Don Brennan and three pals feasted on the NFL and the major leagues during the Ultimate Sports Road Trip
''Here's the throw, here's the play at the plate, holy cow, I think he's gonna make it!''
One week, seven lbs., 6,374 km in a van and countless memories later, yours truly has returned in one mushy piece from the Ultimate Sports Road Trip.
Tagging along with three friends -- co-ordinator Randy "Howie" Howlett, his brother Hal "Senior" Howlett and Brian "Klesko" Samuel -- I attended seven pro sports games (three NFL, four major league baseball) in seven hectic days.
The following will give you some idea of what the experience was like, and why, if you're also thinking of going on a similar roadie, you should listen to us (and Nike) and "Just Do It."
Wednesday, Sept. 8
- 11:06 a.m. -- And so it begins. We set out for Foxboro and the NFL season opener clutching a bible of sorts (CAA Trip Tik) that we're already questioning and we're still in south Ottawa when the first calls are made home to loved ones.
Just outside Cornwall, we see a billboard that prompts "Save up to 60% on caskets." To me, it's a reminder why we're on this trip -- if you only have one life to live, you probably should enjoy it.
- 12:55 p.m. -- Klesko reaches for Sports Trivia cards from a game that was made in the '80s. When Howie, a diehard Dallas fan, can't answer Cowboy questions, the game is abandoned for awhile.
- 2:15 p.m. -- At a little town in New York State, we had enough cash between us to buy a 28-pack of Molson Canadian that came in a cool, racing wheel box, and what would become the drink of choice on this Sports Trip: Michelob Ultra. Low carbs, low in alcohol and good taste. Such considerations were never made when we were in our 20s.
- 8:35 p.m. -- We arrive at the Comfort Inn in Foxboro and check in one room (with two beds) in time to watch the end of a World Cup hockey game on TV. When it's over, we head to a pub/restaurant across the parking lot called "99." Figure it's a place we have to go, if only in tribute to Wayne Gretzky.
- 11:30 p.m. -- We're back in the room, watching Howard Stern and getting ready to call it a day. It will be our last chance to get a decent night's sleep in awhile.
Thursday, Sept. 9
- 5:40 a.m. -- Who can sleep on Christmas morning? Howie and I are down in the lobby, opting for coffee if not yet the continental breakfast, and reading about the New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts game we will be attending.
- 8 a.m. -- I'm going back to the lobby for my second breakfast, make-yourself waffles. It's a Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm ...
- 8:58 a.m. -- Time for a third breakfast, back in the room. Snap goes the cap, down goes the first Michelob Ultra. Hey, it's Game Day.
- 9:20 a.m. -- Weather report on TV says there's an 80% chance of rain tonight. "So there's a 20% chance it WON'T rain?," says Howie. "Woo-hoo!"
- 10:35 a.m. -- After watching the ESPN sports loop and Cheers reruns (you have to, this close to Boston), we pack up and head out to do some Tailgate Party shopping. The bill runs us $170. It includes rain jackets, sandwiches, pop, chips, peanuts, humus, pickle spears, pita bread, chocolate bars ... then we're next door to the Rum Runner for a couple of cases of beer and a few cigars.
- 2:30 p.m. -- We arrive at Gillette Stadium and head to a parking lot across the street that is charging $40 rather than one on the grounds that is charging $35. Our choice of party spots turns out to be a good one. The lot fills during the course of the day. We figure there are 2,000 cars in this one alone. At $40 each (with trailer spots going from $60-80) and eight home games, the lot's owner must make a fortune.
- 4:30 p.m. -- Among the tailgaters are groups of high school and college cheerleaders, who travel from party to party performing for cash donations.
- 7:40 p.m. -- The pre-game concert -- featuring Elton John, Destiny's Child, Toby Keith and Jessica Simpson -- was disappointing. The game was not. The Patriots hang on to win. We meet a couple of guys from Montreal, and the usherette in our second-level section. She says her family owns the first Gabriel's pizzeria in Ottawa. Small world.
- 12:24 a.m. -- We get back to our van to find the tailgate parties are starting up again. The traffic the way is, we can't go anywhere anyway. We stay another two hours before heading to our hotel.
Friday, Sept. 10
- 7:10 a.m. -- We are on the road again, heading for Pittsburgh and tonight's Pirates-Houston Astros game at PNC Park. I'll spare you the details of this trip as it is almost an 11-hour drive, other than to say it is also when Senior directs us to a Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Turns out to be a regular stop for us. Take this as a tip -- the food is very good.
- 5:54 p.m. -- Check into a Ramada Plaza Suites across from the Mellon Arena in downtown Pittsburgh. We drop off our bags and grab a shuttle to the park.
- 7:17 p.m. -- Opened in 2001, PNC Park is located along the shore of the Allegheny River and offers a breathtaking view of the Pittsburgh skyline. It is an awesome place to watch a ball game. We picked up four first-level tickets off a scalper at $15 each. There was no Michelob Ultra for sale, but really cold Bud and very good sandwiches made with some type of steak. We met more new friends and caused more jaws to drop when we told them about our trip.
- 9:45 p.m. -- The Pirates win a quick game, which gives us extra time to take in Pittsburgh's nightlife. A couple of us made it through a tour of four bars, including an after-hours joint. In hindsight, I might have been better off pacing myself for what would be a long week instead of attempting to take the edge off a long drive.
Saturday, Sept. 11
- 8:30 a.m. -- Rise and shine for a buffet breakfast (I would have been good surviving on the cold pizza I had before going to bed at 5 a.m.) and the five-hour drive to Cincinnati for a Reds-Brewers game.
- 3:22 p.m. -- Checked into the Radisson Cincinnati Riverfront in Kentucky, which is right across the Ohio border. We were given a room on the 13th floor. We did not remember another time we had seen a 13th floor and at least one of us is very superstitious (Howie thinks he's going to get hit by a truck if he orders the same breakfast as someone at his table). As it turned out, we didn't have a remote for our TV. And after the game, our room keys didn't work (they said we hadn't checked in yet). And Klesko got very sick. He would like me to point out it had nothing to do with beer, and it didn't. It likely did have something to do with the Road Trip, however. At lunch before the game, he sent back chicken wings because he had changed his mind how he wanted them sauced. All indications are the cook wasn't happy with working on the order twice. But Klesko didn't get violently ill until after the Reds game.
- 6:15 p.m. -- The Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003, and the scenery around it is every bit as beautiful as PNC Park. For somebody who grew up a fan of the Big Red Machine, this stop was a highlight. We picked up four tickets off a scalper for $25 each. They were located in the Fox Sports Net Club 4,192, the numeric symbolic of Pete Rose's all-time hits record. The Reds won 9-0, I correctly predicted a grand slam (Adam Dunn's) for the third time this season and we were seconds away from a bar that was televising the Canada-Czech World Cup game. A great night for all -- except Klesko.
Sunday, Sept. 12
- 6:05 a.m. -- This time I'm behind the wheel as we departed for St. Louis and the Rams home opener. It will be a very long day.
- 12:09 p.m. -- The parking lots around the Edward Jones Dome are jammed with tailgaters. Sadly, we don't have time to partake. The most curious sight? Fireworks exploding during the daytime. They just don't have the same effect, you know?
- 1 p.m. -- Senior picked us up some excellent seats -- seven rows behind the Rams bench -- from a client of his. Au gratis! The 66,000-seat stadium is full and the Rams do not disappoint. For the fourth day in a row, we see the home team win.
- 4:13 p.m. -- Before leaving for our Monday Night Football date 10 hours away in North Carolina, we stop at a scary place for gas, then a different scary place to see if we can get a bite to eat. Inside, there are two people. One was obviously beaten up badly the night before, if not earlier that day. I use the washroom, then break into a trot toward the door. "You not staying?" asks the battered and bruised man. No, we're going to find another Cracker Barrel.
- 10:44 p.m. -- We decide against driving straight through to Charlotte. Instead, we stay in Nashville for a good night's sleep.
Monday, Sept. 13
- 5:20 p.m. -- We arrive in Charlotte and check into a Howard Johnson Inn about a 10-minute drive from the Bank of America Stadium -- home of the NFC champion Panthers.
- 8:12 p.m. -- Walking up to the stadium, through a tunnel, is a rush. Fans are getting into the mood. Inside, we eventually head to our seats, five levels above the field. Watching an event with 72,496 other people is very cool. The Panthers lose -- the only time a home team will do so on our trip -- but we were able to celebrate anyway, as we were surrounded by Green Bay fans.
Tuesday, Sept. 14
- 6:11 a.m. -- Another long drive ahead of us, as we have planned a trip to New York's Shea Stadium for a game between the Mets and Braves. It takes us 12 hours.
- 6:14 p.m. -- We finally fight through the New York City traffic and get to the Pan American hotel, which is a short drive from Shea.
- 7:10 p.m. -- We buy tickets off a scalper in the parking lot -- $100 for four. They are located in prime, field-level seats and are sold at the box-office for $66 each.
Once settled in, we discover we have our own server: "Big Momma." She keeps telling us she's overweight. Down a row and over is the most beautiful girl we've seen on the trip, a blond bombshell who is with a guy that we believe to be Mike Piazza's brother.
To our right is a group of girls, and one is celebrating her 28th birthday. She finds Canadians to be generous, as we buy her a beer and stuffed toy.
Meanwhile, you're probably back home watching Canada beat Finland in the World Cup final. Well, thanks to my good pal Pappa Joe and my BlackBerry, we received up-to-the minute reports on the game, allowing Klesko and I to immediately rejoice in the Canadian victory.
Taking $20 off the Howlett brothers -- who informed us on the trip that they are 25% Finnish -- was just icing on the cake.
Wednesday, Sept. 15
- 10:50 a.m. -- An enjoyable breakfast close to the hotel at Pop Diner, where we have fun with the way the waitress says ''coawffee'' and load up for a drive to Boston. It's only four hours away.
- 5:02 p.m. -- Arrive at the Best Western Roadhouse Suites on Massachusetts Ave., a $6 cab ride from Fenway. We can't check in and get to the Park fast enough.
- 7:05 p.m. -- We watch the first six innings from our seats in the centre-field bleachers. They are far from home plate, but they are well worth the $37 each we paid for them. The guy from Rochester sitting beside us paid $53. Every seat is sold at Fenway, as the Red Sox will fill their park for all 81 home games this season. They win the game as we walk around -- watching from the standing-room areas behind home plate, and up and down the base lines -- soaking it all in. Incredible place, simply incredible.
- 10:39 p.m. -- We drop by the Baseball Tavern, which is within tobacco spitting distance of Fenway, and is owned by Jim Rooney. Jim is a great guy, and the brother of former Montreal Canadiens enforcer Steve Rooney. Obvious by the photos on the wall is that the Baseball Tavern is a popular spot, frequented by many a pro athlete, past and present. It is also the ideal spot to cap off what was a great eight days.
The ride home Thursday took a little over six hours. It went by quickly, though, just like the Ultimate Sports Trip did. Only in the case of our eight-day adventure, it was too quick.