In 2005, a good buddy and I got a wild hair up our ass to attend an ISU road game. We settled on Mizzou, and decided to do it in one fell swoop as we didn’t know anyone who went there and were juniors at ISU (thus too poor to rent a hotel room).
We left Ames at about 2 a.m. with a case of fire sale MGD and couple gas station coffees. We ate Deli Express sandwiches for breakfast, and hit Columbia with enough time to sit in a gravel lot, slam beers, and go to the game.
If you recall, we ISU’d that day in the most ISU of fashions, and the drive home to Ames was one fraught with self-loathing and Golden Corral. However, despite that heartbreak, frustration, and exhaustion, I found myself with a new passion – Big 12 road trips.
Over the next decade, I hit as many Big 12 road games as I possibly could and made it to every current school, save for Oklahoma and Texas Tech, as well as three of the current members. While my road tripping days are likely done until I retire (and who knows what god forsaken conference we’ll belong to then), I think I sit in a unique spot to unveil WRNL’s definitive ranking of Big 12 road trips. I will review each location I’ve attended, and rank them at the end.
Spoiler alert: Waco doesn’t win.
CURRENT BIG 12:
City: Austin, Texas
School: University of Texas
Year(s) attended: 2010
Yeah, I was at that game. My detailed recap can be found here.
Where to start? This day was in my top 5 days to be a Cyclone, and Austin is one of my top 5 places anywhere. It’s the epitome of cool. Live music is EVERYWHERE. College town meets big city meets state capitol is a crazy mix that you don’t see often. We partied on 6th Street both nights in town and had a god damned riot.
Even though we whooped them, Texas fans were very gracious. Shockingly so. This was on the heels of the first bout of realignment, and we expected that Texas fans would have a generally dismissive attitude towards ISU and wear the arrogance we all associated with the school on their sleeves.
That wasn’t the case at all.
We were welcomed everywhere we went. We tailgated at the Cyclone Club of Austin’s official tailgate, and I would strongly recommend the event to anyone who makes a trip to this game in the future. They do it up right, with an upfront fee that covers all you eat and drink. The catered barbecue we had blew any restaurants we tried out of the water.
Darrell K. Royal Stadium is fucking massive and honestly a little underwhelming/impersonal. I would imagine it gets pretty rocking when the Horns are beating a marquee opponent, but it was definitely muted as they watched us pink sock them.
City: Fort Worth, Texas
Year(s) attended: 2012
I had the privilege of attending the first Big 12 game in the new and improved Amon G. Carter Stadium. What should have been a banner day for the Frogs turned out to be an unseasonably cold day (50 degrees in early October -- it was warmer in Des Moines), and a “right there, Fred” welcome to big time football.
Thankfully, the hospitality was warmer than the weather. Frog fans were enthusiastic and extremely friendly. We had made contact with a poster on Killer Frogs who sold us tickets to the game, as well as a parking spot in his yard, which was about 200 yards north of the stadium. Food and booze at his tailgate were all part of the exchange to boot. We had a great time tailgating with the group before, during, and after the game. We weren’t the official tailgating area (across the street) but that looked like a solid time too.
The stadium is fucking incredible, and we had an absolute blast partying in the upper deck of the visitor’s section all game long. Josh Lenz went beast mode, as did David Irving. It was the last truly great day of the Rhoads era.
Fort Worth itself was a cool town to boot. It’s a big city, but it’s pretty chill, and we enjoyed the bars. Our night out was in a new, trendy district, so it didn’t have that lived-in feel that I crave in a college town, but it was an interesting experience in and of itself.
City: Lawrence, Kansas
School: University of Kansas
Years attended: 2012, 2014
Result: W, L
Lawrence was a revelation. It was a bit of a last minute decision in 2012, so we ended up in a fleabag former HoJo about 2 miles NW of the stadium. Thanks to lack of interest in KU football, we were able to get a cheap hotel room close by.
It ended up being a magical fall day, as we started the day with lunch at Free State Brewing, and spent the afternoon wandering the neighborhood bars of Lawrence. The area around the KU campus is extremely reminiscent of west Ames, but hillier. Little bars like Louise’s West, Rick’s, and the Wheel sit by themselves in residential neighborhoods, like Thumbs and Mothers.
When it comes to football, KU fans have no attitude whatsoever. Lawrence is a pretty college town, and we had an absolute blast partying around town. There’s a good, familiar, comfortable vibe with the old Big 8 schools, and we chatted with lots of old timers who had been around the block. The proprietor of Rick’s was a big fan of partying in Ames and remarked “Ames is a sonofabitch.” We like Rick.
The stadium itself is a dump, and there isn’t a ton of traditional tailgating due to the lack of parking near the stadium, but there were Iowa City-esque yard parties and people were pretty cool. We ended up slaughtering KU in Sam Richardson’s brilliant debut (and high water mark, unfortunately) and closed down Louise’s West, about 10 blocks from our hotel.
We came back in 2014 for a day and recreated the pre-game experience, including some tailgating with CylentButDeadly’s connected fraternity advisor, where we observed JP in black denim. The game sucked ass, but we had fun.
You’re okay, Lawrence.
City: Manhattan, Kansas
School: Kansas State University
Years attended: 2006, 2013
Results: L, L
The Little Apple.
First trip was in 2006. Having heard nothing but constant Ames bashing by the media and our opponents, I was lead to believe we were the most isolated, rural college town in America. I was wrong.
We rolled into Manhattan early, after leaving Ames around 2 a.m. As we arrived to the stadium, we saw nothing but open country to the north, for miles, and a small grain facility just to the east of the stadium. As we pulled into public tailgating, we noticed someone penning sheep up in a corner. Yes, the public parking lot was a sheep pasture the other 6 days of the week.
We spent the morning drinking heavily, chatting with the other ISU folk in the lot, and dodging piles of sheep shit. We shuffled into Bill Snyder Family Stadium, sat on wooden bleachers, and watched an effort typical of McCarney’s swan song. I left that day thinking the town was basically Charles City with a college, and that Bill Snyder was even more of a wizard for getting kids to come there.
Flash forward to 2013, and many more road trips under my belt. I’ve learned by now that the secret to a great road trip is to spend some time (a night or two) in the community, hit the local haunts, and really take in their scene and what it has to offer. 8 dudes pack into a fleabag motel on the east side of Manhattan, and arrange rides to Aggieville (KSU’s Campustown) from Larry, the motel maintenance guy.
We hit up Aggieville, and inevitably found tons of similarities between it and Ames. KSU fans and alumni are basically a slightly more mild mannered version of ISU fans and alumni. They like to drink beer, cut a little loose, and have an unpretentiously good time. The Aggieville bars were laid back, fairly nice, and plenty of fun. The old Big 8, and especially the Big 8 ag schools, are really kindred spirits with a whole hell of a lot in common.
The tailgate set up at BSFS has a lot in common with Jack Trice in terms of convenience and positioning to the stadium. The majority of the group partied in Aggieville until a couple hours prior to the game, but I had ventured up that way earlier to hit my uncle’s tailgate just east of the stadium. The stadium has been significantly renovated since the 2006 visit, with a new press box on the west side, and metal bleachers throughout.
We spent the night back in Aggieville, hitting the same bars we’d been living at for the previous 24 hours and drank an absolute ass pounding into an oblivion. KSU fans were all gracious winners, and all around great hosts.
City: Morgantown, WV
School: West Virginia University
Year attended: 2013
There is no other way to describe the most geographically isolated fanbase in the conference. We weren’t in Morgantown an hour and someone had already bought us 3 pitchers of beer.
This was a theme that was repeated over and over and over again. Every tailgate we swung by, every bar we stopped in, basically every public appearance we made, we encountered West Virginians going out of their way to show us first rate hospitality.
And they party their balls off. And the area is absolutely beautiful. And the tailgate scene is convenient and fun as hell. The stadium itself is very similar to Jack Trice, but with less effort made on external aesthetics, I thought. Serving beer inside was a major plus.
I’ve described my trip in further detail here, and I’ll let that speak for itself. The only real negative of my experience in Morgantown was the god-awful public transportation situation, but we made fast friends with a local cabby and relied on him for service the rest of the weekend, which made things go pretty smooth.
For everything they lack in geographic commonality, they more than make up for in every other possible category.
City: Stillwater, Oklahoma
School: Oklahoma State University
Year attended: 2014
Somewhere between Manhattan and Morgantown sits Stillwater. It has the Big 8 ag school vibe that makes Manhattan awesome, and also features some solid almost-aggressive hospitality. Pokes aren’t diving over tables to buy you beers the way Eers are, but they love to have a good time, and they respect and appreciate their Midwest ag school brethren.
The bar district, much like Manhattan, has a ton in common with Ames. Laid back college bars with cheap drinks, tunes, and friendly people line the Strip and litter the neighborhood just south of Boone Pickens Stadium. I described the specifics of my trip here, but it’s worth — Stillwater is a great place that’s worth a visit from any self-respecting Big 12 road tripper.
Boone Pickens Stadium is a damn palace, and getting to make mean faces at Gallagher-Iba is worth the price of admission.
Tailgating isn’t nearly as convenient, as it’s spread out various lots around the campus and nearby neighborhoods, but it’s still a very good time and Pokes like to work the grill and pound beers with the best of ‘em. Having a couple bars within a 2 block radius of the stadium definitely focuses some of the pre-game fun in that direction.
Public transportation isn’t great there, and getting a hotel requires some commitment and planning, but it’s absolutely worth it. Any ISU fan looking for a football road trip weekend needs to put this on their list.
City: Waco, Texas
School: Baylor University
Year attended: 2008
I assume you read the spoiler alert at the top of this article. In case you didn’t, you can read more on my thoughts about Baylor here.
There isn’t much to elaborate on. Waco is a fucking dump of a town. It’s like Fort Dodge with a college. I attended old Floyd-Casey stadium, and it was right in a dumpy part of town, complete with loose chickens running in the street.
The stadium parking lot had a weird vibe. Like it was an old Indian burial ground. Baylor fans were nearly non-existent, despite a few cars being parked out there. ISU fans vastly outnumbered the BU faithful in the tailgate lots.
The few fans who were there were uptight pricks who came from a vastly different culture than we did. They kept to themselves, with their polo shirts tucked into white slacks as they sipped on merlot (if they drank at all).
These people didn’t appreciate the success they had, and they’ve reacted very poorly to the exposing of the reality that the football success was built on the hand of recruiting bad people and turning a blind eye when they did horrible things. They’ve never appreciated their basketball success. They aren’t very hospitable, and they sure as hell aren’t very fun.
Baylor, I award you no points.
FORMER BIG 12:
City: College Station
School: Texas A&M
Year attended: 2009
You can find a more detailed description here. College Station was actually a pretty fun road trip. Aggy fans are as weird as advertised, and certainly turn into douches behind keyboards. But they made a pretty good effort to be good hosts for the most part, and I have to keep that in the back of my mind when firing missives at their administration from the pits of realignment hell.
The bars were pretty fun, albeit nothing special, and I can’t say there was anything real negative, save for the psychoses of the fanbases coming to roost in some strange ways.
City: Lincoln, Nebraska
School: University of Nebraska
Year attended: 2007
While definitely not the worst game day experience I’ve been a part of, it was also definitely the most disappointing. For such a “blue blood” program, the intensity of the pregame left a lot to be desired. There was very little tailgating going on, and we ended up just sitting there in front of Memorial Stadium, drinking warm, cheap beer out of a makeshift backpack.
Lincoln itself is a pretty fun town, and I enjoyed partying there at night, but from a tailgating standpoint, it was really lame.
Nebraska fans are full of this “we’re the best fans in the game” / ”welcome to Lincoln, little Timmy, this is real football” bullshit, and I have no time for it. They act nice, but deep down it’s just self-satisfying bullshit. They don’t give two shits about if you enjoy yourself, they just like to call themselves awesome.
City: Columbia, Missouri
School: University of Missouri
Years attended: 2005, 2011
Result: L, L
Columbia is a great town. A classic Midwest college town that has an awful lot in common with Iowa City, Ames, Lawrence, etc. It has a vibrant downtown area with fun bars, and a beautiful campus.
Gameday in Columbia doesn’t seem to have quite the same amount of passion behind it, even though the Tigers have always been pretty well supported. To an extent, Mizzou fans seem like they’re just there. They party, but not that hard. They get into the game, but don’t quite go nuts.
Our first visit was pretty underwhelming, but as described above, we didn’t really do it right. In 2011, we made a whole weekend out of it, staying with a friend of a friend just west of downtown and the campus. We hit the bars both Friday and Saturday night and found them to be a blast. The only negative experience we had was some drunk Mizzou frat boy dropping the N bomb on our host (who was part African-American). It was the first time I’d seen direct open racism, and let’s just say that racist frat boy regretted his comment when it was all said and done.
Other than that, I can’t complain. Columbia has a good mix of bars from dives to college night club type places and I’d recommend it to SEC fans.
I hate to do this to some of you, I really do. Fact of the matter is, outside of Waco, I have really positive things to say about all of these towns.
1. Morgantown. These guys just do it right.
2. Austin. The best city on the list.
3. Stillwater. Just a great vibe all around.
4. Manhattan. Just a hair below Stillwater.
5. Lawrence. Just a hair below Manhattan.
6. Ft. Worth. Hate putting it this low.
7. Columbia. It’s rankings; someone’s taking a hit.
8a/8b. Lincoln/College Station. College Station is a better time tailgating, Lincoln is a nicer town.
Waco. This is not a low enough spot. There are no numbers awarded because you kooks don’t deserve them.