It was probably because I picked the perfect game (a top ten upset in a rivalry game), possibly because I picked the perfect team (Les Miles' "strategy" is so insane it's practically hypnosis), or maybe, just because it was my first time. But my first taste of big time SEC football had me totally hooked.
So when I had to chance do it all over again, I couldn't help myself.
With a twist this time—instead of another trip to Baton Rouge, this weekend took me down to Dallas to see family and catch LSU and Oregon at Cowboys Stadium. Rather than bore you with 2,000 words on the experience, I figured we relive it with pictures.
It's required that anytime anyone writes anything about Cowboys Stadium, they make sure to mention how incredible it is. So on that front, I won't buck tradition. I'd been there once before (for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game), but that didn't stop it from blowing my mind all over again.
It looks more like a spaceship than a stadium, and the only thing that outstrips the stupefying size of the thing is how beautiful it looks. It's the most beautiful monstrosity you'll ever see. And I'm convinced Cowboys Stadium like that can make a spectacle out of just about anything. Like throwing a party in a five star hotel. The guests don't even matter; it feels like a big occasion regardless.
There are downsides to this, but we'll come back to those. First, there was tailgating.
The theme of the day: DUCK SEASON. LSU fans made duck gumbo at tailgates, they walked around with duck calls, and about every three minutes, you heard someone else yell out, "It's duck season!"
This was awesome.
As for the tailgating scene in general, there's no such thing as a bad day of tailgating, but there were two factors working against us in Dallas this weekend. It was insanely hot—like triple digits, no cloud cover, etc—and everything was too far apart.
This meant that where one group of our friends was in Lot 11, the other was in Lot 4, and going back and forth between the two took a solid 15 minutes. Not exactly the scene you see on most college campuses, where everyone's basically partying in the same place. Related: Partying in a parking lot just isn't as much as partying in the middle of a college campus.
Having said that, when traditional means prove insufficient, just add a school bus.
Also, major shoutout to guy walking around by himself in the full referee's costume.
Nothing like the passion of college football!
On the whole, though, everyone was in a good mood on Saturday, partly because it's still too early for fans to be completely stressed out about their team, and partly because both fanbases had a healthy fear of the opponents. LSU fans outnumbered Oregon fans about 3-to-1, and as Tiger fans showered Oregon fans with duck calls, Oregon fans made fun of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, and things progressed on a fairly amicable basis. Deep down, it seemed like everyone was just too nervous to really talk trash.
After a few hours hanging outside in the heat, the group I was with was hot and exhausted, so we headed inside about two hours before gametime. Here's where we revisit Cowboys Stadium. If it looks like a spaceship on the outside, the inside feels more like a football-themed amusement park.
Dubai has its indoor ski slope, and Dallas has this.
Perfectly air conditioned, good views from all over the stadium, and while we waited for the game to get going, we got to watch games from around the country on this, the infamous big screen.
The problem is that as nice as Dubai's indoor ski slope might be, you get the sense the skiing experience would always feel a little bizarre. That's how Dallas feels.
The stadium's incredible, but it's almost too perfect. Especially for college football. Nothing smells like beer, you're not squeezed onto bleachers with a hundred other screaming people, and vendors walk around the hallways selling frozen margaritas, like we're all at some football resort.
The game couldn't have been better, but especially after last season's trip to Baton Rouge, it just felt odd. The fans went nuts the entire time, but things never got anywhere near as loud as Tiger Stadium levels. Instead of tracking a bunch of tiny players on the field, you had to fight the urge to watch the giant TV in the middle of the field. And weirdly, I sorta missed tracking the tiny players.
None of which is to take away from Saturday night, but it was definitely different. Instead of a make-or-break regular season game (like Alabama-LSU last year) this felt more like a bowl game. Instead of sequel to my SEC baptism, this was a spectacle all its own.
There were mascot dance offs.
There were random cameos from CEOs grinning like every billionaire should.
There were awesome signs, and there was the awesomest sign.
In the end, spotting miserable Oregon fans look became a spectacle of its own.
While drunk LSU fans stayed late to hear the alma mater.
And we all finally left, with Cowboys Stadium (somehow) looking even cooler at night.
It wasn't quite like my first time at Tiger Stadium, but it was still just about the best way to spend a Saturday you could have imagined. It was the biggest game in college football, and between the setting and the teams, it felt like watching a National Championship game in September.
And it left me with two important lessons. The first lesson: Even with the best teams and the best stadium, it's hard to top LSU beating Nick Saban at home and Les Miles eating grass, and nothing's ever quite as special as the first time. So it may be a while 'til I recapture the high I got from my losing my SEC virginity last season.
The second lesson: Chasing that feeling will be fun as hell in the meantime.