October 7th, 2006, was a bitterly cold, wet and windy day. It was the type of cold that made your fingers hurt when you flexed them. I spent the late afternoon and early evening of that day at Romney Stadium with my good friend Brian watching the Utah State Aggies football game versus Fresno State.
In the simplest terms, the 2006 Aggies were as bad a college football team as you could watch. Going into that game, the Aggies were winless in five games. They had been outscored 185-28 in those five games—and 21 of the 28 points they scored came against Idaho.
The betting line for that game has gone up as the years go by. I do not remember the original line…I believe the Bulldogs were 23 point favorites. Today when I share this anecdote, I suggest that they were favored by 35.
There was no tailgating outside the stadium that day—at least none worth catching hypothermia to attend. I do not know what the official paid attendance was, but I can testify that there were not more than 1,000 people who sat through that terrible game in awful weather.
The result of the game was a win. Riley Nelson (remember him?) came off the bench to throw a touchdown pass to Kevin Robinson with under a minute to play to finish off Fresno, 13-12. I high-fived Brian, and then immediately howled in pain because the cold, wet conditions made high-fiving a painful endeavor.
That would be the only game the Aggies would win all year.
Seven years later we are just hours away from another Aggie football season kicking off. And the difference between that team and this one is as far as Mercury is from Neptune.
In 2013, we have somewhat legitimate tailgating. RVs. Grilling. Libations. I am down there every game. Come say hello.
The stadium looks better. And this year the south end zone will have bleachers instead of those ridiculously amateur cement slabs.
And the team? Yes! They have indeed improved. Two straight winning seasons culminating in two consecutive third-tier bowl games in Boise might not sound like the Promised Land to most—but in Cache Valley it is an escape from limitless insignificance.
And that is what vexes me so much. While we were winning 11 games last year, Romney Stadium was nowhere near filled for the last few home games. Cache Valley now has a winning football team and we cannot fill a 30,000 seat stadium. It was shameful.
Nine years I have lived here and I finally figured out that what ails Cache Valley is not an inferiority complex. Quite the contrary. This place is mesmerizingly complacent. Whether the Aggies win or lose, the residents of this topographically challenged desert whistle a blithe, rhythmic tune. The Aggies are not a passion so much as they are a distraction. The student body tries to show a collegiate rabidity common on other campuses nation-wide; but really, we are far from the couch-burning fervor that most top athletic colleges exhibit.
This is the year to jump on the bandwagon. This is the year to break open that mason jar of Indian head nickels and buy tickets. This is the year to say, “I was there!”
Growing up a (not so) good Catholic boy in South Philly, I kept a St. Jude pendant given to me by my grandmother in my room. In Catholicism, Jude (also known as Thaddeus) is the patron saint of lost causes. He is the one Catholics pray to when life is hopeless. He is the guardian of the downtrodden. He brings comfort to those in despair.
I cannot think of a better figure to look over USU football than St. Jude.
After decades of losing seasons, futility and smug condescension from our in-state rivals, the light of optimism is finally shining on our weary faces.
Maybe this season will be a letdown. Perhaps we will lose our very first game against the Utah Utes—and then we can all laugh at my rah-rah spirit. But consider this:
If we were to only win 6 or 7 games this year, to many of us that would be a slight disappointment. How would six wins have looked back in 2006? The very fact that we can now feel disappointment regarding Aggie football means we have real expectations.
What are my expectations for the season? Ten wins. USC will beat us in a shootout, and Boise State is just better than we are. As a whole, the rest of the schedule are tougher games than last year’s—but now we have expectations to win. The culture has changed.
Cache Valley is my home— I cannot believe I just typed those words. Utah State University is my alma mater. I am an Aggie and will be an Aggie until the day I die. Aggie blue blood flows through my veins. And when I am in the west parking lot enjoying the good company of my fellow Aggies at the tailgate parties, I will feel the bliss that comes with this identity that I chose for myself.
We have a chance to witness something few Aggie fans have ever seen. Go buy a ticket, put on a blue shirt and sing the Scotsman as loudly as your diaphragm will allow. Enjoy the season, it might be something that we will remember for the rest of our lives.
And when we talk about it with those who come after us, we can tell them, “I was there!”