Road trip comes to TCF Bank Stadium

Two high school friends are on a national mission to see every top college football team.

Mike Fulton and Seth Vander Tuig watch from the sidelines as the Gophers take on Middle Tennessee at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Liam James Doyle

Mike Fulton and Seth Vander Tuig watch from the sidelines as the Gophers take on Middle Tennessee at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

David Nelson

For Seth Vander Tuig, the journey to the sidelines of TCF Bank Stadium for a Saturday afternoon bout between Minnesota and Middle Tennessee State began almost four years ago, before Mission: College Football even came into existence.

Before the inception of Mission: College Football, it was nothing more than one man’s dream to see each of the top 128 college football teams in the United States.

But when Vander Tuig’s wife bought him tickets to a Notre Dame football game against Purdue, he started realizing that fantasy.

“I know that ‘Rudy’ is Seth’s favorite movie and he watches it every fall,” Emily Vander Tuig said of her husband. “I thought that would be an awesome gift to give him for our wedding to see Notre Dame and all their traditions.”

During his visit to South Bend, Ind., Seth Vander Tuig was exposed to more than 120 years of college football tradition. As an Iowa State season ticket holder of nearly 20 years, he found the visit to be an interesting experience.

“It was different watching a game that you didn’t have a rooting interest for,” Vander Tuig said. “Suddenly you’re cheering for two teams and just really rooting for a good game and taking in the college football experience.”

Over the years, the 32-year-old talked about his experiences watching football with Mike Fulton, a friend from high school and an avid Iowa Hawkeyes fan.

“We were talking about maybe making a road trip someday, and last year we went to three games in three days,” Vander Tuig said.

Their journey started in the Ohio River Valley, beginning with a Thursday night contest between Rutgers and Louisville.

“On Thursday we were talking to a lot of people, and the way Mike tells it is, ‘This is my buddy, and he wants to see all these football teams, and he invited me along for the weekend,’” Vander Tuig said. “And Friday it was, ‘Yeah this is my buddy, and he wants to cross off every college football team in America, and I’m going to do about half of ’em with him.’

“And by Saturday, it was, ‘We’re two high school friends that want to see every team in America together.’”

Fulton came up with the name that very weekend. With a Twitter account and a Facebook page, “Mission: College Football” was born.

Two guys from Iowa

Neither Fulton nor Vander Tuig ever took the field as a college football player, but both talk about the traditions and pageantry as if they suited up every Saturday of their college lives.

“Where can you go watch an Appalachian State beat a Michigan?” Fulton said. “For me, having the opportunity to see something like that … it doesn’t get any better.”

While their enthusiasm for college football is similar, the teams they give their fandom to remain very different.

“Mike and I talk about this a lot,” Vander Tuig said. “He’s an Iowa fan, and I’m an Iowa State fan. … How do we get along when we’re both rooting against different teams?”

But despite their differences, their partnership still works.

“This journey wouldn’t be half as fun if we were both fans of the same team,” Vander Tuig said. “Having an interest in two rival teams is what makes this journey so special.”

A trip to the Bank

Fulton and Vander Tuig were on the sidelines Saturday for the Gophers game, taking in the sights and sounds of TCF Bank Stadium and remaining unfazed by the “Who hates Iowa?” chants in the background.

Middle Tennessee State and Minnesota became the 49th and 50th teams that Mission: College Football has seen play.

However, as they donned their black Mission: College Football T-shirts that show off their new sponsor, Giants Sunflower Seeds, on the back, both said they never intended on having sideline seating for the game.

That all changed when the duo sent letters to Gophers head coach Jerry Kill and Blue Raiders head coach Rick Stockstill.

“[The letters] basically said, ‘Hey, we’re looking forward to crossing Middle Tennessee State off as team 49 and Minnesota off as team 50. Best of luck to both of you,’” Vander Tuig said.

Both coaches wrote back to the duo wishing them well, but Stockstill went one step further and invited them to the game as his personal guests.

“Being on the sidelines for the first game ever, that was something that I’ll never forget,” Fulton said.

With 50 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams crossed off the list, Mission: College Football still has a ways to go.

But as Vander Tuig said, it’s not about the end goal; it’s about the journey.

“I think at some point in our lifetime it’d be great to accomplish that,” Vander Tuig said. “It’s not so much about saying we did it, but … having experiences like we’ve had today.”