Football NCAA

Sinking the Hoosiers in Bloomington!

In true Wandering Spectator fashion, as soon as the NFL schedule was released for the 2018 season, I knew immediately where I’d go to see my beloved Bills – Indianapolis! I’ve been fortunate to have visited Indy in the past for work and pleasure, including most recently for the 2016 B1G Championship.  So, why would I go back to Indy? Well, the scheduling Gods were on my side and Penn State was playing Indiana just down the road in Bloomington the day before! Book it!

Anyone who’s ever been to Bloomington has nothing but great things to say about the small college town and the campus of Indiana University.  While there’s no doubt that Indiana is a basketball school, playing football in the Big Ten has a way of bringing fans into town as well.

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Assembly Hall – Home of IU Basketball

The only problem with some of these small college towns is that a football weekend quickly fills up every available hotel room in the surrounding area. And with the Bills in town, along with Purdue hosting Ohio State, Indy was definitely a hot spot for sporting events this weekend – impacting airfare, hotel, and car rental prices.

A quick search for alternatives made a hugely positive impact on our finances for this trip.  We choose to fly into Cincinnati and stay in Edinburgh, about an hour outside of Bloomington and 30 minutes from Indy.  The combined savings of air, hotel, and car cut the expenses in half for the weekend! Score!

It was our first time flying Allegiant, a low-cost carrier that flies out of the much smaller Williams Gateway Airport. I have to say, the experience round-trip was actually pretty good – and well above expectations.

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We started off by waiting for our flight on an outdoor patio drinking a cold Barrio Brewing Rojo as we listened to birds chirping around us. Very different from the hustle and bustle of Sky Harbor!

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After landing in Cincy, we took the 90-minute drive to Edinburgh, trusting Google Maps to guide us through the nighttime rain in southern Indiana.  I will say, I was doubting my decision to fly into Cincy as we skirted around farms on two-lane roads, through cornfields and zigzagging to avoid a cemetery.

The next morning, we were up early ready for the drive through Brown County and their picturesque State Park. While we were about a week or two early for the fall colors, the drive was still pretty awesome and painless. We said if we’re ever back this way again, we’ll take our time and be sure to check out the local bed and breakfast places that surely are booked up this time of year.

Driving into Bloomington along 3rd St, you pass by Frat Row. These houses are some of the nicest we’ve seen in our journeys to date.  Unlike Penn State, the Sororities at Indiana also have homes for the girls.

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We were there early enough to take a walking tour through their campus. This place is beautiful!  Its brick walkways and limestone buildings were pristine and free from any litter.

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We even stopped by the historic Dunn Cemetery that sits on the property next to a chapel, just outside of the Student Union. It’s the final resting place of three sisters who served as aides in George Washington’s Revolutionary Army. Today, only direct descendants of those ladies can be buried there.

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One thing we noticed was that the campus was empty! Very few people walking around. No buzz. No signs touting the game that would be played in just a few hours. It was odd.

After our self-guided tour, we decided to check out Nick’s English Hut for a pregame beer. This is one of the most historic bars on campus that dates back to 1927.

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Surely it would be hopping, right? Nope! We even got a parking spot literally right in front of the place. We stopped in for a couple of beers and there were as many Penn Staters in there as there were Hoosiers.

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Nick’s is famous for their “Sink the Biz” drinking game – it includes a bucket of beer and an empty juice glass floating in the middle of it.  Players take turns pouring beer into the glass. The one who makes it sink has to chug the now beer-filled glass. Good thing alcohol kills germs.

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Before long, we went to meet up with our niece and her family for some tailgating. They recently relocated from Los Angeles to Louisville for, believe it or not, the US Coast Guard.  Yes, the US Coast Guard maintains operations in Louisville along the Ohio River. Who knew?!?!

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They even brought cupcakes for the birthday girl!

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The walk to the stadium even felt odd with the lack of people around, but at least we did see some tailgating – on grass too!

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Yet another benefit of seeing Penn State on the road is ticket prices!  Especially when you visit a stadium that seats 50,000 but only about 35,000 show up! While face-value for Hoosier Football tickets is $70, the secondary market was flooded with cheap seats – and great priced seats with prime locations – like our 38-yard line seats for $32.

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You can clearly see the empty seats throughout the stadium – and the upper rows and corners were completely empty. It’s a shame really.  This team is on the rise with a solid coach, nice stadium, great weather (for the first half anyway) and tons of discounted seats available – including $10 youth tickets!  Why can’t they fill it?

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Penn State got off to a quick start with freshman KJ Hamler providing the spark from the kickoff again. A few plays later and it was 7-0 Penn State.  Anyone who’s watched Penn State this year knows that this hasn’t been their best performing season.  Sure enough, Indiana would respond on their next drive to tie it up. After a couple more punts by Penn State, Franklin opted to run a fake punt but was stopped.  That resulted in another TD for the Hoosiers – 14-7.

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In the 2nd, McSorley broke loose again for another 44-yard scamper followed by Tommy Stevens’ first TD pass of the year to the freshman TE, Pat Freiermuth.  14-14. On the next drive, McSorley connected with Johnson for a 59-yard pass, setting up a 27-yard Pinegar FG.  17-14 Lions at the half!

In the 3rd, the Lions had to settle for yet another FG to make it 20-14 – and that’s when you knew trading FGs for TDs would be a problem – and sure enough, Indiana made them pay by scoring another TD to make it 21-20. Here we go again…

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On the ensuing kickoff, Indiana either tried to kick away from Hamler, or the wind blew it away. Jonathan Thomas took it back 94-yards and stepped out at the 5.  Trace took it in on the next play, but the PAT was blocked. 26-21.

At this point, the wind was out of control.  I’m told there were gusts of up to 50mph – and I believe it.  Between the wind, cooler temps and stadium trash blowing around the empty seats, many more Hoosier fans left the stadium.

The Lions would capitalize again, this time on a turnover due to the wind.  Indiana muffed the punt and Penn State recovered on the Hoosier 32 to set up another score. 33-21 with about 10 minutes to play.  By this time, nearly every Hoosier fan had left. Obviously, they weren’t aware of Penn State’s penchant for giving up late leads.

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Sure enough, the Lions tried to oblige again. They would have two more possessions, but only burn 3 minutes off the clock, giving the Hoosiers enough time to score again with just under a minute to play.  33-28 Penn State.

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Of course, the Hoosiers converted the onside kick and had enough time and one timeout left to pull off the historic upset – in front of only a handful of dedicated fans and a whole bunch of dismayed Lion faithful.  Fortunately, the defense held (well, Indiana’s offense held and pushed them into a 1st-and-20) and Penn State escaped with a 33-28 much-needed road victory.

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Afterward, we met up with our friends Ken and Susan from Scranton for a quick chat before making our way back downtown for dinner and drinks.

Back at Nick’s, it was a different scene.  The place was packed with fans from both sides. We opted for the restaurant side instead of the SRO bar side. The B1G Channel’s Campus Eats program recently highlighted Nick’s for their strombolis, pizza, and “Biz Fries” so we had to give them all a shot.

My mother always said, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, so I’ll just say the Biz Fries were the highlight!

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Yes. That’s a Nick’s Stromboli.

My faith in John Mellencamp now has serious questions…

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After dinner, it was back to Edinburgh in time to watch Purdue close out their upset #2 Ohio State just up the road in West Lafayette.

I will say, Bloomington is an awesome little town. The campus is beautiful and I can only imagine what it will look like dressed up in fall colors.  The fans were incredibly friendly and it was a breeze to get around.  If you haven’t been here for a game, put it on your list – just plan to check out some of the other restaurants in town!

Stop wondering. Start wandering!

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