Tuesday, January 26, 2016

By The Time I Get To Phoenix - Part 3

NOTE: Unfortunately, I didn’t publish this before the debacle of the NFC championship. I will try to write this from the standpoint of the day of the event, but I apologize in advance if post championship cynicism comes through.

I tried to sleep late Saturday but just couldn’t manage to go past 7:30am. I ate free breakfast at the hotel (sausage and biscuits) and headed to Wal-Mart to get 2 liter sodas for Jonathan and I. I then headed for the Fractured Prune. This was a doughnut shop that was recommended online located in the Westgate shopping area close to the stadium. They have all sorts of doughnuts and you can get all sort of combinations. When you come in, you fill out a form of what combination of ingredients you want on your doughnut. They have recommended combinations as well. I got triple chocolate, cookies and cream, strawberry shortcake and orange. They fry up your doughnuts in front of you and then dip them in the flavors you want. They are really good especially when fresh. They are a bit pricey (1.89 a doughnut) and they are more like a cake doughnut (I’m a yeast doughnut guy myself). In case you are wondering, the doughnuts don’t contain prunes. The shop is named after a lady called Prunella who kept hurting herself entering men’s sporting events.

After we ate, Jonathan and I walked past the stadium to head to a park to run. There is a park called Grand Canal Linear Park that runs next to a canal (makes sense). It has a six mile round trip that was perfect for us to run. After we were done, Jonathan walked to a nearby Nike Outlet Store. We met up at the Westgate center to get lunch. I got a sampler from Shane’s Rib Shack and Jonathan got his standard wing order from B-Dubs. We settled in to our hotel room to watch UK play Auburn. They looked totally flat but I felt better when they got a twelve point second half lead. Lo and behold, they managed to blow all of that and lose by five. When the game ended, it was time to walk over to the stadium for the game.

I was really pumped. I’d never been to Arizona’s home stadium plus it was a playoff game. We got in with no trouble. Their stadium is very nice and with a dome, the conditions were perfect. We found that between ¼ to 1/3 of the fans were for Green Bay. The game finally started. After a bit of back and forth, the Cardinals punched in a touchdown to take the lead. Green Bay drove down the field. Then, Patrick Peterson intercepted Aaron Rogers and took it back 100 yards for an apparent touchdown. However, there was a convenient penalty on the Cardinals that negated it. The Cardinals held the Packers to a field goal. Even though the Cardinal offense was totally pathetic in the first half, they were 7-6 at halftime. The teams traded interceptions to start the 2nd half and then Green Bay scored to take the lead 13-7. The Cardinals got a field goal to make it 13-10. They then drove down the field looking to tie or take the lead. Carson Palmer then threw a totally hideous interception in the end zone to stop the drive. The Cardinals drove down the field again. Palmer again made a bad throw that hit off of Larry Fitzgerald’s hands but very luckily bounced into the hands of Michael Floyd to give the Cardinals the lead. The Cardinals held the Packers on 4th down deep in their territory. Packer fans were streaming for the exits. The Cardinals looked to run out the clock. For some reason, they threw a pass on 2nd down which was incomplete. They didn’t get a first down but kicked a field goal to go up 7 with only 1:55 left. The Cardinals had the Packers at a 4th and 20 from their own five and then incredibly let them complete a long pass for a first down. With five seconds and 41 yards from the end zone, Aaron Rodgers fired a pass into the end zone. As we saw right in front of us, the receiver incredibly came down with the ball for a touchdown and with the extra point, the game headed to overtime. I honestly thought the Cardinals would never recover.

The referee went to flip the coin to start overtime and there was confusion and he had to reflip. Turned out the coin never flipped on the first attempt. Fortunately, the Cardinals won the toss each time. On the Cardinals first play, Carson Palmer was flushed from the pocket. He threw all the way across the field to a totally wide open Larry Fitzgerald. Larry ran the ball all the way down to the five yard line. A couple of plays later, Larry caught a shovel pass for a TD to win the game! It was so incredibly exciting, the stadium was shaking. We walked back to the hotel and it took me a bit to wind down to go to sleep.

Our trip wasn’t over yet. We did some things on Sunday – which I’ll talk about in my next post.

Friday, January 22, 2016

By The Time I Get To Phoenix - Part 2

Friday arrived and I went to pick up Jonathan for our trip. We left so that we’d have plenty of time to get to Lambert Airport in St Louis. We made great time on the trip. We made such good time that we had time to stop at Krispy Kreme in Fairview Heights for some doughnuts! We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. We got to the D Lot (the cheapest one). One of the shuttle bus drivers flagged us down as we went in and pointed out a parking spot in the crowded lot. We shuttled to the Terminal we were to fly out on. We got through security just fine. I was reminded that each terminal at Lambert has its own security. In other words, you cannot freely move from terminal to terminal like you can at some airports. The big effect of this is it really limits your food choices. I also discovered that there is now an entire terminal devoted almost exclusively to Southwest. This is a big change from the old days at Lambert when it was primarily a TWA hub. An issue with the Southwest terminal there is while there are plenty of charging stations, they don’t have many that take just a pure USB connection – you have to have some sort of AC connector.

The time of our flight finally arrived. We lined up in our assigned position. We both got our desired aisle seats. The original plan was for the plane to take off from St Louis after 7:00pm, stop at Love Field in Dallas and then take back off for Phoenix. Once we landed at Dallas, we were informed that we would actually exit the plane and get on another plane for Phoenix. Jonathan made the statement “Boy, I hope our luggage doesn’t end up lost now”. I hoped he wasn’t prophetic. We got off the plane in Dallas. I was somewhat disappointed to see all the great eating establishments there at Love Field. There was a Whattaburger! If I had only known, I would have waited to eat. I knew better though not to eat any more with another flight ahead of me. Southwest did let the fifteen or so of us that had come from St Louis board first so we got good upfront aisle seats. This flight went well but our whole trip was about the change for the worse.

We got off the plane and headed to baggage check. After all the bags had come out, there was no sign of either one of ours. I headed to the Southwest Baggage office while Jonathan continued to scour baggage claim for our luggage. I was not impressed by the Baggage office. There was a young lady who was told “There is nothing we can do for you tonight”. She tried to impress on them that she had to have her luggage for work several hours later – it was after midnight at this point – and they seemed very unsympathetic. However, after she walked off, both of the employees seemed obsessed with getting luggage delivered to someone. I kept hearing “she’s from Anthem” over and over again. They totally ignored me. I finally saw Jonathan waving at me. It turned out our luggage had come in on an earlier STL to PHX flight and had been stashed in the area for unclaimed bags. It was very fortunate he even bothered to look in that area. I found out later that per the “Contract of Carriage” they are allowed to do this (send luggage on a different flight). I still don’t understand why though. I know that flight was totally full (I checked on changing to that earlier flight).

So, we now have our luggage and we now have to catch a shuttle to the “Rental Car Center”. It took about ten minutes to get there. We arrive at the Enterprise Counter to only find a sign telling us to head downstairs to the Enterprise car area to get our car. We get to the bottom of the stairs and find a huge line. There was one woman working that counter and it was moving super slow. She left and a young man arrived. He took care of one customer and then left for another woman to arrive. What I didn’t understand is why it wasn’t “all hands on deck” to try and process people as fast as they could. After 45 MINUTES, we finally got our (a nice Chevy Impala) rental car and headed for Glendale.

It was 1:15am by now. I hadn’t been up this late in I don’t know how long. Fortunately, we made it to our hotel with no issues. On the way to the hotel (Hampton Inn Glendale), our route took us right by University of Phoenix Stadium. That made me totally happy again to see that and anticipate the game later that day. We got to our hotel and after waiting a few minutes for the guy at the front desk to return and open the front door, we got checked in and crashed out.

Would things get better? You’ll find out in my next blog post.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

By The Time I Get to Phoenix - Part 1

Anyone who knows me well knows I am an NFL Arizona Cardinals fan. I have rooted for them since 1974 when they were in St Louis. I stayed with them as a fan since they moved. If you know anything about the NFL, you’ll know they don’t get to the playoffs very often. They made it in 1974 and 1975 and didn’t get in again until 1982 (when they allowed extra teams because of the strike that year). They lost in the first round each time. Finally in 1998, they got in and won a first round game against Dallas then lost in the second round to Minnesota. They didn’t get in again until their great run in 2008 with Kurt Warner leading them to a heartbreaking loss to the Stealers in the Super Bowl. They got in again next year winning their first game and then losing the next. Kurt retired which sent them into another losing spiral. In 2013, both QB Carson Palmer and Head Coach Bruce Arians arrived which started their resurrection. They improved and made the playoffs last year, but when Carson Palmer tore up his knee a few games earlier, they were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs.

I have always wanted to go to a Cardinal playoff game. It’s really difficult to arrange that because a) they rarely go and b) when they do go they rarely play a home playoff game. I’d hoped with a 7-1 start last year, I’d finally get a chance. With the injury to Palmer and then to backup Drew Stanton, the Cardinals ended up a wild card team, forcing them to the road to play (and lose). The Cardinals started off great again this year, but I didn’t get my hopes up. They finally clinched a home playoff game by beating Green Bay in the next to last game of the season. Jonathan had agreed to go with me so I quickly got on StubHub and bought two lower level seats at University of Phoenix Stadium. I then starting pricing flights. The best deal was flying from St Louis to Phoenix via Southwest so I bought a ticket to leave late Friday and get back Monday. Jonathan had accumulated enough Southwest points to get a free round trip ticket. Finally, I rented a car from Enterprise since they had the best price. What about a hotel you may ask? In a burst of optimism months before, I had reserved a room at the Hampton Inn Glendale for that weekend (the closest hotel to the stadium). So we were set..

I eagerly awaited the announcement of when the games would be played. I had to wait until the first round of games were over (the Cardinals got a bye for being the 2nd seed in the Midwest). Happily the Cardinals/Packers game would be on Saturday saving me having to undo everything (should the game have been the late Sunday one). We eagerly anticipated seeing the game and having a fun weekend together.

In my next post, I’ll discuss our trip down. It was not uneventful.