In September of 1981, I began my studies at North Dakota State University. I didn’t know much more about the home football team other than they were called the Bison. When school began, the Bison had already lost one game on the road to Northern Michigan. They lost again at Northern Arizona the next Saturday. They finally won a game on their third try the next week at Northern Colorado.
The older students talked a lot about Bison football during the next week but I had trouble getting excited about a team I had yet to see play. Their first home game was coming up, and it was against the University of North Dakota. Some friends asked if I was planning on going, and I remember replying “I don’t know.” They explained that the student tickets were free, but had to be picked up by Friday. They were heading to the ticket office right away Monday morning because tickets would likely go fast with UND coming to town and invited me to join them. I did, and returned that day clutching my very first Bison football ticket in my sweaty little hand!
Saturday finally came, and everyone I met wanted to talk about the big football game. By late afternoon, things began getting crazy. People began hooting, hollering, and carrying on in all sorts of bizarre fashion: There was insanity everywhere! I had never been a part of such widespread madness, but it was fun, and I too eventually got caught up in the hoopla.
An hour before kickoff, we began walking the two blocks to Dacotah Field because our student seating was “general admission.” There was already a long line of students waiting to get in, so we fell into the back. I could hear a marching band playing inside the stadium, but it got drowned out every few seconds by someone shrieking at the top of their lungs. As we drew nearer, I saw what was taking so much time: There were security officers searching everyone before they were allowed to enter.
After a brief “pat down,” I was allowed to pass through the gate and enter Dacotah Field for the very first time. There was a dark tunnel to pass through, but the stadium lights on the other side were magnificently bright on that clear September night. We walked up the stairs and found seats on the wood benches. Being extremely manly men, we didn’t want to sit too close together, but as the crowd grew, we were gradually pushed tighter and tighter together until we became just a miniscule wave in a vast sea of humanity!
By the time the game began, the atmosphere was simply electric. I had attended a couple of rock concerts by that time, but they paled in comparison to the energy in the air that night at my first Bison football game. I jumped up and down screaming until I was hoarse. I kicked the floorboards during every kickoff, along with the other 12,000 fans, making the stadium sound like a Bison stampede! I booed the visiting team, shouting “Sioux suck!” I learned the words to our unofficial school fight song “Hail the Bison!” I watched the Bison trample the Fighting Sioux 31-7. I watched the Bison players pick up the “Nickel Trophy” after the game and parade it around the stadium while we fans continued cheering.
The Bison had an incredible season that year, winning the rest of their games until they eventually lost the Division II National Championship game to Southwest Texas State. This particular Bison win would be the first of 12 consecutive years of dominance over their arch rivals, the Fighting Sioux. That first Bison game was the most fun I had ever had in my life up to that point.
It was September 26, 1981; a night I’ll never forget…