USC vs Minnesota; Home of the Mall of America and stuff

So, Minnesotta… Gotta say this isn’t a trip I’ve been looking forward to taking. When you think of Minnesota what do you think of? I think of cold cold cold. And boring. Lots of USC games have been in cold & boring places like South Bend and Omaha. But at least those games are against storied football programs so there is still something to look forward to. That is not the case with the University of Mnnesota, there is nothing storied about it and nothing to look forward to. So while it’s always nice to watch USC play in new a new city this trip had little appeal.

The trip got off to a rough start for me because my flight departed at 6am. I never fly that early but wanted to explore the Mall of America on Friday so I made sure to get to Minneapolis early enough for that. 6am takeoff meant I should be at LAX at 4am. Bleh. Making matters worse I went to a concert Thursday night and got home well after midnight so I decided to just stay up a few more hours and headed for the airport at 3:30. Turns out 4am is too early to get to LAX no matter what time your flight is. TSA wasn’t even set up at that hour (why do they bother breaking down each night just to set back up the next day?). So the handful of nut jobs like me who were at LAX waited as we watched TSA employees file in and set up the line barriers.

By the time I got to the gate it was a challenge not to fall asleep right there and miss my flight. The flight wasn’t full, which was nice, but I could only identify two USC fans by what they were wearing. That wasn’t so nice, I like to see lots of people flying out to support the team. At that hour I’m sure most of the people flying to Minnesota were dreaming about beating ucla while I was fighting sleep deprivation.

When I started my USC football streak I went to nearly all the games with my best friend Mike who now lives in Las Vegas. During the most painful of the Hackett years I travelled mostly alone. People didn’t even want to go to home games back then, let alone road games. The last few years I’ve had a pretty reliable group of friends who I tailgate with at home games and travel with to road games. This year, for a number of reasons, they’ve all stopped traveling so I’m back to hitting the road on my own unless I can find someone to join me. This week I was joined by my friend Marc who I met on Twitter (@TheCoster). We were on different flights so we met at MSP airport and began our Minnesotan adventure.

The one thing I looked forward to seeing in Minnesota was the Mall of America and ironically that was probably the least interesting thing I did on the trip. Nothing wrong with the place but it’s just a mall. It’s a really, really big mall, but after spending a couple of hours walking around there I could’ve been in any city at any mall. Some memorable things about the mall are the parking structure, the amusement park and the fact that quite a few stores have several locations throughout the mall. The parking structure is enourmous; probably seven levels tall and as wide & long as two football fields. Seriously the size of a large office building, I’ve never seen a parking structure so massive. And smack in the middle of the mall is a seven acre amusement park with legitimate rides like a corkscrewing, looping roller coaster. The coolest part of the mall to me was the sealife aquarium but by the time I got to it there was no time to explore it.

A friend recently introduced me to the TV show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives so this season I’m making an effort to explore unique eateries as I follow the USC football team. My first meal was at Minneapolis’ 5-8 Club, famous for the Juicy Lucy which is a cheeseburger with the melted cheese inside the hamburger patty. It was fantastic!

After dinner I went to the USC Alumni pregame party at a great bar in Minneapolis called Stella’s Fish Cafe. It has a rooftop bar with a great view of the city and the weather was surprisingly nice for a Minnesota night. The party was only $15 and included a very nice appetizer buffet. Met some great people there including a couple of former USC band photographers. They said they have lots of pictures and video clips of me and promised to send me some. I hope they do because I hardly ever get to see the pictures people take. (Ahem… Hint to anyone that has pics and would be nice enough to share them with me.)

The next stop was Billy’s On Grand which was recommended to me by Twitter user @GaryKarr. Good call Gary! Great vibe, fun crowd, lots of TVs and a big selection of beer.

Saturday morning I sacrificed an hour of sleep for a brisk morning jog. Internet said it was 46 degrees and sunny outside. Wrong. It may have been 46 but the wind chill created by running made it feel a heck of a lot colder. And it was not sunny, in fact it started raining on me as I ran. That’s probably the coldest I’ve ever been while running. So cold I couldn’t even break a sweat!

Breakfast was at Victor’s 1959 Cafe which was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. It was definitely a dive. Tiny little shack looking joint with writing ALL OVER the walls inside. It looked like someone let 100 kids go wild with 1000 crayons. Except some of the things I read could not have been thought up by the innocent mind of a child.

The food was OK. I read that their mango pancakes were great but mine was so bad I had to send it back for a banana pancake. My egg concoction was tasty but not worth going back for. Overall I wasn’t too impressed. I’ll give the show’s host Guy Fieri a few more chances before I permanently write off his recommendations. I wonder if he’s ever been to next week’s USC destination Pullman, WA? He’s probably never even heard of it! lol

After breakfast we headed to the stadium for pregame tailgating. This is where my gameday frustrations began. One thing I’ve learned while going to all these games is that some states have very weird laws with respect to the buying and consuming of alcohol. That was the case in Minnesota. After buying my bottled beer I learned that its illegal to drink from of a bottle outdoors. You have to drink out of a can or out of a cup. So I had to buy a pack of plastic cups which was conveniently overpriced. It was like a tourist trap for tailgaters. And unlike most states you can’t drink alcohol in any parking lot or private area. You can only drink in designated tailgate parking lots and if you aren’t a local it’s pretty hard to figure out where those are. So there I was with bottled beer, an entire pack of plastic cups and no idea where to go with it. I ended up walking around until I found locals drinking and figured it’d be safe to drink my beers there.

I heard a lot about how friendly the people in Minnesota are but I did not find that to be the case. They were no more or less friendly than people you’d run into in any city. I got my fair share of taunts from the Minnesota fans and was called a Cheater more times than I can count. This is something I’m just going to have to get used to thanks to Reggie Bush. I expect the “cheater” taunts to get much worse once Pac-10 play begins. No matter that USC never actually cheated, that is what USC is considered — a rogue program that cheated its way to all the success we enjoyed under Pete Carroll. I hate it. I can never forgive Reggie for a couple of reasons. One is that he has hurt the university, the current players, the fans, our reputation, everything! The other reason is that, well, he’s not sorry.

By the time the game started the weather warmed up and it was a very sunny, nice day. Not anything like I expected it would be. In fact the sun was so bright I was afraid I might get sunburned.

As for the game… What can I say. You probably saw it and you’ve probably read about it already. For three quarters we couldn’t pull away from a team that lost to South Dakota the week before. Through three quarters there was a very real possibility Minnesota could pull away from us and win the game. Oh the pain that would cause… USC was only favored to win by 12 points and before the game I remember thinking placing a bet on USC would be easy money and if I had a way to place a bet on the game I would. Well, I thought wrong, we only won by 11 and I would have lost the bet. It’s a good thing I’m not a gambling man.

During the Hawaii game a picture of me appeared on At the UVA game I got on the jumbotron in the coliseum and had a picture on At Minnesota I got on TV for the first time this season. Twitter user @chygga was nice enough to offer to send me a DVD of the game with the commercials stripped out so I could see myself on TV (I rarely ever see myself on TV). Very nice guy. He has tons of USC games on DVD and says if you want any to contact him on Twitter.

After the game we had a blast exploring the Minneapolis bar scene while meeting people from all over the country and catching bits and pieces of a very exciting night of college football. One notable stop was Alray’s Bar which was recommended to me by Twitter user @dlegas05. He referred to the bar as one of the Twin Cities’ hidden gems. If it was a gem it was a diamond in the rough and it didn’t leave much hidden to the imagination. No, it’s not a strip club or gentlemen’s club. Think Hooters but better. Or worse. I don’t know…

Sunday morning I got up early to hit one more breakfast spot before my flight back home. This time I went to a place called The Little Oven and it was fantastic. One of my favorite things about it is that they give each table their own pot of coffee, just like IHOP does. I’ve never understood why more restaurants don’t do this. They should. Anyway, if you’re ever in the Twin Cities I highly recommend this place.

On the flight back I realized how the Lakers got their name. Before coming to Los Angeles the Lakers played in Minneapolis and from the plane I could see countless lakes. I mean there are tons and tons of lakes all over the place. Fascinating.

So, Minnesota… I misjudged you. On this weekend you were nothing like I imagined or feared. The weather was very nice and the weekend was jam packed with fun! I doubt I’ll be back until the next time USC plays there but next time I won’t be so apprehensive… Unless the game is in November.

Fight On!

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