LITTLE ROCK — Inspired by a birthday present and 16 years in the making, Bob Sivils’ plan came to fruition because of commitment, cooperation, a collection of road trips, and a cool November night in Cleveland.
Incubating for three years, his goal was to see one NFL game per year and take in all 32 teams.
Start from the beginning — Nov. 2, 1997, his wife took him to his first NFL game for his 47th birthday and they watched Jacksonville beat Tennessee 30-24 in Memphis.
The next year, they drove to St. Louis to see Steve Young and Jerry Rice whip the Rams and the year after, the destination was Kansas City for the Chiefs 34, San Diego 0.
"At that point, we realized that we had seen six different teams and set our goal to continue to see different teams each year," he said. "This didn’t start as a Bucket List project but it evolved into one."
When he e-mailed about the subject, I wondered why anybody would undertake such a project.
Sivils explained that he had been an NFL fan since he was 9 or so and still has the sets of NFL trading cards that he began collecting in 1959.
"Putting together the 1962 Post Cereal set with the Fran Tarkenton rookie card was my favorite," he said. "Many types of distasteful cereal had to be eaten to complete this task."
Growing up in Arkansas, he watched the NFL every week with his family and even collected the trading cards from the AFL’s birth in 1960. Moving to Oklahoma 10 years ago, "we have never had a local team to root for so I consider myself pretty much a free agent fan."
Early on, it was easy to circle a game with new teams. About 2004, while Sivils and his wife were still teaching school and their traveling companion son had begun working for the government, they started scanning the next year’s NFL schedule as soon as it was released.
When the 2011 schedule came out with the Steelers playing in Houston, Sivils knew the goal was attainable. Other than Houston and Pittsburgh, the only remaining teams were Baltimore and Cleveland and since both are in the AFC North, there would be two opportunities in 2012.
The first game was Sept. 27, a Thursday and impossible because of work conflicts. The second was Nov. 4 in Cleveland, a concern for "warm weather people," who usually attended games in September or October, plus a Florida game in mid-November, and a domed stadium in December.
In Cleveland, they lucked out with 40-degree weather.
Baltimore 25, Cleveland 15. Mission accomplished.
Along the way, they drove to Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Dallas, and Houston, even Miami when their son was stationed in Georgia for government training. The rest of the time they flew.
Usually, they stayed an extra day to see the sights. They leveled with their employers, using personal leave to cover Mondays.
Accommodations were never a problem, but they sometimes sweated the tickets. For the first game, they paid $60 per for seats on the 40-yard line near the field. Shopping online in recent years, they forked over $200 to $300 for an end zone seat.
Generally, they dressed to support the home team. When the visiting team won six of the first eight games they attended, they began to think they were a jinx.
Father, mother, and son made all the trips. Occasionally, other family members tagged along.
"I would say the cost was worth it if you average it out over the 16 years," Sivils said. "It was cheap enough in the first seven or eight years but if we had to start again now, with the way ticket prices and air fare are, I would say we could not do it."
Once is quite a feat.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.