My national championship game day experience

In the fall of 2020, I turned on the TV and observed Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz play the quarterback position better than just about anyone I’ve ever seen at the college level to open up a Big Ten season in late October. Much has changed since then including the return of packed college football stadiums as the Wisconsin Badgers shined in front of a crowd of zero that night in Madison.

Through 28 years of life, I’ve come to realize there is no greater collaboration than college football and its fans, and the only thing that comes close is Double Stuf Oreo’s and milk when executed correctly.

As I watched Mertz throw his fifth touchdown pass to tie the program’s single-game record in an empty Camp Randall Stadium, I said to myself I would try to get to as many college football games as possible whenever fans are allowed back in full capacity.

In 2021, I attended the first college football matchup of the season as well as the last with plenty of game day experiences in between. I went to six games in four stadiums, and my college football tour ended in Indianapolis when the Georgia Bulldogs knocked off the Alabama Crimson Tide in January to win its first national championship game in more than four decades.

This trip brought on plenty of entertaining stories that I thought I’d share here. This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event for me, so I remember everything two months later. It’s a long one, so buckle up as I take you through my game day experience from the 2022 national championship game.

Ticket buying process

I never considered attending this game till about a week before when I saw a tweet about ticket prices starting to drop, which would make a ton of sense. It’s a trip to the Midwest in the winter between two teams from the South, and Alabama fan attendance would probably be low. If an Alabama fan really wanted to attend a national title game, that person would’ve done it already. If an Alabama fan hasn’t attended a national title game yet, that person can probably just till next year.

The declining ticket prices brought this idea to my mind, and the second was the realization that I might not be able to do this again. The national championship has never been in the Midwest in the BCS or College Football Playoff eras, which date back to 1998, and there are currently no plans to bring it back to the area anytime soon.

A little more than 24 hours before kickoff, I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make the trip. Because of the uncertainty and late notice for friends and family who have regular person jobs and are unable to call in the day before a work day, I decided this would be a solo mission.

Ticket prices went up and down by the day and on the Sunday afternoon before the Monday night game, I saw a single ticket posted to StubHub that was about $150 less than the rest of the market. That’s when I pounced and committed to making the trip to Indianapolis for my first ever championship game experience of any major sport.

Did I mention you could use this StubHub link for your next ticket purchase for a concert or sporting event? If I haven’t, here’s that link again. Deceptive Speed will earn a portion of that sale if you do, and I promise to love you forever.

Road trip

I was pretty excited about the next day’s events and of course thinking about anything that could possibly go wrong. What if parking becomes a major issue? The cheap ticket I found is real, right? There’s a 3% chance of snow, but what if that increases to 7% at some point? You know, all the important things to worry about.

I went to bed early to be ready to roll in the morning, which has never worked the day before something like this when sleep is necessary. Naturally, I slept about 4 hours, which is perfect going into a 24-hour window that I originally intended to be driving for half of.

To make the trip a little quicker, I left from Ms. Deceptive Speed’s place in the Madison area to cut 30 minutes off the 5-hour, 45 minute drive to Indianapolis. Wheels hit the pavement at 8:30 the morning of game day, and I was actually looking forward to the drive because I very much enjoy long trips in my car by myself. I listened to just about every podcast that ever existed and did a few trial runs of a podcast idea I intend to start at some point - looking at late 2022, so stay tuned.

I had already fueled up the day before so I didn’t stop till 3 hours later when I arrived at a Starbucks in Crown Point, Indiana to take a break, get a little work done and even place a bet on the game because it’s legal in that state. Also, I don’t know what a caramel macchiato is, but a young relative of mine likes to say it, so I got one of those.

Inside the Starbucks was a guy who appeared to have been there all day working and was decked out in all sorts of Alabama gear. I mentioned to him that I’m on my way to the game as well and asked if he likes the Crimson Tide’s chances. He told me Alabama is going to win in the most serious tones you could ever imagine. The potential for Nick Saban’s seventh national championship with the Crimson Tide is nothing to joke about or take lightly. This is business.

I planned to get gas but once I got back on the highway, I realized I never did that. So I turned right off the highway and after that, the next stop was Indianapolis.

Pregame fiesta

Not finding a place to park is one of my greatest fears in life. Quick parking story I love: I know somebody who drove on a 2-hour day trip with his wife to one of the most scenic, beautiful parts of Wisconsin. After being unable to find a place to park, he turned the car around and drove right back home. This is actually the father of the caramel macchiato girl.

Anyways, my fears were misguided because that was nowhere close to an issue about 5 hours before game time when I found a spot right outside the stadium for 30 bucks, which I was pretty thrilled about.

The first thing I did when I pulled up into the parking spot was call my mom, who was terrified of the thought of a young, 28-year-old child driving to a football game, and couldn’t imagine I’d come out alive to tell about it.

It had to be a quick call because I was in need of a bathroom, and it became an emergency situation. To my surprise, I could not emphasize enough how difficult of a process it was in finding a place to go. With so many people out and about for this big of an event, there should be a porta potty every 10 feet. I asked a security person where to go, and she pointed to a hotel, which I was immediately removed from. In the end, I was kicked out of two hotels and a restaurant before finally going to this massive convention center that was filled with Southern folks who wanted nothing to do with the cold.

I have not come this close to wetting my pants in so many years and to be honest, one of my first thoughts was how funny of a story it would be when I eventually write the article I’m writing now. It’s all about the content, kids. Just like the actual football game, I will always remember relieving myself in a urinal of the Indiana Convention Center bathroom. You can tell how much I enjoyed it considering I just dedicated two paragraphs to it.

Once disaster was averted, I had several hours to do whatever I wanted prior to game time. I have been to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten Championship Game in 2017, so I knew the place to go for the best pregame atmosphere. It’s a big open area with a band playing and people shivering.

“This is why I hate the North. I told you we should’ve never fucking come here,” a Georgia fan said to her daughter in complete disgust for how us Northern folk live our lives.

The Big Ten Championship atmosphere at this exact location was far more energetic, but it had quite a bit of advantages. That one occurred on a Saturday instead of a Monday and was 40 degrees warmer. I enjoyed walking around and seeing so many college football crazies walking around in wacky costumes and outfits. I was told “This weather is probably warm for you,” roughly 700 times as I wore a Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt.

As somebody who spent his entire life living in Wisconsin, I take great pride acting like a tough guy from the North, pretending to not be freezing my ass off even when I’m as miserable as everybody else.

I talked to a ton of people, and it’s crazy how different I sound compared to just about everybody at this game with deep Southern accents. One thing that stood out is how often the word “lick” must be used around Georgia and Alabama because I must’ve heard it in more than half of my conversations.

“If Alabama wins, they won’t even give a lick.”

“I haven’t spent time any in the North - not even for a lick.”

“Nick Saban’s championships don’t matter a lick in this game.”

It reminded me of how creative Europeans are with the word “fancy” at the Ryder Cup last fall.

A funny little moment happened when I bumped into a guy wearing Kentucky Wildcats gear. We both sort of looked at each other like the Spider-Man meme for you kids out there, and we both knew what each other was thinking. We were two neutral observers of this matchup and both understood and said our favorite teams have the exact same percentage chance of getting to the national championship game, which is 0%. The regular season and bowl games are fun, but national titles are not for us.

I bought an overpriced lanyard in the gift shop for a souvenir I could put in my collection of sports stuff, but the best purchase I made came right before entering the stadium. I hadn’t eaten anything all day, and the smoked cheddar jalapeno sausage I purchased for the low price of $10 will be one I remember forever. Outside of that convention center bathroom, that meal was the highlight of my pregame festivities. Now it’s time to get to the game.

In-stadium Pregame

I wasn’t getting a ton accomplished at the pregame tailgate party area, so I thought I’d get inside the stadium early and see if there’s anything interesting going on. Hopefully, I’d come away with some cool pictures of the stadium before it’s completely filled and maybe see some people who are “famous” in the college football world before head up to my section high up at Lucas Oil Stadium.

While standing in line at the gate, fans noticed Laura Rutledge doing a pregame segment outside for ESPN or maybe SEC Network in just a dress, which had to be freezing. I saw the weather report before I left, so I left my dress at home and opted for jeans and a sweatshirt.

I bought a program inside the stadium and then did some walking around to see whatever I could see. I got some close-up photos of the field like I wanted and watched Kirk Herbstreit, Reese Davis and the crew chat some ball.

Close to the College GameDay set was another where Tim Tebow was talking with who I originally thought was Jesse Palmer - college football analyst and now apparently the host of The Bachelor. Then I realized it was Jordan Rodgers. Then I realized how silly I was in thinking Tim Tebow was on the same set as Jesse Palmer because I’m confident in saying that would’ve been the two best looking humans on TV at the same time, making it difficult for viewers to focus on what they’re saying, and I say that as a heterosexual male.

When there was nothing else interesting to be seen, I walked up a ramp that took roughly 3 hours to get to my section, and I talked to an Ohio State fan on the way up. He had already bought tickets for the national championship game assuming the Buckeyes would be there, and his gamble did not pay off. His friends no longer had any interest in going, and he went all himself. Could you imagine making a trip to the national title game all by yourself? Laaaaaame.

The beverage spill

I bought a Powerade and took off my sweatshirt when I got to my seat to unveil my T-shirt that just says “FOOTBALL” on it. I could not have cared less if Georgia or Alabama won and if you have no rooting interest, just root for football.


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I chatted with the humans in my section including two sisters seated behind me who were big Alabama fans but just happened to be living in Indianapolis. A minor mishap occurred when one accidentally spilled a few drops of beer onto my back. It was so little that I never would’ve noticed had I not taken my sweatshirt off. She apologized and we laughed it off.

Then the downpour came.

Roughly 5 minutes after the initial spillage, it happened again but this time, it was full coverage. If she had grabbed her cup filled with beer and slowly poured it down my back, my shirt would’ve had the exact same look. I was completely drenched in ice cold beer 30 minutes before the game.

I’ve seen this happen to others a few times over my sports fandom life, and it generally leads to arguments and anger. Maybe I’m the weird guy and don’t have a confrontational bone in my body, but I never understood that reaction. It’s clearly not an intentional act, and the person who did the spilling probably feels worse about it than anybody. Why make the next few hours awkward by creating a scene especially when it wasn’t done intentionally?

But was it intentional? After all, the SEC hatred of the Big Ten knows no bounds. But she apologized profusely, we laughed and I said something like, “If it happens a third time, I’m going to start thinking this is on purpose.” Her sister mentioned maybe I should move a seat over to sit in front of her instead of the other who keeps pouring beer on me, which I considered doing just to be funny.

Three minutes later, the other sister spilled her entire beer all over the unoccupied seat next to me.

I really wish I would’ve moved because if I had, I would’ve been one of the first humans in sports fan history to have two full cups of beer poured on him. It would’ve made this story even better and I was already soaked, so what’s one more?

To put an end on this beverage spilling story, I nearly put myself in the same position the two sisters did. After a quick swig of my blue Powerade, I went to put it down in the cup holder attached the seat in front of me. The cup holder was at such an awkward angle that I ended up dropping the bottle onto the fella in front of me. My Powerade obviously had a cap on it but if I had purchased any beverage in a cup, I would’ve dumped it all over him.

This is clearly a Lucas Oil Stadium problem and needs to be fixed for the next time it hosts a championship game.

The Game

We are nearing 2,500 words and I haven’t even mentioned anything about the game. I never considered the actual game being boring, but that’s exactly where I thought we were headed till late in the third quarter. For the first 43 minutes of game time, zero touchdowns were scored. Both teams would move the ball down the field until until getting close where they’d either make or miss a field goal.

But the fourth quarter was a blast.

The score remained 9-6 for what felt like forever before Georgia running back Zamir White found the end zone late in the third quarter for the first touchdown of the game, and that’s when SEC football fans came alive. There were plenty of Alabama supporters in attendance, but there was a clear Georgia advantage as the Bulldogs played for their first championship since 1980 despite being so close in recent years.

From then on, the crowd was into it on every snap, and teams could not stop scoring. After Georgia took a 26-18 lead, Alabama came right back on its next drive and was in Bulldogs territory when Kelee Ringo picked off a Bryce Young pass and took it 79 yards to the end zone. The place went nuts, and I just got goosebumps thinking back as I write this because it was so loud as Georgia fans knew their team just took down the giant and were about to be national champions.

I was thrilled too because I thought I might have a realistic shot at winning my bet now. The over/under was at 52.5, and I liked the over. The Georgia touchdown and extra point gave the Bulldogs a 33-18 lead, so I just needed 1.5 more points to be scored for my bet to be a winner. The way Alabama had been moving the ball in the fourth quarter, I knew this had a shot in the final drive with less than a minute to play.

When fans around me would ask who I’m rooting for, I’d just say “points” and explain that I bet on the over. Once it was clear Georgia was going to win, I had a crew of about 20 people in my area rooting for my bet to cash and looking for my reaction after every play, which is about as fun as it gets in sports betting.

Just like I thought, the Crimson Tide started their final drive hot, and it took just three passes to cross midfield, and there was enough time left that one more touchdown was realistic. But that’s as far as they got with three of the next four plays resulting in a sack to end the game.

The bet fell 1.5 points short in a game that featured two missed 2-point conversions and a blocked field goal. Alabama’s top wide receiver Jameson Williams tore his ACL early in the game, and a national championship record was set with five field goals in the first half. Just like every bet I’ve ever lost, I should’ve won and it’s an injustice that I didn’t.

Postgame Mayhem

My betting disappointment ended quickly because I was there to see a national championship game, which very could be the only one I ever attend, and take in the entire atmosphere that is a big-time college football game.

Once the game officially ended, I cannot emphasize enough how much joy there was among the Georgia faithful, and I’ve never seen anything like it. The amount of tears in grown men I witnessed that night proved once again that college football is the greatest sport going. I can still remember some of the quotes from fans in their deep southern accents. I don’t know how to type an accent, but read them with a Southern accent in mind.

“My granddaddy went to Georgia. He’s smilin’ from heaven right now. He’s smilin’ from heaven, I guarantee ya.”

As I walked toward the escalator, a guy grabbed me and said he loved my green and gold Georgia hat. I was wearing a Green Bay Packers winter hat ready to go out into the cold, which is the same logo as Georgia in different colors. Then he hit me with one of the deepest, most heartfelt few sentences I’ve ever heard from a 60-year-old man, eyes filled with tears. Again, read it with a Southern accent.

“I can’t tell ya how much we’ve been yearning for this day. This team, man…this one runs deep for us, deep inside our souls. Forty years, we’ve waited for this. Forty years. It just means so much to me. Ma would’ve loved to see it.”

He finished this speech by giving me about as big of a bear hug humanly possible, and he held that hug for an extremely long time. We were on the escalator by this point, and there was a good distance between the two of us and everybody else, so picture two grown men who don’t know each other hugging by themselves on the slow ride down an escalator. College football, folks. And probably alcohol, folks.

For as much joy as there was inside the stadium, outside was chaos. I’ve never heard so many police and ambulance sirens. I saw one boy probably about 15 years old being wheeled into an ambulance on a cot as he and his mom screamed at each other. Mayhem outside Lucas Oil Stadium.

I didn’t love the behavior toward security guards with one guy in charge of a large crowd of people, most of which were drunk and yelling at him with nobody listening to what he said, and that led to emergency vehicles being unable to get through.

With the driving, not wanting a headache or to be tired, I didn’t drink any alcohol during my time in Indianapolis and y that point, I was among the few sobers in a sea of intoxicateds.

The rest of the walk featured pro-Georgia chants and every Bulldogs fan honking their horns as they left the area, celebrating a night they’ll never forget.

Headed home

God bless ya if you’ve made it this far because we’re closing in the 3,500-word mark and several hours of writing this article makes me realize I should’ve just written a book. We’re almost done, I promise.

I got to my car around 12:30 a.m. without much of a plan for my travels. I figured if I was alert enough aided by the Mountain Dew Kickstart I had purchased, I could just drive through the night and get back to Madison around 5:00 a.m. with the time zone change.

I said I’d drive until my eyes started to hurt, and that didn’t take long especially since I hadn’t slept much the previous night. Remember when you read about that an hour ago?

I made it about 2 hours before pulling in to a Super 8 in Remington, Indiana where I slept like a baby. After a hotel continental breakfast the next morning, the final leg of the trip was largely uneventful as I returned to Madison sometime in the afternoon and wrote down a few notes to include in this article whenever I decide to publish it.

From nearly wetting my pants for the first time since Mrs. Sweet’s first grade class to the Bud Light showers and an escalator embrace, the 2022 national championship game is another reminder of how fantastic an event college football games are, and there’s no other sport like it.

This will always be one of the most memorable days of my life with so many entertaining stories that came out of it, and I thank you for taking the time to read all about my game day experience at the national championship game.

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