As Texas State went on the road as a 1.5 point underdog, I decided to make the trip in the name of insane seafood eating challenges and catching a game at the Bobcats' former Southland conference and current Sun Belt rival, UL-Monroe. You can read more about my account of taking down the Roux-Ga-Roux seafood monster here.
I drove over to Katy, Texas to meet up with college buddies Jason and Hillary. First stop on the drive to Monroe: The Whataburger in Vidor. Terrible idea. Why? Consider the following:
- Somehow the cashiers make the floors even dirtier while mopping
- Customers complaining about raw chicken sandwiches*
- Knockoff Affliction shirts aplenty
- The men's bathroom straight out of your favorite horror flick
*I, of course, ordered a honey barbeque chicken strip sandwich, prompting flashbacks to the fish from "Airplane!" scene.
On a better note, there was this lovely joint somewhere outside Oakdale, Louisiana:
The most Louisiana gas station I've ever seen pic.twitter.com/mVDcrpkQe1— Will Butler (@THETXSTUniv) October 25, 2014
Then there's of course the drive-through Daiquiri stand that we stopped at. They tape the cups to keep it from being an open container, because Louisiana.
Pumpkin spice latte daiquiri. The Louisiana purchase was just genius. pic.twitter.com/yubS2PugvH— Will Butler (@THETXSTUniv) October 25, 2014
"Damn, this is terrible," exclaimed Hillary (or something to that effect). "It's too sweet."
I got strawberry cheesecake. Hillary was right: the ensuing tidal wave of sugar nearly kept me from finishing the thing. They also put enough liquor in it to knock over a horse, not that I'm complaining.
I'm used to the feeling of cooking myself on the asphalt of the designated tailgating area of Bobcat Stadium's parking lots in the middle of September, which is why ULM's "The Grove" tailgating section was a welcome change of pace. It's a forested spot where you can walk up--or if you own an RV, roll up and park--and set up your tent with minimal hassle.
Apologies for doing Instagram wrong.
Its name may not be the most creative (Ole Miss says hi), and it certainly doesn't hold a candle to an SEC or Big 12 tailgate, but for a Sun Belt destination it's a unique atmosphere. Our group got a few mildly curious looks as we walked around, but seeing as we had three ULM fans with us nobody paid us Bobcats much attention.
By now you know that Texas State pulled out an improbable late comeback victory over ULM, so I'll mainly focus on the gameday experience and Malone Stadium itself.
Malone Stadium's design is unbalanced in that the home stand shoots up so damned high into the sky that you'll throw your back out looking up and trying to find the press box.
The visitors' side is much smaller and is honestly just a stand of metal bleachers and not much else besides a few tiny suites for corporate sponsors. The new HD scoreboard installed in the south end zone is likely the biggest (and nicest) in the 'Belt and the new field turf installed this year looked sharp.
Our hosts, Josh and Stacy, were able to score us passes to the club seat area thanks to Josh's connections to Mike Murphy, a donor and Buffalo Wild Wings owner who knows ULM head coach Todd Berry on a personal basis. The setup was for a few hundred people in the north end zone and a booth served free homemade gumbo and beverages.
Oh, about those beverages: ULM sells beer at Malone Stadium. In the club area, they serve you free beer *and* liquor, the latter of which I noted immediately.
The Warhawks have had an excruciating season as they've endured multiple 2nd half collapses and are 3-6 on the season, so that there were only 14,755 fans in a stadium that could hold 31,000 wasn't surprising. It wasn't the most intimidating game atmosphere as a result, although their fans did their best to get loud on third down.
One thing that was very encouraging to see was the overall lack of LSU gear on the premises. I personally despise the sight of burnt orange at Bobcat Stadium, so it was heartening to see real ULM fans support their own school.
The gameday pageantry was about what you'd see anywhere else: the cheerleaders and marching band doing their thing, dance cams, and the like. That said, their mascot rides around in a tiny plane car, which is amazing:
In case you weren't already aware (like I wasn't) of the connection between ULM and the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter plane, here's a quick primer.
By the third quarter Texas State's offense had completely stalled and were on pace to lose 24-0, so I decided to support my team by drinking more bacardi and coke. I facetiously asked the bartender if he had straight grain alcohol so watching this game could be more palatable. He laughed, took my glass, and told me to let him know when to stop filling my glass with rum. By the time it was 70% full of Bacardi I figured out he really was serious and let him know I was good.
Then as the 4th quarter rolled around Texas State was still down 18-7 and I'd begun to wonder what our postgame plans were. Then the Bobcats came back.
ULM fans: "Welp, this again."
Jason and Hillary: "Holy crap."
Me: "What in the worl-aaaAAAAHHHHHH OH MY GOD TOUCHDOWN" *downs two drinks at once*
We filed out of Malone Stadium as my head swam with a potent combination of alcohol, delirious bewilderment at the Texas State comeback, and the smell of the West Monroe paper mill ("you don't really notice it when you live here!" - Josh). The group eventually ended up at The Fieldhouse, a sports bar just northwest of the ULM campus. Rowdy students screamed at the tv as LSU choked the life out of Ole Miss's national championship hopes and Dr. Bo Wallace botched an operation.
The bartender had come over and asked for my drink. I asked for another rum and coke. She immediately replied "You want a double?"
I did not listen to the wise opera man.
At the end of the night I unsuccessfully tried to skip a puck over the metal barrier which not so subtly shows that you can't play on the shuffleboard table anymore because the bar's closing down and you have to go home. I named that metal barrier David Mayo.
The day after we had to get some food in our stomachs for...um, scientific reasons, so the group set out for Magic Grille for some damned amazing roast beef po boys. I'm not normally much of a proponent of brown gravy, but in this case having it with your po boy is both an absolute must and a godsend after a long night.
Y'all. pic.twitter.com/DHAHnmVbs1— Will Butler (@THETXSTUniv) October 26, 2014
I wish I could've seen ULM back when they were putting fear into the hearts of Arkansas, Auburn, and Baylor with Kolton Browning, because you get the feeling that a game in Monroe with 30,000 people on hand in the Grove would be one hell of a tailgate.
Regardless, the people are friendly, you can find some great food (if not authentic Cajun food) if you know where to look, and you don't have to know where to look to find alcoholic beverages in cheap and bountiful quantities. You can also watch #FunBelt football on the cheap. What's not to like?
Thanks again to Jason and Hillary, my hosts, Courtney, Josh, and Stacy, and Mike Murphy for their fantastic hospitality, the club seating experience, and showing us a great time. I'll definitely go back in two years if I get the chance.