Sometimes a bucket list item isn’t a place, it’s an event. That’s how it was for Craig. Actually, it was two specific events all wrapped up together; the United States Men’s National Soccer Team in a World Cup Qualifying game and the American Outlaws’ march into the stadium. This blog post will be written solely by Craig about his recent guys weekend.
Ok, so it wasn’t actually a weekend, it was Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. But it will always be known as Guys Weekend. Fight me.
I’m A Nerd
So anyone that knows me knows that I’m a nerd. I’m the guy that wears a team jersey to watch my favorite teams on the tv. I jump and cheer and shout from my couch like I’m in a stadium watching. And I always talk about being there in person to see iconic moments. But I’ve never been to a soccer match.
My love of soccer has been a slow progression over the past decade or two. It started with me following the US Women’s National Team, then the men’s team, and now one of my favorite parts of the weekend is watching Premier League soccer on tv while drinking coffee early on Saturday morning. (Come on you Irons!)
I also join fan groups. One of the best is the American Outlaws. This is the group that supports the US Women’s and Men’s National Teams. I’ve been a member of this group for four or five years. (On a side note, the t-shirts that come every year from this group are the most comfortable t-shirts I’ve ever owned.) One of the benefits of being a member of the American Outlaws is that you get preferential treatment when tickets go on sale for matches.
Tickets for a World Cup Qualifyer are hard to come by. It was a weighted draw for tickets, meaning essentially it is a lottery system with 20% of tickets being sold at each draw. I entered all of my information and then waited for a week as patiently as I could. Finally, the email came in; Congratulations, your ticket order was fulfilled! I was pumped!!
Jen and I quickly decided this should be a guys weekend. So I contacted my brothers George and Big Cat (sorry ladies, he’s taken, but you can follow him on OnlyFans) and said “I’ve got an idea for a brother’s weekend.” The instant replies were “I’m in” and “I’m game.” I contacted my buddy Sean and he said “I’m definitely going!”
Big Cat’s real name is Brian, but nobody calls him that. His nickname has been Big Cat since he was a couple of years old. We use his nickname so often that our nieces didn’t know his real name until they were 6 or 7 years old. In our group chat that we started specifically for this trip, we told Sean that if he used Big Cat’s given name that George and I would laugh at him and pick on him relentlessly. So it’s Big Cat.
Heading to Columbus, Ohio
The game was in Columbus, Ohio at the end of January. Outdoor soccer…. in the heart of winter…… in Ohio….. Needless to say, it was going to be cold. So we all bought tons of handwarmers and warm outdoor clothes. And we loaded up on anything red, white and blue.
Big Cat and I left home at 4:45 AM on Wednesday. We picked up Sean a few minutes later and we were on our way. I’m a bit of a control freak, so I didn’t let anyone else drive. Mostly, I hate it when someone moves my seat. Am I alone in this? It takes me two weeks of constant fidgeting to get my seat back to a comfortable position again if it gets moved. (Side note; why does every mechanic on the planet need to move my seat in order to change the oil? Up, down, tilted, laying flat. It’s ridiculous.)
George wouldn’t be leaving from Virginia until 8:30 or 9:00, but we didn’t want him to miss out on any of the festivities, so we made sure to call and text him bright and early to make sure he was awake. We are thoughtful like that…..
The drive was pretty smooth, right up until we hit the Pennsylvania line. Apparently that area got blasted with snow overnight and traffic ground to a halt. We were directed off of the highway due to an accident, so we had a side adventure along back country roads. All of a sudden we are stopped again. Traffic coming the other way were waving at all of us to turn around.
Big Cat is a good co-pilot. Before we knew it, he was on his phone, finding us another route. We turned around in search of a second alternate route. We turned down a road that had over a foot of snow on it. It was pretty close to a goat path, actually. It felt like a scene from Deliverance, but with snow. Sure, why not? After a couple of scary moments, we emerged at an on-ramp onto the highway. Inexplicably, traffic was backed up on this ramp also because of a second car accident. We were delayed by 40 minutes or so, but were then back on our way to guys weekend.
Staying in Columbus
We arrived in Columbus around 3:30, 15 minutes behind George. Our timing was almost perfect. We stayed at the Sheraton Columbus Hotel at Capital Square. This was a nice hotel. The location is great, right across from the capital building. There’s a Starbucks on site, along with a few trendy stores. There’s even a shoe repair shop!
Check-in was simple and the staff was friendly and helpful. For this hotel, you have to drive around the block to park in a parking garage. It is connected to the hotel through a series of elevators. Parking was a bit expensive but totally worth it for the convenience.
The room was large, which was a good thing with the four of us packed in there. Two full beds, a large couch, a nice desk, refrigerator, large tv, and a very large bathroom. The hotel was relatively quiet, except for the two ladies that had an extremely loud and intense argument late on Wednesday night in the room next door to us. The only thing missing was the popcorn, because halfway through our conversation stopped; we were invested at this point. When things finally quieted down we discussed the merits of their arguments. It felt like the right thing to do.
The AO Night Before Party
One of the membership benefits of American Outlaws, and one of the highlights of guys weekend, is entrance to the exclusive AO Night Before Party hosted by the local chapter. For the Columbus match, that party was at Land-Grant Brewing Company. If you ever find yourself in Columbus, stop by this unique place. After a successful Kickstarter campaign and lots of blood, sweat and tears, they opened their doors in 2014.
The historic building is home to their brewing operations, tap-room and beer-garden. They have beer garden igloos if you are looking for a unique outdoor experience, and they host brewery curling, using kegs as the stones. There are also multiple food trucks on site offering differing fares. There are a few non-alcoholic options available also. This is truly a unique destination, and one that I want to get back to.
“You Tie Your Shoes Aggressively”
On any guys weekend, it’s safe to say that there will be a large amount of good-natured ribbing going on. For us, it started a couple of weeks before the weekend in our group text and only increased from there.
One of the things that was pointed out to me is that I tie my shoes aggressively. What does that even mean? Lol. I actually get told that a lot. “Why are you so mad pounding on the keyboard?!” I’m not mad, I’m just typing an email. This is how I type. “Why are you pounding on the stove? What’s the matter?!” Nothing’s the matter, I’m just setting the timer. Apparently I’m just aggressive. Suffice to say that I heard about my irregular shoe-tying for the rest of the trip.
“This Is The Most Adult Conversation I’ve Ever Had”
Without a doubt, the best part about the trip was the conversations we had. We talked about everything: kids growing up, the joys and struggles of fatherhood, changing careers, crypto-currency, investment strategies, sobriety, how much the Leaf’s suck (it was 3-1!), how good Virginia Tech will be under the new coach LET’S GO HOKIES! One of us even commented that this is the most adult conversation I’ve ever had! I think we could all relate.
It was the conversations that I will cherish. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll always remember how we made fun of George for being a frozen icicle while being up north, Sean for bringing his man-sized cuddle pillow, and Big Cat for losing every single game of shotgun and having to ride in the backseat the whole way, but it’s the conversations I will think back on the most. It’s nice to build those connections with other men; picking on each other, listening to and learning from each other, and screaming our hearts out at a sporting event. What a great bonding weekend.
Game day of guys weekend started with me telling everyone how loudly they snore, because obviously. We had a very nice, if overpriced breakfast at The Plaza Restaurant, located in our hotel. I then took a second interview phone call for a new job opportunity from the bathroom of a hotel in Ohio. Life is strange sometimes.
We then moved on to the tailgate party at Brothers Bar and Grill. Such a fitting name for the tailgate party on our trip! This was a great hangout spot. They offer pub food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and seemed to be the go-to place for Ohio State football fans. We decided not to hold it against the establishment. LET’S GO HOKIES!
It was time for another highlight; the American Outlaws’ march to the stadium. I’ve wanted to do this for as long as I have been a member of this group. A few hundred people, all of us dressed up in red, white and blue, overtook the sidewalk in Columbus, heading to the stadium. It was almost a mile long walk, with all of us singing and chanting the entire way. Drums beating. Flags waving. Scarves held high. I didn’t stop smiling once.
A small group of El Salvador fans started chanting on the other side of the street as we were marching, so we all turned the volume up another notch or two. What else would you expect on guys weekend?
Lower.com Field is the perfect place to watch a soccer match. It is home to the Columbus Crew of the MLS. There’s not a bad seat in the place. They have a large souvenir shop, plenty of concessions and the in-game entertainment was great.
Our seats were amazing! Four rows from the field, just to the left of the goal. We sat in the special American Outlaw supporter section. There was drumming and chanting the entire time. It was non-stop. We wondered how we would like the constant chanting and drumming; wondered if it would be a distraction. It was not! It was so much fun. I loved being in the middle of it. Kudos to the American Outlaws for bringing the noise!
For the first half of the game, the USA was shooting at the other end of the field. It was a back and forth half, with neither team scoring. You could feel the tension in the crowd as the second half started. The US was outplaying El Salvador, but couldn’t get that elusive goal.
One thing I love about the American Outlaws is the chanting. If you go to their website, you can learn the words and beat to each chant. One chant that didn’t make the website, for obvious reasons, is below. It’s set to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy.
“Come on US score a goal, it’s really really simple. Put the ball into the net and we’ll go effing mental!”
So this chant starts about five minutes into the second half. The US is shooting at the net right near us. Weston McKennie makes a long pass down the side of the field to Timothy Weah. Weah makes a move around one defender and takes a shot at the net. The goalie makes an incredible save. The ball gets headed around the box and comes down right in front of Antonee Robinson. Robinson strikes it into the bottom right corner. It looked like the ball was coming right at us!
We went effing mental.
“I Think I Blacked Out”
Instant bedlam. I remember the incredible roar of the crowd as we all began celebrating. I was screaming and jumping up and down like I was on a pogo stick. Our entire section was high-fiving and hugging and slapping each other on the back. And we didn’t stop screaming. The lights in the stadium were flashing, music was blasting from the speakers, and did I mention the screaming?
At one point, Sean said to me, “I think I blacked out.” I can relate, because all I remember is the goal and jumping. Five minutes after the goal I could barely talk from all the screaming that I did.
It was a moment that I will never forget. The complete elation felt at that moment was everything I hope it would be. To share it with my brothers and Sean was icing on the cake.
We Made It On TV!
Two minutes after the goal is scored, my phone starts going crazy. People that were watching the game on tv started messaging me. Sean’s wife Lauren was watching and taped the game. She sent some still shots of the four of us from the national TV broadcast!
My wife Jen also recorded the game. I’ve watched the replay of the goal about 100 times. That’s not an exaggeration. Ask my wife. But I’ve been able to watch it in slow motion and pinpoint the four of us to see our reactions. Such a great experience!
The Trip Home
The trip home was uneventful. We said goodbye to George the following morning, stopped for coffee and bagels, and headed out on the road. Halfway home, I even let Sean drive. (with a stern warning not to move my seat!)
The trip, and our experience with the American Outlaws, was everything I wanted it to be. Thank you, George, Big Cat and Sean. I loved every minute of Guys Weekend.