D.A.'s NOMAD Is A Travel Series Inside The Heart Of College Football

If you love college football, you need a little NOMAD in your life – and here's why

Damon Amendolara
October 25, 2019 - 12:35 pm
Trevor Lawrence Clemson

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The crowd roared, the band played, and 85 players full of life and anticipation came streaking down the hill after slapping Howard's Rock. Clemson's pregame ritual is one of college football's most famous traditions, and watching it up close is worth every penny. The Tigers' Death Valley has been a bucket list item of mine for years, and once Clemson turned into a national power, winning two of the last three national championships, it was time to finally make it happen. 

Despite growing up in a decidedly apathetic college football region (the northeast), I've always been mesmerized by the spectacle. Watching Rocket Ismail's serpentine returns, Desmond Howard's iconic Heisman pose, Florida State's "Wide Rights" all cemented my love of the sport. It seemed so quirky, so dramatic, so... foreign, to a kid growing up 50 miles from New York City. 

How do you relate to a madhouse of 80,0000 cajuns eating gumbo and gator bites in a Baton Rouge parking lot when you're 10 years old in the woods of New York's Hudson Valley? That exoticism captured me for good, but I didn't have an experience in it until heading off to college. Donovan McNabb was helping lead Syracuse to its last chapter of glory in '97 and '98, my first two years on the Hill. Being inside the Dome for the wild throw to beat Virginia Tech, and calling the game for student station WAER as Dwight Freeney hunted down Michael Vick, gave me my first taste of the good stuff in person. These were unique moments  that you just couldn't replicate. It had none of the corporate uniformity of NFL games. It was so loud your head was ringing as you left the stadium, so crazy that the fans rushed the field. 

My career pinballed me to some wonderful parts of the country where college football mattered. Like, really mattered. It grew my love even more. I was at the creaky Orange Bowl for #1 Miami vs. #12 Florida State for the '02 "Wide Left," a 28-27 thriller in tropical October heat. I was in Columbia, Missouri one year later on the night all demons were exorcised against Nebraska. Mizzou, behind two trick-plays snapped a 24-game losing streak to the Huskers 41-24, and the goal posts came down. Two years later I stood at midfield in Memorial Stadium on a Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska, looking up into a mass of red, and wondering if there was a more amazing place on Earth at that given moment. 

My NOMAD series is a passion project, a way to document all the incredible experiences I'm fortunate enough to be part of. Spending a day every year in a college football mecca as a fan, tailgating, hollering, sitting in the bleachers, is one of the things I love most. That's probably because it speaks to America far better than any professional sporting experience ever could. You want to understand the country? Go spend 8 hours in a college football parking lot. The colorful quilt of all 50 states is right there on display. 

Over the last four years I've brought my iPhone and GoPro, saddled up a few clip-on microphones, carried a mini-tripod and external battery, and started the cameras rolling. I've brought the footage back and edited it, trying to respectfully and lovingly tell the story of these days, some of my favorite ever. Clemson was one of those days, an afternoon filled with so many enjoyable people and moments. In honor of my latest trip, let's hand out some awards to my NOMAD roadies for the moments I tried to capture on film. 

Clemson: "Most pleasant tailgate experience." Some football parties are a little rough around the edges, but I tried to capture just how warm, inviting and family-friendly this big time atmosphere was in the episode. Stuffed tigers, orange tents, and smiling faces in lawn chairs are everywhere. It's good to be kings of the college football world. 

Auburn: "Best marathon of traditions." Spending a gameday on the Plains is like a paint-by-number experience. You get to bring in a to-do list and check them off as you go. Lemonade at Toomer's Drugs. The eagle soaring into the stadium. Rolling Toomer's corner. Each one enhances the experience even more than the last. 

Georgia: "Best DIY light show." The crowd's cell phone display before the fourth quarter is a sight to behold between the hedges. In fact, the farther up you are in the stadium the more impactful the show is. There's a lot of humans barking like dogs, so you better practice beforehand. 

Tennessee: "These people deserve a better football team." Not many people realize you can tailgate on boats which float just outside the stadium in the Tennessee River. The pregame scene is awesome, the team dominates everyone's attention across the state, and 100,000 people stuffed into Neyland Stadium is exhilarating. Everything is top-notch... except the team which has stumbled through controversy, bad coaching, and underwhelming seasons for twenty years. 

Ole Miss: "The best debutante ball and backyard kegger rolled into one." The Grove is an elite party, perhaps the party of all parties. The Rebels are usually a punching bag in the SEC, but their pregame is second to none. The combination of high-society and low country is incredible. Wear your Sunday's best, but prepare to chug some whiskey. 

Army: "The most scenic backdrop unknown to most of the country." Historic Michie Stadium only seats 30,000, but the backdrop is breathtaking. West Point is on the shore of the Hudson River, with mountains, ridges and cliffs on every vista. Take a look at this video and you'll see views and colors you just can't find anywhere else in college football. The Black Knights of the Hudson don't play in a major conference and haven't been a national power since the 1940s, but a day at Army is undeniably special. 

Boise: "The little engine that plays big." Boise State is a program built on being underrated and under-sized. The Broncos have a national brand on the backs of quirks (the blue turf) and exciting teams (2007 Fiesta Bowl). But this "little engine that could" is a big time player in the sport annually. Their tailgate is fun, the people of Idaho are as good as they come, and gameday feels like a big deal. 

College football's show is enough to reel you in just by staring at the television. Actually being there in person takes it to a whole different level, some things that just can't be conveyed unless you're in those parking lots and stadiums. It tells us the stories of communities across the country, and hopefully NOMAD is another way to bring those stories to life. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.