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The Goal(post)-Oriented Pilgrimage

On his 56-year quest, Dick Wessels visited all of the Division I college football stadiums.
David Lee
On his 56-year quest, Dick Wessels visited all of the Division I college football stadiums.

All right, so the University of Miami has been caught in a humongous football scandal following Ohio State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oregon and, as the King of Siam used to say: "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

What's more to add? The sport is totally out of control, and neither the college presidents nor the NCAA can do anything but make dopey, empty promises. So why bother? Let me, instead, tell you a nice college football story.

It is about a quest.

On Nov. 13, 1954, young Dick Wessels, a high school sophomore, went to a football game at Purdue. Fifty-six years and 264 days later, on Aug. 4, 2011, Richard H. Wessels, a labor lawyer from Geneva, Ill., arrived at Bulldog Stadium, home field for Fresno State. He had done it. Wessels had visited the stadiums of all 121 Division I college football teams.

I mean, sports fans tend to like to collect stuff. I've heard of fans going to all major league parks. I've met people who spend their time going to sports halls of fame. Autographs, cards, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But 56 years and change to go to 121 stadiums, from Massachusetts to Hawaii –– this takes the cake.

"I'm a quester," Dick Wessels says. "I'm a leaf blowing in the wind."

Think of it. Places like Boise State, which The Quester visited on July 26 on what he calls "my last push," didn't exist as a four-year school when he began his pilgrimage. Usually, too, he must travel alone. His wife, he says, thinks he's a fine fellow but nuts in this one particular territory.

Nonetheless, if Wessels hits the highways and byways all by his lonesome, he finds plenty of company. Athletic directors, fascinated by his quest, often personally escort him around their stadiums. He's part owner of a minor-league baseball team, the Kane County Cougars, so, in season, he usually goes to a minor league game at night.

And, he also loves opera, so, on the pigskin path, he seeks that out, too. During his final climb to the college football summit –– Washington State, Idaho, Boise, Nevada-Reno, San Jose State, Fresno –– Wessels diverted to Denver and saw five operas. Yes, "Buckle Down, Winsocki" one day, "Un bel di" the next.

For the record, he thinks Ohio State –– saw it in '89 –– has the most impressive stadium, while Ole Miss –– 2005 –– seemed "the neatest."

Now that the long journey has ended, Wessels says, "I'm taking a rest for a while." But he does admit sometimes to a hankering to visit all of the existing minor-league baseball parks. He has, after all, a head start on that, and with only another couple hundred or so to go, Wessels should be able to knock that off by, oh, the mid-21st century. Not to mention, on the side, hear a lot more Carmens and Aidas, Rigolettos and La Traviatas.

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Frank Deford died on Sunday, May 28, at his home in Florida. Remembrances of Frank's life and work can be found in All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and on NPR.org.