MANHATTAN — When Robert Lipson decided to attend his first road Kansas State football game in 1973, he didn't know how to drive. So he stood on the side of the road with a purple sign and hitchhiked his way to Lawrence, where he watched the Wildcats drop a close game to Kansas.
More than 38 years later, he remembers that game vividly. He can tell you the score (25-18) and that it was K-State's second loss, and the epiphany he had on the ride home.
"I wanted to do it again," he said.
Again and again and again is more like it. Lipson, a 62-year old promotional product salesman who is better known as K-State's No. 1 fan, hasn't missed a Wildcat conference football game since.
Tonight's game at Oklahoma State marks his 150th consecutive road conference game. It's a streak that earned him a seat on the team's chartered bus to Stillwater.
K-State coach Bill Snyder couldn't think of a better way to salute his team's biggest supporter. Lipson usually travels in his 2000 Nissan Frontier, which has close to 200,000 miles, sleeps at rest stops and eats non-perishable food he brings from home. This weekend, he will receive first-class treatment.
"For anyone to care as much as Robert does really is special," Snyder said. "Robert comes in quite a bit, and we try to watch after him. Our players respect him, because he does care so much."
Lipson's streak has included many memorable journeys. Though most were simple drives from Manhattan to other conference towns, he once found himself stranded on his way to a Nebraska game and had to convince a passing car full of K-State fans to give him a lift.
Snow has also forced him off the road on occasion, leaving him to spend several chilly nights in his car.
"I'm a survivor," Lipson said. "I know how to do it. I've been doing it for a number of years. I can survive below zero. I bring enough gear with me to do that. I bring enough food with me to survive seven to 10 days."
All because he thought it would be neat to see every Big Eight campus when he was a young K-State student.
"After doing that in 1975, I just thought I'd keep it going," Lipson said. "Somehow, I managed to keep it going."
It was difficult at the beginning. Lipson never graduated from K-State, and says he worked as a laborer after dropping out of college. He's never had much money, but after a few years, he found more freedom as a salesman, and found a way to make it all work.
He always tries to leave well before the team does. In the old Big Eight days, that meant a Thursday afternoon departure. Now, for games in Texas, he sometimes leaves on Wednesday.
His streak includes Big 12 championship games in Kansas City, Mo. and St. Louis, and 1992 trip to Japan.
"When I first came here and we were able to get our Nebraska game in Japan, when I got to the hotel Robert was the first guy there," Snyder said. "He is always there. He means a lot to me."
As K-State began winning, and more and more fans started making road trips, he became as recognizable as the school mascot.
On occasion, that has gained him special access to the team. He says former coach Ron Prince didn't care for him, but other coaches have allowed him to help with kicking drills at practices and invited him to mid-week meetings. Snyder even lets him address his players from time to time.
"We always enjoy it when Robert comes in the locker room," freshman center B.J. Finney said. "He is a pretty funny guy, and he has a lot of stories to tell."
It won't be long before he gets to share the story of how he attended his 150th consecutive K-State road conference game. But it may be a while before he thinks about ending the streak.
"Imagine what a shame it would be if I stopped," Lipson said.