I know it’s been over 100 hours since the Pinstripe Bowl ended in Orange glory, and there has even been a basketball game since then (a particularly satisfying one which I might talk about later) but it’s only now — 2AM on a Tuesday morning — that I am finding time to chronicle my own experiences at the greatest bowl game ever played at New New Yankee Stadium*. Having never before attended a bowl game of any kind, let alone one involving SU, I didn’t quite know what to expect but I was ridiculously excited to be going, even knowing that the game itself could end up being a dull lump of a contest. Particularly with bits of the BC game (which I’d also attended) clinging to the back of my mind. I resolved to enjoy the experience no matter what happened on the field. Of course it turned out to be one of the most exciting football games I’ve ever witnessed… but we’ll get to that.
The day started off promisingly, as I met up with my bowl game companion for brunch at Daisy’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a fantastic little diner where the eggs always come with a heap of potatoes — which would keep me fueled throughout the afternoon. We took the F train to Atlantic Ave where we had planned to meet up with another bowl-going friend at the front end of the platform of the Manhattan-and-Bronx-bound D train. We got to the platform first, then our friend arrived just as the next train pulled into the station. Perfect timing - but we had no idea how perfect.
We headed onto the train and grabbed seats. As the train moved through Brooklyn and then Manhattan, it started to take on a few more Orange fans. One of them (but wearing a Patriots hat, for some reason) sat down next to us and struck up a friendly conversation. Meanwhile, the attention of one of my friends kept drifting to a certain gentleman standing in the middle of the car, about 15 feet away from us. She nudged me with her elbow and whispered:
“I think that’s Don McPherson!”
I looked. It was.
“Holy crap that’s Don McPherson!” (quietly, of course)
This was, as you are undoubtedly aware, completely and totally awesome. He was just hanging out, talking with some friends of his. You could see he was wearing a big ring, I don’t know if it was a class ring or a 1988 Sugar Bowl ring or what. The guy who had struck up a conversation with us, went over and said hi to him. My friends and I, not wanting to impose, just waved, and Donnie gave us a nod. This would probably be a good time to show you this:
My father put that together for me for Christmas last year. The football card is of Donnie with the Eagles, he got it on eBay or something. The index card with the autograph was from when I was a little kid and met the great #9 at some event or other, I don’t recall what it was anymore. My dad found it in our house when he was doing some cleaning. The rest of it he put together on his own. Anyway, it was a thrill, not to mention a positive omen, to see one of SU’s all-time greats just riding along on the D train with us. And to think that if my friend had been a couple of minutes later we’d have got on a different train and missed him.
(I just realized: of all the news stories and blog posts out there about the Pinstripe Bowl, this one is undoubtedly spending the most time talking about the subway ride.)
When we got off the train, the plan was to meet up with a couple more people at Stan’s. And we succeeded, barely. The place, just like all the bars around the stadium, was a madhouse. Completely packed to the gills with pregame revelers, 90% of them Orange fans. There were some hardy souls in K-State paraphernalia, but they were vastly outnumbered. We managed one trip to the bar at Stan’s, and managed not to spill our beers despite being pressed ass-to-ass with our fellow SU supporters. As unreal as the experience was, we were content to head to the stadium itself for the rest of our pregame (and access to its toilets).
We got inside in time to see the pregame performances by the marching bands. First impression: Kansas State has a massive band. Just huge. Entering the field level they easily filled up the KSU sideline area, and during their performance they took up the entire field, goal line to goal line. (Wikipedia says they have over 350 members; compare that to SU’s 200.) The imbalance continued to be apparent when the teams came out onto the field. KSU looked as if they had twice as many players; they certainly had twice as many placekickers and punters on the field during pregame kicking drills — two of each, whereas we barely could find one. I just hoped it wouldn’t translate into them having twice as many points.
And I will admit, I got a little verklempt when Rob Long came out for the coin toss.
My friends at the game had seats scattered around the stadium; I was sitting with one other person in section 214, on the corner of the “home plate” end zone. These turned out to be excellent seats, because we were close to the sideline and thus to the action on that end of the field (as opposed to the 50-yard line which was set well back from the action due to the field’s round shape — a problem I remember from attending a couple of SU-Temple games at The Vet). We had an amazing view of the flea-flicker, for instance. Later on, once it was discovered that there were no ushers checking tickets on the 2nd level, we gathered our entire crew (some of whom had been in the upper deck) in one spot for the rest of the game. Frequent and gratuitous high-fiving ensued.
There are only a couple of observations I want to make about the game itself, because most of it has been said (once you claw your way past the thick layer of whining about the “salute”). First, an incredible job by the defense containing Daniel Thomas. He broke that 51-yarder on his first run of the game, but after that he gained only 33 yards on 21 carries. This for a guy who entered the game averaging over 5 yards per carry and 120 yards rushing per game. It was clear that they sacrificed some pass defense to contain him, but it’s still an impressive result. Second, as thrilling as Nassib’s three long touchdown passes were, my favorite drive of the game by the SU offense was the one that opened the 2nd half. Seven plays, seven rushes, 60 yards, TD. I was stomping around going “The run has been established!!” It’s so satisfying when your guys smashmouth the crap out of the other team. Nothing flashy, no misdirections or trick plays. Just shoving it down their damn throats. Oh it was wonderful. (I was also irrationally happy that the KSU onside kick failed because of Illegal Touching. That is my favorite penalty in all of football, just because of the name. What better way to seal the win.)
I already told you about “Swins” but there is a little more to tell. We stayed for the postgame awards presentations, and watched the team go nuts on the field. After the initial celebration in the middle of the field, they went over to the outfield fence and started playing in the giant snow piles that had been pushed up against the walls. Some guys climbed up the drifts to greet the fans sitting in that section. Others made “snow angels” or tossed snow up into the stands. It was great to see the unbridled joy pouring out of this team that has been through so much pain and suffering. Watch this and tell me these lower tier bowls are “meaningless”.
(Also: starting at the 0:47 mark you can see the “Swins” graphic on the MediumTron next to to HCDM’s trophy acceptance speech.)
The streets of the Bronx were flooded with orange that night. The bars were once again stuffed with fans, and spontaneous chants of “Let’s Go Orange” kept bubbling up through the din. We only lingered a moment, to savor the atmosphere, and then headed back towards Brooklyn. All in all it was basically a perfect day. Let’s do it again next year.
*Despite what you may have been led to believe by the Steinbrenner propaganda machine, the first New Yankee Stadium opened in 1976; they called it a ‘renovation’ of the original but it was a ‘renovation’ that involved shutting the place down for 2 1/2 years and completely gutting and rebuilding it. The result was essentially a brand new park.