Will Fly for Football: Five College Gridiron Matches Near Airports

FLYING looks into classic college football rivalries as themes for aviation itineraries.

Fall means football and great flying weather. Yes, you can have it all. [Credit: Adobe Stock]

Autumn’s beautiful natural scenery and reasonable weather make it a great time to travel in general aviation aircraft. A long list of enjoyable activities also happen to be in season now, from apple and pumpkin picking to leaf peeping. And let’s not forget college sports.

Many people’s thoughts turn firmly to football during this time of year  and the college game is particularly attractive to pilots. The airport network will get you close to many venues, and the same social atmosphere and sense of anticipation that make college football games classic road trip destinations also apply to flying.

While just about any game is worth flying to as long as weather and other conditions are favorable, we have narrowed the field by focusing on rivalries. From the Big 10 Conference to the military academies and the Ivy League, certain matchups tend to draw crowds and stir emotions more than others. Below are a few of the contests we have enjoyed over the years or would like to see. 

Mississippi State University at University of Alabama

October 22

Tuscaloosa National Airport (KTCL)

This might not be among the season’s hyped “brand name” rivalries, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs have not beaten the Crimson Tide since 2007. However, the teams’ games tend to be more competitive than expected given Alabama’s powerhouse status. Could their series be ripe for an upset? 

Michigan State University at University of Michigan

October 29

Ann Arbor Municipal Airport (KARB)

These teams have played each other since the late 1890s and while the Michigan Wolverines have won nearly twice as often as Michigan State Spartans, their long history has seen numerous ups and downs with both teams enjoying strings of victories and extended periods of dominance. In 2007, Michigan player Mike Hart referred to the Spartans as the Wolverines’ “little brother” and the Spartans answered the insult with a famous series of wins.

Yale University at Harvard University

November 19

Laurence G Hanscom Field Airport (KBED)

In 1957, the Yale Bulldogs beat the Harvard Crimson 54-0 in this classic confrontation, but historically the teams have been well-matched. In a rivalry that dates to 1875, Yale leads with 68 victories to Harvard’s 61, with 8 ties. The games are often good, but the scene, arguably, is almost always better, with students from each school waving flags and wearing shirts emblazoned with clever insults against the other. 

University of Minnesota at University of Wisconsin

November 26

Dane County Regional Airport-Truax Field (KMSN)

It seems the Ivies have nothing on these tough teams from the OG Big Ten when it comes to close rivalries. The Wisconsin Badgers lead 62-61-8 in a series that began in 1890. The squads battle for a trophy known as Paul Bunyan’s Axe. Sentiments among the universities’ fans also tend to reflect those at the NFL level Those rooting for the Minnesota Golden Gophers tend to be Vikings fans while Badgers fans support the Green Bay Packers.

Army vs. Navy: Lincoln Financial Stadium, Philadelphia

December 10

Wings Field Airport (KLOM)

Another classic matchup dating to 1890, the series between the U.S. Military and Naval academies may have been a bigger deal decades ago, in terms of national championship aspirations, but it remains an institution, and occasionally a player from these teams will emerge as a star. Quarterback Roger Staubach, a 1965 Navy grad, famously led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories and landed in the Hall of Fame.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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