In this day and time it’s not hard to think of a person, place or thing that fails to live up to our expectations. You know, those preconceived notions that we want so badly to materialize but they never do. I have enjoyed a long career in sports media, but until last weekend a trip to witness a college football game at a Big 10 stadium had managed to allude me.
I was one of those kids who watched ABC’s coverage of college football growing up. When some Saturday’s you only got to see one game. That’s one game for the whole country to watch!! You always remembered the games with the Big 10 schools because everything seemed bigger. The players were bigger, the stadiums were bigger and filled with fans all decked out in school colors. You have to remember, the colors really stood out back then because color tv had only been a round for a few years.
Fast forward to 2016 and I’m walking into Wisconsin’s historic Camp Randall Stadium with the Georgia State Panthers. A former Union Army camp site, the Badgers have played on this same plot of earth since the late 1800s. The rich tradition was everywhere. The sight was massive, powerful and imposing. That describes both the stadium and the team, which was one of the largest football teams that I have ever seen , I’m talking college or professional.
You would think that this would spell doom for the Panthers who had struggled in their first two games of the season. Instead of focusing on the 9th ranked Badgers, the Panthers had spent the week focusing on themselves and it worked. GSU went toe to toe with one of the elite programs of the mighty Big 10, and I wish you could have seen the looks on some of the faces of the fans all awash in red. A sideline security person gave me a wink and said” Looks like your fellas came to play ball today ” I winked back and said, “yes, I believe you’re right “.
At halftime, Wisconsin led 6-0 when something happened that flew right over the heads of those in attendance. Wisconsin presented the new members of the school’s sports hall of fame, one of which was basketball great Kirk Penny who was not able to attend the game. I looked up just in time to see a video of some of his highlights and the last play was from a game between Wisconsin and Georgia State.. Wait A Minute !! No Way !! No Way that on this day they show a video clip on their big screen in front of 80, 000 people of the NCAA Tournament game where Georgia State upset Wisconsin
50-49 in 2001.
It seemed to slip right by most of the crowd including the hearty contingent of Georgia State fans who made the trip to Dairyland . While the fans might have missed that bad memory from 15 years ago, the Panthers presented them with a potential nightmare when they took the lead in the 4th quarter. Never seen 80,000 people reduced to whispers before, but it happened. Of course, the Badgers rallied to win the game, and while Coach Trent Miles says No Moral Victories last Saturday’s game was a better indication of what this Georgia State team is capable of doing.
In all it was an trip that I will long remember. My first trip to a Big 10 stadium was just as I have envisioned from all those years ago. The fact that I was a member of the Panther Radio Network made it great, and the fact that Georgia State almost shocked the world made it even better.On a personal note It may have been the way we got to Wisconsin that was the most rewarding thing for me.
Eastern Air Lines is the Official Travel Partner for Georgia State Athletics. That’s right, Eastern Air Lines is flying again. The airline that went out of business in 1991 returned with charter flights from Miami to Havana last year. My father worked for Eastern Air Lines and retired before the 1991 shutdown. He didn’t live to see Eastern return to the skies so the trip to Madison was extra special for me. Partnering with Georgia State is a good way for Eastern to get their brand back into the Atlanta market ,and just like the Panthers football team , they are both on their way up !!