About 10 years ago, North Dakota State decided to move its athletic programs to the NCAA Division I level.
No one knew what to expect at the time. Coming off a few years of Division II mediocrity in most sports, including football, fan sentiment was tempered. Some people predicted it would be a disaster. More were upset that long-time rivalries were ending so NDSU could play teams like Southern Utah and Cal Poly.
A decade later, there is no debate. The decision has been nothing short of brilliant.
Saturday afternoon, the Bison football team wrote the final page of perhaps the greatest chapter in the history of North Dakota sports by winning their third consecutive title in the Football Championship Subdivision, cruising past Towson to a 35-7 victory in front of what was basically a home crowd in Frisco, Texas, where an estimated 17,000 of the 19,000-plus fans were cheering for the Bison.
NDSU, led by 24 seniors and Craig Bohl coaching his final game for the green and gold, completed what many Bison faithful felt was inevitable going into the season — a three-peat, an undefeated season and a perfect ending.
The team’s performance was incredible and much will be written about that.
But what needs to be recognized is the support the state of North Dakota has given the Bison during their run. Never before in our state’s history has a team captured the attention of the masses quite like NDSU football did the past three years.
No offense to University of North Dakota men’s hockey and its decades of accomplishments, but we’ve never seen anything like this.
“We’ve got the best fans in America, bar none,” Bohl said on ESPN2 in the moments following Saturday’s win.
Bohl was smart to thank the fans. Whether it was selling out the Fargodome, having a deafening presence when visiting offenses were on the field or simply showing support for the team, fans played a big role in helping drive the program’s success.
Social media — the greatest real-time indicator of trends and what people are talking about — buzzed Saturday morning as people prepared to watch the game.
“Where is everyone watching the Bison game at?” one of my Facebook friends asked. He received more than two dozen responses. Some southwest North Dakotans made the trek to Texas and shared their experiences online.
Perhaps the support stemmed from the way Bohl’s Bison found success.
They weren’t flashy. They were gutty and blue collar.
In essence, they were North Dakotan.
“The team has represented North Dakota extremely well, and we know Bison fans across the nation are proud of the team’s victory,” North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a statement Saturday.