He Trekked 26,149 Miles to See 32 NFL Teams in 16 Week
It’s the ultimate tailgating experience. Rhett’s passion led him to follow his dream, write a book & produce a documentary. Why his eyes are set on doing it all over again with his 12-year old son to inspire greatness in life. Keep reading to see what he learned about people as he traveled across the U.S. in a beat-up VW bus…
When Rhett Grametbauer spent afternoons with his grandmother as a child, he clipped photos of football players from the newspaper. The scrapbook, which he still has, is a collage of pro-action shots speckled with his ink doodles of players donning star-emblazoned helmets.
The Texan grew into an adult superfan who dreamed of seeing every NFL team compete in a single season. He set a deadline of seeing all 32 NFL teams, in 31 stadiums, before the deconstruction of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and the Minneapolis Metrodome.
In 2013, the 45-year-old advertising professional from Hutto, Texas made his dream come true with two buddies by his side, behind the wheel of a VW bus. In 2019, he’s planning to do it again — with his 12-year-old son, in search of baseball.
“I’ve been a sports fan my entire life, and grew up in what I consider to be the golden era of the NFL. The stadiums and players were larger than life to me growing up, and I wanted to see as many of these old stadiums as I could,” explains Grametbauer.
The first trip resulted in a film and book. This time, Grametbauer will film a documentary with his tween sidekick, Roman, in support of the Play Catch Foundation, which focuses on improving the welfare of children through the game of catch.
“I originally took this trip to inspire my son to do great things in his life,” Grametbauer says. “I thought he would see that if his father could be on NFL Films Presents, write a book, produce a documentary, be featured in the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated and others, that he could do anything he wanted in life.
“I learned so much from the trip away from football,” Grametbauer notes. “I want that same experience for my son. I want him to see people not as a race, gender or anything physical, but as a human being. I also want him to see the world.”
From Scrapbooks to Stadiums
The first trip was also inspired by a 2011 visit to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, where Grametbauer met the late Steve Sabol, co-founder of NFL Films. Grametbauer decided he too could be a storyteller.
What followed was a whirlwind adventure involving a series of candid interviews with energetic football fans, breathtaking eagle-eye stadium shots, and many, many scenes of a broken-down bus all captured in a book and companion documentary, 25,000 Miles to Glory, from NFL Films.
His friends Grayson Berry and Eric Carpenter signed on, and the trio embarked on a 16-week adventure in a four-speed manual transmission 1967 Volkswagen bus that barely topped out at 60 mph downhill, purchased off Craigslist for $9,500. They dubbed their vintage, unreliable ride the Hail Mary, like the famous football slang for a last-ditch pass.
“To get anywhere in a VW bus, prayer is always a good idea,” he says.
The Hail Mary is currently undergoing a restoration complete with fresh paint, safari windows, new chrome, updated upholstery and more before logging additional miles in the fall of 2019.
The Ultimate Tailgating Experience
In April of 2013, when the 2013-2014 NFL schedule dropped, Grametbauer mapped out the road trip across 34 states. The trek was originally planned for 17 weeks, but was quickly altered when the men realized hauling from Seattle to Dallas in late December wasn’t feasible (thanks, winter). The new plan wasn’t easy — it involved Miami to Dallas to Green Bay.
“That was over 1,200 miles in one night, which is difficult to do at 60 mph,” Grametbauer remembers. “The first month and a half on the road I kept thinking that this would never work out. I just kept thinking something would happen where we wouldn’t finish the project and it would never make it to television.”
The freedom of the open road and knowing a community of football-loving friends waiting in each city helped push through the long drives. He says his favorite part of tailgating is meeting new people, and talking football while drinking cold beer and eating good food.
“It was great to meet so many truly remarkable people who shared the same sports memories as I did, but perhaps living it through the lens of the other team. The losses for my team didn’t seem so bad when you saw how those moments meant so much to other people, ” Grametbauer shares.
And, of course there were a few pigskin tosses with friends along the way that inspired his new career path with the Play Catch Foundation.
“There was always a football involved. I took it with me to play catch at the Grand Canyon, Golden Gate Bridge, St. Louis Arch, Caesar’s Palace, the beach in San Diego,” notes Grametbauer.
A Peek at Life on the Road
He says an RV fitted with a Sleep Number bed would have been more comfortable, but instead, many nights were spent curled up on the grimey seats of the bus, surrounded by the aroma of gasoline and musty, wet carpet.
“I did have a lot of friends who offered a couch when I was in town,” Grametbauer says. “I took advantage of those offers as much as possible.”
The mood of the trip shifted when the travelers found Hammer’s Lot, a popular tailgating location in New York, that openly welcomed the crew.
“I slept outside, across from the stadium, and woke up at the crack of dawn to the sound of people starting to tailgate,” Grametbauer recalls. “For the first time I truly believed that this would work out.”
With a new confidence, the crew breezed through additional bus troubles, including three instances of malfunctioning brakes.
“I never doubted the trip or myself again,” Grametbauer states.
In the documentary film, fans share heartwarming stories of weekend family traditions revolving around outings to the stadiums, the sense of community among fans and loyalty to the sport-loving cities they call home.
The impact of the 2013 adventure gave Grametbauer a new perspective. Despite the breakdowns and detours, you have to enjoy life, share it with others and pursue your dreams, he believes.
In 2019, he’ll be back on the road, this time with baseball on his mind.
“The trip isn’t about going to every Major League Baseball stadium, but going to places that are at the heart of baseball, meeting people, playing catch, and noticing how we are all connected,” he notes.
“It’s difficult to explain, and if I hadn’t already lived the experience I wouldn’t truly understand it either,” Grametbauer says. “People in the world need friends maybe now more than ever, and I believe this can be done with a VW bus and playing catch.”
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