Another great Cal trip under my belt! For those of you who have never done a big Cal road game trip and have the means to do so, I highly recommend it. The fans are always nice and as long as you go with the attitude that even if the Bears lose you’ll still get to watch an enjoyable football game, you’re sure to have a good time.
As for me, my wife and I flew out of Sacramento for San Antonio at 6:30 AM on Saturday. One of the upsides of a later in the day game is you can fly out the day of the game if you so desire. After a quick stop-over in Phoenix, we were in San Antonio. Your first question is probably “Wasn’t the game in Austin!?!” Why yes, it was. But San Antonio is only an hour and a half from Austin and we were able to save a couple hundred dollars flying into San Antonio, an airport that wasn’t seeing an influx of a bunch of football fans that weekend. (For the same reason, our hotel reservation was in San Antonio.)
After landing, our first stop was of course the car rental place where as I stepped up to the counter I was greeted by a friendly “Go Horns!” and a hand sign. Apparently he was getting off work in a couple hours himself so that he could go to the game. He indicated that Texas was in an unusual situation being the underdog at home. I said I was having a hard time believing Cal was really the favored team, to which he quickly replied, “Oh believe it!” and then he shook his head in disbelief of how much his beloved Longhorns had sunk.
Since it was only 1:30 PM and the game didn’t start until 6:30 PM, we checked into our hotel before making the trip to Austin. We got a GREAT deal off of hotwire.com and were staying at the Hyatt Regency on the San Antonio riverwalk. It is in a great location if you’re visiting downtown San Antonio, directly between the riverwalk and the Alamo. (More on that later.)
By 2:30 PM we had checked in and were heading north to Austin. We should have checked into places to eat, because we were starving. Unfortunately we settled on a Denny’s that was staring us in the face when we made a wrong turn trying to get on the freeway. The hostess/waitress talked me into sitting in a both despite request for a table in a crowded section that turned out to be hers, despite the fact there were empty tables in other sections. It later became clear she was directing everyone to her section and didn’t want to seat me at a table because there were none left in her section. I could have gotten over that, but she was overly busy and we weren’t getting any service at all due to the way she was seating people. The end result was we left 15 minutes later after having never even having been asked our drink order. We didn’t have time to sit there for what could have been a couple hours. So instead, having lost 15 minutes to that debacle, it was drive-through burgers on the road.
We got to Austin at 4:30 PM and went straight to our prepaid parking lot. The traffic was really light and unlike a Cal game at that point, it felt like the reason was because everyone was already there. Every parking lot looked full from the perimeter. We toured the campus for about an hour, walking by many pregame tailgates that had the appearance of winding down before making our way to the stadium. When we got to the stadium lots of people were making their way to the gates. That’s why we were surprised when we went in, got to the middle level to look around and poked our heads into the seating area to find it basically empty. Where was everyone!?! Frankly, I was never able to answer that question to my satisfaction.
After walking through the stadium and taking pictures from various angles, we finally made our way to our seats about 30 minutes before game time.
The band’s pregame show was fine. Nothing spectacular. They’re one of many schools that does the HUGE drum thing, but there was no real flair to it. Perhaps if they had Bevo pulling it or something, but as it was, it was just a big drum that four guys pushed around. Otherwise it was pretty ho-hum. It was frankly surprising. I mean, the alumni band there has over 500 active members (they were at the game and performed at halftime). This is a school that cares about its marching band. But overall, I’d put it behind most of the good marching bands I’ve seen, including Ohio State and Texas A&M (that will tick off Longhorn fans).
Oh, one more pregame thing… it was pretty warm. I’ve experienced REAL Texas heat before and this wasn’t it, but it was warm enough that they were giving out hand towels soaked in ice water to try and keep people cool. Luckily it wasn’t too far into the game when the sun got behind the rim of the stadium and things cooled down substantially.
I’ll cover the game itself in a different post.
As for the environment, Texas fans love their team, and the fans that were there (including actor Matthew McConaughey who was shown on the Jumbo-tron multiple times) were passionate. That said, the stadium was not particularly full. It’s pretty clear the fans aren’t too thrilled with how things are going and aren’t showing up in droves. The stadium was never particularly loud and definitely didn’t have a direct affect on Cal. They also left in significant numbers late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th before Texas made it a 2-score game. From that point on, nobody left.
Maybe I should be grateful for that, because when the remaining 60-70k of us left at the end, it was a zoo out there. There’s only one 3-lane freeway running through that part of Austin. Getting to it was a mess and getting onto it was a mess. To be fair, I’ve seen worse messes elsewhere, but this was in the bottom half of my post-game driving experiences. I can’t imagine if 100k of us were trying to leave at the same time.
The result was we weren’t back at our hotel room in San Antonio until 1:30 AM. That’s when my wife and I decided to splurge on something we haven’t done since our honeymoon… room service! The prices were reasonable and we knew we were going to have a busy morning, so we put the room service card on the door to have breakfast brought to the room at 8 AM.
That helped us get out the door to the riverwalk around 8:30. We made our way over to where they load the boats to get tickets, which opened promptly at 9:00 AM. After waiting for the boat to load up until 9:15, we got our 35 tour of the riverwalk and all the historically significant buildings, trees, bridges, islands, walkways… anyone who’s been on a tour bus/boat knows the drill. But it was interesting. For those who have more time, I’d recommend the boat 1st thing in the morning and the spend up to a day walking it as well. Lots of museums, restaurants and various sightseeing opportunities. We didn’t have that sort of time however, with a 1:20 PM fight home pending.
So as soon as the boat ride was over we made our way over to the Alamo. I’ve always pictured the Alamo as being out in the middle of nowhere. The pictures of it always make it seem that way. In practice, it is much smaller than the pictures make it look and it is surrounded on all sides by downtown San Antonio. We only had an hour, so we walked through it at the “we only have an hour” pace, but found ourselves out of things to look at after 50 minutes. What is there is nice, but it’s not a whole day place. It’s barely a half-day place. I’d recommend the morning if you’re going in the hot summer as there is not a lot of shade.
By the way, San Antonio (downtown at least) was more humid than Austin was. I’m assuming that was because of the proximity to the river, but my sample size is a *tad* small.
In any case, at 11 AM we made our way back to the hotel and off to the airport. There’s only one more anecdote to share…
At our layover in Phoenix there was a problem with our plane. You have to give credit to Southwest for trying hard, but they were flailing a little bit and the result was we had the gate changed 3 times on us. They were trying to find a plane we could use and kept pulling the trigger on the gate change before it was confirmed. By the last time the whole group of passengers was now in one group and it reminded me of the movie “Airplane!” where towards the end of the movie the plane is coming in too fast so they keep changing the gate it is going to arrive at: Gate 14 (skreetch of brakes of plane in background), Gate 16 (Skreetch), Gate 18… and we all started “running” to the next gate.
Luckily it only totaled up to a 30 minute delay, so we were back on the ground in Sacramento less than 36 hours after we had left it, ending another kamikazi road-game trip, and a win to boot.