Inside I-80

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chriswatt.jpg Daily Herald - Roughly four years from now, expect release of the first book from Richard and Mary Pat Watt of Glen Ellyn, a collaboration titled, "Inside I-80: A Mile-By-Mile Guide of Things to Do and See Along the Indiana Toll Road."

The Watt parents are already experts on the subject, considering the number of miles they've put on two cars this fall.

The reason is a recession-era dream come true: Three kids on scholarships playing Division I college sports at the same time.

The oldest, Kevin Watt, is a fifth-year defensive end at Northwestern and graduate student in Learning and Organizational Change. He was selected NU's defensive player of the week after the Penn State game on Oct. 22.

The middle child is Christopher, who has started every game at offensive guard for Notre Dame this season.

The youngest is Katie, who plays soccer at the University of Toledo. She's appeared in 12 of 20 games as a freshman.

The Watts are trying their best to have one parent at every sporting event this fall. So needless to say, the odometers have been spinning constantly.

"It's been probably the golden period of my life," Richard Watt said. "It's a lot of fun. This is Kevin's last year. It's going to be sad. But I have two more years, hopefully, with Christopher and three years with my daughter, Katie. It will be a little easier (in the future)."

Here's the Watt itinerary for this past weekend: Mary Pat flew down to Wake Forest to watch Notre Dame beat the Demon Deacons 24-17 in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Richard followed Northwestern on its first-ever trip to play new Big Ten rival Nebraska. He drove that one, trading the Indiana Toll Road for a cross-Iowa trek on I-80.

"It's only like seven hours away," Richard shrugged. "I'm going to have a couple people with me, so we all share the driving; makes it a lot easier. Nobody gets tired.

"I've always heard good things about Nebraska fans. I would love to see an upset there," he said before knowing the Wildcats would pull off an improbable 28-25 victory. "That would be the ultimate. That would be better than a bowl game."

The Watts actually missed Katie's soccer game Friday, a rare occurrence. But since the Rockets beat Buffalo 3-1 and advanced to the MAC tournament championship game, the parents planned to meet at O'Hare on Sunday morning and get to Toledo in time for opening kick of the title game against Western Michigan.

Last month, Mary Pat achieved the ultimate college road trip. She saw Toledo soccer play at Bowling Green on Friday night, then crossed over to Kankakee, spent the night, and watched Northwestern play Illinois on Saturday morning.

"I graduated from Illinois, so it was a real trip down memory lane going down I-57," she said. "I was with my brothers, which was really fun."

The weekend was only half over. Notre Dame played that night at Purdue, so the Watts made the relatively short journey from Champaign to West Lafayette in plenty of time. Then they watched Katie play at Miami of Ohio on Sunday.

"I know one weekend, they drove all the way out to Pittsburgh (for a Notre Dame game), came back through Toledo to see my sister," Kevin Watt said. "So they've been putting a lot of miles on the car. Both my parents are just excited to be so busy."

Richard is used to heavy driving. He travels the Midwest selling legal materials and computer programs to law firms. Mary Pat isn't employed, but she obviously spent years as a full-time chauffeur, getting the kids to all their practices and events.

A house with two football linemen and flying soccer balls sounds like a dangerous place. But Kevin reports just one significant mishap when he was growing up: He and Chris were practicing some line drills in the kitchen and Kevin knocked Chris through the wall. Not all the way through, but the collision put a nice-sized hole in the drywall.

"We were having a party that weekend, so my mom was really upset," Kevin recalled. "We got it fixed in a matter of a couple days. It was pretty calm for the most part, but there was always a little bit of rambunctious behavior."

Maybe Richard was out of town during the broken-wall incident, but he remembers only tranquility when the three kids lived at home.

"I never had any problem with my kids. Never got in trouble. It was almost like utopia," he said. "The boys had a couple fights inside the house, but nothing major. And my daughter, nothing."

Now the kids are so busy, they barely have time to talk to each other. For the parents, it's all about the gas and go; then, obviously, watching the flat, Midwestern countryside pass by.

"I've listened to a couple books," Mary Pat said of her road trip routine. "I do love sports, so I'll listen to ESPN or as long as I can get it, I'll listen to WGN. Then a lot of music."

The destinations make it all worthwhile. Mary Pat went to Boston for NU's season opener; while Richard made the trip to scenic West Point when NU played Army.

Next year will bring a road trip that can't be completed by car - Notre Dame's opening game against Navy, which will be played in Dublin, Ireland.

"I love the venues, the places they go to," Richard said. "Especially Nebraska, I've never been to that place."

Sure, some trips are more scenic than others, but it's the destination - and upset wins - that matter most.

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