I saw a little news blurb today in my Facebook feed that the junior college I attended 35 years ago in California won the California state championship for men’s soccer. I graduated from Fresno City College 35 years ago and haven’t even been back to Fresno for 30 years but it still tugged at my heart a little bit.
This has been a special year for a Fresno State University grad (yes, I graduated from both schools) like me. The school’s football program, which had been in the dumps for three straight years, enjoyed a huge revival this season with new coach Jeff Tedford (who was once portrayed as the character “Tedford the Bear” in the comic strip Pearls Before Swine — useless but fun trivia). The Bulldogs went 9-4 (after a 1-11 season last year) and are headed to the Hawaii Bowl. It’s a great start in Tedford’s first year. I’m beaming with pride. People in the office have been forced to tolerate me crowing on Mondays, “Fresno State won again!”
Being a Fresno State grad means being consumed with a near pathological berserker-like hatred of Boise State that cannot be explained to non-Bulldogs. It means annoying people on occasion by telling them that Derek Carr, Aaron Judge and Paul George are all Fresno State alums, too.
We’re all alums from somewhere
I’m surrounded by Cougars and Huskies alumni and it’s been fun watching them go through the highs and lows of the past two seasons. The ecstacy of the USC game, the agony of the Arizona State game. I love it.
There’s a dark side to it, too. In Missoula, they had a terrible scandal at the University of Montana with a number of football players involved in criminal acts, including sexual assaults. The situation was so bad, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened and Jon Krakauer wrote a book about it. The behavior of Grizzly alums on local message boards was abhorrent, especially toward women who had accused players of sexual assault.
Recently, the University of Montana rehired its former coach Bobby Hauck, who was the coach during some of the criminal behavior. (In his defense, some of it went on after he left.) A group of women in that community started a petition protesting Hauck’s hiring and again, some of the alums went crazy, attacking these women online and literally making threats.
All this over a football team.
Yeah, it can go too far, unfortunately.
When I actually attended school, I really didn’t care about Fresno State’s sports. Unfortunately, there was a pretty big disconnect at the time between the athletic department and the student body. Few tickets were made available to students and the athletic department was far more interested in chasing booster money, frankly.
I have no idea if that’s still the case today. It wasn’t until years later that I started actually caring again about Fresno State, maybe during the era of David Carr and Pat Hill when the Bulldogs actually ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
I remember actually being a total nervous wreck watching Fresno State play for the national championship in baseball in 2008, barely able to watch the last couple of innings and barely able to contain myself from telling a Georgia fan at the tavern next to me (Who wasn’t even a Georgia fan, he was from Louisiana so he should have been cheering for Fresno.) to shut the hell up. I have never been that genuinely nervous watching a sporting event. Not before or since. I don’t normally take sports that seriously.
The same of course happens at the high school levels and you really see it at some of the small schools of the North Peninsula, where generations of players from days of yore filling the stands, remembering what it was like to be in the student section or out on that field or court.
What keeps us drawn to our alma maters? As I mentioned, I left Fresno 30 years ago and have virtually no ties left to the town. I have a nephew who still lives there, that’s about it. Yet, it is something to connect to and identify with. I spent two-and-a-half years at Fresno State and it was a big part of my life. College is a big part of all of our lives that most of us I think remember fondly all of our lives.
Maybe cheering for the old team takes me back to those campus days when I did much of my growing up into an adult, hanging out at the student union or the student pub.
So, this year, I can relate to all the excitement — and even the angst — that I’ve seen around our community from all the Cougars, Huskies and even Gonzaga alums. All of us have big bowl games to get ready for this holiday (and in Washington State’s case — Holiday) season.