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THINGS YOU WRITE ON LONG, STRANGE TRIPS

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      Seeing as I've been to back-to-back BCS bowl games now, I'm learning a few things that hopefully I can use in the future. Of course, the natural assumption being that Butch Jones will pick up right where Brian Kelly left off and have the UC Bearcats back in the hunt again here in 11 months or so.

      The obvious thing I've learned is you're going to spend money either way. You can Orbitz, Priceline. Kayak all you want, but in the end, the quickest way between two points is a direct line.

      Last year, rather than pay exorbitant amounts to fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale, I waited a day too long and ended up flying into Orlando for the Orange Bowl. After an added drive to Miami and a night's stay at the Orlando airport to catch an early morning flight home, I probably would've saved in the long run by booking the original flight to the more southern destination for a few more bucks.

      Did I learn?

      Nope.

      This season, I thought Sugar Bowl flights to New Orleans were ridiculous (and they were--the airlines are well aware of when and where bowl games are played). I thought I'd pull a swift move by flying into Gulfport, Mississippi then driving the hour or so into the Big Easy.

      Well, it was easy on the way down. Folks were friendly, other UC fans were on board and there's always that initial fascination of arriving at a new venue. But again, by the time I added the rental car and the parking fee at the hotel, I probably could've flown direct into New Orleans and caught cabs back and forth from the airport.

      This poor judgment became more evident on the way back. After driving north for the day to Baton Rouge on the Sunday after the game (three day minimum stay at hotel, so had to stay extra for that and "cheaper" flight) we were advised by phone on our way back to Gulfport that our flight was "delayed".

      Naturally, "delayed" became "canceled" once we went to check in. That meant nearly two days AFTER the game, we were going to be stuck in lovely, metropolitan Gulfport for another day.

      While the kids got an extra day off school, the parents were hardly overjoyed at this turn of events. Sure, the airlines put us up in a hotel nearby and gave us food vouchers, but you still come out on the short end of those deals. Food vouchers come up woefully short on most bills unless you go to a burger stand and get a kid's meal with water.

      If you use the hotel restaurant, the prices are always inflated and you end up adding extra items and the tip money to your room---so the room isn't exactly free. In addition, for three meals over the course of 24 hours I'm guessing we had to fork over an extra $75. (Part of that came from watching the Bengals debacle with the Jets and eating away some frustration.)

      So, as I bang out yet another article uncomfortably on an airplane, I left Gulfport around 11 a.m. Cincinnati time on Monday and was taken to Dallas-Fort Worth, which is pretty much another planet. We hung at a Friday's, got suckered into a Cowboys jersey by one of the youngin's and finally got to leave DFW just after 5 p.m. I sit here now in the last row of a cramped flight missing the UC/Pitt basketball game that my family has tickets to.

      We were supposed to be home last night. The kids were supposed to be in school today. And, had I not been such a penny-pincher on the arrangements, we all might have been home to watch the Bengals "mail it in" to the Jets.

      These things I now know.

      Some things I did better on, such as packing clothes. While I firmly want to believe UC will come away a winner over time, there's nothing more painful to me than "flying the colors" the day after an excruciating loss because that's all you've got to wear.

      You know who you are, I saw some of you on Bourbon and Canal and in the airport. I also saw in the airports, the dejected fans of Michigan State, LSU, etc. I saw Buckeye fans in New Orleans too, but I think they were there just to rub our noses in it.

      The strategy here is to pack your C-Paws, but keep something neutral handy for the less desirable outcome. That way you don't have to hear the condescending opposition say, "Y'all have a nice little program," or , "Better luck next year!"

      Keep in mind though, the downside of that is when people don't know who you "represent", you might pick up things you don't care to hear as well. Like this morning in Gulfport, when a couple of SEC fans started talking about the Sugar Bowl and one said, "Yeah, they (UC) got their a____es handed to them--Florida didn't sell all their tickets because they didn't think Cincinnati was worthy of playing them."

      That hurt. Although, I can't argue with his impression of the game.

Anyway, I'm hoping the third time's the charm. I'm hoping to be back in a BCS bowl location in about a year, having gotten there directly by air (or maybe even sucking it up and driving). The old adage, "you get what you pay for" certainly applies.

      By the time you factor in all of the nonsense, it appears to me that you're better off biting the bullet and doing it up right. Bearcat fans have shelled out a lot of money the last two years...I'm just passing on my opinion on how I've seen things go down the last two trips.

      Of course, winning the game wipes away all financial concerns. Should that occur (and in my lifetime it will) feel free to spend frivolously. As it stands now, many of us can say we've actually been to an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl and there's a good many college football fans that can't say that.

      Many of them are still wearing their garb, checking days off their 2010 calendar for their spring game.

      I now we'll retire to my own bed minus the clang and clatter of those that roam hotel hallways at night. I shall dream of future Bearcat New Year's trips that stay on schedule and muse about this April's "Bearcat Bowl IV: The Return Of The Black Helmets"!

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