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8 Days to Football: The Time I Met Melvin Gordon at Steak 'n Shake

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Most Some weekdays from now until the Packers and Seahawks kick off on September 4th, The Big Lead will detail one reason we are excited for football season to begin. Including today, we’re 1 day away from NCAA and 8 from NFL.

It was December 2012, but I remember it like it was just 20 months ago. Wisconsin stomped Nebraska 70-31 to win their second straight Big Ten title in Indianapolis. My crew of friends (we stuffed seven into a $60 motel room that weekend) and I pranced around the city like the champions our alma mater’s football players were, and eventually the time would come that a few of us pared off from the group to grab some drunk food.

Steak ‘n Shake in downtown Indy was an easy choice, though it was experiencing a state of pandemonium. Nebraska fans had long since retreated to their hotels, so the establishment was filled with rowdy Badgers. It was so packed that random customers were masquerading as servers.

Lo and behold, Melvin Gordon and his extended family were sitting a couple seats away from us. My friend Matt and I (he’s to Gordon’s left, and I’m to their right in the photo above) deliberated for about 10 minutes whether or not to disturb the running back, who’d carried the ball nine times for 216 yards and a touchdown earlier that evening, for a photo op.

gordon white ballNational college football fans know who Gordon is now, but they weren’t nearly as aware of him at that point because he was behind Montee Ball (everybody’s fantasy football LEAPER du jour this year), and James White (who Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been raving about) on the depth chart. To our eyes, though, Gordon was the best back on the team that year — he averaged 10 yards per carry for the duration of the season — so we lamented his smaller role to his family and him.

“I’m not just saying this because you’re standing right in front of me,” I told him. “But we have been CLAMORING for you to get more touches all season.”

Gordon was diplomatic, but his family nodded furiously in agreement.

***

Whenever I get the chance, I try my damndest to influence high school students to attend a university with big athletics. The Badgers have kept all of my best friends from college in touch, to the extent that we etch a few dates per Fall in pen on the calendars where we know we’ll all see each other. There are group texts during every game, and email threads throughout the week.

Road trips for college football are exquisite in a way in which the NFL, and other sports, cannot compare. When you travel to another city, you immediately become best friends with everyone else who invaded enemy territory. Also, we eat and drink a lot.

There can be downsides — losing on hail mary’s in back-to-back weeks while sitting in the Michigan State and Ohio State student sections was the opposite of fun — but in aggregate these trips are some of the best parts of my year.

My first voyage this season is Wisconsin-LSU this weekend in Houston, and I couldn’t be more giddy about what’s in-store.

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