When I found out Joel was taking at least a year off from coaching high school basketball, I was conflicted. On one hand, I was unbelievably excited to get to spend more time with him. But on the other hand, I knew he might miss it in spite of the amazing amount of time, energy, and effort it required of him. Determined to make him miss it a little less, I decided to take advantage of his newfound free time and plan a trip for us to hit up some football, basketball, and hockey games! Our "Midwest Tour" started in Pittsburgh, where we got to see the home team take on Joel's favorite college squad, the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Pitt was bad this season. Coach got fired after the season level bad. West Virginia, converesely, was good. We weren't expecting much of a game, and to be honest, Joel didn't really want a good game. He wanted the Mountaineers to crush. However, these schools are pretty close to each other in proximity and therefore have a bit of a rivalry, so despite the disparity in talent, tickets were pricey on StubHub. Thankfully, I'd planned the trip far enough in advance that I was able to get the tickets directly from the college the day they went on sale and save quite a bit.
The arena has an upper and lower bowl, but it's one of the oddest seating arrangements I've seen. One side of the lower bowl has small bleachers with rooms behind them, presumably a "boxed seat" option of sorts. The rest of the lower bowl is where the students sit, so the only available seating for your average attendee is in the second bowl. I would have paid more to get Joel closer to his favorite team/coach, but it just wasn't an option, unfortunately. Still, our seats were nice (slightly left of center court), and having the students and band close to the floor definitely did keep the energy up throughout the game. Dubbed the Oakland Zoo, they were engaged regardless of the score, which was admirable!
As for the game, West Virginia predictably dominated the first half. However, the Mountaineers inexplicably switched their defensive scheme in the second half and there were a few, ahem, questionable calls that went against West Virginia and went a long way to change the momentum. With Jevon Carter on the bench, the Panthers made a run. Ultimately, they came up short, but it injected some energy into the crowd and made for an interesting second half!
The arena is in a college-y part of town, so there were plenty of bar type options for dinner before the game. I'd done my research and landed on Fuel and Fuddle as the spot of choice. Unfortunately, we got lost on the way to the neighborhood (dang Siri leading us astray), so we arrived later than I'd intended, and it was pretty packed by the time we made it. We looked around for alternatives, but everywhere was pretty busy. Plus, we had a little bit of time, so we decided to wait it out. I'm so glad we did! We snagged some drinks at the bar (I started with a local hard root beer) and chatted with some of the locals to kill time. Joel is naturally really great at this, but I'm getting better because there's no one better to talk to about things to do in the cities we visit! One of the folks we visited with suggested we go to a brewery called The Church, which sounded super interesting and was added to our list of things to do the next day.
After a relatively short wait, we were seated. We asked the waitress for a suggestion on the appetizer, and she suggested their pierogies. For those who don't know what they are (like us before this night) they're filled dumplings of Polish origins and a staple of Pittsburgh. They were rich and filling and delicious- Pittsburgh has it figured out! I also got the pulled pork sandwich and Joel got wings, both of which were good, but the pierogies were the star- definitely recommend!
We flew into the Pittsburgh airport in the afternoon, and it was pretty easy to maneuver and find the car rental spot. Another location that doesn't require you to bring your proof of insurance to rent a car, even though we had it just in case. Older cities can be pretty delicate to get around, and Pittsburgh was no exception. Even your phone can lead you astray sometimes, and it can be especially tricky after dark, so I recommend giving yourself extra time to get wherever you need to go.
In terms of parking, we were able to easily find a garage nearby Fuel and Fuddle and within walking distance of the stadium for relatively cheap.
One of my favorite parts of the night was the walk up to the stadium, which is saying a lot considering it was both freezing cold and uphill. However, we fell in with a group of West Virginia alums who quickly accepted us as one of their own (probably due to Joel's Mountaineers shirt and the alarming amount of facts he knows about the program and Bob Huggins). The pattern on the walk was as follows: about a minute of conversation, 30 seconds of chanting "Let's gooooooooooo Mountaineers!", another minute of talking, and 30 seconds of yelling "Eat sh*t Pitt!" repeated as necessary until we reached the ticket gate. It was incredibly entertaining and Joel and I still break them out if we see West Virginia or Pitt playing on TV.
After our bad AirBnB experience in New York, we opted to avoid it for our last few trips. However, I was a few years wiser (and really wanted to spend most of the trip's budget on great seats and eats) so I decided we'd venture back into it for this trip. There weren't a ton of options, but the spot I decided on was a private room within a house that had great reviews. Staying in a room within a house with other people living in it was pretty weird, and sharing a bathroom was less than ideal, but it all worked out and we had a great stay. The only negative thing I would have to say about it (besides the bathroom thing, which actually wasn't too bad) was that the house was OLD. Most houses in Pittsburgh are old, and it's not uncommon to have a home over a hundred years old, like this one. It was pretty well maintained, but creaky, so when we'd sneak back in after a long day of exploring, we always felt like we were waking everyone else in the house up with the groans of the floor under our feet. But they didn't complain, and we had a good, cheap spot to crash and rest up for more days of fun!
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Just a couple of sports fans touring the world, one stadium at a time.