As some of you may have heard, Bammer and I had the opportunity to visit Columbia, South Carolina this past weekend to watch the USC Gamecocks host the Florida Gators. Hampton Inn was kind enough to send us up there and the goal was for us to experience game day through the lens of another fan base. I would say that goal was pretty well accomplished this weekend.
When we first landed in Columbia on Friday night, we grabbed a car and drove around the downtown area, taking in the sights. Downtown Columbia was bigger than I anticipated, with several mini-skyscrapers dotting the skyline. There also seemed to be a number of very old buildings and some interesting architecture, including a Gothic-looking church that would be look right at home in an old European town.
After taking in the town a bit, we headed to The Hunter Gatherer, a popular restaurant where they brew/serve their own house beer. If you make it to this restaurant one day, try to go in a down time, or be prepared for a wait. The seating policy is "seat yourself", so there were a number of small groups standing around the front watching for a table to come open, and then someone would go get it. It's a different experience, and not for the faint of heart. You have to be a bit aggressive in claiming a table if you want to eat.
Eventually, we grabbed a seat and tried a couple of the house beers. We got a smoked bacon, gorgonzola and mozzarella pizza for an app, and I got a parmesan mac & cheese to finish up, while Bammer got a smoked chicken ravioli. Everything I ate was fantastic, and the house beer was really good. I would definitely recommend this place to visiting fans.
After leaving The Hunter Gatherer, we made our way to The Loose Cockaboose, which as far as I could tell was the only bar near the stadium. The place was fine, with individual tv's at each booth, and big screens along the front in front of the bar. I was surprised by how quiet the place was (Lyell and I were the only customers inside at one point) considering it was around 9pm on a Friday before a game, but my understanding is the place is crazy packed during/after the game. It was here that we learned what the heck a cockaboose was - a refashioned train car. They have a number of these train cars that seem to be like a tiny condo inside lining the back of the stadium lot, and individuals can rent them for the low low price of $150,000 (I'm not clear on the amount of time that price buys you, but here's my guess: not enough).
After hitting "TLC", we finally headed to the Hampton Inn, where we were greeted by a helpful gentleman that set us up, and happily answered our questions about the upcoming game day. We wrapped up the night, by going to our rooms which were really nice.
To kick off game day, Bammer and I met downstairs for our continental breakfast (after he ran "only 3 miles" in the hotel gym, and I ran "zero miles" while in my room). I'm a sucker for hotel waffles, and these were pretty great.
After breakfast, we decided to head to the USC campus to see what we could see. The first place we ended up (accidentally, funny enough) was The Horseshoe, a really pretty part of campus characterized by two lines of buildings with a large, grassy area in between that is populated by old oaks that form a nice canopy and provide that lovely, surreal look that you only get when sunlight gently filters through foliage.
After that, we walked around and saw a good bit of the rest of the campus and eventually made it to Pawley's Front Porch. This place was pretty slammed, but is well worth the wait. I had a burger with cheddar and jalapeno bacon, and it was seriously one of the best burgers I've ever had. If you ever end up in Columbia, go to Pawley's.
After lunch, we went ahead and parked the car and headed towards the stadium. For the uninitiated, USC's stadium is actually on their fair grounds, which is about two miles from the campus. If I'm being honest, the layout was a bit surprising and off-putting at first, because I'm used to seeing the Quad and and the campus and everything right around the stadium. The more I thought about it, and the more time we spent in there, though, the more the layout grew on me.
The wide open space of the fair grounds meant tailgaiting was everywhere. There were tents and fans galore, and everyone was pretty friendly. More than a few fans said they were Bama fans after spotting Bammer's hat. One thing that really stood out as being different Bama tailgates? Almost no tvs. I think I probably saw like 10 tvs set up with a satellite in the walk to the stadium.
Inside the stadium, there is a massive screen. We were in the stands a couple hours before kickoff, and they had the Auburn/Georgia game on during that time, which was nice for the spectators (though terrible for us).
When the game started, and the people started whipping their towels around (the "Sandstorm", apparently) the stadium was about as electric an environment as I've been in. The fans were loud and the place was jumping. It was crazy.
Then people kind of settled in. There were cheers for big plays, and a little noise when the defense was on the field, but on the whole, I would say the actual game day atmosphere a bit subdued when compared to Bryant Denny.
Sunday morning, we got up, fueled up on some more awesome waffles and hit the road for the airport. On the whole, I would say this was a pretty great trip. I would like to echo Bammer's sentiments and give a big "thank you" to the folks at Hampton for making the trip possible, and to the staff at the Hampton Inn where we stayed for making it as enjoyable as possible.
Be sure to check out these Hampton Inn links below: