Jackrabbit, Bison fans create fun atmosphere in Frisco


Marshall Minihan

South Dakota State fans in the stands at Toyota Stadium for the FCS national championship game Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas.

Marshall Minihan, Sports Reporter

Throughout the weekend, Jacks and Bison fans made their way to Frisco, Texas to see the North Dakota State-South Dakota State rivalry on the big stage.

They all watched as the Jackrabbits defeated the Bison 45-21 Jan. 8 at Toyota Stadium to secure their first national championship. By the end of the game, Jackrabbit fans were elated, while Bison fans were disappointed.

But that morning before the game, fans from both teams were eager to cheer their teams to victory. They made their way to the stadium hours before the 1 p.m. kickoff to indulge in tailgating festivities ranging from cornhole to listening to their school’s pep band.

Jackrabbit fans gathered on one side of Toyota Stadium to eat, socialize, and enjoy the nice weather in Texas.

One of those who showed up early was a 2004 SDSU graduate and current Dean of Students Toby Uecker, who arrived at Toyota Stadium at 8 a.m.

“We knew that we wanted to be here early so we had a good spot staked out and figured we’d enjoy every minute we could,” Uecker said, adding that plenty of food, water, beer and snacks are essential to have at a tailgate.

Uecker was impressed at the turnout of Jackrabbit fans, saying that it felt like a family environment.

“I think the Jackrabbit identity is about being family,” Uecker said. “I think it’s football, I think it’s the support of the institution I think it’s the fact that we have alumni all over the country. I think being a Jackrabbit is being family.”

Another South Dakota State alumn, and former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers was surprised at how many fans represented SDSU.

“I still thought when we got in that stadium that it was going to be a little more green and yellow,” Jaspers said. “But I think it was more blue than green in the stands and that was really awesome to see the support that our guys, our team and our program had.”

Fans from Brookings and Fargo weren’t the only ones who traveled to see the game. People from around the country wanted to take part in the game day experience.

Traveling all the way from Wisconsin was SDSU alum, Pete Watson. The former student was excited to make the trip down to Frisco to see the rivalry matchup, describing the atmosphere as “communal, enthusiastic, and a sea of blue.”

He mentioned how neighborly both Jackrabbit and Bison fans were throughout the weekend but was excited to see that the feeling of pride for their teams was amplified when entering Toyota Stadium.

“There is a respectful element to it,” Watson said. “Watching all the people come together, unified just in celebration and enthusiasm.”

The turnout from both fanbases was nearly even. Neither side seemed to have a distinct home-field advantage. While Jackrabbit nation was represented well, hundreds of NDSU fans also traveled to the place they’ve called “Fargo south,” and brought the same energy they have in NDSU’s previous nine trips to Texas.

On the opposite side of Toyota Stadium, NDSU fan Oren Danielson was making his third trip down to Frisco to support the team he loves. He said that Bison football to him is about honor, pride, hard work, dedication and teamwork.

“This is a game that I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. I’ve honestly cheered for the Rabbits when we are not playing them,” Danielson said. “I cheered for them so that this game could happen.”

The Bismark, North Dakota resident mentioned he would be very emotional to see his Bison raise the National Championship trophy for the tenth time. While the game’s final result was not what he wanted, he still enjoyed the stadium’s energetic atmosphere.

Virgil Davis, a Collin County, Texas Deputy, was happy that the weekend went very well and that it was good clean school spirit. He was also surprised at the turnout of Jackrabbit fans.

“For me, it’s like nothing ever seen before,” Davis said. “The comradery and the tradition that they bring here is just amazing.”

Davis compared this year’s game to the title game last year between NDSU and Montana State. He said this year’s game had more energy.

“South Dakota (State) brought the whole state with them,” Davis said. “Usually North Dakota State brings the house but I think (SDSU) has it this year.”

But not everyone at the tailgate was a Jackrabbit or Bison fan. Some were there because of their love for the game. Dressed up in a Jackrabbit costume was podcaster Dustin Helton, co-host of WACSun Weekly, a podcast about the FCS.

“All of us podcasters that are FCS fans are all family and we all get together to come to this game every year no matter who is playing. We sit in the endzone, all wearing our (school) colors and its family. It’s what gets us together every year,” Helton said.

The overall level of energy every Jackrabbit and Bison fan brought was felt by the players on both sides. One of those players thankful for his team’s fan support was Jackrabbit quarterback Mark Gronowski.

“It was so awesome. I knew there were more Jackrabbit fans here than there were Bison fans and it was so awesome and I was so proud and so happy that all Jackrabbit nation came out to support today,” Gronowski, the game’s Most Outstanding Player, said. “They really fueled us, gave us energy, and allowed us to play our best.”