Big Ten Road Warriors tour hits Ann Arbor for Penn State at Michigan game
They are four everyday guys from Milwaukee.
They work everyday jobs, filled with everyday tasks.
But when Drew Cieszynski suggested the four friends devote 11 straight weekends to traveling to every Big Ten stop, their lives took anything but an everyday turn.
None of them went a Big Ten university.
But given the melting pot nature of Milwaukee, where Big Ten fans and alumni boast of what makes their school the best, Cieszynski figured he wanted to make that call himself.
So over beers in a local pub, Cieszynski - who once devoted an entire severance package to traveling to each of the country's Major League baseball stops - challenged his friends to join him on a series of college football road trips.
On Saturday, the tour hit Ann Arbor.
"Meeting new people every day has been great," said 27-year-old Jeff Harris. "Going to all these games - it's unbelievable.
"I've never done anything like this before."
The four all work at the corporate offices of a department store and have known each other for less than a year. Their love for college football and a keen sense of adventure has bonded them.
Each week, they finish their shifts on Friday before piling into the car. They'll drive anywhere from two to eight hours, often getting stuck in traffic in Chicago along the way.
Cieszynski is the brains behind the operation. In late July, he began planning the schedule - which is now on its eighth stop. He books the hotel, sets up tickets - often going through StubHub to secure seats for himself and his traveling party. So far, two schools - Northwestern and Michigan - have provided the four with free tickets.
He also researches each Big Ten stop, locating the tailgating hotspots as well as the best places in each Big Ten town to eat.
"It's like a second job for me, honestly," Cieszynski said. "Once I get home from work, I pretty much don't leave the house trying to get everything planned out."
At 23, Blake Suhar does the bulk of the driving. He doesn't relish the traffic jams, but once the group gets closer to that week's destination, he quickly forgets about the trouble getting there.
"You get a sense and a feel for what the cities are like with the university and the campus," said Suhar, whose 26-year-old brother, John, is part of the group. "It's pretty cool."
The four left Milwaukee at 5 p.m. CST Friday night. After sitting in traffic in Chicago for three hours, they made their way to Ann Arbor.
After the four piled into a room at the Whitmore Lake Best Western at 2 a.m. Saturday, the foursome was at Zingerman's deli by 7 before taking a walking tour of Ann Arbor.
Before leaving town Saturday night, the group planned to hit Blimpy Burger.
The Michigan stop is latest in what has been a memorable collection of weekends. The four friends was in Spartan Stadium in East Lansing when Central Michigan upset Michigan State.
They were in the middle of the Kinnick Stadium madness in Iowa City when the Hawkeyes held off Michigan in a prime-time thriller after shelling out $100 a piece for tickets they got from a scalper on the street.
Last week, they rushed the field in West Lafayette following Purdue's upset of Ohio State, adding to the allure of a trip that will cost the group $2,000 or more by the time they are done. The final trip will come in early January, when the four travel to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
Each week, the group becomes honorary fans of the school they're at, picking up souvenirs to fit in. When the student section chants, they chant. When the wave circles around the stadium, they make sure they are in the center of the action.
Cieszynski, who also has made stops in every NBA city, says the 11-week road trip is worth every penny. The group recounts each trip on a blog which serves not only as a collection of memories, but as a travel guide to the Big Ten.
For him and his friends, the tour is a dream come true.
"A lot of people wish they could do this, but they don't have the means," Cieszynski said. "So maybe this is a way we can show them what Ann Arbor is like, what the Big House is like.
"This is like an addiction for me ... it's just the vibe of a college football Saturday."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or email@example.com