After the worst six month stretch of any sports fan’s life, college football finally made its way back. The offseason was dominated by “will they, won’t they” talk ultimately capped off with the Big Ten, Pac-12, MAC, and Mountain West taking the “won’t they” route and the rest proceeding with their seasons, albeit at different times. Fortunately for me, a new Fort Worth resident, all the area colleges were having a season with varying degrees of fan attendance.
Full disclaimer: I take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously; I’ve covered it in my full-time job since its December start in Wuhan and I did take a bit of convincing when it got here to the US. It really sunk in when the NBA called their season and from then on, I knew we were in for it. However, I do believe in the effectiveness of social distancing with masks outside and the extremely low possibility of contracting said virus should you follow all of the guidelines. Weighing those options, I understand the risk of going to a football game and realized it was one I wanted to take. Leave your angry opinions elsewhere.
The most surprising effect of this pandemic on college football, to me anyway, is the egregious price gouging going on with third-party and resale websites. Considering a simple supply-and-demand model, though, it’s easy to see why standard tickets for Houston Baptist at UNT could jump into the $60-range and above. I cut my losses with a $30 ticket (plus $10 in fees, woohoo). Under any other circumstances, I would consider $30 for UNT against an FCS team a total ripoff.
Half a dozen hours before kickoff, I bought the ticket and decided to head just 25 minutes up the road to Denton for another go at Apogee Stadium. The last visit was the second-to-last addition to the total back in 2018, coupled with a game the following night at SMU. The experience was really fun– I hosted a tailgate with a friend (developer and founder of Tailgate Nation, a longstanding business parter of Road to CFB), got to see some serious talent on the field (UNT QB Mason Fine and now Bills RB Devin Singletary), plus an awesome coaching matchup between up-and-comer Seth Littrell and the infamous Lane Kiffin. I didn’t even mind the late-November chill.
This time, it was Labor Day weekend in north Texas and I lucked out with some milder weather by Texas standards (about 90º). The second I parked my car and began walking toward the i-35 pedestrian overpass that connects Apogee Stadium to public lots, Texas decided it was time for a watering. The forecast called for no rain all weekend, so I thought this would be a passing sprinkle. One thing to know about Texas rain– there’s no such thing as a passing sprinkle. And so the downpour began, soaking my shirt, my hat, and my shoes through.
Frustrated as all hell, I forewent the campus and stadium sightseeing (again) and took refuge behind a wall that blocked the blowing rain. Eventually, I made a dash for the gates and attempted to dry off under the stands of Apogee Stadium. However, rain wasn’t about to dampen my excitement to be at a college football game– something I never thought would happen in 2020.
This was a first for me: wearing the Road to CFB shirt, I was approached by someone who follows along on social media (Twitter, in this case). It turned out to be a fellow college football traveler– Micah– who was adding his 93rd stadium that day. We’d followed each other’s travels for quite some time and meeting another college football traveler was really cool. At least I didn’t have to watch the game alone. Coincidentally, we ran into another fan who had completed the 130-FBS journey at the game and we had to get a socially distanced photo.
Apogee Stadium opened in 2011, making it one of the newer stadiums in the country, and is one of the best Group of Five venues in my opinion. It checks all the boxes– cleanliness, accessibility (anyone who’s driven north of the DFW metro on i-35 has seen it), seating (there’s exactly zero seats with a bad view), and it’s memorable. The north end zone stands are build like an eagle’s tail and win the award for most unique design in all of college football. The very tips of the stands can put you as far away from the action as Kyle Field’s upper deck, but trade a close encounter for a gorgeous view of the Texas landscape and, if you’re lucky enough, a Texas sunset.
We spent most of our time watching the game from various back rows, which is close enough to really see all the action but also high enough up to see developing plays and both ends of the field. There was a specific fourth down in the second quarter which UNT converted with a mid-yardage run (between like five and eight yards). However, the game was still close and the conversion got the crowd going. For the first time since February, I heard the roar of a crowd. It sent chills right down my spine and put a smile on my face. If nothing else, that was worth the price of admission.
Fortunately, that wasn’t all that made the price of admission worth it. In this game, we were gifted:
- 88 combined points
- 1,290 combined yards (Road to CFB record)
- Scoring plays of 33, 32, 37, 35, 47, 71, and 38 yards
- A 50-yard field goal by HBU & a near 51- yard miss
- A one-handed TD catch (ultimately blown “incomplete”)
- The most ridiculous one-handed, diving backward interception I’ve ever seen
College football was back. After all the hell the world had been through in 2020 (and was still going through), college football made it. I don’t know if it’ll make it through the whole season. I don’t know if 2021 will be a magic reset button that erases all the bad 2020 brought us. But for three and a half hours, I was able to escape it all and enjoy the game I love. In the most unexpected way, that Houston Baptist-UNT game turned into one of the most profound games of my life. Mark it up there with the game that started Road to CFB and my love for college football.
Location: Apogee Stadium. Denton, TX.
Score: Houston Baptist 31, UNT 57
Attendance: N/A– capped at 25%
Weather: 78º and pleasant