How ’bout them NDSU Bison?
I have to admit, I was once a little jealous of North Dakota State University’s football following. The fan base is massive, passionate and has the product to justify the statewide hype.
The Bison are playing for their third consecutive NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision title this afternoon, and by some estimates more than 40 people from the Rugby area will be in attendance in Frisco, Texas.
That’s an impressive number for a city with a population of about 3,000. They’ll be joining possibly tens of thousands from across the state and beyond, who make the Bison fanbase one of the more outstanding in college sports.
The only time my alma mater – James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. – won the FCS title was in 2004. The Dukes beat the Montana Grizzlies 31-21. I was still in high school and didn’t fully understand the “lesser” of the two Division I football subdivisions.
It didn’t take long for the whole “playoffs-over-bowl games” format to reign supreme for me.
The championship game was in Chattanooga, Tenn., back then and one article from that year said about 4,000 JMU fans stormed the field. That means there were probably a few more that made the 468-mile trip from northwestern Virginia to southeastern Tennessee.
That’s a nice number for a school about two hours or less away from Atlantic Coast Conference schools University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.
By one estimate on the Fargo Forum’s Bison Fan Blog, between 15,000 and 18,000 Bison fans are expected to dwarf their counterparts from challenger Towson University, a public institution in the Baltimore suburbs. The trip from Fargo to Frisco (most people are flying) is 1,065 miles.
I neither trust fans nor their blogs (see definition of fanatic), but it would not surprise me if Frisco saw close to that estimate. It was well documented in the Forum that the previous two championship games saw thousands of NDSU faithful overwhelm the Texas city.
These Bison are special and so are their fans.
I first experienced NDSU football about a month after moving from Virginia to Minot in late 2011. Sure enough, the JMU Dukes played the Bison in the Fargodome in the second round of the playoffs. I accepted a job at the Minot Daily News in mid-October. I kept looking at the standings and kind of hoped that JMU would lose just enough games to make the playoffs, but have a chance to play in my new home state.
It was one heck of an experience from the tailgating to the deafening roar in the Fargodome. It also was an entertaining game that came down to the fourth quarter. The Bison won 26-14 – not bad considering the average margin of victory in NDSU’s previous 11 playoff games was 21.7 points.
I met up with some JMU fans who loved the Fargo game-day experience and raved about how nice Dakotans are. Tailgaters invited those in purple to converse and listen to stories about what was becoming the premiere FCS program.
Both teams boast strong numbers of fans, but in North Dakota football the Bison are it (UND is a hockey-first school). In Virginia there are seven FCS schools and three FBS programs, if you include transitioning Old Dominion University. It’s something else to see an entire state, regardless of population, rally around one team. I’ve caught the Bison fever and hope they win it again today.
JMU plays Towson each year and I don’t remember much about the Tigers during the three seasons I covered the Dukes from 2006 to 2009. Towson won a total of 13 games through those seasons and won just three more games in the following two seasons. They have an NFL-caliber running back now and are in Frisco for a reason, but we’re still talking about the Bison and their No. 1 defense.
Another NDSU title is likely as are the calls from some fans to have the school move to the BCS level, which will have a four-team playoff beginning next season. I’ve heard the same sentiment often from JMU fans, but I hope neither school makes the jump. It would be a long climb back to the top and geography hampers both of my favorite FCS teams when it comes to recruiting.
The Bison are the best and there’s nothing wrong with being the best at your level. Here’s to a three-peat and many more years of success for North Dakota’s finest.
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