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How college football turned me into a lifelong traveler

How college football turned me into a lifelong traveler

(CNN) – Nothing in my life has required such spontaneity (and creditworthiness) as constant as the College Football Bowl program.

The call is sometimes a mystery. There is annual discontent, every December, of not knowing where you will be going in the next few weeks. Having to book several hotel rooms in several different cities, having to follow several flights, just in case.

And then there are the disappointments of defeat. One after the other.

I did not go to a “football school”. Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois has always been in the shadow of more athletic colleges like Ohio State, Notre Dame and Alabama.

The Northwestern University Wildcats were nothing more than a striking line until 1995 – the year I graduated. There was no real reason to pay attention to them.

I had just moved to Washington, DC that year and was living in a friend’s house of a friend in Georgetown. My roommates were former students, and since one of them had family members going to the game, we opened the opening game of the Wildcat football season.

The University of Notre Dame Dusty Zeigler Center prepares to hike during the 17-15 Fighting Irish’s defeat against Northwestern University at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Jonathan Daniel / Allsport / Getty Images

The Wildcats were, unsurprisingly, 28-point underdogs, having lost to the Fighting Irish 14 times since 1962. Notre Dame was ranked No. 9 in the country.

It should have been acquired in advance, but about halfway through the first quarter, the Cats recovered a fumble and scored a touchdown. Was Northwestern beating Notre Dame 7-0? As the NBC announcer said, “This score will be reflected in all college football stadiums.”

William Wilde # 20 of the Northwest Wildcats celebrates on the field after the Wildcats defeat the Fighting Irish 17-15.

William Wilde # 20 of the Northwest Wildcats celebrates on the field after the Wildcats defeat the Fighting Irish 17-15.

Jonathan Daniel / Allsport / Getty Images

Fight for victory

Guess what happened after Northwestern’s victory? Well, they just kept winning.

It may not seem like an overwhelming event, but imagine watching something unfold that was totally and completely inconceivable – like the true meaning of the word (not capable of being imagined or mentally grasped; incredible).

It would never have occurred to anyone who had the sad fate to try to support football “Northworstern”, who attended matches at Dyche Stadium and tried to sing the fight song which they did not know the words.

However, it was the start of what was later called a “Cinderella” season. I had become, in less than three hours, an unconditional fanatic from the North West. And as the season was coming to an end, it was also the start of my travel career.

The Rose Bowl

The author and her friend Julie King at the Rose Bowl on New Years Day, 1996.

The author and her friend Julie King at the Rose Bowl on New Years Day, 1996.

Courtesy of Brekke Fletcher / CNN

Northwestern visited the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California that year. We were going to play USC, the power of college football, on New Years Day. The Rose Bowl was one of the most important and revered league games of the college football season, and at that time, for me , it was the Super Bowl.

I grew up in southern California, I even played on the Rose Bowl field (not during a bowl game) as a high school cheerleader. And I was already flying from DC to Santa Barbara to be with my family for Christmas.

But there was a problem.

I had a new job for which I had to return to Washington DC and no vacation day to extend my stay in California on December 26th. And no money.

I had a decision to make: was this game important enough to return to California, four days after returning to work, to watch it in real life? Then return directly across the country?

Of course it was. And luckily, my incredibly generous parents insisted that I do it because it was a “once in a lifetime” experience. They helped me finance the trip and welcomed me and my friends, Laura and Julie.

We went to Pasadena after New Years Eve spent in our shitty hotel, with the pizza delivery boy.

The game itself was the epitome of a nail bite. It took me through a period of emotional intensity that I only felt when I was in love or not. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t look at the field, I couldn’t look away, I screamed hoarse, I cried and laughed and struggled like I was electrocuted. Sometimes it really seemed like we were going to turn the tide of the century through.

We did not do it.

We returned to Santa Barbara in silent misery, listening to the summary on the radio. I cannot describe the combination of pride and joy and overwhelming disappointment. Since then, I have called this sensation “exquisite pain”.

Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson does better:

“I hold it true, whatever it may be;

I feel it, when I suffer the most;

Better to have loved and lost

Than never having loved at all. “

Here we go

Brekke Fletcher Football 2-1

Superfan Andrew Hilsberg with the author in a tailgate before Northwestern defeated Wisconsin in 2003.

Courtesy of Brekke Fletcher / CNN

The following fall, I returned to Chicago to live with my friend, Laura, and the plan was to share the subscriptions.

Looking back, I can hardly believe it: I moved to Chicago for a football team.

I worked a terrible temporary job at a bank to pay the bills. I was filling out documents for a woman who had a broken arm and dominated over me like the horrible boss, Bill Lumbergh, from the movie “Office Space”. I was literally a hired hand.

What a fantastic time at the games, however. We beat Michigan. We beat Wisconsin. Our Cinderella season was no fluke – we went to our second bowl game.

Unfortunately, I was not solvent enough after my fall in Chicago to fly to Orlando for the 1997 bowl game and I would not be busy enough to finance anything for a few years.

Then I moved to New York to realize my dream of becoming a writer and where a conclave of university friends already lived.

Northwest fans gathered in a bar called Blondies on Manhattan’s Upper West Side on Fall Football Saturday – and we cheered and drank and ate and laughed and cried. The exquisite pain of being a supporter of the Wildcats follows wherever you go.

Pride purple

The author holding the sign appeared on ESPN2 at the 2013 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, when Northwestern finally won its first bowl game in 64 years.

The author holding the sign appeared on ESPN2 at the 2013 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, when Northwestern finally won its first bowl game in 64 years.

Courtesy of Brekke Fletcher / CNN

When I finally stopped living paycheck for paycheck, I came back to Evanston every year for a home game. I flew for games at Nebrasksa and Penn State.

I went to the Alamo Bowl in 2008 (lost), the Outback Bowl in 2010 (lost), and ultimately, to the Gator Bowl 2013, Northwestern won its first bowl game since 1949.

I was on ESPN2!

I credit this team for showing me what was possible. That buying a plane ticket and going somewhere at any time could and should be done regularly, even if it doesn’t involve football.

It has not become a big problem. London for the weekend? Yes. Rent a villa in Tuscany for five friends? No problem. A weekend in Cabo? Sure. Take a train, rent a car, book a hotel? Yes Yes Yes.

It matched my desire to focus my editorial career on travel and the luxury lifestyle. And as I made my way from magazine to magazine (most of which are now gone), I would basically go anywhere with anyone. If someone mentioned that they were going on a trip and that I would come, the answer was invariably yes. Conversely, I planned trips and asked friends to come.

People started asking me for recommendations, which hotel or restaurant, which airlines I favored and which credit cards I used. I prepared itineraries for other people’s honeymoons, family trips and some of my own birthday parties in Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Paris.

All adults

David Chalian, former student and political director of CNN, and the author won a Cardiac Cats victory, this time against Nebraska in Lincoln, in November 2011.

David Chalian, former student and political director of CNN, and the author won a Cardiac Cats victory, this time against Nebraska in Lincoln, in November 2011.

Courtesy of Brekke Fletcher / CNN

My trips were mainly self-funded, and I always wanted to align my vocation with my personal passion for travel (if not my obsession for football in the North West). I had a high ranking magazine job, so I could organize trips to talk about it. Usually because it has been cheaper to send me than anyone else.

Then CNN came to call. I finally got my dream job in 2016. I went to Singapore, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada, London and more. Every story and every trip is etched in my brain like a superlative of one kind or another.

But I never stopped following my cats. I travel with a rotating team of fellow Wildcats from across the country. We’ve been cheering for Northwestern in its last three bowl games in Nashville, New York and San Diego.

The big dance

Ryan Hedges (left) and Andrew Hilsberg with the author during the first appearance of Northwestern at March Madness, Salt Lake City, 2017.

Ryan Hedges (left) and Andrew Hilsberg with the author during the first appearance of Northwestern at March Madness, Salt Lake City, 2017.

Courtesy of Brekke Fletcher / CNN

And I would be remiss if I did not mention another inconceivable moment. In 2017, Northwestern made its first appearance at March Madness (the NCAA men’s basketball tournament) in Salt Lake City.

And alongside superfan Wildcat Julia Louis-Dreyfus, we gathered our crew and deployed. We unexpectedly won our first game, followed by a heartbreaking loss, I’m still not quite finished. But it is also one of the best travel experiences I have ever had.

More soon

An anguished common pose of the author, visible during any game in the North West.

An anguished common pose of the author, visible during any game in the North West.

Courtesy of Brekke Fletcher / CNN

However, the list of places I have not been to and want to visit is much longer than the list of places I have visited. I have been walking in the past for several weeks, to think of better days, to smile at my incredible luck and to hope for a better and safer future for all travelers.

And yet each year my favorite thing to do is to organize our trip to the Northwest football games. This year is my 25th college meeting, and 25 years since Notre Dame turned upside down.

If there is a way to travel safely to Evanston for the Nebraska game on October 3, this is where I will be. Anyway, this year I celebrate a quarter of a century of exquisite pain. I would not change anything.

source–>http://rss.cnn.com/~r/rss/edition_travel/~3/5kflrT9cddM/index.html

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