“Mission: College Football” strikes Memorial Stadium this weekend

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By Charlotte Carroll

At a tailgate in October of 2013, a meal of chicken and waffles cemented a mission for two friends from Iowa. Before that fateful dinner, the pair had decided to see three college football games in three days.

It was that southern delicacy served at a Cincinnati Bearcats home game that would prove to be the tipping point for Seth Vander Tuig and Mike Fulton. It was here, at a stadium, small in comparison to other schools, that the duo claim is the birthplace of “Mission: College Football.”

So with a title and a story, Vander Tuig and Fulton got rolling. The objective is to see all 128 Division I teams play in person. With 52 teams down and 76 remaining, the pair’s journey has carried them around the Midwest and will bring them to Memorial Stadium this Saturday as Illinois takes on Texas State.

“I think it’s completely exceeded both our expectations,” Fulton said. “Originally, we were just a couple of guys who loved football when it was born. But people thought it was cool. And it was interesting to hear their stories and listen to their passion for their teams.”

Memorial Stadium will be the fourth stadium this season and will feature their last new team of the year. Vander Tuig has seen a game in Champaign before, but neither has seen Texas State play before. 

Every game brings a chance for Vander Tuig, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Fulton, of Urbandale, Iowa, to see a unique element about each school they visit.

Whether it has led them to leading chants on the Jumbotron, sideline views or finding the 1960s limousine painted like a Tiger at Missouri, the pair has had its fair share of unique stories while finding lifelong fans on their travels.

The Iowa natives share a similar backstory: both attended Indianola High School in Indianola, Iowa, both went on to attend the same community college and both worked at Dairy Queen together during their teen years.

Growing up without a pro-sports team to support, they developed a shared passion for college athletics, but for different colors: Vander Tuig is a lifelong Iowa State fan and Fulton an Iowa fan. Both hold season tickets for their respective squads.

And that interstate rivalry is even more intensified when the two schools compete against each other like they did this past weekend.

“It’s an interesting dynamic because we’re fans of rival schools, and it causes an interesting conversation in the car,” Vander Tuig said. “Specifically this last weekend after the Missouri game. The entire drive home we were listing to the Iowa State-Iowa game. Fortunately for me, my Cyclones got the victory. So one of us was talking and the other was quiet, I’ll put it that way.”

But usually, those car rides are more than just college banter. Both are married with children. Vander Tuig has a daughter and Fulton has two daughters.

It was Vander Tuig’s wife, Emily, who bought Notre Dame football tickets for her husband four years ago, and it was the school’s rich traditions that helped foster Vander Tuig’s love for watching other schools. 

“A lot of the talks we have are about football,” Vander Tuig said. “But at the same time, a lot of the talks we have are about how to be a good dad and be a good husband and how lucky we are to have the wives that support us. A lot of football, some reminiscing about our days back in high school. A lot of laughs and a lot of talks along the way.”

Though it may be tough with her husband gone, LeeAnn Fulton said both her and Vander Tuig’s wife have family nearby who they visit on football weekends. But she has found it neat to watch the travels play out.

“Between him and Seth, there are always crazy stories and I never hear them right away,” LeeAnn said. “They usually come out later when we’re sitting around the campfire or something and then they start flowing. But I know Mike and Seth always have a good time no matter what.”

Those opportunities to see uncommon traditions and stadiums is why Vander Tuig and Fulton continue “Mission: College Football.” It’s a chance for more random dinners in even more irregular locations.

“The thing that happened along the way is when you start going to some of these stadiums,” Seth said. “It’s not so much about the game itself, that’s definitely the reason you go, but it’s more about meeting all the fans before the games and seeing how the tailgating is set up. Seeing what the stadium is like and what unique fans there are. Every team and every fan base is so different from each other. You go for the game but you come away where the highlights weren’t necessarily the plays of the game and whoever won the game. Instead it’s all the little things along the way that add up to the game day itself.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @charlottecrrll.