After missing out on games during the 2020 season, it was great to get back on the road and back to games. Between seeing some natural wonders between Niagara Falls and Hanging Rock State Park and eating a variety food it was a great year of trips. Already looking forward to the 2022 games!
Thank you to everyone that has provided support and interacted with me through this site and through social media this year. It’s amazing to see people enjoying my trips as I go through them. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the best from 2021.
Top 5 Games of 2021
5. Temple at Tulsa – Tulsa 44 Temple 10
Neither team had a great record going into this game but, if you looked beyond the records, you could tell this one would probably be pretty lopsided. Tulsa’s schedule included competitive losses to Oklahoma State, Ohio State, and Cincinnati. On the other side, Temple had lost their previous 5 games by an average of over 36 points per game.
The scoring for Tulsa came early and often, scoring on their first four possessions of the game (2 TDs, 2 FGs) and a 20-0 lead. They would score again in the last minute to take a 27-0 lead into the half and the rout was on.
Temple did find the end zone once in the third quarter to get to 34-10, but they would not score again the rest of the way.
Tulsa’s offensive attack was balanced. They finished with 226 yards rushing and 297 yards passing. Three different players finished with over 50 yards on the ground and Josh Johnson finished with 9 catches for 159 yards and 1 touchdown.
Final score: Tulsa 44 – Temple 10.
4. Florida Atlantic at Charlotte – Florida Atlantic 38 Charlotte 9
Charlotte was undefeated in Conference USA play and playing at home so I gave them the edge in this one.
For the second time in three games I attended, the first half of this game was sloppy. Charlotte missed a field goal on their first possession only to get the ball right back on a Florida Atlantic fumble. Charlotte took advantage by making their next field goal attempt to lead 3-0 after the first quarter.
The second quarter had a little more scoring as the Owls scored a touchdown on their second possession on a 12 play drive down the field. Charlotte was able to bounce back on the last possession of the half scoring a touchdown to take a 9-7 lead into the half after a missed extra point. It looked like we were in store for an exciting game.
Unfortunately, the 49ers decided not to show up for the second half. Florida Atlantic just came full throttle and dominated the second half from start to finish. Quarterback N’kosi Perry, a Miami transfer, attempted only 11 passes but ended up with 225 yards and 3 touchdowns. On the flip side they shut down the Charlotte offense finishing with under 100 yards in the second half. Florida Atlantic scored the last 31 points of the game to make it a blowout.
Final score: Florida Atlantic 38-Charlotte 9.
3. Duke at Wake Forest – #13 Wake Forest 45 Duke 7
Wake Forest was definitely the biggest surprise of the 2021 season through the first half. They became the first Wake Forest team that started at 7-0 since the 1940s. Duke on the other hand was struggling during the season. You would expect Wake Forest to come out and dominate this game and that is exactly what they did.
The scoring came early for the Deacs as they took the ball in the opening possession and quickly took it down to score in under two minutes. Duke responded by turning the ball over on downs.
Wake Forest took control of the game starting late in the first quarter. They scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to go ahead 28-0 going into the half and the rout was on. In fact, Duke’s only score came halfway through the fourth quarter, just to avoid the shutout.
The star of the game for Wake Forest was quarterback Sam Hartman. He finished the game with 402 passing yards and 5 total touchdowns, 3 through the air and 2 on the ground. He was in control of this game from start to finish.
Final score: Wake Forest 45-Duke 7.
2. Rutgers at Syracuse – Rutgers 17 Syracuse 7
These two teams both struggles in 2020, though each won their week 1 game. I was interested in seeing how these two teams would look in this Power 5 matchup after playing inferior opponents the week prior.
In a word, this game was UGLY. Neither team was able to put anything together. On the first drive of the game Syracuse had their punt block setting up Rutgers in great position. Rutgers took over and quickly got an offensive pass interference call, followed by a sack leading to zero points be scoring. Syracuse followed that up with their best drive of the half only to fumble the ball away. This led to a scoreless tie at the half.
Scoring finally started in the second half. After offsetting penalties, coach Dino Babers argued his way to an unsportsmanlike penalty and Rutgers scored on the next play to make it 7-0. Syracuse immediately scored back three plays later to make it 7-7.
Rutgers was able to put a little more offense together scoring another touchdown and field goal. Syracuse’s woes continued with a fumble immediately after a Rutgers’ missed field goal and an interception towards the end of the game. The Scarlett Knights were able to put this one away to start the season at 2-0 while Syracuse fell to 1-1.
Final score: Rutgers 17-Syracuse 7.
1. Coastal Carolina at Buffalo – #16 Coastal Carolina 28 Buffalo 25
This was a fairly anticipated game between two non-Power 5 teams. Coastal Carolina was coming off an amazing 2020 campaign and still playing will into 2021. Buffalo was a team that was definitely weaker thanks to a coaching change and a lot of transfers during the off season, but still expected to be decent in the MAC in 2021. Although Buffalo lost big to Nebraska the week before, this ended up being a very fun and competitive game.
Coastal Carolina easily marched down the field on their first possession, making you think this game could get out of hand early on. The Bulls responded though by scoring on their next two trips and taking a 14-7 lead into the second quarter. Coastal would score on the first possession of the second quarter to tie things up. Both teams would miss field goals leading to a halftime score of 14-14.
In the second half the Chanticleers would start to pull away. After they scored on the first play of the fourth quarter, they would take a 28-17 lead. They drove the ball down the field and was about to go in for another touchdown, they through an interception into the endzone and Buffalo had another chance.
Buffalo drove it all the way down and scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to bring it back to 28-25. Unfortunately, the drive took over 7 minutes off the clock and Buffalo would not get the ball back with a chance to tie the game and Coastal Carolina escaped with a hard-fought victory.
Final score: Coastal Carolina 28-Buffalo 25.
Top 5 Stadiums of 2021
UB Stadium first opened in 1993 and in at least parts of the stadium it looks like is hasn’t been updated sense. The first thing you notice is the track that surrounds the field you don’t find in very many stadiums these days. There were grandstands that were along the two sidelines and another grandstand behind the south end zone.
On the north end zone there was a video scoreboard and a newer field house which seemed like the only additions to the stadium area. On the two sidelines, there were only two tiny, old scoreboards that just showed the score and the time of the game.
There was also not much in the way of concessions. Just a few normal concessions stands throughout the concourse, but only the normal food like hot dogs and nachos. They did have a couple areas where people could buy beer as well in their own concessions area. There was one small Little Blue food truck in one of the open areas, but that was the only other food I saw in the stadium.
Although this was a pretty high stakes match up, the crowds were not very large for the game. The sidelines were about 70% filled, but the south grandstand was virtually empty. The one thing that impressed me, just like at Syracuse the prior week, was how many students came out for the game. The student section was packed and they were loud during the entire game. The fact the game was close throughout led to a much more exciting atmosphere. I sat just a couple of rows behind the student section so enjoyed the atmosphere they brought to the game.
I had gone to the former Skelly stadium a couple times back in high school. At that time, the stadium was extremely run down. Luckily, there have been many improvements made over the years to make this a much nicer stadium today.
I’m not sure if it was because Tulsa was already out of the conference championship race or because it was playing an inferior opponent but the stadium ended up being about 20 percent full at kickoff. The stadium is one level on three sides with a large field house in the north end zone. There was a video board located in the south end zone with two small runner boards located there and a large runner board along the field house to the north.
The stadium just had basic concession stands with a couple small trailers for the Hurricane Grill food truck and locations selling coffee and kettle corn. One interesting thing was in the west concourse where they had concession locations being served out of the lower level of the next-door apartment complex.
The only negative game experience came with the emcee they had during the game breaks. You could tell she did not want to be there and that came through in the way she led the segments. It would have been better just to have the announcer in the booth go through any breaks that were needed.
Charlotte is one of the newer schools at the FBS level. Jerry Richardson Stadium is a small stadium but a pretty one. It is set up as a single tier horseshoe with a large field house taking up the south end zone. A large video board rose up above the field house. There were also two small scoreboards on the base wall of the north end zone as well.
Thursday night games are always interesting. It’s hard to judge the true atmosphere outside the game because it’s always different than a Saturday matchup. There was very little tailgating going on around the stadium. Though, the main campus is a couple blocks away from the stadium so more could have been going on there that I missed out on. Come game time the stadium was about 60 percent full, though the students came out in force as they have in every game I’ve attended so far this year.
There were a decent number of concessions available around the stadium. On top of the normal stadium items, they had Domino’s Pizza, Dippin’ Dots, and a booth that served funnel cake fries topped with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.
A couple small items that bothered me were around the audio/video aspects at the stadium. First, the music was way too loud. They had it blaring. I understand music should be loud in this type of atmosphere but it was too much here. The second bigger nitpick was the delay in the video stream. There was a 2-3 second delay between the play on the field and the stream on the video board. That means if you couldn’t see a play, you couldn’t react in real time based on the play being shown on the screen.
The Carrier Dome just completed some major renovations. Because fans were not allowed in 2020, this was the first game for the public to come and take in the new changes. From everything I have read the changes were very much needed and everyone seemed to really like the upgrades.
In New York state, you were required to either be vaccinated or have a negative Covid test within the past 72 hours to attend a major event indoors. They had several tents throughout the campus and parking lots where you were provided a wristband if you were approved to enter. I went pretty early in the day and there was no line at the time I received my wristband. I feel like they did a good job with this process.
This was the first indoor stadium to attend a game in. They had the air conditioning going pretty hard as I was actually a little chilly. The stadium was probably 70 percent filled, but the student section was out in full force, which makes sense being it was their first game to attend in two years. They were loud and making noise the entire game. I was very impressed by them.
There were runner boards between the second and third decks. There were two small videoboards in both end zones that were able to show replays and other videos. There was also a really cool scoreboard hanging down from midfield. You were able to see the outside of the main part of the scoreboard but also the back of the scoreboard on the opposite side that showed additional information.
The concession area was very interesting. I am not sure how many of these changes were just because of the renovations and how many were because of the pandemic, though I’m guessing a bit of both. In each outer corner of the concourse there was either a Cuse Chicken Express of a Loud House Grill. In each of these locations, you grabbed the food you wanted, scanned a bar card on the item, then paid with a card. The entire process was touchless and cashless though there were people there to assist as needed. When I went through the lines were small so the process was easy, but I’m curious how well the lines flowed once the crowds increased.
1. Wake Forest
As the smallest school in a Power Five conference, I was interested to see how Wake Forest’s stadium would fit into that narrative. Although the stadium is smaller than some, it was a very nice facility that seemed to have a lot of modern amenities.
Truist Field is located about a mile away from the main campus. I stick by my belief that having an off-campus stadium greatly takes away from a game day atmosphere. There was still tailgating going on, but it definitely does not have the same feel without the campus buildings around.
They did a nice job making the area immediately around the stadium festive, however. They had a few games for kids, a gear shop, and even a place to buy beer and watch one of the other weekend games on a large screen television. The term “Deactown” was used both inside and outside the stadium to promote the atmosphere.
The actual stadium had a large video board in the south end zone. Before the game, they showed four other games split on the large board. (All ACC games, of course.) They also had a large grassy area below the scoreboard that they had open to general admission seating which I thought was a nice touch. In the north end zone, they had a large donor porch. The porch had a runner video board on it as well. The sound system was nice and they had a very solid pregame music mix.
Concession wise, on top of the normal options, they had Chick Fil A and Domino’s pizza. But probably the coolest thing in the whole stadium was behind the south end zone. They had 5-6 food trucks selling a variety of different options. They also had a large beer garden with seating and a lot of TVs showing other games going on around the country.
Top 5 Campuses of 2021
Buffalo is spread out across a couple campuses, but their main campus is the North campus. The campus was one of the least impressive campuses I have visited. All of the building were very basic and it seemed like there was very little open space for students to congregate. The number of parking lots around the buildings made it seem like the school was aimed more towards commuter students.
There were still a couple of cool areas around the campus though. The main one was Lake La Salle on the Northeast part of the campus. There was a place where students could rent canoes and kayaks to go on the lake, though it was closed when I visited.
There was also an area with a lot of shops and a small fountain that almost seemed like you had stepped off of campus. There were a couple small restaurants as well as some other student focused shops in the small area.
As previously mentioned with the football and soccer stadiums, the first thing you notice on the Charlotte campus is how new everything is. Whether that is good thing or bad thing comes down to a matter of perspective. On one hand, all the buildings look great and bring a consistent look to the campus. On the other hand, it misses some of that charm that older buildings sometimes bring to a campus.
The main things that stood out from my tour were the dome on top of the Health and Human Service building as well as the statue of the gold miner near the student union. They also had a very large botanical garden on the east side of campus that was interesting to walk through.
Overall, it was a very pretty campus, but felt like it was missing some of the charm that a lot of college campuses bring.
Although I grew up in Tulsa and visited Skelly Stadium a couple times through the years, I had never actually walked through the TU campus before. When I visited on a Friday afternoon, the campus was oddly quiet except for a couple tour groups that were walking around. Most students probably already on their way out of town for Thanksgiving break.
Just like Wake Forest, Tulsa has a small population. The difference is the TU campus is much more spread out. This led to their being more green space and smaller buildings overall. They also had their football stadium and basketball arena on-campus.
There were a couple really nice views on the campus, specifically around Dietler Commons. On one side you could the beautiful McFarlin library and on the other side you had a great view of downtown Tulsa.
2. Wake Forest
The Wake Forest campus is extremely small, which makes sense because it is a private school with under 6,000 students. In fact, it took very little time to walk through the whole campus to check it out.
Although it is small, it was very pretty. When you walk through Hearn Plaza you can take in most of the campus from that main area. Of course, the first thing that you notice is the beautiful chapel, Wait Chapel, to the north. It has hosted many events through the years, including multiple Presidential debates.
Between the size of the campus and the architecture of the buildings, this campus definitely had a more tight-knit feeling than the Charlotte campus I visited the prior week.
Syracuse was the most Eastern state I have visited on my journey so far and it led to seeing some beautiful architecture on a lot of buildings around campus. The campus itself is in the urban area of town leading to a compressed campus area.
There were two buildings that were probably my favorite. The first was the Hall of Languages. This is the building that was up a set of stairs coming up the main pedestrian corridor on campus. There was a clock tower on it as well and it is just a perfect setting as people step onto campus for the first time.
The second building that was just beautiful was Crouse Hall, which is home to the main music auditorium. The building has a castle look to it and sits on top of a hill making it look quite majestic. Some people have nicknamed it Hogwarts for its resemblance to the castle in Harry Potter.
One more really neat area of campus is just inside the Heroy geology building. If you walk inside the main doors, you will see a huge lighted globe above the entrance. It also spins around giving a fun view as you walk through the building.
Overall, these were just a few of the fun spots to take in on campus. Even the Carnegie library was one of the prettiest libraries I have seen at a university. If you ever come to a game in Syracuse, take the extra time to walk around campus before the game and enjoy the sights.
Top 5 Attractions of 2021
5. NASCAR Hall of Fame – Charlotte, NC
I am not a NASCAR fan, but am aware of some of the big events and some of the history of the sport. So, I was interested in seeing some former race cars. The NASCAR hall of fame was very well put together and takes you through the history of the sport, and a lot of its most famous racecars and drivers.
The hall of fame is divided among four floors. The first floor features a tribute to the first 50 members of the hall and a look at 18 of the most famous race cars along Glory Road. As you head up to the second floor you have the tribute to the current year’s hall of fame inductees.
The third floor brought in many exhibits that were interactive. A lot of these interactions I had no interest in trying out, but could see how a big NASCAR fan would really enjoy them. For example, you had the opportunity to do race simulations around different tracks. There was also the opportunity to be a part of a pit crew. Of course, most of these interactions had an additional cost.
Finally, the fourth floor had a lot of other artifacts such as programs and trophies from throughout the years. You could also see how the race cars changed through the years from a safety and technology perspective.
4. Philbrook Museum – Tulsa, OK
I do recall visiting Philbrook once with a middle school field trip. But I was definitely not interested in the museum at that time of my life. So, I was much more interested in checking it out again now that I was a little older and able to appreciate it more.
The first thing I noticed was the Christmas decorations that were starting to go up. There were three Christmas trees in the main lobby and other lights and holly up throughout the rest of the museum.
One thing I found interesting was the variety of art on display. There were of course paintings from long ago, but there were also a lot of pieces from within the past few years as well.
My favorite temporary exhibit was probably the Wes Anderson exhibit. The goal was to take pictures from around Tulsa that had a Wes Anderson aesthetic. The photos obviously had unique colors and angles that you could easily see fitting in to one of his movies.
3. Hanging Rock State Park – North Carolina
Hanging Rock state park is located about 30 minutes north of Winston-Salem. I always like to get one hike in on most of my trips and thought the view from the top of Hanging Rock would be worth the walk.
It was a bit of hike to get to the top, but nothing too strenuous. The journey had a few steep parts, but the majority was just a slight uphill slope. All in all, it probably took about 45 minutes to climb all the way to the top.
Once at the top, the views were great. There were views to the east, south, and west that could let you see for miles. And most of the area was part of the park, so you did not have to worry about a lot of buildings being in the way.
Overall, it was definitely a hike I enjoyed. The only thing that would have made it better is if it was a week or two later after the trees started changing color more. There were a couple trees here and there that had turned, but most of the trees were still a little bit away from their color change.
2. Tulsa Zoo – Tulsa, OK
The Tulsa Zoo is a place I visited all the time as a kid, but this was the first time I went in likely 25 years. They have obviously changed a lot, but at the same time there were some places that remained the same which brought back some good nostalgia.
I think the biggest difference I noticed at this zoo compared to some others I have visited is how close you were able to get to some of the animals. They had one building dedicated to elephants where I was able to watch one of the elephants eating lunch. They also had a location dedicated to the giraffes where you could watch them stroll in and out of their living area.
There were also some super adorable animals that were right up next to their viewing areas. They had a couple arctic foxes that were just strolling around and the bobcat was up and active and watched it lapping water out of its pail.
One of my favorite things from my trip here was visiting the flamingos. There were probably thirty flamingos in the area, but when you looked at the feeding area there was a single goose that snuck its way in and was just going to town.
1. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is one of those places that you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. The best area of the park, at least on the US side, is Goat Island, which allows you to get a view of the Niagara River as well as a view of Horseshoe Falls. I was a little surprised at the lack of crowds when we visited. There were definitely a good deal of people visiting, but the parking lot was only about half full when we showed up.
Probably my favorite views were when I walked over from my hotel early in the morning though. First, there were only a couple people that were out on the trails meaning I got to take in the entire falls to myself for a little while. On top of there, there were heavy storms that came in overnight which means the river was raging a lot more on the second visit.
There are also a lot of other things to do in the area than just visiting the falls. The Maid of the Mist is a boat ride that takes you down close to the bottom of the Horseshow Falls. The Cave of the Winds (Discussed more below) allows you to walk down along the American Falls. There is also a trolley that goes throughout the park to take you to other areas to keep you from having to drive to multiple parking lots.
Overall, it was definitely an experience worth taking in. I think it would also be fun to check out the Canadian side of the falls at some point once borders are a little easier to cross in the future.
Top 5 Restaurants of 2021
5. Lexington Barbecue – Lexington, NC
Lexington Barbecue is exactly the place where North Carolina barbecue got its name. In fact, in other towns around the state, they say that they serve Lexington-style barbecue. It is an extremely popular place as I was pulling in, but most of the lunch crowd was thinning out.
So, why is this well-known? It has to do with how it’s served. Basically, the meat is chopped very fine and then mixed in a sauce that is mostly vinegar based. A plate is served with meat, coleslaw, French fries, and hushpuppies.
I was very nervous to try this style of barbecue, especially since I’m so used to how it is served in Texas. To be honest, it was pretty decent. Luckily, I’m a huge fan of most things served with vinegar so this fit my taste palette very well. It was a little bit of overkill between both the meat and the coleslaw though. They did have regular barbecue sauce on the table though, so I did mix a little bit in to even out at least some of the vinegar.
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my normal barbeque for Lexington-style, but it was a nice change of pace and worth trying out. Also, as they did at Sweet Lew’s in Charlotte, they served hushpuppies instead of rolls on the side.
4. Charlie’s – Webster, NY
On our way from Syracuse towards Niagara Falls we made a stop near Rochester to try one of their famous ‘garbage plates’. The garbage plate was made famous and trademarked by Nick Tahou Hots in the downtown area. We stopped at Charlie’s in the suburb of Webster for their version, called the Charlie plate.
The name is apt for what you get. In its normal form, it is a plate of macaroni salad and home fries that is topped with either two hamburger patties or two hot dogs. If that isn’t enough, it is then topped with chili sauce and any other toppings you would like. I got mine with mustard and onion.
I wasn’t sure how all these different items would mix together but it was actually very good. The macaroni salad had a ton of flavor and the home fries were cooked just right. The chili had a decent amount of heat to add to the overall dish as well. The only problem with the dish was that it was too much food for one person. I was not able to eat all of the food that was in the meal. But I think it would be perfect dish to eat as leftovers if you were able to take part of it with you to go.
This is definitely not a meal you would want to eat very often from a health perspective, but for a splurge meal every once a while this dish was a lot of fun and definitely something unique.
3. Mother Road Market – Tulsa, OK
When I asked people which place I should visit when I came back to Tulsa this is the one that had the most votes. I had heard of Mother Road Market previously but had never visited. It is a food hall, a concept that has gained a lot of popularity across the country. It is a location that has a lot of local food vendors together in one place to give you a large variety of food to try.
I went fairly early on a Saturday, but it was already quite crowded. There isn’t a ton of parking right next to the building but a large parking lot was located about a block away. There were many different varieties of food to choose from making it difficult to pick which one to try and to write about.
The place that seemed most popular was Umami Fries. They had a large variety of fries all topped with various Asian ingredients. One thing I noticed though is it appears they are moving out in mid-December so I did not want to write about an experience that wouldn’t be available so close after I wrote about it.
With them out of the way, other popular choices seemed to be the Chicken and the Wolf hot chicken location and the Akira sushi location. However, I decided to try Doctor Kustom, a location that specialized in Brazilian pastels. That is a deep-fried pastry with various ingredients inside. Think of it as a made to order Hot Pocket.
I tried the Calabresa pastel. This one was made with smoked sausage, grilled onions, and mozzarella cheese and served with a small side of pesto. The first thing I noticed was the size of the pastel. It was giant. It was fried perfectly, making it easy to bite into without it falling apart. The flavor was great and adding the pesto on top of it made it a great choice. If I lived in the area, I would definitely visit this place more often and try out all the various vendors. There is something for everybody’s taste here.
2. May Way Dumplings – Winston-Salem, NC
May Way Dumplings is a small, family-owned restaurant located in the shops at Reynolda Village. Their indoor area was still closed for Covid precautions, but you were able to order from outside, or you could call in or order online. There was a nice patio area nearby where you could eat your meal.
Of course, the dumplings were the first thing to order. I chose the fried pork dumplings. They are also filled with cabbage, leeks, ginger, and scallions. They are served in a group of six with soy sauce.
I also tried the sweet and sour cold noodles. It was a large portion that is mixed with apple, green onion, cilantro, and a mix of soy sauce and hot sauce.
Both dishes were amazing. The dumplings were the prefect texture. Dipping them in soy sauce added great flavor as well. The noodles had just enough kick without going overboard. The apples added great contrast to that heat as well. I don’t eat Chinese food very often, but would definitely add this location to my rotation if I lived in the area.
Plus, this meal let me practice my chopsticks skills as that is all that the meal came with. I have never been great at using chopsticks, but did really well this time around, especially with noodles being involved.
1. Schwabl’s – Buffalo, NY
The second food that Buffalo is known for is the beef on weck, which is a sandwich with roast beef on a kummelweck roll. One of the best places to try this sandwich was at Schwabl’s, a small German restaurant that was established back in 1837. As soon as you walked in it was like you were transported back in time. It had a very old-fashioned feel, even down to the uniforms the staff was wearing.
The beef on weck was amazing and easily the best food I had on the entire trip. The roast beef was flavored perfectly with just enough juice to add flavor to it. The roll also had a lot of flavor with the kosher salt on top. Adding horseradish to the sandwich gave it even more kick on top of the other flavors already there.
I also ordered a side of the German potato salad. This was a delicious dish as well with the warm potatoes and grilled onions mixed in. If I lived in the Buffalo area this is a place that I would go to over and over again.