Dallas and the FCS Championship

When my alma mater, James Madison University made it past the second round of playoffs this year, I got excited. When they finally beat North Dakota State in the semi-finals, I was ecstatic.

I figured it only right to book a ticket to the game, support my team, and visit some of my friends while I was down in Dallas. Not to mention the last (and only) time JMU made it to the FCS championship was back in 2004, so who knows when I’d have the chance to see them there again.

The next morning, I went ahead and bought my ticket to Dallas. I managed to get a decent deal, but since the game was in only three weeks and at the tail end of the holiday season, the ticket was definitely among the most expensive I’ve ever bought at $510.00. Still totally worth it though!

ORF-DFW

My flights to Dallas went smoothly. No delays, no equipment swaps, just lots of on-time flights with tons of legroom in Economy+. As soon as I arrived O’Hare for my layover, I found the terminal in a sea of JMU purple and gold. I even managed to meet some random people who happened to remember me from when I drove them home on the JMU “Drunk Bus” back in the day.

My flight from Norfolk to Chicago was on a CRJ-700 operated by Skywest. As much flack as most people give RJs, if you get the right seat, you can get a ton of legroom. In addition, at most, you have only one person to jump over when getting up to go to the restroom. I settled in at seat 7A in the first row of economy. Since the first class cabin is only separated from the plebeians in economy by a tiny curtain, you get an enormous amount of leg room in this row. In fact, as I’d find out on the trip home, more legroom even than first class has.

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A welcome reprieve for my 6’3″ frame

 

For the flight to Dallas on United’s 737-700, I lucked out equally as much and scored a bulkhead seat with an empty middle seat next to me. As seat mate etiquette dictates, the tray table on the middle seat became the drink table as soon as we leveled off.

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The drink table

Dallas

Upon landing, I met up with my a couple of my college friends and picked up our rental car that I booked through Chase. It came to only $37.67 for a full-size for the weekend, which was about half of what Expedia and all the travel sites wanted. We then  checked in to the Springhill Suites in Lewisville. Since there were four of us, I booked two suites with two queens each. For some odd reason, the hotel didn’t get wind that a championship game was that weekend, so the rooms were only $77 each, barely more than a Motel 6 on game day back in Harrisonburg.

We immediately got on the road and headed to take a tour of AT&T stadium. Little did we know, a dusting of snow in Dallas makes everyone freak out. In all, it took nearly two hours to make the twenty-six mile drive to the stadium.

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Just a small amount of snow sends everything to a grinding halt

Even if you hate the Cowboys, I highly recommend paying the $17.00 and taking a tour of AT&T Stadium. Your ticket gets you down on the field and into the locker rooms and a few other pretty cool places that you can’t get to on game day.

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AT&T Stadium
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Cowboys’ locker room
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Cheerleader locker room
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Standing in the end zone

 

JMU vs. Youngstown

We got up bright and early to head to Toyota Stadium to cheer on the JMU Dukes. Although the sight lines and facilities were good, I definitely found it rather odd that they picked a soccer stadium to use for the game.

We had a few beers and watched the game. JMU took the lead immediately and emerged victorious!

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JMU Wins, 28-14!
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Took a photo with Khalid Abdullah

Post Game

After the game, shenanigans were in order. After an hour or two of post-game tailgating, we made it to In-N-Out and later on headed to the Electric Cowboy.

Line dancing, $1.50 drinks, and a good variety of music made this a great place to kick back after the game with my fellow JMU alums. Seriously, if you’re ever in Dallas, check this place out.

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When in Texas…
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I also noticed that everything in Texas is in the shape of Texas

 

DFW-ORF

The next day, we returned our rental car and got everyone to their flights. Since my flight was about four hours after everyone else’s, I headed over to the United Club for a few drinks and to watch the Steelers play.

The regular location was being renovated, so the club was moved to a temporary location. Being so out of the way, it ended up being pretty quiet for the duration of my stay there.

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It was dead quiet at the beginning
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Not a bad drink list
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Vodka Red Bull

Eventually I headed to my gate and waited about five minutes for my flight to board. I was flying out on an ERJ-700 operated by Mesa Airlines and scored seat 7D, right behind first class, so I could stretch out for the 36 minute flight. I much prefer the ERJ-170 and 175 over the CRJ, as the cabin is nearly one foot wider, affording you a ton more elbow and shoulder room.

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Seat 7D on the ERJ-175

Upon landing in Houston, I headed to the Terminal B United Club for more football, drinks and food. While the DFW United Club felt like a library, the one at IAH was full of energy.

Dina, our excellent bartender, kept our drinks full and kept the party going the entire time I was there. I really didn’t want to leave.

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Dina, our amazing bartender

After a few hours at the United Club, I headed towards my gate to catch my flight to Norfolk. To my surprise, the gate area reminded me a lot of Penn Station in NYC. All passengers waited in an open area and watched a big video board. When your flight was announced, you headed past the gate agents and down to ground level, where you find your actual gate agent and line up for your flight.

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The video board

Upon lining up at our ground-level gate, I checked the United app on my phone. Surprisingly, I found that the first class upgrade list hadn’t been cleared yet, leaving two open seats available up front. The agent began boarding, so as I walked up, I asked him if he’d cleared the upgrade list yet. He mentioned he actually hadn’t, so he began calling out names on the list. One guy wasn’t present and one person ended up declining the upgrade (can’t figure that one out), so I was next. He printed my new boarding pass and sent me on my way.

This, as it turns out, was my first Complimentary Premier Upgrade since receiving my Premier Silver Status in October after doing the Marriott Platinum Challenge. As a Silver, upgrades are far from a sure thing, but it was a nice way to end the trip.

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Got upgraded!

This flight was on another Skywest CRJ-700. I’d never complain about riding up front, but the economy seats directly behind First definitely have quite a bit more legroom.

Hannah, the first class flight attendant soon began the pre-departure drink service and we pushed back for a speedy departure out of IAH.

Once at cruise, we were offered our meal choices: a chicken salad of sorts, or a roast beef sandwich. As it turns out, they only load these regional jets with the exact number of meals they intend to serve, so by the time Hannah made it to me, my only option was the roast beef. No complaints here though, as that was my first choice. Not to mention, just an hour earlier I was just expecting a bag of pretzels for this 2:41 flight.

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Not bad for a regional jet

After a decent meal and a couple free drinks, we made our descent into Norfolk for what was quite possibly one of the most turbulent and roughest landings I’ve ever experienced. Kudos to the pilots though, as the runway was covered in snow/ice and the wind was blowing pretty hard.

Overall, it was a fantastic way to spend a three-day weekend and I’m ecstatic to have seen the JMU Dukes win a national title.

Hope you guys enjoyed the post.

Happy travels!

-Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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