College football fans come in all shapes and sizes. This Christmas season, I've found a few football fanatics who reside fairly close to the North Pole.
Meet Joey Palov, a 41-year old attorney, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He would easily qualify as that Canadian province's No. 1 college fan, not that there would be a lot of competition for the honor.
I first met Palov on a Friday morning in mid-September. It was 8:30 and Palov and his two countrymen, Rob Green, an emergency room doctor, and Greg Bakeeff, a financial analyst, were seated at a table and about to embark on a round of golf at the famed Alabama course Shoal Creek. The previous day they had flown from Halifax to Starkville, Miss., via Memphis to attend the Thursday night game where LSU defeated Mississippi State. After the game, they drove to Birmingham and arrived at one of the club's cottages at 3 a.m., but weren't going to let sleep get in the way of meeting new friends.
After golf, they were off to Atlanta to have dinner and crash before heading out early in the morning to South Carolina to watch Auburn-Clemson kick off at noon. To complete the highly unusual football trifecta, their journey continued to Columbia for the Navy-South Carolina game that night.
"All told, in 42 hours, we flew 3,500 miles, drove 750 miles across five states, played a round of golf on a championship course, had a great breakfast with new friends, and saw three football games,'' Palov said. "Not too bad.''
This annual trek to watch college football started six years ago. Seventeen different Canadian colleagues have already joined Palov in witnessing and enthusiastically participating in the college football experience.
Why would a bunch of Canadians get so excited about American college football?
"It is everything good about local America," Palov said. "It's hard to explain -- it's like a fictional story in which the main characters break down on a back road and are helped by kind strangers. They help because they want to. And when they are done, they take them to their farm, feed them and treat them like old friends. And those friends you meet are all different and reach out to help you, over and over again. I think that's why we've enjoyed the SEC and the offbeat venues the most."
Of course, it doesn't hurt to have grown up around the game. Palov's father, Dan, coached at Acadia University after starring as a running back for the University of New Brunswick. He did graduate work at Michigan State and his thesis was titled: "A Passing Offense On the 1-Yard Line in Canadian Football."
The idea to start making the annual autumn pilgrimages originally came from a decision to go South to play some of the best golf courses and catch a football game along the way. After all, the golf season is very short in Halifax. Using a ticket broker, they secured seats for a Tennessee-Florida game in 2005. "After their experience at The Swamp, a commitment was made to go to one college football game a year," Palov said.
From Gainesville in 2005, they hit Dallas in 2006 for Oklahoma-Texas. In 2007, it was off to South Bend for USC-Notre Dame. In 2008, Palov's group caught Mississippi State-Ole Miss on a Friday and the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa the following day.
In 2009, it was down to the Bayou where they had lunch in New Orleans at famed Galatoire's before taking in Florida-LSU in Tiger Stadium. Later in the year, they went to Dallas for the Big 12 Championship game between Nebraska and Texas.
In 2010, they made the relatively short trip (590 miles) to Yankee Stadium to check out Notre Dame-Army, but in December traveled to Atlanta (1,340 miles) for the SEC title game between South Carolina and Auburn.
When I hooked up for the second time this season with Palov in Atlanta two weeks ago, three hours before the SEC championship game between LSU and Georgia, Palov and another Halifax attorney, George Monroe, already had a full day. They had watched ESPN's
"In the end, the greatness in these trips is in meeting the people and experiencing the USA," Palov said. "Despite its popularity, college football remains an authentic experience."
On the way home from Atlanta the next morning, Palov discovered that their long layover in Chicago allowed time to schedule brunch with an old high school friend at Stanley's, "where we all had Bloody Mary's in glasses the size of a football." If that wasn't enough, they managed to see the Kansas City Chiefs play the Bears before taking off for Nova Scotia, where they arrived at 11:30 p.m. All in a day's play.
Palov is already anxious to see the 2012 schedule to start planning for another season. "It could be like 'where's Waldo' next year," Palov said. "With so many interesting parties and great places to go, it will be very hard to choose a destination, and to limit things to one trip."
Every fall weekend for Palov is the same, whether he is traveling to the lower 48, or just watching football at home. The night of the LSU-Alabama game in November, he had a house full of friends watching the Game of the Century. He had tried to settle a case in time to make the trip, but couldn't pull it off.
Palov told me that week, "I felt very left out. In fact it was weird watching the game because I had made friends at both schools. I usually cheer for the home team when I travel to stadiums. For this game, though, I simply enjoyed the ride."
Palov has not completely abandoned the idea of making the BCS Championship Game on Jan. 9. New Orleans sounds pretty good, considering the fact that the high temperature this weekend in Halifax will be below zero. Palov says he's struggling with a favorite since he has friends on both sides.
"I do like Les Miles and the Honey Badger,'' Palov said, as well as Brad Wing, the Aussie punter "because they are not boring.''
Which, of course, is the one and only rule the Canadians have while following American football.