Gone to the Game!

There is a great tradition in some parts of the football crazy Southern part of the United States. On Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, when the small town folk close up shop or leave their homes to go to watch high school or college football, they leave a sign in their window or in the car that says "Gone to the Game!"

It's a way of wearing their support for their home town team on their sleeve. A way of bonding with their team and community, a way of saying, "this is the place to be! Follow me!"

Each week this football season, we will be releasing a "Gone to the Game" banner and on game day, we encourage fans who are going to the game to change their Facebook profile cover photo to that week's "Gone to the Game" image. It's a virtual way for the Wolf Pack community to send a message to their fellow Reno area denizens, "this is the place to be! Follow me!" It's a small gesture, but perhaps if every fifth banner that gets seen by a fence sitting Nevada fan convinces them to get off the couch and go to the game, we can slowly but surely fill Mackay stadium with the kind of energy and excitement that was present those nights in September and November 2010 on a more consistent basis.

Click on this image to get a full resolution version.

If you need help changing your cover photo, here's a great explanation here. How do I edit my Facebook cover photo? You can download the full resolution "Gone to the Game" cover photo here.

Reno used to be a football town. In the late 80's and early 90's, Mackay stadium was the place to be on a Saturday afternoon. The roaring call response of "WOLLLLLF...PAAAACK!!!" washed over the football field and visiting teams like a massive ocean swell. Even though the opponents weren't as flashy as they are now and the stadium was smaller, to someone who witnessed a game at Mackay back then, it seems like the crowds were larger, more involved than they've been in recent years.

The town got bigger, the stadium got bigger, the opponents got bigger, but the crowds seem to have gotten smaller even if they were more numerous. It's difficult to pin down a cause but somewhere along the line, Reno became a little less of a football town. A larger, more transient population with less history in the community? Apathy with a football program that seemed to win a lot but maybe not quite enough for those longing to compete for division 1-AA national championships? The move of the student section from the East sideline to the North end zone? Dislike of a legendary head coach who did things his own way? A flagging economy? A literal fence between the fans and the football team? It was probably a combination of all those things and a few more.

Despite having a winning football program that's been to 8 straight bowl games and counting, a nationally recognized team both for its high powered, innovative offense and an alumni Super Bowl quarterback in Colin Kaepernick; Mackay stadium seems to struggle to consistently draw big, energized crowds. Sure, there are exceptions like Boise State and Cal in 2010, but then there are games like Louisiana Tech in 2011, where, with a WAC championship on the line, a crowd of barely 11,000 was on hand. It seems to take a perfect storm for Nevada fans to become truly engaged in their home town team.

A mostly empty stadium with a lackluster crowd is not just aesthetically unpleasant, it's a major factor in a team's success or failure. Selling tickets to games is one of the biggest factors in allowing an athletic program to remain competitive financially and Nevada lags far behind most of its peer institutions in the Mountain West in that regard. Nevada struggles mightily to retain talented coaches because it can't afford to pay a salary that's competitive with even some of its fellow conference programs.

The fans are out there. On one amazing weekend in early January 2011, 30,000 plus Renoites travelled across the Sierras to the City by the Bay to witness their Nevada Wolf Pack take on the Boston College Eagles in the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl. Why? Because some perfect storm of enthusiasm and timing combined to make the casual fan who had only been to 3 games in 10 years stand up and take notice. More than likely because it became the thing to do in Washoe County.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl - Wolf Pack Chant from Neil Henderson on Vimeo.

Reno can be a football town again, it was once, and there is no reason it can't be again. The Reno-Tahoe area is a special place and the University of Nevada is a special school with outstanding student athletes who work incredibly hard in the classroom, on the field and represent their university and community with pride and distinction. It's one of the most beautiful campuses in the country and possesses an on campus stadium that, while lacking in many regards, is an enjoyable, picturesque venue to watch a college football game. It has an exciting, young football coach who, by all appearances, "gets" college football and knows how important it is to engage the community.


Neil Henderson
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