Harry Balzac has been rooting for the Gators ever since Galen Hall patrolled the sidelines and some kid from Pensacola, Florida named Emmitt was chewing up the Astroturf (yes, Astroturf) at Florida Field.
It was at that time that I first met Mr. Balzac. This was pre-OBC, pre-the sweater vest’s heir apparent and probably right around the time Tim Tebow was born.
To this day, Harry and his lovely wife, Mrs. Balzac, continue to faithfully travel to football games around ever-expanding, SEC-country in support of their beloved Gators.
However, it took a recent trip to College Station, Texas to inspire him to write this story. He asked if he could submit it to the Chump and I humbly agreed.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Mr. Harry Balzac.
It all started about three years ago. A friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years hit me up on Facebook and told me he would soon be in Atlanta on business. He was wondering if I was up for having a beer. Or two.
Not one to pass on that sort of thing, I met him at a local watering hole, now since shuttered. After catching up on old times, he told he worked for the bakery that supplied McDonald’s with their sesame seed buns, located in Bryan, TX. I wasn’t familiar with Bryan, but he explained that it’s part of the Bryan/College Station “metro” area.
“Ah, the Aggies,” I said. At that point, he put forth an open invitation to come visit any time. I responded by saying, “Yeah. Just as soon as Texas A&M joins the SEC, we’ll be there.”
Little did I know how prophetic that statement would turn out to be.
As soon as we heard that A&M would be the Gators’ opponent the second week of the season, we made hotel reservations, booked a flight and started scouring the internet for tickets. My father-in-law happens to be a University of Florida professor and was able to get us some through the ticket office.
Upon arrival Friday morning, we were greeted by my friend, Mike, who drove us around College Station on the nickel tour. He repeatedly stated how giddy A&M fans were about joining the SEC, and didn’t even care if they got their asses whooped. I figured they were just happy to stick it to Texas by leaving the Big 12, even if just a little bit.
Then the overly friendly A&M thing started.
He took us by his house and had a gift basket waiting for us. Smoked meats, the local newspaper, mini cupcakes. We thought it was a bit over the top, but this is apparently the norm for those friendly, Texas A&M folks.
He took us to our hotel and said he had dinner reservations for us at one of the best restaurants in town. For what it’s worth, the chef was featured on a series about food trucks on the Food Network.
After an awesome dinner and several bottles of wine (paid for by Mike, of course), he dropped us off at our hotel and offered to pick us up the next morning to tailgate. I told him we had no coolers, to which he replied, “No problem! I’ll just give you one of mine and you can even throw it away afterwards.”
Later that evening, we hit the bars. Spending the weekend in newly-formed SEC country, we felt obligated to do so. Once again, we were dropped off by my friend.
As a Gator fan that has been to every SEC stadium with the exception of Ole Miss (my wife keeps reminding me that she has been to every one including Ole Miss), we were expecting the usual hostilities afforded us by the likes of Vols, Dawgs, Tigers and even Wildcats. Yes, I was even accosted by a guy in a wheelchair once in Lexington. But that’s another story.
Everywhere we went, we were treated with slaps on the back and shouts of “Welcome to College Station!” and “Glad you’re here!” and most of all, “Howdy!”
At around 11:30 that night, we walked over to Kyle Field to experience the Midnight Yell. We ran into an A&M student who told us to follow him. He took us to the upper deck at the 50 yard line. By the way, Kyle Field has a bad, bat infestation. They were flying around everywhere and you could smell the guano. Anyway, he happened to be the former editor of the school newspaper, and gave us the full play-by-play. During the entire pep rally, he explained everything that was happening. We had our own personal tour guide without even asking.
Mike picked us up game day morning and dropped us off at some Gator friend’s tailgate, in the shadow of Kyle, free cooler and all. We took part in the standard pre-game rituals by chatting it up with the locals. We remarked on how genuinely friendly everybody was. “Yup! We’re even nicer than the people in heaven.” True quote.
When we got to our seats, we were in the lower corner, about 20 yards PAST the back line of the end zone, with our view blocked by the end zone bleachers. We left our seats at halftime and wound up sitting in a grassy area behind the end zone bleachers, with our backs to the field looking up at the Jumbotron, a much better view.
After the incredulous Gator victory, we were on our way out of the stadium and found a clear path onto the field, right in front of the Gator band. Since I was full of Jack Daniels and had no fear, I walked onto the field as the team was approaching, ready to sing the Alma Mater.
I stood there amongst the team and sang, “All Hail, Florida, Hail!” (Yes, that’s me in the bottom left corner of the photo). I even got a slap on the back from the Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn; Mike Gillislee was blocking my view. I thought we were violating some SEC policy by going onto the field post-game, but evidently at A&M, they are so friendly, they encourage you to trespass.
After a long day of drinking, football and more drinking, we decided to keep it low key and chill at Mike’s house, reminiscing about our great weekend. The bottom line is that the people of Bryan/College Station are downright friendly, a welcome change to the SEC. However, it might take them only a couple of years to become jaded, especially after a few beat-downs by LSU and Alabama. Mike offered an open invitation to come visit any time.
I thanked him profusely for the hospitality as he drove us to the airport on Sunday. I told him that it would probably be 12 years until we play there again, due to the rotating schedule, but he insisted that we come back.
There’s always basketball season.