Valori Robinson was sitting in the Kansas City airport, travel plans delayed by forces outside her control.
She had planned to take the MO-X bus from the airport to Columbia to watch her son — Missouri defensive lineman Darius Robinson — play for the Tigers at Memorial Stadium. Faced with the frustration of waiting hours for the next departing bus, she glanced around at her immediate surroundings. That’s when her eyes found a familiar logo.
Standing there, garbed in a growling black-and-gold tiger-emblazoned Missouri shirt was Joelle Hershman, the mother of Darius’ then-teammate Larry Borom.
Instead of taking the bus to Columbia, she hitched a ride with “big Larry’s mom” en route to their common destination.
Luck? Happy coincidence? Probably a bit of both. But for Valori, it was fate. Both she and Hershman are from Detroit. They both were going to the same place to do the same thing — and happened to be trying to leave the airport at the same time and same place.
Now, Valori is cheering on Larry in his new role with the Chicago Bears — all because of good timing, well-made travel plans going awry and because they were each heading to watch their sons play football.
“We’re really good friends. We found a friendship,” Valori Robinson said. ... “I couldn’t ask to have met a nicer family.”
You never know what the road will yield.
In its Week 4 matchup, Missouri is going on the road for the second time this season. This trip, however, makes the Lexington, Kentucky, venture pale in comparison. The Tigers are trekking to Boston College, a journey of more than 1,300 miles — their longest since Sept. 9, 2011, when they faced Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona. It’s the first time MU will play in New England since facing Connecticut on Oct. 28, 2017.
It’ll be the second of five potential away games for MU families and fans to journey to this season, which is still a new arrangement for some families.
Sophomore long snapper Daniel Hawthorne’s parents, Melissa and Alvin Hawthorne, are making a trip of it, taking four days to see a new city, catch a New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park and support their son.
Amy Cook, mother of MU quarterback Brady Cook, said she may never have gone to Boston were it not for her son.
Other families have now toured the United States for the better part of a decade.
After spending three seasons at Kentucky, Missouri senior punter Grant McKinniss is well into his sixth season of SEC ball. His family travels from Findlay, Ohio, by road or by air, for all of his games.
His mother, Angie, and sister, Lauren, reminisced on the inquisitive third grader that saw goal posts on a car ride with his father, asked what they were and once informed proclaimed he wanted to kick. Now, as one of the most experienced punters in the SEC, his family has followed him to places like College Station, Texas, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to electric atmospheres in vibrant stadiums.
The benefits haven’t all been game-day related.
Grant and his sister co-own a boutique in their hometown. The McKinnisses have met many people during their six years of travel. But during a chance encounter on a trip to Georgia, they befriended someone with whom they would eventually go into business. Their newfound friend crafted soap, which Lauren now sells in her shop.
But before Grant deals with the soap in the shop in his part-ownership role, he’s got another season to finish — and the family will be in attendance.
“It’s fun getting to watch him follow his dreams, because this is what he’s always wanted,” Lauren said. “And I don’t think we ever thought — I’m not saying we never thought — but I never thought we’d be sitting in all these SEC stadiums when he was still kicking in high school. It was fun to just watch him, but we just thought we’d be sitting at maybe like a little college.”
Some families have traveled to watch football at those little colleges. The stadiums are a far cry from the ones in the SEC.
Keke Chism’s grandfather Roy Harper didn’t have to go far from his home in Dallas to see his grandson play his early days of college football at Angelo State in San Angelo, Texas. Not crossing a state line, however, didn’t translate to more enjoyable trips.
“Since he came from Angelo State, such a smaller school, I guess that was probably one of the worst, because of the crowd — it’s a different crowd,” Harper said. “Here, you’ve got thousands. There (at Angelo State), you might have three or four thousand. It’s so much different here than going to school there because of the opportunities and experiences that you get.”
But bigger attendance doesn’t always translate to better atmospheres.
There is, to the chagrin of many family members, the biennial trip to “The Swamp.”
Lauren McKinniss remembers getting beer cans thrown at her from the Florida student section when her brother’s Kentucky team beat the Gators in their own backyard. Grant’s mom remembers an infamous scene from a different trip to Gainesville, Florida: Dan Mullen revving up the home crowd into a frenzy following an on-field brawl during a Missouri game, which she said was “insane.”
Chism’s mother, Tegra Chism, remembers the Gators fans “loving” Keke for giving his gloves to kids in the front rows at Steve Spurrier Field but being “challenging” toward visiting fans.
Fret not, Florida fans — it’s not just you.
Amy Cook remembers feeling like she was in a “Halloween horror film” at Missouri’s road game at South Carolina when the Gamecocks’ first-down rooster cackle sounded out.
Angie McKinniss said Texas A&M’s game-day atmosphere was one of the best she’s seen, but the rituals of the fans?
“It was so annoying,” she said. ... “They have this ‘stand up, sit down, turn this way.’ It was so rehearsed.”
The good, however, does tend to outweigh the bad — and even the “bad” stories were often told with fond, wry smiles.
After all, how many players get the opportunity to go on to do what SEC players are doing?
There’s joy in beating the numbers to be there.
“We never really thought he would be SEC, not that we thought he never had the talent, but he’s a long snapper,” Melissa Hawthorne said. “They have two on a team. Those spots are kind of coveted spots, so it does make it a little bit sweeter.”
There are benefits to travel that transcend football.
“It’s just amazing to see (Chism) get a chance to experience the traveling, riding the bus, riding the planes,” Harper said. “It’s just amazing to see him have the opportunity to go to all these different places and have such a good time.”
And there’s an appreciation for being among the lucky ones.
“(Darius) told me (before the SEMO game), ‘I really appreciate you being at the games,’” Valori Robinson said. “So it means the world to me, and it means the world to him for me to be here to support him. … I know some of his teammates, and they reached out and hugged me, because all parents are not able to be here, you know, so it’s absolutely awesome coming here.”