Game Time: Road Trip Edition, The Middle And The End
(Cue cheesy announcer voice:) "When we last left our our venerable 1560 The Game crew of Pendergast, Nuno and Ramzanali, they were checking into the Norman, Oklahoma Days Inn at 2:30 in the morning, readying themselves for three days of free continental breakfast and lumpy mattresses. To read about the trip up to Norman, click here. We press on..."
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13: As I mentioned in the blog post about our trip up to Norman, this trip was one of those combination business-pleasure type trips, whereby we would be "working" on Friday and then enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of Norman, Oklahoma on a college football afternoon on Saturday. And yes, "working" is in quotes because I feel stupid calling what we do "work" sometimes. A lot of the time actually.
Anyway, when you're paying $55 a night for a hotel room at the Days Inn, you sure as hell want to suck every penny of value from the room, so naturally Raheel, Nuno, and myself took advantage of the free continental breakfast. Now, sometimes hotels will try and slip one past you and pass off pre-packaged pastry and some ripe-three-weeks-ago bananas as "continental breakfast", but credit where credit is due -- the Days Inn actually had hot food (biscuits and gravy, Belgian waffles!).
Not just that, but somehow, even with the paltry $55/night room rate, they managed to have someone on staff who actually poured the waffle batter onto the waffle maker for you! He was a crusty, 70-something old man who Raheel named "Belgia the Belgian Waffle Maker"...and wow, did he make a mean waffle! And like any great artist, he took pride in his work, so much so that he nearly slugged Raheel in the face when Raheel tried to pour his own waffle batter. (I'd like to think this is how Picasso would have reacted had you tried to grab his brush.)
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. UConn Huskies College Football
TicketsThu., Sep. 29, 11:00am
Battle of the Piney Woods: SFA vs. SHSU
TicketsSat., Oct. 1, 3:00pm
University of Houston Cougars Football vs. Tulsa Golden Hurricane Football
TicketsSat., Oct. 15, 11:00am
Rice University Owls Football vs. UTSA Roadrunners Football
TicketsSat., Oct. 15, 6:00pm
(Note: Sunday morning, we figured out how the Days Inn was able to "afford" Belgia's otherworldly waffle-batter-pouring services, when we saw him picking up cigarette butts in the parking lot. Yes, the same guy whose hands were on or near everyone's breakfast was cleaning up debris from the parking lot piece by piece. Even now, I still don't know whether to call the Health Department or nominate the Days Inn for an award for creating the position of "Custodial Culinary Engineer".)
With the nourishment of generic biscuits and Belgia's Cigarette Butt Surprise Waffle fresh in our bellies, we headed to the venue for our show -- JR's Family Bar-B-Q, which is owned by WWE Hall of Fame announcer and perhaps the most famous Sooner fan on the planet, Jim Ross. The goal of our show on Friday was to have a celebration of college football with a Sooner flavor to it, and Jim Ross had us booked wire to wire on the show with a fantastic list of guests that read like a who's who in Sooner history and even mixed in a couple of my favorites from the world of pro wrestling (John "Bradshaw" Layfield and "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair, who dropped his signature "WOOOOOOOOO!!!" on us at the end of the interview, which from a euphoria standpoint felt like getting mobbed at home plate after a walk-off home run.)
All in all, in one day, JR's guest list included nearly twenty World Title reigns, multiple All Big XII selections, several national championships, several thousand rushing yards, multiple All Americans, two Butkus Awards and a Heisman Trophy. Almost sounds like a "12 Days of Christmas," Sooner style. In short, it was one of the single most fun days John Harris and I have had on the air.
The four of us (John Harris now added to the mix as he flew into Oklahoma City Friday morning) capped off Friday by heading to Bricktown, which is Oklahoma City's kitschy, chachy downtown section that seemingly every city except Houston has. I will say that the "chach factor" in Oklahoma City was much higher than I would have predicted. Put it this way -- If BCS bids were based on Affliction t-shirts, crucifix tattoos, and hair gel, then Oklahoma City would have locked up a Rose Bowl bid already.
While there were plenty of local bars to go to in Bricktown, seeing as we were just looking for food and the Dynamo game on television, we went with the tried and true formula of "Hooters". Essentially, none of us could find anything wrong with chicks in tight orange shorts shoveling chicken wings in front of us, and really what says "road trip" more than going to a bar of which there are about 15 in your hometown metro area?
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14 - GAME DAY Saturday morning started with the routine run to the Days Inn lobby to go see Belgia about whipping up some of his specialty. (At this point, we were still unaware of the dual life he was leading as Cigarette Butt Picker Upper.) On this particular morning, it was John Harris who incurred Belgia's wrath by unintentionally trying to steal his gig by pouring his own waffle. After nearly drawing back a bloody nub when Belgia snatched the picher of waffle batter from him, we calmed Johnny down by explaining Belgia's passion for this lost art.
After breakfast, we headed back to the scene of our parade of interviews from Friday, JR's Family Bar-B-Q to meet JR for lunch. We walked in and were greeted by a handful of 1560 listeners (Aggie fans, no less!) who had made the trip to Norman and got to meet good ol' JR. They were blown away by the hospitality that JR and his staff showed them, and equally impressed by the grub! We sat down at a table, and I promptly went with the Slobberknocker Platter again. (When I find something that works, I stick with it!)
The four of us watched UT take Baylor out to the woodshed and JR came and sat with us for a couple hours, talking football, talking wrestling, talking about Oklahoma, talking about pretty much everything.
I will say right now, this for me was my favorite part of the trip.
The best way for me to illustrate why that is may be to use my co-host John Harris as an example. We get to meet a lot of cool people and do a lot of cool things in this job. To this day, I think one of Johnny's best days was when OU football coach Bob Stoops was at the 1560 studios on a trip to Houston and he spent a few minutes with Johnny drawing up defenses on the white board in our office.
You see, John Harris is a former football coach (I say "former" but Harris would tell you, and it's true, once a coach always a coach), and for him drawing up a defense with Bob Stoops was the "doesn't get much cooler than this" moment in the job. (Like a musician sitting down and playing "Let It Be" with Paul McCartney, a baseball player taking BP off of Nolan Ryan, or a belligerent drunk getting into a bar fight with Tom Cable.)
For me, I grew up a wrestling fan and to this day I still watch wrestling and go to a handful of WWE events each year. Most of the great moments of my fandom over the last couple decades have been described to me by Jim Ross and punctuated with one of his famous metaphors or catchphrases. Just sitting down and talking about football or having him personally take us around his restaurant and explain the stories behind all of the memoribilia gracing the walls (wrestling, Sooner football, and Mickey Mantle being the top three categories) was an experience that can't be duplicated. It was just cool.
On top of that, JR was generous enough to let the four of us use his season tickets to go to the OU-A&M game that night. JR is a fixture on the OU sidelines at games, so when I asked him when was the last time he used his seats, he gave it the trademark JR "Aw hell, I don't know, four or five years ago?"
So with tickets in hand, and our sincere thanks to JR conveyed, it was onto the Owen Field, Home of the OU Sooners.
People everywhere have preferences as to what makes a "perfect" college football Saturday. Me, mine goes like this
WEATHER: Overcast, mid 50's; windbreaker and long sleeve shirt is enough to be comfortable
KICK OFF TIME: Mid to late afternoon; no early wake up call, no rushing around, enough time to tailgate before and then go out after
ATMOSPHERE: Festive, barbecue smells, music, people handing strangers beers when they walk by
SCENERY: Stadium within eyeshot of tailgate; chicks in tight college gear
With a 6:00 p.m. kickoff time and a cool breeze, Norman, OK did not disappoint in terms of hitting the Pendergast Game Day Superfecta. We strolled around the tailgate parties along Lindsey Street for a while, ran into a few 1560 listeners who did the honorable thing and paid their "1560 tax" (That's code for "They gave me a few free beers for being such a kick-ass radio host. And for me being so humble, too."), and took in all of the sights and sounds. Of particular interest was along a street called Asp Street where on one side of the street you had what appeared to be fairly wealthy OU folks having their tailgate parties, complete with BBQ smokers, flat screen TV's and high-tech tent setups. On the other side of the street was what appeared to be a much more downtrodden crew of OU fans in front of a gas station, literally carrying open cases of beer in one hand, drinking with the other and listening to some country metal type band that was literally set up in front of a handful of gas pumps.
It was like the gods drew a line and that line was Asp Street, and they said "rich Sooner fans over here", "less fortunate Sooner fans (gods would be politically correct) over here". Just a strange, startling dynamic.
As for the game, well, the final score was 65-10 and it wasn't as close as that score would indicate. 65 points felt like 165 points. But for me, the reason for being there wasn't to see a classic nailbiter. I wanted to see the Sooner Schooner, see the band spell out OU on the field, watch the teams run out of the tunnels, hear the guns fire off when the ball is kicked, scream whatever people scream at OU games. I'm there to take it all in, if the game were close, it would have been a bonus. (I wish I could say the same for Nuno. A diehard Aggie, he looked like someone told him that his $200 jeans were stolen from about the first quarter on.)
We finished up the night at Louie's, a great bar/restaurant named after Bob Stoops' dog (in case you ever get that in Trivial Pursuit). Stoops himself actually showed up at the bar later that night, and we were introduced by JR to Kevin Wilson, OU's offensive coordinator. Wilson was great. His analysis of the game was about what you'd expect from a coach; in short, you'd think OU *lost *65-10.
He also thanked us for carrying the OU games in Houston and told a funny story about Coogs head coach (and former OU assistant coach) Kevin Sumlin prank-calling Wilson's radio show when he heard it on 1560. Kevin Sumlin channeling his inner Jerky Boys made our night.
So with food in belly, brain cells killed, and a hearty goodbye to our friend JR, we headed back to the Days Inn one final time.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15 Before taking off for the final leg of our journey, we partook in Belgia's culinary delights one more time. As he poured the batter over the waffle maker, tears in our eyes, we told him this was our final morning at the Days Inn to which he replied in some inaudible grunt and proceeded to give John Harris an evil look, clearly remembering Harris inadvertent attempt to hone in on his territory the previous morning. It was after this breakfast that the dual life of Belgia came to light, and as we saw him picking up garbage in the parking lot, the four of us wondered if it was too late to vomit food that had been eaten two days ago.
We thought it best just to hightail it out of town as fast as we could and never mention Belgia's name ever again....and by never mention it, I mean it was all we talked about for the next two hours.
Our final leg of the trip took us to Dallas for a viewing of the Packers-Cowboys game at a bar in north Dallas called Vernon's, which is widely known around the Dallas area for being the best place to watch Green Bay Packer games. This was going to be a very special visit for us because we, of course, were going to be showing up in a Packer bar with the Vince Lombardi Award trophy with us. We walked into the bar and it was like Indiana Jones wheeling in the ark of the covenant; we were greeted as conquering heroes!
The general manager of Vernon's, Gary Kirlin, was kind enough to feed us as Packer fans of every generation, gender, height, and weight took their picture with the Lombardi Award.
Now, Packer fans are a different breed. All you need to do is hear the Lombardi stories of people who grew up in Green Bay in the` 50's or see the kid in his early 20's who has Lambeau Field tattooed on his arm. Crazy, crazy stuff.
And when a cute, blonde Packer fan in an AJ Hawk jersey named "Lauren" or "Laura" (can't remember, but she was cute) proceeded to rattle off the list of Packer offensive linemen out with injuries, it was all I could do to keep from telling the rest of the boys to head back to Houston without me. But then what would Houston do? Where would all of you be without my inane rants and 3,000-word blog posts? Unfulfilled, right? So yes, I came back for all of you. I clubbed down my Packer jello shots at halftime, said goodbye to our green-and-gold clad friends, and drove off into the sunset....with Raheel, Nuno, and John Harris. Back to Houston. Road trip complete. Boomer Sooner, go Pack go, good night now....
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.