(A lot of friends through we were nuts to want to drive back, but I had no interest to spend New Year's Eve in a San Diego hotel and then miss most of the bowl games on New Year's Day. We also figured that with the game likely to end before 8 PM, there shouldn't be an issue with traffic. Most concerns on New Year's Even come closer to midnight as being have been drinking all night and switching between parties, and on side streets. Not driving from San Diego to Los Angeles at 8 PM.)
The game began at 4 PM, though we had tickets for the official Northwestern "N Zone" tailgate party which began at 1 PM. But my friend was wary of traffic on New Year's Eve day, and wanted to leave early -- which he kept pushing earlier. I thought traffic would be fine, but was fine with leaving early, guaranteeing that you'd beat the traffic. And if you're there early, so beat. Even incredibly early. We were there incredibly early.
We left at 8:30 in the morning, and it took less than two hours to make the drive. So we had 2-1/2 hours before even the tailgate party began! The game was still 5-1/2 hours away.
The tailgate wasn't really at the back of a car, but under a huge tent, which turned out to be a good thing because while San Diego is known for it's glorious weather, always around 70 and sunny, I am sure the city's Chamber of Commerce was beside themselves for the national TV coverage. There was nothing glorious about the weather, starting out around 58-degrees and rainy. (Thank you for the tent! A nearby corporate tailgate party had lots of tables and chairs, but zero tent. I suspect theirs was far less comfortable...)
Very good barbecue -- brisket, chicken, potato salad, barbecued beans, well, you know -- for which I dd my best to get my money's worth. The NU band and spirit team showed up, and ESPN host of Pardon the Interruption Michael Wilbon -- a Northwestern grad and trustee -- hosted, and there were several speeches. Happily, I ran into my good pal Morty Schapiro (the president of Northwestern) who...okay, maybe not a good pal, but an email buddy who I've met a few times, and his wife Mimi Rothman Schapiro (a Writers Guild member whose written half a dozen TV moves for Lifetime, most notable a biography of Olympic skater Oksana Baiul), had a nice visit and he invited us to sit at one of his tables right up from. This is Wilbon on the left and Morty on the right.
We then headed over to the stadium -- where there was still an hour-and-a-quarter to go before the game would begin. But the weather at least cleared up, and if it wasn't warm and sunny, it at least was not raining anymore, so that was something.
And then the game finally began.
And alas, that whole "it at least was not raining anymore" thing didn't hold up. Though the "it wasn't warm" did. Ah, the glorious weather of San Diego. For the next three hours, it rained on-and-off throughout, and the temperature dropped to the lower 50s. (Yes, I know that sounds balmy for the winter climes elsewhere, but San Diego doesn't drop that low often, and it was raining. And you're just sitting there.) Happily, it was never a hard rain, often fairly light. And coming from Chicago, I knew to dress in layers. Also helpful -- every seat had those big, stupid foam rubber "We're #1" fingers. And they made wonderful leg covers at you sat there, especially since so many people around us left for cover, so spreading out three of them was quite a bonus. Stupid for cheering, wonderful for rain protection...
And then there was the game.
And then came the majestic third quarter. Northwestern outscored Utah 28-0. And no, that's not a typo either. Utah's highly-rated defense hadn't given up a touchdown in seven straight quarters. But in the third quarter alone, they gave up three. The fourth Northwestern touchdown came on a defensive fumble recovery and return. It seemed like Utah was shell-shocked. Meanwhile, Northwestern and its fans were euphoric. And at the end of three quarters, NU had erased the deficit and was now 31-20. And then, the team played very well but protectively in fourth quarter, and held on to win by that score.
Just look at that third quarter. I was not a-lying...
By the last few minutes, what with the chill, rain and depressing score, the Utah side of the field had pretty much been cleared out of fans. A lot of the NU side stayed through it all. Cheering wildly to the end. It did make leaving the stadium easier. (Though in fairness, getting there 5-1/2 hours early and finding a great parking spot for leaving made it a whole lot easier, too...)
And then, after a few screw-ups trying to get back to the freeway, we returned in even less time than the trip down. The drive was a breeze, and I was back home by 10:15 PM, and able to celebrate bringing the New Year in. Though plenty of celebrating had been done during the game.
Huzzah. Great day, wonderfully fun day, and very odd.
Happy New Year.