I grew up in Texas and more than willingly embraced most every aspect of being a Texan, including, and perhaps most of all, being a die-hard football fan. Texans are indoctrinated to football early and often—it has become almost a parental obligation or a birthright in the Lone Star state, where learning to throw a spiral goes hand-in-hand with learning how to walk.
The first birthday cake I can remember had football players on it, most of my school pictures are of me in a football jersey, and on Sundays in the fall my television would bring to life the football stadiums of the NFL. These stadiums, players, teams, and announcers provided the color to my childhood. It also provided an outlet for my dreams of going to all of these distant places and experiencing these games in person.
Life has a way of strangling dreams into silence and for like many people this seemed to be my fate as well.
At this time in my life I found myself a marketing PhD student at Louisiana State University (LSU). PhD programs, in my estimation, do a really good job of strangling the will to live out of dreamers like myself.
I am honestly not sure how it is that I found myself in Baton Rouge studying marketing at a doctoral level but I did. The more I studied, the more I began to understand that great brands have a deeper meaning in our lives. Somehow we feel connected to these brands on a personal level. In my football centric mindset (not good for PhD programs) this led me to see football teams as part of a deeper narrative in the lives of fans.
Enlightened and inspired by my intellectual awakening and strong desire to permanently leave the classroom behind in favor of actually experiencing the world. I decided it was time to see all of those football stadiums of my childhood and bring color back into my life. All fans have stories, football stories, and stories that I needed to hear. As much as this was about me living a great story, it was also about connecting with people who were great stories in their own right.
The romantic vision I had of traveling the country to all 31 NFL stadiums in one year included doing so in a Volkswagen (VW) Bus. Not just any VW Bus, but a split-window, air-cooled, 1967 VW Bus that I named, “Hail Mary.” When I bought her she had seen better days but I sensed that she longed to live a great story. I was determined to help her live that story even if meant having to push, pull, or drag her across the country.
I guess most dreams start out romantic and if the naysayers in our lives do not successfully extinguish the fire that fuels these dreams then eventually we have the courage to leave our comfort zones and pursue them. Those naysayers can be those closest to us like our parents, siblings, significant others, and even ourselves. There were plenty of times when my rational self questioned the sanity of driving across the country in the name of football. To combat the outward and inward self-doubt I made a schedule and began buying tickets for games, proclaiming to the world and more importantly to myself that this was going to happen. I had even convinced NFL Films to follow us and tell our story on their show NFL Films Presents.
Samuel Johnson said, “The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
The reality of traveling the country in a ’67 VW Bus is that it will be one continuous breakdown spotted by the occasional bit of luck where you have the good fortune of making your destination without incident. Our brakes went out three times and Hail Mary was towed six times. Not bad for four months on the road. Our mechanic in Pompano Beach, FL had lived in his VW Bus in California for two years in order to “find himself.” Two months into the trip, he referred to what I was doing with Hail Mary as “crazy.” He later informed me that a VW Bus was not designed for long road trips.
What Hail Mary lacked in ability she more than made up for in character. Her character drew people to us. At every gas station and hotel was a friendly smiling face, looking at Hail Mary like a wide-eyed child in a candy store, eagerly wanting to share their VW story with us. The beauty of Hail Mary is that she attracted people to us, forced us to live in the moment, and listen. To be with a perfect stranger and enjoy them for who they are and their life stories is an experience I enjoyed countless times during the trip.
It is easy for the original purpose of the trip, football, to get lost in everything to do with Hail Mary. The truth is football and sports can bring us together like very few things in the world can. We share common experiences that unite us in purpose and in life. Interviewing fans for the documentary of every team was as much about the life of each, individual fan as it was about football. Just as Hail Mary had done, football had connected us to people and offered us an experience that was life changing. The map of our trip became not just crossing off teams, stadiums or cities, but making the personal connections and gaining from the experiences we shared with so many people.
I said earlier, life has a way of strangling dreams into silence. This is true if we let it, but life also has a way of giving a purpose to our existence on Earth. My life had given me two sons, Chandler and Roman. I was determined to be an example to them that you can truly be whatever you want in life. You can have the experiences you want if you are willing to dream and honestly believe in those dreams. You can live a great story. If their father can be on the NFL Network, film a documentary that is available on major VOD platforms like iTunes, and publish a book on Amazon about going to every NFL stadium in 16 weeks in a VW Bus then truly anything is possible in their own lives.
I am unable to explain my irrational attachment to Hail Mary. Driving in a ’67 VW Bus is unlike any other experience you can imagine. It shows you how much the world needs something different from the everyday, mundane choices our typical lives so generously give us, and how little it takes to make people smile, wave, and talk to a complete stranger. The world needs more people driving VW Buses. We need more smiles, more waves, and more strangers coming together. Hail Mary is unequivocally the best money I have ever spent, and this trip was my life’s greatest adventure thanks to her.
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