30 Years of Sports Travel
Updated: Jan 18
Ever since I attended my first professional sports game - as a wide-eyed 8-year old fan in 1990 with my dad - I've been enamored with live sports. Pro, Minor League, College, doesn't matter. I just love the atmosphere of a good game, no matter the sport.
While I must admit, I'm not one of those people who travels specifically to see games (though I do think that's a very cool hobby!), I've been to a fair few in my day: primarily teams in the Boston and Cincinnati areas, where I've spent the most time over the years. I've been to the occasional game in other regions too.
With few exceptions, I've kept very good records of games/events attended, allowing me to look back with my usual love of dates and say "It was 23 years ago that I..."
DISCLAIMER: this post is more about sports and general nostalgia than my usual descriptions of meaningful travel experiences. If you're cool with that, read on. Don't say I didn't warn you ;-)
DISCLAIMER #2: After starting to write about this stuff, I realized the post got too long and that I still wasn't finished. Guess I can't contain 30 years worth of experiences in a 5-minute read! In other words, there will be a Part II...
DISCLAIMER #3: For some reason I have no photos or ticket stubs of the NFL games I attended pre-1998. You'll just have to take my word for it that I was there. Besides, if I wanted to tell tall tales about epic game experiences, wouldn't I make up something better than late-season contests between losing teams?
Ah yes, American football. My first favorite sport. Growing up, my family visited Cincinnati every December, where, lo and behold, the Bengals usually had a home game during week 16. With few exceptions, they were meaningless affairs, the team having stunk its way to a 2-win season to that point. Of course, this didn't matter to me whatsoever, as I got to see players I idolized on TV or in my beloved football card collection. Also, tickets were affordable!
My first NFL experience was a miserable day weather-wise, as dad and I sat getting drenched in matching orange ponchos, 42-degree winds whipping about us. The result, however, was far more favorable, as the Bengals overcame the rival Browns, 21-14, to finish the season 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs. The following Sunday, January 6, 1991, the Bengals shellacked the Houston Oilers in the playoffs, 41-14. To this day, it was their last playoff win. (*Until this past weekend... what a victory, 31 years in the making!*)
1993 was a big year for me sports-wise, as I attended my first - and to this day, only(!) - Patriots game, despite watching them on TV every single weekend. It was their very first year with the "Flying Elvis" logo you still see today. It was Drew Bledsoe's rookie season. Also, they stunk. The game itself wasn't ideal either, as they took a 13-10 loss to the Bills. At least I got to see NFL legend Jim Kelly throw for 317 yards and Thurman Thomas run for 111 in a season that saw the Bills get to (and lose) their fourth straight Super Bowl. Looking back, the fact that the 1-7 Patriots took a future Super Bowl team to OT and kept it that close was pretty amazing.
Less than two months later, we saw the Bengals beat the Deion Sanders-led Falcons, 21-17. Prime Time didn't exactly light up the field, but I'm guessing his bling could be seen shining, all the way from the nosebleeds.
The following year, my third Bengals game saw the most exciting ending to any contest I'd ever been to. Down 30-20 in the 4th quarter, QB Jeff Blake led Cincinnati to a thrilling comeback that culminated in tying the game with 7 seconds left. The Eagles fumbled the final kickoff and, improbably, the Bengals recovered with 3 ticks on the clock. Kicker Doug Pelfrey nailed a 54-yard field goal as time expired to give Cincinnati a 33-30 victory. Of the nearly 40,000 who attended the game, there couldn't have been 10,000 left in the stadium, but the crowd roared. I was in football heaven!
The next two summers, we switched from regular-season Bengals games to preseason. In August of '95, Dad, Evan, and I made the two-hour drive to Indianapolis to see the Bengals play the Colts on the road. As you can imagine, visiting a new city (which remained the farthest west I'd ever been until 2008) AND going to a game was probably one of the greatest moments of my life to that point. Neither our horrendous seats (6 rows from the roof of the RCA Dome) nor a Bengals loss could dampen my excitement.
The following summer we saw another Bengals-Colts preseason game, this time back in Cincinnati. For whatever reason we took '97 off before attending what is, to this day, my last NFL regular season game. On December 27, 1998, we watched in horror as the Tampa Bay Bucs - those of Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott, and Ronde Barber - completely dismantled the Bengals, 35-0. I guess it was karma after seeing so many rare Bengals victories over the years.
Four years later, almost to the day, Riverfront Stadium/Cinergy Field was imploded on live TV. Between baseball and football I had been to at least 10 games in the stadium, and it was a bittersweet moment for sure. Say what you will about it being a cookie-cutter venue, I had some incredible childhood memories there.
Fast forward to August 2017, and we were visiting Cincinnati yet again, this time for my grandfather's 90th birthday. The Kansas City Chiefs happened to be in town for a preseason game, and I set foot in Paul Brown Stadium for the first time, 17 years after it opened. The game itself was another putrid affair, the Bengals losing by a 30-12 margin. We did, however, get to see Patrick Mahomes play in the incredibly brief time he was in the NFL before becoming famous.
To summarize, my football travels have been limited to 4 stadiums in 3 cities - amazingly, three of the venues have now been demolished. The record of the team or result of the game hardly mattered over the years though, as to some degree I enjoyed every game attended, making excellent memories that have lasted this long!
I have been to several college games as well, but never outside of a 100-mile bubble of home. Boston College is, in fact, the only Division I team I've ever seen play- several times in the 90s and most recently in 2012.
While I've never been as big a baseball fan as I have of football, I've actually been to more games at more stadiums. This is largely because the number of games in a MLB season is 10 times that of the NFL, which of course makes the tickets more affordable.
I've seen the Red Sox play at Fenway a handful of times, though oddly enough not since a game with the college roommates way back in April 2002. The Reds, on the other hand, are who I consider my favorite team, despite having limited success in the last 30 years. According to my records, I have been to a dozen games in my life, and I have a feeling the number is even higher due to some lost ticket stubs from the mid-90s.
I've also been to three other MLB stadiums with my great college buddy Mark, all within the span of two summers. We saw the Yankees defeat the Mariners in the Bronx in August 2010, a game that was notable for several reasons.
The M's Russell Branyan hit what was then the longest home run in the stadium's short history; Ichiro had a rare two-homer game; and Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in MLB history, trotted in from the outfield to Metallica's Enter Sandman, which roused not only thunderous applause, but also goosebumps at seeing a legend in action.
The following summer we hit a Baltimore Orioles game in Camden Yards (past-peak Vlad Guerrero anyone?), a fantastic place for a ballgame. I had actually been to Camden Yards a few years prior on a crazy, spur-of-the-moment decision on a college day trip from New Hampshire - but that's another story.
Finally, that September, we caught a Mets game at the new Citi Field in wonderfully-named Flushing, NY. I must say that after the Orioles game, this venue was a disappointment. Modern, but in a sterile, lacking-character way. The game itself was great, but the stadium impressed me less than any other I've been to.
While I haven't attended games in them, I have been on tours of two other stadiums, both named after beers: Busch Stadium in St. Louis (2015), and Coors Field in Denver (2019). I incorporated both as part of work-related trips to these fine cities, and neither disappointed. I love when venues are within walking distance of cool downtowns, and learning about the history of storied franchises always intrigues me as well.
So those are my MLB travels. But wait! What about minor league games? Well, glad you asked. I've seen my hometown AA NH Fisher Cats over a dozen times since 2010, but that's hardly travel now, is it?
I've also been to games in four other states:
Rhode Island (AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, 1999 & 2001)
Kentucky (AAA Louisville RiverBats, 2001)
Delaware (Class-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, 2007)
New York (Class-A Hudson Valley Renegades, 2010)
In an ideal world would I like to travel to see more stadiums/games? Of course. However, I've entered the "realistic" years of my life. Not saying I don't still dream big, because I do. Maybe in 2022 I'll be able to hit a new stadium or two... doesn't even matter what sport. My regular-season NFL drought stands at 24 seasons in 2022, and despite my many MLB games, that drought is up to 7 years. Call me a curmudgeon, but I simply don't enjoy a game as much when I'm paying $100 to sit in the nosebleeds. Find me a $25-35 seat and I'll be happy as a clam...