From the Bird’s Nest: Road Trip–Duquesne/Kent State
I'm a little late getting this one up here.....that Oklahoma State blog and the aftermath has kind of occupied my time.
Let me start by saying Pittsburgh is a great city. Much of the perception of the Steel City is it's a factory, blue collar city. And it's dirty.
While blue-collar could still be used for a lot of the city, dirty shouldn't be part of the description. Pittsburgh is a vibrant city. The downtown area where we stayed was really, really nice. And, I'd like to go back.
The flight from Baton Rouge was uneventful. Planes ran on time and even with a short connection time, there were no problems connecting from Atlanta.
Friday was a nice day. Temperatures were in the mid-upper 50's and the sun was shining. I arrived at the Pittsburgh airport around 1:45. The airport is a good twelve miles from downtown and by the time I got bags and a car and made it to the Renaissance Hotel downtown, it was just past kickoff time (2:30 EST) for LSU-Arkansas.
But I hadn't eaten anything all day so I made my way about three blocks to Primanti Brothers in Market
Square. This place has been featured on Man vs. Food and I had a sample of it back when we went to PNC Park on the Kent State football trip. It was pretty crowded but I found a single seat at the counter. At Primanti Brothers (www.primantibrothers.com) the sandwiches are made on thick Italian bread, with meat, cheese, cole slaw and french fries piled high. I ordered the roast beef and a Yuengleng. They had the game on, but not many were paying attention. Pittsburgh is definitely not a college football town. While I was there, Arkansas went up 14-0 which peaked the interest of the guy next to me. But I told him LSU would at least be even by halftime and I was right. The sandwich and soup hit the spot (along with a second Yuengleng) and after eating I walked back to the hotel to watch the rest of the game.
Afterward I did some website work. I happened to be downstairs as the team was getting ready to leave for practice. They flew a different airline out of Lafayette but they, too, had no issues. I saw Coach Marlin and he was excited that PNC park was just over the bridge. We made plans to walk over there the next morning after breakfast. The rest of the night was pretty quiet. I watched a good part of Pitt-West Virginia and that was about it.
Saturday morning after breakfast, Coach Marlin and I walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to PNC
Park. Coach Marlin is a big baseball fan and had heard about what a great ballpark it was. Naturally, we couldn't get inside, but you got a great view of the park from the bridge. We took pictures of the statues of Clemente and Willie Stargell before heading back. Coach said Clemente was his favorite player when he was a kid so I know he enjoyed the walk to the park.
Back at the hotel, I had a late lunch at a local pizza place right next door to the hotel. It was pretty impressive. The Italian sausage was better than anything I've had in Louisiana. Then I went back upstairs to get the game prep done. Since Duquesne is in the city and the arena was pretty landlocked, I decided to ride on the team bus, which I don't do very often.
Duquesne has a small arena that seats only about 4,000. It reminded me a lot of "The Burrow" at Florida Atlantic, only older. At any Cajuns game you can find a fan or two, and this was no exception. It was great to see Chuck "Trigger" Allen, who was a walk-on at USL under Beryl Shipley. Trigger had been in Lafayette for the Shipley Classic and he made the five hour drive from Baltimore to Pittsburgh to cheer the team on. Unfortunately, the Cajuns gave him little to cheer about, playing perhaps their poorest half of the season.
After the game the bus stopped at.....another location of Primanti Brothers (don't you HATE it when that happens LOL). This time I got the Pitts-burger, once again piled high with slaw and fries. I picked up a couple of Yuenglengs at the hotel bar and went upstairs and made sure the game story was on our website. I had the TV on for noise more than anything else. After a sandwich and a little work, I turned in.
Sunday was a travel day. We all had breakfast at the Renaissance and then I went upstairs to turn in my Harris Poll ballot. Around noon I left for the two hour drive to Stow, Ohio, just outside of Akron. I caught some of the Cincinnati-Cleveland game on the radio and when I got to the hotel, it was the only game on. That was a good excuse for a nap. By this time the temps had fallen into the 40's and it was raining. That would continue for the rest of the trip. I watched New England and Philly later in the afternoon (Rob Gronkowski and Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis got me some good fantasy points) and then had to think about dinner. I found out there was a Skyline Chili just down the street. It would have been walking distance, but I decided to drive in the rain. Skyline Chili originated in Cincinnati. Former UL assistant football coach Rob Christophel turned me on to Skyline some years ago. Their signature dish is spaghetti covered in their chili covered with cheddar cheese. It was really, really good. Back at the hotel I watched Sunday Night Football between the Steelers and Chiefs before turning in.
After breakfast Monday morning I wanted to drive into Kent and go to their campus. It's a pretty historical place, especially if you were born in the late 40's or early 50's. On that campus on May 4, 1970, protesters gathered against the war in Southeast Asia, specifically the decision by President Nixon to invade Cambodia. The protest turned deadly as National Guardsmen fired on the
protesters, killing four Kent State students. That day was the inspiration for the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song "Ohio." There is a memorial with historical markers there and I wanted to see it. I didn't stay as long as I wanted to because of the rain, but I got to see the memorial and stayed until I got pretty wet. It was sobering. I was able to imagine the site where the protesters were and could almost see the Guardsmen on the hill. Wow.
I then drove around the campus and I must say, I was really impressed with how beautiful the campus was. There were rolling hills and turn of the century architechure everywhere. I spent, all told, a couple of hours before going back to the hotel to get ready for the game against Kent State.
The Kent State arena reminded me of Blackham. Built in 1950, it seats about 6,000. Our vantage point for the game was interesting. We were on the upper concourse, seated diagonally from the baseline (catty-corner if you will.) I had only had that vantage one other time for a basketball game and that was at the Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst, MA when the Cajuns played UMASS in the final "Rage in the Cage." I had a chance to visit with Ty Linder, who produced the piece on Cajuns' tailgaiting that appeared on the Kent State coach's show after their visit in 2008. You can see it on You Tube (search: Louisiana Tailgaiting.) Ty does the play by play for the Golden Flashes. Kent State has a really nice team and the Cajuns played well, but just couldn't score the basketball down the stretch.
The players had food after the game and the coaches ordered some for me so I didn't have to look for a place to get a bite after the game. So, it was back to the hotel, get the game story on the website and settle in to watch the second half of the Saints and Giants. The game didn't start until 8:30 Eastern, so we had plenty of viewing time.
Tuesday morning after breakfast I headed back to Pittsburgh for the flight home. The team was flying out of Cleveland, but it was a lot cheaper for me to drive the extra hour back to Pittsburgh. I'm glad I did. My flights ran on time and I was back in Baton Rouge by 4:30. The team was delayed in Cleveland and didn't get back to Lafayette until nearly eight o'clock. But for them, it could have been worse. For awhile it looked like they'd stay in Cleveland until the next day.
It was my first road trip of more than one night since baseball season. And, I got food from a famous sandwich shop and got to witness a piece of American History.
Now, if we could have won one of those games......