The 2003 National Championship Game (III)

Finally — finally! — January 1, 2003 arrived.

Russell at the San Diego Zoo

Russell and I boarded our plane, flew to San Diego, got our rental car, and drove to the Paradise Point Resort & Spa.  After checking in, we dropped off our bags and decided to explore Balboa Park and the excellent San Diego Zoo. We enjoyed the pandas, giraffes, elephants, and swimming hippos, then journeyed to the Old Town area of San Diego for a terrific Mexican feast at a somewhat run-down restaurant.

The next morning we got up early and drove east, over the mountains and into the desert, under a brilliant blue sky.  The drive east from San Diego is filled with classic Americana, including a ’50s diner where we ate lunch, rest stops that warn you to watch for scorpions and rattlers, and a Best Western “Space Age Lodge” that is supposed to look like a spacecraft.  Along the drive we listened to sports talk radio, and the prevailing view was gloom and doom for the Buckeyes and predictions of a royal butt-kicking.  Eventually we switched off the radio and decided to listen instead to Rage Against The Machine’s War Within A Breath and its encouraging refrain (“Everything can change . . . on a New Year’s Day.”).

At The Boulders

As we approached Phoenix we were pleased to pass a town called Buckeye.  It seemed like a good omen.  We rolled into The Boulders, met up with Danny and John, and explored the beautiful grounds.  Then we went to a honky tonk bar to have dinner, join some fellow Buckeyes, and watch Iowa get stomped by USC in the Orange Bowl.  The mood of the Buckeye faithful was one of jittery anticipation.  Even with a few beers under my belt it was tough to fall asleep that night, knowing that the big game was less than 24 hours away.

The 2003 National Championship Game (I)

The 2003 National Championship Game (II)

The 2003 National Championship Game (II)

The game day edition of the Arizona Republic

The 2003 National Championship Game posed some daunting logistical challenges.  How to get to tickets?  How could I possibly get to the game without having to take out a second mortgage on the house?  Once we got to the Phoenix area, where would we stay?

The tickets were the toughest issue.  I didn’t have season tickets, nor did I make four-figure donations to the Ohio State Athletic Department or Alumni Association that might permit me to get some.  I could use a ticket broker, but long-suffering Buckeye fans had bid the cost of tickets through the roof, and there was an undercurrent of concern that fraudsters offering phony tickets might prey on Ohio State faithful.  (This turned out to be a valid concern, as one of my friends learned to his chagrin that year.)  So, in hopes of getting a ticket for a somewhat reasonable price, I used eBay for the first, and only, time.  I found a pair of tickets purportedly being offered by a Miami student, bid and re-bid, and ultimately got the ducats for $980 — more than three times face value, but still below the apparent market price being quoted by brokers.  A few days later, the tickets arrived.  They looked genuine, but I wouldn’t know for sure until we got to the stadium on game day.

Once we had the tickets (apparently), the travel pieces fell into place.  Air fare from Columbus to Phoenix had been jacked through the roof, and all flights were packed.  So, I looked into the possibility of flying into some relatively close airport, like Las Vegas, San Diego, or Tucson, and renting a car.  I ended up getting round-trip tickets to San Diego for a reasonable price.  And when word got out the Russell and I were going to the game, one of my friends from work, the saintly Dan Minor, asked if Russell and I would like to stay with Dan and his son John in a condo at The Boulders resort in Scottsdale.  That was one of the easiest decisions I ever made!

The weeks after the Buckeyes’ victory over Michigan had been busy with logistics.  Now, with tickets and travel plans in hand, Russell and I enjoyed the holiday season, all the while waiting for our January 1, 2003 departure date.

The 2003 National Championship Game (I)