TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — There was a national championship at stake, and the rules were different.
Eric Kendrick and Jacob Chancellor had to get to Omaha and were willing to blow the lid off the first directive from mothers to children world-wide: Don’t talk to strangers.
The hastily conceived plan involved not only talking to a stranger but joining him on a midnight ride through America’s Heartland, stopping only for the truck’s intake of gasoline ... and the disposal of other fluids.
Then there was the matter of sharing a hotel room with a stranger.
Kendrick and Chancellor shared restaurant tables and basically traveled joined at the hip. Somewhere along the way they crossed the bridge from strangers to friends. It might have been Kansas City.
“It took me to Kansas City before I started being myself. I was that nervous,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick, 38, was raised in Aberdeen and now raises a family in Blue Springs.
A life-long Mississippi State fan, his wife Kayla, suggested he seize the day with the Bulldogs in reach of the title.
“Wife told me I could go to Omaha. This feels like a trap,” he tweeted.
Chancellor felt his pain.
The 31-year-old MSU fan from way down South in Quitman also had the domestic clearance from his wife Sydney to make the trip.
When he started running the numbers he felt like needed a friend to split the bill. Or as it turned out, a stranger.
Chancellor was less concerned about the possibility of criminal activity.
Self-employed now, he worked off-shore earlier in his professional life. Sometimes he didn’t meet the his co-worker until they journeyed out to sea.
“The amount of unease I could feel coming from his direction was enough to put me at ease, if that makes any sense. If he’s worried about this, I don’t have to be,” Chancellor said.
Both wives were nervous too, but it was nothing that couldn’t be solved with a Face Time meet and greet. After that, the trip that began with a random Twitter conversation was suddenly real.
Chancellor drove north, and the two left New Albany in Chancellor’s truck around 10:15 p.m. on the Sunday night before Game 1.
They didn’t leave before Kayla snapped a picture of Chancellor’s license plate.
If two strangers riding through the night wasn’t awkward enough there were other obstacles.
The trip began with Chancellor heading toward Birmingham instead of Memphis on I-22.
That was mild compared to getting to the hotel Monday night after Game 1 and finding the reservation had been lost.
Kendrick and Chancellor were then homeless in Council Bluffs, Iowa, after midnight before finding a new hotel.
When they finally got settled they’d been awake since Sunday morning — more than 40 hours Kendrick estimates — and slept till around noon on Tuesday.
When the next 40 hours passed, the Bulldogs were national champions.
The only time the strangers had spent apart was at the game where they had seats in different locations.
Now they’re friends who have kept in touch almost daily since their Omaha run.
The trip was unusual, but as it turned out two strangers were more connected by their passion for MSU than they realized on the front end.
“As soon as I got in the vehicle I was nervous, not from the standpoint of something’s going to happen, but more like when do I start showing who I am? My wife says it was like two parents trying to set up a spend the night party,” Kendrick said.
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