This offseason, I’m sharing the nation’s best game days through the eyes of the most accomplished college football travelers. Below is Mike and Seth’s Mission College Football story:
Nippert Stadium: The birthplace of our crazy ‘Mission: College Football’ adventure
We get asked often what we think makes college football so special. Why we came up with an idea to see all 130 FBS college football teams play a game in person. “Pageantry” is often the simple explanation. Defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “colorful, rich, or splendid display” and perhaps the best way to describe what college football is all about.
There’s Michigan’s marching band, the flyover at the Air Force Academy; there’s Howards Rock at Clemson, 102,000 people dressed in orange singing Rocky Top at Tennessee, Jump Around at Wisconsin, a game “Between the Hedges” at Georgia and Enter Sandman at Virginia Tech. Truth be told, there are hundreds of traditions that define the relationship between college football and the word pageantry.
Thankfully for my best friend Mike and I, we’ve got to experience all of those traditions listed above and countless more. There was the time we were featured on the videoboard with the microphone in hand to lead the “M-I-Z……Z-O-U” chant at Missouri. A few years later we were at Kinnick Stadium for the first ever wave to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Woven throughout the 172 college football games I’ve attended in my life, there are several memories that stand out at a football stadium. Yet this isn’t about my personal journey with college football, it’s a college football story based on a friendship.
I met my best friend Mike in high school, worked with him at Dairy Queen, and even attended the same college a few hours from home. Our wives and children are friends, but distance separates us by a few hours now and it’s never easy to find the time to get together with the daily grind of life, careers, and whatever else is thrown our way.
On January 1st, 2013 I was watching bowl games on TV when Jadeveon Clowney had “The Hit” against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. At some point that day, I sent Mike a text message and asked if he’d be up for traveling to some random college football games in the future. Within seconds, he responded with a simple “Yes!”
Fast forward to October that year and we had an idea. Rutgers at #8 Louisville on a Thursday night, Temple at Cincinnati on Friday, and #1 Alabama at Kentucky on Saturday. So we packed four or five bags of Giants Kettle Roast sunflower seeds and hit the road for our 1,378 mile road trip and football adventure.
I’d had the idea for about a year or so prior to that weekend that it would be fun to try and see every college football team play live. As my best friend, Mike wanted to see what that was all about. That Thursday night, we got an appetizer on what that adventure might be as Louisville topped Rutgers in a 24-10 contest. The college football bug had officially bit us both. No longer were we cheering for my Cyclones or Mike’s Hawkeyes against whoever they had coming to our home state of Iowa, but rather this was us trying to soak in the new traditions of the sport without having a dog in the fight.
As neutral fans, we didn’t leave disappointed with a loss from either team.
The morning of October 11, 2013 is probably best known to us as the day it all began. Sure, we had been to games together before, but this day was different. It started a mile or so to the east of Louisville’s campus with a donut from Nord’s Bakery and a coffee from Sunergos. Anyone who ever makes their way to the city of Louisville needs to stop– you can thank us later.
After the 100 or so mile journey northeast, we checked into our hotel, found some lunch and walked around a local mall food court, then found our way to a parking garage on the Cincinnati campus to ditch the car. What amazed us was the ability to walk around campus and walk right down into Nippert Stadium. We walked down to field level and took some time just appreciating the history of the third oldest stadium in college football dating back to the original 1915 construction (and oldest playing surface in FBS football dating back to 1901).
As neutral fans, we didn’t leave disappointed with a loss from either team.
While the day was already perfect (did we mention the coffee and donuts?) with temps in the mid 70’s, we continued to walk around the stadium built right in the heart of campus. Just to the northeast of the stadium is where we stumbled upon “The Grid” located on the Campus Green. Modeled after “The Grove” at Ole Miss, it offers more than 100 tailgating plots on a green space without cars. Fans can drop off their supplies, park elsewhere, and setup what to this day has been the most memorable pregame scene we might have ever experienced.
There was the tailgate with the upper administration of the University including a Vice President, Dean of Students, and athletic staff. There was the beer truck with $1 draft beers of Hudy Delight. But perhaps more memorable than all of that was the Chicken and Waffles. Sold off a folding table under a popup tent, it was the first time Mike or I had ever even considered it. To this day, I’ve searched at nearly every restaurant I’ve been to over the past nine years and still haven’t found anything that compares to the chicken and waffles we had on The Grid outside of Nippert Stadium that day.
For two introverted guys on a college campus we had never been to, it was the equivalent of a fish out of water. But the fans were incredibly welcoming. We were offered food, drinks, and advice about all of the traditions we needed to soak in while we were on campus. Someone offered us a pair of tickets with better seats (west sideline) than we had purchased online (essentially behind the student section in the endzone). We got inside the stadium early enough to take in the team’s entrance and walk the concourse, an odd tradition we’ve continued of comparing which stadium has the nicest concourse.
We started the game with Cincinnati’s cheer stuck in our heads, enjoyed the second half in our upgraded seats, and ended the game just behind Temple’s bench. Now keep in mind, this wasn’t the College Football Playoff version of Cincinnati we saw this past season, but rather a 9-4 Cincinnati team in their first year under Tommy Tuberville. A Friday night game we can only assume wasn’t the ideal setting compared to the traditional Saturday, and the stadium had an official attendance of just 32,220, about 80% of capacity. While the 38-20 victory over an 0-6 Temple team on a Friday is lost in the history of college football, for us, it was the day where we often consider that the excitement of our adventures really began.
Rutgers at Louisville was a great time. The trip to Kentucky the following day (and trip to Woodford Reserve) was also a memorable experience. Yet sandwiched between both of those games and top ten teams in Louisville and Alabama, at a Group of Five stadium often forgotten about in their own city, was a day that still ranks up near (or at) the top of our memories.
Mission College Football: What Makes Nippert Stadium Special
What about Nippert Stadium or the University of Cincinnati or the game itself made it so special? I don’t know that I can put that into words. It was just the entire experience that occurred and the excitement of an adventure that sparked the ideas we had.
The prior day in our drive to Louisville, we thought it sounded like a fun weekend as friends without the wives, kids, or jobs. But somewhere along I-71 on the morning of Friday, October 11, 2013, Mike said, “What about ‘Mission: College Football?’” We never even considered another name and figured it was our mission or goal to slowly check off every FBS team in the country. The Twitter account (@MissionCFB) was born that morning, and by the time we interacted with fans on “The Grid,” we talked about our adventures and most had just assumed we’d been doing it for years.
Fast forward to the spring of 2022. We’ve traveled 16,792 miles since that first weekend in 2013. We’re officially up to 81 of the 130 teams checked off the list with 49 teams still remaining for us to see in the future years.
While that might sound like a lot to a casual fan, it likely doesn’t sound like much to others who have been on a similar path in recent years of checking off teams, or even more impressive– each stadium.
Although we still have a long way to go in accomplishing our goal of eventually seeing every team in the country, it’s never been a race. People often ask us at a tailgate or game, “where are you going next week?” and the answer is almost always, “home.”
While the excitement of college football is always there, it’s something to look forward to because of the friendship. The game itself is often an afterthought. We’ve stood on sidelines and talked about what TV shows we are into, we’ve gotten lost on “shortcuts,” and we’ve shared beers and tried new food in nearly every college town we’ve been to. We got up early for College Gameday, experienced rain delays, and driven back to hotels or home at the wee hours of the morning. We’ve traveled to states from coast to coast in our friendship and have seen some amazing college campuses.
While the games might be the excuse to get away for a weekend, the football has nearly always taken a back seat to the adventure itself. This past fall, in our 2,268 mile adventure to games at Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Liberty and Virginia (with pit-stops at Middle Tennessee State, Marshall and a return to see the updates at Nippert Stadium), we certainly enjoyed some football, drinks and food. We also spent the first 10 hours of the drive talking about nearly everything except for football. I honestly don’t think the topic even came up until we were somewhere outside of Nashville.
While that sounds crazy to most considering our goal of traveling the country to see all 130(+) FBS college football teams, it’s absolutely true. The football is the excuse to give us both an opportunity to take a few days of vacation time from our jobs and daily lives and just appreciate the friendship.
While the 38-20 victory over an 0-6 Temple team on a Friday is lost in the history of college football, for us, it was the day where we often consider that the excitement of our adventures really began.
Everyone asks all those questions on “what’s the best place you’ve ever been?” or “who has the nicest fans?” or the “best atmosphere?” and “when will you finish your goal?” and everything else you’d expect. The honest answers we always give are that each and every place we’ve been is great for a different reason. Sure, some stadiums are bigger, each tradition is different, and each campus is unique, but that pageantry is what makes the adventure so special. No trip we’ve ever taken has been the same as another.
Yet all that said, “Cincinnati” is often one of the few answers we can give and feel good about being honest in our response. Nippert Stadium is by far the most underrated place we’ve ever been and our experience on campus was second to none. While it may not compare to other places with different traditions, we’ve continued to think highly of that trip nine years ago and often recall that as the birthplace of ‘Mission: College Football.’
As for when we might end this journey? I can honestly say that neither one of us really cares. Sure, we’d like to get there someday, but we’ve never focused on the finish line. It’s never been about the end, but rather, it’s always been about the journey.
Follow Mike and Seth along their journey to see every FBS team play a game and Mission College Football on Twitter.