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Trying to find football in the land of JFK, mariachis and dancing on chairs

We’re on our third day here and it seems like a week, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about Dallas and covering Penn State in the legendary TicketCity Bowl.

We’ve already spent an afternoon with former Nittany Lion Steve Smith (who is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease), we’ve talked to a few Penn State players and have not seen one Penn State coach yet.

We heard about Tom Bradley nearly getting run over by a car near the Grassy Knoll.

We heard about Jay Paterno standing on the Grassy Knoll wearing an Obama T-shirt. We saw Twitter evidence that he (Paterno, not Obama) was two floors above us in the massive downtown Sheraton Hotel at a New Year’s Eve party  —  but when we went to investigate we only found Twist and Shout playing to a nearly empty room.


We saw something called a Cowboy Cab and nearly got blown to pieces by 40 mph wind gusts and witnessed a zillion black birds noisily roosting in a downtown tree that couldn’t have been more than 15 feet high.

And we were trapped in a corner of a restaurant by trumpeting mariachi performers and wild dancing locals.

The point is, we’ve had some full days and nights here in Big D.

Restaurants are always a big deal when we follow Penn State on the road, even in times of scandal and coaching searches, so our initial dinner choice of El Ranchito was key.

Where else can you find a restaurant whose neon-advertising slogan goes, “Fiestas, Mariachi Y Cabrito?”

That would mean parties, gaudy musicians and goat and it turns out that the gaudy musicians even have their own web site; www.mariachibronce.com)

El Ranchito is, of course, a Mexican restaurant just far enough away from downtown not to attract tourists.

And put it this way: Even if you’re against eating baby goat, it does say something about the authenticity of a Mexican restaurant that offers two varieties of it. (Plus a flaming cheese and chorizo appetizer I’ve never seen before).

They also have the most vibrant group of mariachi performers in the entire state, from what we’ve come to understand.

Big guitars, blaring trumpets, piercing violins, bellowing singers.

It was enough to get the group in front of us crying, hugging, laughing, clapping, hollering and dancing on chairs.

(Of course, these diners also were wearing cowboy hats, speaking rapidly in Spanish and gulping the largest, heaviest glasses of margaritas and sangria I’ve ever seen).

At one point we were finished eating our tres leches cake and paying our bills and were ready to stand up and leave … when the mariachis inexplicably appeared out of nowhere and started another musical uprising near our table that blocked all exit passages.

So our traveling party of Penn State journalists had no other choice but to laugh and clap and even holler right along with everyone else  —  however difficult it was to blend in without cowboy hats, silver-studded mariachi body suits and only an eighth-grade grasp of Spanish.

We tried. And we had fun at the end of a day that began 21 hours earlier with a wakeup alarm buzzing.

Of course, we all soldier on, somehow, on these grueling bowl trips.

We have two days left, which includes the actual game and, above all else, more 10-person dinner parties at new and exciting restaurants.

We went from baby goat one night to what appeared to be an endless bowl of duck the next.

Hearing that quail and possibly partridges and persimmons are yet to come.

Somehow, we will soldier on.