Indiana University

Maryland 38 – Indiana 33; Attendance: 41,154

Weather: Sunny, 57; Ticket: $23 Stubhub (Face $40); Parking: $25

“Hoosier Daddy” by Tree

The Logistics:

The University of Indiana is in Bloomington, which is about an hour south of Indianapolis. You may be tempted to take a cheaper flight into Chicago and then drive the “four” hours to the home of Hoosiers. This would be a mistake which we learned the hard way thanks to weekend traffic that stretched our drive to six hours. (Actually, I should have known better, having made a similar mistake going to Champaign to see the Illini play a few years earlier.) Bloomington is classic college town with all the associated benefits of which we experienced little thanks to the above-mentioned drive and the booking of an Airbnb on the outskirts of town. We were a group of five and while some of my companions were very comfortable sleeping on couches or spooning together on a queen bed (some might say “eager”), I was not. I don’t share beds with anyone but my wife these days. That aside, the Airbnb gave us plenty of room to spread out, play cards loudly, and generally act like teenagers. As with any college town on a game weekend, book very early and still expect to pay more than average.

The Site:

It would be difficult to consider Indiana a dominant program. I was told to greatly lower my expectations in regards to tailgating by a friend who had been there to see PSU play IU. He said the lots around the stadium were dead, virtually no tailgating. Fortunately, we had an alum with us who knew the real spot to tailgate was the “Grass Lot.” These spots must be bought in advance, but they are only $25. We secured them a week before the game so relying on snail was risky (yes, for now, still a paper process). Luckily our alum’s daughter is a legacy at IU and picked up the pass for us. Long story short: with a little planning you can secure a great tailgate spot a very short walk from the stadium.

We arrived at the grass lot at 9:30am for a 3:30pm kick because we are pros. This series of lots is a loose collection of parking spots on grass with the occasional small grouping of trees. It is very similar to the golf course tailgating at Michigan and just as good. We set up a generous spot with ample room for cornhole, our grill, tent, etc. With a sunny day in the high 50’s, it doesn’t get better than that. The fans we met were generous to a fault, sharing food and beverages at every turn. Our immediate neighbors were a blast from the Dad’s cooking the sausage and peppers, to the cornhole playing sons (who took their beatings in stride), to the late arriving daughter with sorority sisters in tow. Yep, good times indeed.

When I talked to fans about Indiana traditions, they did admit to the fact that the tailgating may be the best part of IU football. They also tended to say that IU is really a basketball school. While that is true, IU has some traditions. Like many programs, they do a “Walk” of the football team into the stadium and like Clemson, they have a rock that the players touch prior to the game. Hep’s Rock, named after coach Terry Hoeppner, has been in place since his untimely death from brain cancer in 2007. However, the best tradition at IU is the fight song. Maybe it’s because I watched a lot of “Breaking Away” (one of the best sports movies around) when I was a kid, but the Indiana fight song has always stuck with me. Hearing the entire the stadium singing it was cool, and the “Fists and Blades” gesture they make with “I – U” completes the cheer.

Memorial stadium itself is fairly standard in design. There are some interesting sculptures supporting the military outside, but it is pretty much plain vanilla. We bought seats on Stubhub for about $23 during our tailgate and we were around the twenty-yard line, maybe three quarters up. There are video screens on either endzone, although one is decidedly bigger and better. The seats are standard aluminum benches except some areas with built in seatbacks. In any case, portable seat backs can be rented inside the stadium. At a stadium of this size and without constant sell-outs, an affordable, good seat is easy to get. The concessions were fairly standard with nothing unusual to note. The fans are friendly, if not somewhat wary of any on-the-field success of their Hoosiers. They certainly don’t want the team to lose, but the cheering is a bit light because the team tends to disappoint. Their words, not mine. As for attire, this is a Midwest fan base heavy in t-shirts and sweatshirts. Students follow the same dress code except for the jeans being a bit tighter and a bit more ripped up. The IU trademark crème and crimson candy striper overalls are also popular. There was also one group of kids that made their way to the corner of the end zone of the upper deck. They were uniformly spaced out and they all took of their t-shirts, waving them in a coordinated fashion in hopes of firing up the crowd and the team. While not entirely successful, it was a pretty good bit either way. I am not sure it is a tradition yet but it appears this trend started when IU was getting blown out by Rutgers late in the 2021 season. I did catch their same act at another game on ESPN’s College Football Final. That’s something to build on I guess.

The Game:

The Terps came into this game at 4-2 and the Hoosiers were 3 – 3 but on a three game skid. I was hopeful IU would look to right the ship with a competitor that was generally at the same level. The game ended up being just that, a back-and-forth affair until the Hoosiers wilted under the late afternoon sun. It didn’t start out well for the Hoosiers. On the first play from scrimmage, their quarterback threw a pick. It took the Terps all of four plays to score a touchdown from there. IU answered though with a healthy drive that finished with a field goal. After trading punts, Maryland put together a long drive to go up 14 – 3. Still, the Hoosiers hung tough, scoring two touchdowns to go ahead at half-time by three. The Indiana faithful seemed worried though, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It did not take Maryland long to retake the lead in the second half, scoring a touchdown in four plays after a 54 yard kickoff return. Indiana then performed exactly like they did with their first possession which was to throw an immediate interception. It was almost like it was scripted that way. The IU defense at least held the Terps to a field goal. The Hoosiers drove to the Maryland eight yard line, but couldn’t punch it in, and settled for a field goal. The Terps went on a three and out, and Indiana put a nice drive together. Disaster was averted when they recovered their own fumble at the Maryland six yard line and scored a touchdown to go up 27 – 24 over the Terps. On the next drive, Terp QB Taulia Tagovailoa went down with an injury and they had to punt. At this point, one would have thought the Hoosiers were in the driver seat, with the lead and now playing against the second string QB. I looked at my buddy Mike, the Indiana alum, and he said, “Don’t worry, the Hoosiers will find a way to lose.” Indeed. Indiana went three and out, Maryland scored a TD, the Hoosiers then fumbled, Maryland scored again and it was 38 – 27 with two minutes and change to go. Indiana did have a last gasp touchdown, but the onside kick failed. The Hoosiers lost a tough one, but it is hard to win when you have three turnovers. The stadium emptied quickly, particularly since the exodus started in earnest midway through the fourth. For me, it was bittersweet because at least the Hoosiers covered. However, the vibe is always better when the home team wins.

Personal Notes:

This was my annual trip with the Nine O’clock Club, named for their inability to make it past 9pm after a day of tailgating and watching football. The membership may change slightly, but the core group is consistent. As noted, we had a late night of cards on Friday night and a steady stream of sunshine, cornhole and the occasional shot of Jack Daniels ensured this group was true to its moniker, calling it a night by 9pm Saturday. There were many highlights that day, but one sticks out. A member of our crew was celebrating his birthday and got serenaded by a gaggle of sorority girls. Alas, it was clear to me the attention he/we received from this attractive group was one of a paternal nature. With us, it was much more “Hoosier Daddy” versus “Who’s Your Daddy?” We are the safe harbor of tailgates, just happy to eat, drink and be merry. True in all instances except when it comes to cornhole, where we give young pups the beat down on the regular.

In summary, I can’t call Indiana a “must see.” The football program is just too weak for that and Bloomington is not much of a destination and let’s be honest, Indianapolis is not much better. I am not saying they are bad spots, but when was the last time you heard someone exclaim “I’m going to Indy baby!” Maybe for the odd NCAA tournament game, or the Indianapolis 500, but even that doesn’t have the cache it once did. Nonetheless, while there’s reason to avoid flying into O’Hare, there are none when it comes to visiting IU. The tailgating is a blast and top tier. If you add in the cheap, plentiful tickets and some solid traditions, a Hoosier weekend won’t disappoint. Like the fight song says, “Indiana, we’re all for you!”

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