Officially into NFL season, it's the time of year when many choose to take trips all over the country to watch the Baltimore Ravens.
Jacksonville and Dallas appear to be the most popular destinations for road trips this year, with thousands of Ravens fans expected to attend both games.
With trips in mind, "The 15" this month takes a look at the best "bucket list" sports trips. As a note, some of these trips would be obvious for any sports fan anywhere, but some were included more specifically for Baltimore sports fans.
1. You don't have to be the most ardent golf fan to want to visit Augusta.
I have no personal experience with a trip to Augusta, Ga., but I've known many friends and colleagues who have made the pilgrimage. Some will tell you that for the best experience, you should go to a practice round instead of an actual round. Neither will come cheap, and you're not going to get to take pictures of your experience. But no matter how many hundreds or thousands of dollars your trip and passes put you out, a pimento cheese sandwich there will still only cost you $1.50, so it's not all bad.
2. Even after sleeping on the ground and not showering, the trip to Wimbledon is worth it.
The All-England Club was checked off my own bucket list in 2012. I got to see Serena Williams and Mardy Fish both play on "Manic Monday," and it was the happiest day of tennis nerd-dom in my life. The tickets weren't expensive, but we did have to camp out on the grounds the night before in order to get in. Worth it. You have to try the strawberries and cream as well as a Pimm's Cup. I also highly recommend a trip to the Dog & Fox in Wimbledon Village afterward for dinner.
3. Be it boxing or UFC, there's nothing quite like a major fight weekend in Las Vegas.
Another I've managed to check off already, "big fight" weekends in Vegas have an electricity nearly unparalleled in sport. Fight weekends bring out any number of celebrities, parties and epic "Vegas stories." Plus, there's also the off chance one of your friends wins big while you're there and offers to pay for dinner. Take them up on it, or they're just going to end up blowing it all later that night.
4. If fights aren't your thing, NCAA tournament opening weekend in Vegas is pretty great, too.
There's something about getting a table at a Vegas sportsbook around 9 a.m. and watching nonstop basketball until nearly midnight. Obviously, those who can gamble responsibly enjoy this particular trip more. There's "responsibly" and there's "Vegas responsibly." Four days of basketball, booze and bets can cloud anyone's judgment.
5. Want to go on the road with the Ravens? Wait for Miami or Arizona to get back on the schedule.
Sadly, neither appears again until Miami in 2019. But it's worth the wait. These cities offer the prospect of sunny weather, golf, a beach (in the case of Miami), plus about a million things to do if you stay the weekend. A trip to Cincinnati offers ... some chili that will keep you in the bathroom for most of the game? A trip to Cleveland offers ... absolutely nothing.
6. You should go to the Kentucky Derby. But if you do, you'll probably never stop.
It was a "bucket list" thing when I went for the first time in 2010. I've gone twice again since. Go. Drink some mint juleps -- or really any bourbon you'd like. Taste the deliciousness that is the "Kentucky Hot Brown" (seriously, Google it now). Get some fried green tomatoes at every meal. Make sure you're there for Kentucky Oaks Day, Friday. Dress to the nines. Learn all the words to "My Old Kentucky Home." Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
7. It's tricky, but find a way to hit Assembly Hall and Hinkle Fieldhouse on the same trip.
When Maryland moved to the Big Ten, it created the chance for all sorts of new road trips for fans. Assembly Hall is a special place, and it's only an hour outside Indianapolis. Maryland only plays Indiana at home this year, but take a look at the schedule next year. If the Terps play the Hoosiers on a Saturday afternoon and Butler hosts Marquette on Saturday night in Indy, make it happen. (I'd also recommend college hoops fans see The Palestra, but that's just up the street in Philadelphia, so I'd hardly call it a "trip.")
8. It's hard to fathom going to Russia or Qatar right now, but the World Cup still belongs on any bucket list.
That's the problem. If FIFA doesn't move the 2022 event, it might not be until 2026 that this is plausible for soccer fans. The next two Women's World Cups are in Spain and Sweden, however, and you might even get to see Team USA win.
9. Whether the Orioles are there or not, spend a weekend at Wrigley Field.
It's even better if the Birds are there, but a weekend on the north side can be enjoyed no matter whom the Cubs are playing. If you're smart, you'll plan it on a weekend that allows you another major event. May I suggest Fourth of July weekend? Taste of Chicago is unbelievable, and Navy Pier is just about the most beautiful view for fireworks there is. In fact, Navy Pier is so great on the Fourth that I once bumped into former Ravens defensive lineman Brandon McKinney there -- just moments after he got engaged.
10. If you're a gearhead, spend Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte.
Auto racing isn't really my thing, but I wanted to include it on the list. I asked some friends who dig it, expecting Indy or Daytona to be the answer. So, why Charlotte? Well first, it's the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Second, a significant number of team garages are in the area and offer tours. Third, it's a holiday weekend in a cool city full of like-minded racing fans. Not bad.
11. If you can pull it off, hit Camp Randall Stadium and Lambeau Field in the same weekend.
They're a little more than two hours apart from each other in Wisconsin. One is perhaps the only "Mecca" in the entire NFL. The other is a jam-packed college stadium that literally shakes when "Jump Around" comes over the loudspeakers. The Ravens next visit Green Bay in 2017 ... that just so happens to be the next time the Terps are scheduled to visit Madison. Maybe it'll be fate.
12. You know about Army-Navy. But try to hit a Navy-Notre Dame game in South Bend.
Speaking of special places in college football, maybe none are more meaningful than Notre Dame Stadium. It's worth a trip anytime, but the Irish and Midshipmen have a special (even if, honestly, quite lopsided) rivalry, too. Of course, you should also get to Army-Navy at some point, but the game is back in Baltimore this year, so it doesn't qualify as a "trip" either.
13. Go to New Orleans to see ... well, frankly, anyone.
Look, preseason football is the worst, and the fourth preseason game is somehow even worse. But if you had invited me to New Orleans for the Ravens' final preseason tilt this year, I would've gladly said yes. It's New Orleans. The city that hosted the Ravens' second Super Bowl title. The city of beignets. The city of shrimp grillades and cheese grits at Lil' Dizzy's. The Ravens aren't scheduled to return for a while, so maybe go to a Sugar Bowl. Or the re-scheduled NBA All-Star Game in 2017. Or anything at all.
14. Before it's gone, go see Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
As a nod to hockey fans, this is the last season you'll have the chance to visit the Red Wings' long-time barn before it is replaced in fall 2017. It's easy to regret not getting to see legendary venues, but you still have time. The Capitals are scheduled to make their final visit Feb. 18. Or in the Stanley Cup Finals, if you want to dream big.
15. Take in a SEC football game. If you can, make it happen at Alabama.
Ole Miss and LSU would be pretty good options, too. But if you can get to Bryant-Denny Stadium -- maybe even for the Iron Bowl -- you will have a borderline religious experience. Make sure to get to Dreamland BBQ and eat about 20 ribs, and then dip the bread in the sauce while you're there.
Issue 225: September 2016