Judging by the turnout for Fan Day 2014, indeed they do. What had to be an unofficially record crowd came to this year’s edition of the annual August event. And they came early, enough so that two lines stretching at least a quarter-mile each were sweating out the afternoon in advance of 4:30 opening. They didn’t have to wait quite that long actually because as everyone backed-up at the gates athletics director Scott Stricklin gave the go-ahead to open early.
The result left even veteran Bulldogs impressed. “I really haven’t imagined anything like this,” senior DT Kaleb Eulls said. “The fans come out and support us and get a chance to see their teammates, get a chance to see the stadium and how far along it’s come. And it’s a great day today.”
Eulls wasn’t entirely exaggerating the idea fans consider themselves on the same Mississippi State team. And his comment on the stadium pointed up the other reason 2014’s attendance exceeded anything of previous Fan Days. While select and privileged or just plain lucky groups have gotten to take quick tours of the expanded and extensively renovated Davis Wade Stadium recently, Sunday the gates were opened for public viewing.
If anyone was disappointed, they wisely kept quiet about their concerns. Not that complaints would have been heard in the happy hubbub anyway. Though surprised by the numbers, defensive tackle Jones wasn’t at all surprised by the passion.
“It’s Maroon Nation, baby! We’ve put in a lot of work and it feels good knowing you have a good fan base behind you.”
Eulls and Jones have seen the inside of the facility twice before during preseason scrimmaging. Still with the furious finishing pace by construction crews in advance of next Saturday’s kickoff, every day installs something new or refurbishes something old. Not a few true old-time fans, whose memories go back before skyboxes, before lights, before the end zone wood bleachers and cinder track were removed, find the under-side of DWS almost unrecognizable. Which is a good thing given the original core facility looked every bit a 1930s building project. Now elders have to search hard for evidence of old days, not that many would really want to.
The new-and-improved aspects demand all attention instead. And while these elements are for use of Mississippi State students and paying customers, the guys wearing uniforms on the field take great pride in what has been built-up around them. Especially the seniors.
“I think it’s great,” Eulls said. “Even from my years, from recruitment and younger growing up, I never saw anything like this. I’m just glad to be a part, to get a chance to experience it. The guys all are excited, we all came in together and as the years we’ve been her we’ve seen it come a long way. And it is amazing.”
The real amazement comes Saturday evening when Mississippi State begins a 2014 season of great expectations. Kickoff is 6:30 with in-state school Southern Mississippi coming to campus for the first time since 1990, when the stadium was a much smaller and very different venue. The Bulldogs can’t help but know they are healthy favorites in the non-conference matchup, so Coach Dan Mullen’s game-week work includes keeping his squad focused on business.
Still, everyone understands that opening a high-hopes schedule while re-opening the campus kennel is going to have emotions red-lining. “It’s going to be pretty fun, everybody has been waiting for this for a while such as every other team in the nation,” Eulls said. “We get a chance to go showcase what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been training for. I feel we had a great camp, chemistry got even closer not only offense and defense but closer as a team and friends and family.”
Jones himself was amped up enough for his final Fan Day at State, before lapsing into Preseason Cliché mode. “We’re just ready to play somebody else besides ourselves. O-line, D-line we were talking about we’re sick of beating on each other, it’s time to beat on somebody else.”
Well and good but not exactly original, agreed Eulls. But then he said no surprise his line-mate fell back on clichés. “I’ve had more experience doing interviews!”
MSU officials have reported fewer than 1,000 season tickets remain available, with sales surpassing 46,000 so far. Also, after the public got a look at the Gridiron Club (the field-level premium area in the north end zone) today, State expected many if not most of the 114 slots remaining before Sunday to get snapped up.