stadium Atmosphere -A
Williams Brice is a tough place to play when Gamecock fans believe in their team. While there will be plenty of orange in the stadium, the noise level for the Tigers can still be quite daunting. The Clemson section in the lower deck is a great place to watch the game and get the full atmosphere. The upper deck seats make you feel as if you are in a space ship hovering over the game. The lights that extend over the seating in the upper deck don’t help that feeling.

Tailgating Experience-C+
The landscaping of the tailgating areas in Columbia taints (rightfully so) the experience of tailgating. The Fairgrounds has the personality of vanilla ice cream and the industrial areas around the stadium have the feel of something out of a mob movie. If you exclude the scenery, tailgating in Columbia is as good as anywhere in the south. Gamecock fans will arrive as early as they will be allowed in the lots. Most enjoy setting up early because of the well earned reputation of traffic snarls heading to a game.

Local Attractions-D+
Columbia has done some nice things in the Vista, but this is an otherwise bland city to travel to. Most Clemson fans will make it a day trip to Columbia simply because there is not enough to do on a weekend visit to the Capital City.

Overall Grade-B

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#2-October 15th At Maryland in College Park, MD
This one may come as a bit of a surprise to some of you. Maryland and their fans don’t have the best reputation in the Clemson community, and the trip might scare off many of you because of the distance. But I love the trip to the Washington, DC area and always look forward to the trip up north. The October time of the game this year will offer a Fall feel, something we won’t have felt here in South Carolina at that date. But the biggest draw to the Maryland game is the chance to be in and around the Washington area with all of it’s history, beauty, and attractions.

Travel-C+
543 miles from Clemson (9 hour drive). The reason this grade is not lower is because of the ease in flying to this game. With three major airports within 45 minutes of College Park (Dulles, Reagan, and Baltimore). I have always found cheap, direct flights into one of these three airports from GSP.

Stadium Atmosphere-B+
When Maryland has a good football team, winning in Byrd Stadium is a difficult thing to do. It seats more than 50,000 fans and their student section sits at the bottom of an endzone bowl and can be deafening when you are on that side of the field.

Tailgating Experience-B+
The Maryland campus is highly underrated. It is a very pretty campus that sits in a lackluster city (College Park). Parking is easy to obtain for visitors and Maryland fans will tailgate with the NFL-type mentality. When they cook, it is usually brats and sausage instead of hamburgers. Their fans will taunt you, which is actually a negative for me but it does make you feel like you are at an important football game.

Local Attractions-A
When I travel to the Maryland game, I try to stay right outside College Park for ease into the game but also ease in entering the I-95 loops which can take you quickly into DC or Baltimore. Public Transit is available from College Park to DC, but I have never used it because it is easy to drive in the area as long as you have a general sense of direction. The Nation’s Capital has more to do than I can write here or that I have ever been able to see on my trips to the games. However, I can’t go to DC without at least a brief trip inside Arlington National Cemetery. I am looking forward to seeing the World War II Memorial this year. The Redskins are also in town against the Philadelphia Eagles the Sunday after the Clemson/Maryland game.

Overall Grade-B+

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#1-October 1st At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA
This is an easy pick this year at the most attractive road trip of the season. Blacksburg and Virginia Tech football is about as close to a feel for Clemson as we get at any venue in the ACC. The fans are passionate about football and the trip into northern Virginia is one of the prettiest drives you will take to a football game. Making this trip even more attractive is that it has been so long since Clemson has played a Saturday game in Blacksburg. Clemson’s last trip to Tech was on a Thursday night, eliminating many Clemson fans from making the trip. The last time Clemson played on a Saturday in Blacksburg was also the last time the Tigers have beaten Virginia Tech. The year was 1989 when the 7th ranked Tigers (coming off a win vs. Florida State the week before) defeated Virginia Tech 27-7. Of course, this year the Tigers will be traveling to Blacksburg the week after the Tigers host….you guessed it….Florida State.

Travel-A
300 miles from Clemson (5 hour drive). The drive, while almost the same time and distance as the trip to Raleigh, gets a higher grade because of the scenery of the Virginia mountains on Highway 81.

Stadium Atmosphere-A
Many regard Lane Stadium as the most difficult stadium in the nation for a visiting team to win a game. Clemson’s last trip to Lane Stadium on a Thursday night proved deafening. I normally don’t like rock music played while teams enter the field, but the exception is “Enter Sandman” by Metallica when the Hokies take the field. Simply awesome!

Tailgating Experience-A-
I had to downgrade to an A- simply because the last time I tailgated in Blacksburg I was down wind of a nearby chicken farm. Bad luck or a bad omen? Who knows. But the Hokie fans certainly know how to tailgate in the vast grass lots all around Lane Stadium. Regardless of where you tailgate, make sure you leave room for a Turkey Leg once you get inside Lane Stadium.

Local Attractions-C+
Blacksburg is a college town, much like Clemson. The local restaurants and bars have a college feel to them. The campus is also beautiful and worth the time spent walking or riding through. So technically there is not much to do around Blacksburg. But Clemson fans will appreciate the Clemson-like feel of the entire area and game day experience.

Overall Grade-A

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Your thoughts, agreements, and disagreements are welcome here or at our social media sites listed below. See you on the road with our Tigers!
Scott Rhymer can be reached at srhymester@aol.com
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Friday, May 6, 2011

Archive: Scott Rhymer Reflects On Texas A&M Trip To Watch Clemson Play

My Visit To College Station, Texas To See Clemson Play

Originally Published On Tigernet.com
July 2004
by Scott Rhymer, Correspondent

I flew into Houston’s Hobby Airport on the Friday afternoon before the Clemson/Texas A&M game anxious to see if the College Station football experience is all it is cracked up to be.
I, along with many other Clemson fans, had heard the reputation of the Aggie fans and how well they treated their guests. But being from the south, where college football is treated with as much passion as a religion, I was more than a bit skeptical that fans could be passionate and respectful all in one. So as I gathered my luggage and headed for my rental car, I was out to find the bad and the ugly among the fans of Texas A&M and not because I am evil or on some twisted death-wish march. I searched for the bad because I truly believed that there was no such fantasy land in college football that these fans claimed existed.

Friday-4:25 p.m.
For the first time in my life, I set foot on Texas soil. I’m paying for my rental car when the clerk, seeing my Clemson hat, says “Good luck against the Aggies. I’m a big Texas fan”. Understanding how a rivalry works, I pat him on the back and tell him, “We’ll do our best.” As I walk away, the clerk yells over my shoulder. “By the way. What in the world happened at the end of that Georgia Tech game?” I’ve made my first enemy, and he is a Longhorn.

Friday-5:05 p.m.
They say everything in Texas is big and I quickly find out some evidence to that statement. Houston traffic makes Atlanta’s traffic look like Pelzer, South Carolina. As I finally make my way past the Houston metro area an hour and a half later, I see my first real Texas cattle ranch. I would then see one about every five miles from this point on.

6:40 p.m. Friday
After quickly checking into my hotel in College Station, I set out to ride around the campus before eventually driving up to Kyle Field. The campus at Texas A&M is huge, much bigger than I expected. Kyle Field is a massive stadium, comparable to Death Valley. The difference is the Texas terrain which is flat as a table and makes the stadium tower over the campus. It’s a very impressive site.

7:30 p.m. Friday
After my quick tour of the campus, I head to the Dixie Chicken. Every Aggie fan will tell you that the Dixie Chicken is the place to be on Friday nights, and I quickly realize what they mean. The place is jammed full of patrons, but its reputation is such that hundreds of Clemson fans are also in attendance.

7:35 p.m. Friday
As I mosey up near the bar area, I am quickly offered a drink by an Aggie fan named Justin that has noticed my Clemson hat. “Welcome to College Station, let me buy you a beer”, the 40 year old asks. I accept, asking for a Lite beer. He laughs and sternly tells me he is going to buy me a Texas beer. I quickly find out that the beers in Texas are big too. And strong.

8:00 p.m. Friday
As I try to stomach the Texas beer without showing my dislike of it, I strike up a nice conversation with Justin and he tells me what he thinks will happen in the game tomorrow night. He’s nice and affable, but I sense that he is on a mission that does not necessarily include me. After a few minutes, he tells me to enjoy my stay and proceeds to buy another Texas beer to another Clemson fan that has meandered into the bar area. The other Clemson guy dislikes the Texas beer as much as I do. But Justin seems pleased that he is making our experience memorable, if not necessarily tasty. Justin would continue this ritual with every Clemson fan that made their way near his table throughout the night.

8:30 p.m. Friday
The next Aggie fan I meet, “Big Ron”, tells me to meet outside the Dixie Chicken promptly at 11:30 for the walk to Kyle Field for Yell Practice. Of course I had heard of Yell Practice, but I’m a little puzzled because I just assumed it was for Aggie fans only. Big Ron laughs, saying “Did a Texas Longhorn fan tell you that nonsense?”

11:30 p.m. Friday
Thinking I had won the opportunity to walk with Big Ron to Yell Practice as a special honor, I head out to the front promptly at 11:30 for my trip to Kyle Field. As I walk outside, I quickly see Big Ron. But I also see about 35 Clemson fans standing with him. Seems my special invitation to Yell Practice was not so special after all as Big Ron had just about emptied the Dixie Chicken with any and every Clemson fan willing to go with him.

12:00 midnight
To say Yell Practice is impressive is an understatement. 25,000 folks have poured into Kyle Field to go over the yells for tomorrow’s game. All of the Aggie fans carefully listen to the Yell Leaders as if they are about to tell them winning lottery numbers. Dennis Franchione makes a brief appearance to tell the fans that they need to be loud tomorrow because Clemson uses a no huddle offense. During the singing of the Aggie Alma Mater, the Aggie fans next to me insist that I join in and place my arm around them while swaying back and forth. As impressed as I am with the huge crowd so late at night in a town so far from civilization, I am more impressed when my new Aggie friends tell me that 50,000 will show up before a Texas or Oklahoma game at Yell Practice. That is simply amazing to me.

12:40 a.m. Saturday
I’m still pumped from the Yell Practice, but my walk back to the hotel is well over two miles. About half way back a SUV pulls up and offers me a ride. The car is filled with three middle aged couples all wearing Aggie apparel. I squeeze in and they promptly drive me to the hotel as if I were their best buddy. All six think the Aggies will win tomorrow, which is no surprise because all fans think their team is going to win. They invite me to their tailgate spot the next day, but the directions they gave me make no sense and I know at that moment that I won’t see them again.

8:30 a.m. Saturday
I leave my hotel to pick up Pete Yanity (Clemson’s play by play announcer) and Jeff Bright (Clemson Sports Network Engineer) from the resort where the team is staying. The map makes the drive look about 40 minutes, but in reality is at least an hour away. Compounding the problem is that I get lost twice, having to pull into two separate cattle ranches to ask for directions. The cattlemen at both ranches are very helpful and patience with me. To say I was embarrassed to stand there in a Clemson shirt and hat asking a cowboy how to get to a fancy golf course resort is selling the moment short.

1:00 p.m. Saturday
After wrapping up the Pregame Show, I head out to soak up the College Station tailgating atmosphere. I pop from parking lot to parking lot and rarely go more than 10 minutes before a group of Aggie fans ask me to come over for a bite to eat. Aggie fans obviously know how to tailgate. At each spot, all types of meats are being grilled and the sides are too many to name. Much like Clemson fans, Aggie tailgaters congregate in large numbers. I’m pleasantly surprised at how gracious they are at inviting me over. The tailgating atmosphere reminds me more of Clemson than any ACC school, which I realize is not saying much because ACC schools don’t tailgate anything like Clemson does.

2:30 p.m. Saturday
In the third parking area that I visit, I notice a group of about 40 tailgaters with almost 2/3 of them being Clemson fans. I decide to stop by, assuming it is a Texas area IPTAY club of some type. I was wrong. These 26 Clemson fans had come by van to College Station in five conversion vans from Columbia. Their self appointed leader, Mark, tells me that one of their vans had broken down in Mississippi. They had to leave all tailgating equipment with the disabled van, bringing only clothes and coolers packed with drinks and meat. Mark goes on to tell me that upon arriving in College Station, they walked to this parking lot, quickly met a group of 10 Aggie fans who promptly told them to join them and use their grill and cooking utensils.

3:30 p.m. Saturday
After scarfing down a burger at the mixed tailgate, I make my way towards the stadium. Along the way I get several “Howdy’s” from the Aggie fans and three invitations for some food. I politely decline each offer, ready to get inside Kyle Field.

4:30 p.m. Saturday
I watch the processional of Cadets into the stadium. It is an impressive site, with all the folks that are in the stadium standing during the entire 45 minute entry. Even the Clemson fans, scattered throughout the stadium, stand while they watch.

Gametime Saturday
The game is not a good one for our Tigers. The Aggies inflict a pretty decent whipping on us and it seems we can do no right throughout the day. At halftime in the concourse area, Aggie fans quiz me on what a game in Clemson is like. They are also very curious as to what I think about Aggie fans and the way they are treating us as visitors. It is obvious that Aggie fans take pride in their game day experience and how they treat their visitors. On the way out after the defeat, there is no taunting. A few Aggie fans come up to me and wish me a safe trip back. One even comes up and tells me good luck next week against Florida State and that he’ll make the trip to Clemson next year. As frustrated as I am by the loss to the Aggies, the disappointment quickly fades as I begin to understand what a great trip this has been.

Reflection
The entire experience in College Station, minus the outcome of the game, was outstanding. There was no animosity. No hatred. No bitterness. What it did include was passion for the game of college football. It included a great tailgating atmosphere. It included a great football stadium with a loud crowd that pulled for their team to win. And it included some great college football fans that certainly justified the outstanding reputation that they have developed. All of which leads me to September 3rd, 2005 when the Aggie football team and their fans will descend upon Death Valley for a game against our Tigers. Clemson has always been regarded as a great place for visiting fans to come and see a game. Clemson fans, by and large, are as accommodating and gracious as any in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But after my trip to College Station, there is no question that Clemson fans can be even more gracious. Aggie fans have set the standard, and we now have an opportunity to repay the treatment that so many of us received last year in Texas.

So when you see Aggie fans in the Clemson area in the days leading up to the game, go out of your way to make them feel at home. If you see an Aggie fan at the Esso Club, buy them a drink and tell them where the best restaurants are located. Let them know what to do on game days and where to go. Make sure you tell them to get into the stadium early enough to see the Tigers run down the hill. But, above all, treat them as they treated us last year in College Station. Treat them like a friend.

Postscript: Hurricane Katrina would play a role in the September 3rd game in Clemson between the Aggies and Tigers. On Monday, August 29th, Katrina rolled ashore as a Category 3 storm. Some of the Texas A&M fans had their travel plans (either by road on the congested interstates or by air with closed airports) disrupted their chance to return to Clemson. As you know, the Tigers won a thrilling game behind Freshman James Davis and six field goals by Jad Dean, including the game winner:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKWjCf-w1Xs

Scott Rhymer can be reached at srhymester@aol.com
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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Archive: Strike Up The Orange Bowl March

Archive: Strike Up The Orange Bowl March
By Scott Rhymer, Correspondent
Originally Posted At Tigernet On August 26, 2006


It’s finally time.

Game week provides a true Tuesday press conference. Coach Tommy Bowden sits down in front of a splendid picture of Death Valley with cameras and microphones peering at him. He answers questions, many of them dripping with clich├ęs that in some cases have been asked of him 1000 times prior. He does it with a smile, a bit of wit, not much candor, and a keen sense of not saying anything near controversial so as not to rouse the opponent.

It’s finally time.

For the first time in a long while, the weekend weather means something. Weathermen, our good friend Dale Gilbert included, have the best job in the world. They stand in front of a green screen with a radar superimposed upon it and literally take educated guesses as to what the weather is going to be like. And they get paid to guess. There is a 50% chance of rain this weekend they say. There is also a 50% chance that when you flip a coin it is going to be heads. There is a 70% chance that many of you wonder how weather earned a spot at all in this article. The answer is simple. Saturday weather, regardless of how inaccurate a forecast can be, is now important since football has arrived.

It’s finally time.

No longer do we have to languish over debates about what funky uniform Clemson will unveil this year. No sir. That is a debate for those long spring months after National Signing Day. What we have now is a debate about which uniform Clemson will actually wear Saturday. I know what you purists are saying. Uniform debates are as dumb now as the conversation about uniform combinations was in the spring. I agree with you. A uniform worry, no offense to the uniform freaks, is weird to hear guys talk about. I am convinced that the same people that start uniform threads on message boards are the same people that invented the woo-hoo.

It’s finally time.

Everybody better do a quick inventory of tailgating supplies before Saturday. You never know what piece of equipment is no longer usable since last year. (Hint…this is an excuse to go out and buy something new). I know of this one guy that parks in one of those fancy parking lots where you have your own spot, indoor eating areas, and indoor restrooms. This guy, and I kid you not, goes to his tailgate spot the Saturday before the first home game with some buddies and has a dress rehearsal to work out all the kinks. They even bring old Clemson games burned on DVD to watch while they “practice” tailgating. This is obviously much more thorough than doing a simple inventory. Then again, guys getting together to park a car a week before the actual football game is a bit over the top, I suppose.

It’s finally time.

This may sound kooky. But there really is something appealing about walking through a game day parking lot with the sights, smells, and sounds. I love seeing the first Clemson flags flying on a car zooming down the interstate. I love seeing the early tailgate folks who are up and running when we go on the air 6 hours prior to kickoff. I love wrapping up the Tiger Pre Game show and walking to my parking spot, smelling the burgers being grilled as I go. I love hearing those car horns fans have installed on their vehicles that blare the first few bars of Tiger Rag. And I love the C-L-E-M in cadence count cheer.

It’s finally time.

It is hard to beat the feeling of putting on that new shirt and hat for the start of a football season. It’s about the only time in my life where I understand how my wife feels when she goes shopping. Normally, I’m in the store and out with little to no regard for what I bought. But my game day attire is another thing altogether. I labor over the purchases. Then I take it home and iron it real good. I put the attire on after the car is loaded on game day so not to build up any additional sweat. I feel good in my new gear. The only worry I have is what kind of mojo the new gear will give off. I’m a bit superstitious, and breaking in a new shirt is a really risky move for folks like me. Good thing we are opening with Florida Atlantic (no offense Coach Schellenburger) as apposed to Florida State…so I’ll have a chance to work up some good luck in the shirt before the season gets serious.

It’s finally time.

Did you ever wonder what it must be like for locals who live in Clemson on game days? I assume most are Clemson fans, at least to some degree. So putting up with 80,000 people invading your city is tolerable to most of the locals. But what about those academia folks that are professors and/or students at Clemson and don’t even really know what football is? Does somebody warn them before the first game? Or do they wake up on a Saturday, hop in their car expecting to go grocery shopping, and run into a throng of cars streaming up and down the road with orange flags flapping? If nobody warns them, I suspect they think the world is coming to an end.

It’s finally time.

There is not a single position where I think we have an average player starting the game this year. There is not a single game that I don’t think we can win. There is not a single team on our schedule that is better than us talent for talent. There is not a single fan base that is more ready for something special to happen.
It’s finally time to stop talking about it and start proving it.

The best part of the day, for me, will be hearing the “Orange Bowl March” crank up as Tiger Band gets into formation to have the Tigers run down the hill. All of the off-season angst will fizzle away when the cannon sounds and Tiger Rag blares away. So I say, Tiger Band, strike up that “Orange Bowl March”!

I don’t really know how many words have been devoted to preparing for this football season. I would suspect the words are in the millions, and I myself have been guilty of adding to the mass. There comes a time, however, to shut up and play football.

It’s finally time. Thank goodness for that.

Scott Rhymer can be reached at srhymester@aol.com
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