STARKVILLE, Miss. - They wear polos and quarter zips, have wives and kids, work as realtors and vice presidents and live in various spots across the country. This is life for Brent Swander, Matt Humberger, Brandon Jirousek and Dan Loar.
Plenty has changed since they were fraternity brothers at Alpha Sigma Phi - graduating from Bowling Green in 2006 - but they wanted to ensure their friendship never died. They needed a reason to reconnect at least once a year.
Sitting at a bar soon after graduating, they came up with a potential solution. Every season, let's organize a trip to an SEC football game.
"Sometimes when you have some beers, you can do some good foreshadowing, I guess," Humberger said.
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It started with a trip to Nashville for Florida at Vanderbilt in 2008. It has continued every year since, except for 2020 because of COVID, with Starkville as the stop this year for Mississippi State vs. East Tennessee State.
The SEC trip wasn't their primary get-together originally. Humberger estimates they congregated five times a year immediately after graduation due to weddings, bachelor parties and golf trips. However, as they've spread out due to work, the annual trip just means more.
They watched Johnny Manziel throw for 305 yards and four touchdowns against Vanderbilt in 2013. They tailgated in The Grove in 2015. They witnessed the high-scoring thriller of Arkansas at Alabama last season. They saw Will Muschamp's final game as South Carolina's coach - a 2014 loss at Florida.
With each trip, a new memory is made as the friendship stays in stride.
"Once SEC hits, it's as if we've gone right back to being at Bowling Green," Jirousek said. "Nothing has changed. We're all still busting each other's chops on the same things, just different topics 15-20 years later. It's funny just to see how we've all evolved individually, but the friendship still remains the same."
The group has grown over time. Siblings have been invited, and they've brought along their own friends.
A 2012 trip to Missouri left Humberger, the planner in the group, with some anxiety. It's the only trip they arrived with no tailgating plans. As the anxiety lingered, the group of about 12 went to a bar that Friday night.
Someone from the group played Toto's "Africa" on the jukebox system and got the entire bar to sing along. In that exuberance, they met a man whose son was a freshman at Missouri. He invited the group to their tailgate just outside the stadium.
"At A&M, we made friends with folks who tailgated next to us," Swander recalls. "They invited us for dinner and had shrimp and grits. We said a prayer family style. We always make friends wherever we go."
Urban Meyer was coaching at Bowling Green when they were students, so they saw the hype that built around a Mid-American Conference school. They saw "College GameDay" come to campus. However, Humberger attended South Carolina for grad school and saw how the SEC scene compared. It helped build their passion for seeing the rest of the conference.
As their families have grown, it becomes tougher to nail down a weekend that works for everyone. However, they made sure their spouses understood the importance of the trip.
"You have to set the expectation with your significant other when you first start dating," Swander said. "Like, 'Hey, I do this. It's going to happen.' It probably doesn't go over the best sometimes, but you're transparent."
The only stop left is Auburn, or so they thought. They'll visit Jordan-Hare Stadium next season, but they're thankful for expansion. Trips to Oklahoma and Texas will soon be in the works.
They intend on extending the annual trip beyond the SEC footprint when they've exhausted their stops. Humberger has a spreadsheet with all the trips - including the nearest airport to each school. Seventeen possible non-SEC schools fill a color-coated column.
The travelers are 14 years into their annual tradition, but it won't be ending anytime soon.
"It's a commitment to friendship," Swander said.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: SEC football games annual trip for Big Ten country fraternity brothers