Hundreds of Fresno State football fans braved the record heat Saturday to celebrate ahead of the season-opener against Incarnate Word.
Tailgate parties filled the areas outside the stadium with some lifelong and some newer Bulldogs fans. A crowd of about 39,000 was expected for the game, the first under coach Jeff Tedford. A halftime ceremony to honor former Bulldogs star quarterback Derek Carr by retiring his jersey No. 4 also was an attraction.
The tailgaters withstood temperatures that reached 109 degrees, a record for the date in Fresno.
There was a scary moment at one of the parties: Fresno State Police Lt. James Watson said two men were taken to a local hospital for treatment of burns on their legs. Watson said a propane tank leak ignited a fire at the party, and part of a tarp and a tree were burned.
At that same tailgate area, Denise Klein, 52, said the incident looked much more scarier than it was. She came over after the men were transported and said she had been offered food.
Klein, wearing a Bulldogs T-shirt, recently moved to Sanger and said she’s a week-old Bulldogs fan. She admitted to never following college football before, but said she plans to stick with the Bulldogs now.
“When you’re from Southern California, you don’t have something this tight,” she said, describing the spirit she saw in Bulldogs fans. “They’re really a tight group of people.”
One party stood out in particular. Under canopies tucked behind the center-field wall at Beiden Field, members of the 1977 Fresno State football team held a reunion. The team won the Pacific Coast Athletic Association championship and earned the nickname “stadim builders.” The ’77 team played at Ratcliffe Stadium, but the team’s success helped stoke the appetite for Bulldog Stadium, which opened in 1980.
About 80 people enjoyed the reunion including Brian Panish, 60, a Los Angeles lawyer, 2010 Fresno State outstanding alumni and 1977-78 letter winner.
Panish said being back is like he never left, and that the tailgate parties are a way to build camaraderie. He said he’s “looking for big things” from these Bulldogs and added that the Carr ceremony was a nice touch: “It just shows what Fresno State offers to the student athletes.”
Robert Mitchell, 45, set up a tailgate party for his clients. He said it’s events like Fresno State football games that bring people together.
“That’s the beauty of Fresno. It’s kind of an all-year-round sort of city,” Mitchell said. “Something is always going on.”
The Fresno State marching band was ready to get the crowd going. With the sounds of drums and trumpets, the band marched down Bulldog Lane chanting, “Go ’Dogs, beat the Cardinals.”
Cyndi Lee was stoked, too. Lee, 58, said she’s been a Bulldog fan for 40 years. She lives in Los Angeles now but was formerly from Clovis. She joined a family tailgate.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, “Win, win, win.”
Lee held her 4-year-old granddaughter Harper, who wants to be a cheerleader. Harper also cheered on the Bulldogs.
Lee said she was looking forward to the latest stadium attraction: beer. It’s on sale in two beer gardens just inside the stadium fence. There’s a two-drink minimum per purchase and sales will be cut off at the end of the third quarter.
“It was worse when we didn’t have it,” she said. “Because people were doing it a whole lot more outside.” She said she hopes the rules are followed.
American Ambulance Paramedic Supervisor Ben Wiele said his staff’s response to medical incidents was “more than normal.” He didn’t have an exact figure, but added, “Anytime you have heat and alcohol together … we see a spike in those kinds of incidents.”