The loudest, most raucous I’ve ever heard Bulldog Stadium was on the evening of Sept. 2, 2001.
Specifically, when David Carr dropped back from the 28-yard line with 6:37 left in the third quarter and fired a perfect pass to Bernard Berrian in the back of the north end zone. Giving the Bulldogs a two-touchdown lead in what became a 44-24 victory over an Oregon State squad ranked No. 10 in the polls and No. 1 by Sports Illustrated.
“Dave threw that dime to Bernard, and the place went crazy,” recalled Cameron Worrell, a hard-hitting safety on that 2001 team and now sideline analyst for 940 ESPN radio broadcasts. “Not just loud, but crazy.”
When the game ended some of the rowdier among the 42,410 fans (and nary an empty seat) stormed the field, ripped down the goalpost and carried it up the ramp and out of the parking lot.
“People still talk to me about that game, about how they saw the goalpost on Cedar (Avenue),” Worrell said.
The goalposts will be safe Saturday night when Fresno State hosts UNLV. The noise level won’t be anywhere near those decibels. Instead of a sellout, Athletic Director Jim Bartko is crossing his fingers and toes for a more modest turnout of 33,000.
And you know what? That simply isn’t good enough. This community can do better. This surprising team, 5-2 overall, 4-0 in the Mountain West and smashing all expectations, deserves better.
I know, I know. We’re no longer in 2001. Fan interest has declined, the level of frenzy has dissipated – in part due to limited alcohol sales and the student section no longer being right behind the visiting bench – and habits have changed.
There are thousands of people who drive around the Valley with Fresno State bumper stickers, who proudly wear Bulldogs apparel and who consider themselves fans … but have little interest in attending games.
The cheapest single tickets I could find online Tuesday morning at gobulldogs.com were $32 for the end zones and $47 for the 20-yard line.
Part of it is the hassle. Bulldog Stadium is not an easy venue to enter, exit or access your seats, which hampers those with mobility issues.
Part of it is the lack of modern conveniences and infrastructure that fans in 2017 expect. Unless you have AT&T as a cell-phone provider, good luck posting video or selfies on social media.
(Just before kickoff of the New Mexico game on Oct. 14, I used my Verizon iPhone to snap of a photo of the crowd. It didn’t show up on Twitter until 11:49 p.m.)
They’re all good excuses for staying home. But you know what trumps them all? This team. What a fun, completely unexpected pleasure these Bulldogs have been to watch.
And unless your TV gets an obscure channel called AT&T SportsNet/ROOT Sports, being live and in person Saturday night at Bulldog Stadium is the only way to see them in action.
I think there’s a lot of excitement around, and I’d hope (fans) want to come out and support these players.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
You want big plays? In the four games since Marcus McMaryion became the starting quarterback, Fresno State’s offense has produced 19 plays of 20 or more yards.
You want tough and physical? Get a load of the vastly improved offensive line, complete with bruising stiff-arms delivered by 220-pound running back Josh Hokit.
You want Valley kids in leading roles? Besides McMaryion, the pride of Dinuba, there’s Hanford product Juju Hughes at strong safety and outside linebacker George Helmuth, who graduated from Clovis North but grew up in Kerman.
You want highly competent coaches? Jeff Tedford is a virtual lock for conference Coach of the Year and could reel in national honors, too, if this team keeps rolling.
Sum it up like this: Any Fresno State fan who isn’t feeling excited or giddy about this team, and who hasn’t at least thought about buying tickets for Saturday night, might as well turn in their membership card.
Unlike Pat Hill, Tedford has been somewhat reluctant to implore Bulldogs fans to pack the stadium. He wants fans to pack the stadium, certainly, but so far has stopped short of making demands.
“I hope so, but I’m not going to stomp my foot on the ground,” Tedford replied, using my figure of speech. “We just need to do our job. I think there’s a lot of excitement around, and I’d hope (fans) want to come out and support these players.
“We only have a few more opportunities at home left.”
Three home games remain, four if Fresno State winds up hosting the Mountain West championship game. If you consider yourself a Bulldogs fan, what exactly are you waiting for?
UNLV AT FRESNO STATE
- Saturday: 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 5-2, 4-0 Mountain West; Rebels 2-5, 1-3
- TV/radio: AT&T, ROOT (AT&T UVerse 757, 1757; DirecTV 684)//KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Of note: The Rebels lost at home to Utah State on Saturday, 52-28, after starting quarterback Armani Rogers was knocked out of the game with a head injury. UNLV has now allowed an average of 42.3 points over its past three games. … The Aggies rolled up 578 yards of total offense, 323 passing and 255 rushing. They converted 8 of 14 third downs, taking advantage of a soft spot in the UNLV defense. … The Rebels entered having allowed opponents to convert on 44.2 percent of their third downs, ranking 10th in the Mountain West. … UNLV does have one of the top running backs in the conference in Lexington Thomas, who racked up 161 yards and two touchdowns against Utah State and is averaging 125.3 yards per game with 12 rushing touchdowns.