This football fan goes the extra mile(s)

nwhite@thestate.comNovember 21, 2012 

Jeremy Branham has seen his share of college football games between intense rivals, and he believes USC against Clemson ranks among the best.

Branham, a full-time business analyst for a hospital system, combined his love of college football and travel into a College Football Travel Tour, a blog devoted to his adventures on the road visiting hot spots across the country — and even one across the ocean.

His chronicles describe visits to college football games this season in Dublin, Ireland; Columbus, Ohio; Colorado Springs, Col.; Dallas, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; and Baton Rouge, La.

Branham, 37, who has lived in Sacramento, Cal., since 2001, understands the importance of college football. He grew up in Conway and attended USC, where he graduated in 1997 as an accounting major and spent plenty of time watching the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Growing up with it helps me understand it. It’s more than just a game,” he said. “It’s a passion. In the South, they even call it its own religion. I’ve enjoyed being able to experience that in different parts of the country, and just what it means to everyone.”

Last year, he began writing about college football and travel on his Web site, budgettraveladventures.com, an effort that captured the attention of Expedia, which has sponsored his tour this season.

“For people that are interested in travel, the one thing about college football is that it’s definitely a cultural experience. It’s not just the football,” he said. “It’s the tailgating, the hanging out, the parties, the things to do in a college town. I like to focus on a lot of that.”

Fans shouldn’t look for X’s and O’s on the blog, but those wanting to learn more about college football hotbeds — from the cities to the hotels to the campuses to the stadiums — will be engaged.

Branham, who attended both of the previous two USC-Clemson games in Columbia, where his parents live, has seen games that feature independents as well as teams from the SEC, the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big 10.

He witnessed the Red River Rivalry between Oklahoma and Texas in Dallas; watched the Irish fans get a taste of American football in the season-opening game between Notre Dame and Navy in Dublin; and experienced the hospitality of Buckeye Nation at the game between Ohio State and Cal in the legendary Horseshoe.

He loved his time at the University of Washington, where he came away impressed by the campus and Husky Stadium, which sits on the shores of Lake Washington.

“It’s only one of two stadiums in the country where you can actually tailgate on the water,” Branham said. “There are a whole bunch of boats that come in and tailgate, just like we have the Fairgrounds and the Farmers Market (at USC) where cars come in.”

His full-time job forced him to cancel his trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for Alabama’s game against Texas A&M two weeks ago, but he made it into SEC territory last weekend for the game between LSU and Ole Miss at Death Valley in Baton Rouge.

Branham, who juggles family life with a wife and two young children with his regular jobs and his travel, believes college football fans have a bond with their teams that’s stronger than fans of pro teams have — a driving reason he wanted to see it up close.

“People are a lot more invested in the game, in the community, and in the school. That’s where they grew up. That’s where they put in four years of their lives,” he said. “It helped shaped them as people and gave them some of the best experiences of their lives. They give back by being able to cheer on their teams. It’s something they live and breathe every day of the year.”

He’ll miss this week’s USC-Clemson game. Instead, he’ll be in Corvallis, Ore., for the rivalry game between Oregon and Oregon State. How intense is that one? Oregon residents call it “The Civil War.”

Branham should be right at home.

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Visit Branham's College Football Travel Tour blog here

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