Brian Dixon and Tom Hall – college buddies from the University of Kansas – both found themselves in Louisiana shortly before New Year’s Day of 1984. Dixon, then 24, was working in Baton Rouge. Hall, then 23, was visiting his sister.
“Hey, do you want to go to this bowl game?” one of them eventually asked, which is how they wound up at the 1984 Sugar Bowl. It turned out to be a decent contest. Auburn – still in the hunt for a national title – got 130 rushing yards from Bo Jackson and three field goals from Al Del Greco, including one in the final minute, to top Michigan, 9-7.
At the time, it was en vogue for baseball fans to travel the country, visiting every MLB park. So Dixon and Hall came up with a similar idea: they would meet once a year to attend a different bowl game.
“We didn’t know this would be a lifelong quest when we started off,” Hall joked recently, as he and Dixon prepared to visit their 33rd bowl, next Thursday’s Military Bowl between San Jose State and Bowling Green at RFK Stadium. “Maybe in some ways we hope it never does end, because then what are we gonna do?”
The constant influx of new bowl games has made that question irrelevant. There weren’t even 20 bowl games back in ’84, but new games seem to sprout up annually; even after their trip to RFK, there will be six bowl games Dixon and Hall have yet to attend.
Brian – a 53-year old sales executive in Denver – and Tom – a 52-year old sales manager in Kansas City — try to lock down their plans each November. They have vague guidelines to help – they attempt to go to inaugural bowl games when possible (they’ve seen six), or the last incarnation of a bowl (they’ve seen four), or the least expensive venue.
They have an annual point-spread bet, too. The loser from the previous year gets to choose his team, and both men then buy the apparel of their chosen side, with the winner getting a complimentary night out.
The friends have seen Peyton Manning and Bruce Smith, Craig Heyward and Emmitt Smith. They’ve seen N.C. State play four times, all wins. Three times they attended multiple bowl games in the same season. Tom created a bowl shrine in his basement; “boy, Tom went to a lot of different colleges, didn’t he?” a visitor once asked. They mostly travel alone, but they took their wives to the 1986 Liberty Bowl, a cold and rainy affair between Tennessee and Minnesota.
“The game’s over, they’re ready to go,” Hall recalled. “We’re like no, there are souvenir cups in this stadium. So we’re battling 10-year old kids for souvenir cups, and the wives are like ‘This is crazy.’ It’s freezing, it’s rainy, and Brian and I are fighting over cups.”
There were brief moments when their streak seemed in danger. Brian’s wife was expecting their second child around the time of the 1994 Sun Bowl; Tom decided that wasn’t a good enough excuse.
“Can’t you time this thing a little better?” he asked. “We knew we had a bowl game coming.”
Brian went, and his daughter held off. Then there was the 2006 Armed Forces Bowl, when Brian was unable to fly to Fort Worth because of a massive snowstorm that shuttered the Denver airport. Tom implored him to drive instead.
“You’re expecting me to get in my car and drive 20 hours to Fort Worth?” Brian asked.
“Hell yeah,” Tom answered. “I’ll see you down there.” Brian arrived several hours before the start of Utah’s 25-13 win over Tulsa.
They’ve put their network of friends, their love of bowl games and their shamelessness to good use, not paying for a game ticket since the 1990 Rose Bowl. Among the games they have yet to see are the mundane (the Poinsettia Bowl), the majestic (the BCS title game) and the holy grail, in Hawaii. As 20-somethings, they avoided that game because of travel costs. Later, they figured they should wait until their entire families could go.
“Now the kids are all pretty much grown up,” Hall told me. “I think that will be our last game, our last hurrah. You’d think you’d grow up after all these years. But we’re really just like a couple of college kids still, trying to figure out a way to get to the game.”