Bleeding Blue in Atlanta

The newlyweds watched the first half of the game through a chain-link fence. They couldn’t afford the price of admission.
The year was 1971, the game the first ever between the University of Idaho and then Boise State College. Fans were admitted free for the second half, and the newlyweds watched from the bleachers as BSC defeated the Vandals 42-14. He’d been to games at Bronco Stadium before and knew what to expect. She hadn’t. A newcomer from Washington state, she was hooked for life that day by the Broncos’ high-voltage offense.
The newlyweds, as you’ve probably guessed, were the Woodwards. We’ve been to a lot of games since then, but never to a big-time game in a distant city and have always wondered what it would be like.
This year’s season kickoff against Ole Miss in Atlanta on Aug. 28 represented the perfect opportunity to find out. We had some airline rewards freebies, some friends were going, and Atlanta isn’t far from Savannah – a city I’d wanted to see virtually all my life.
Like others who watch BSU’s away games on television, we had a vague idea of what to expect. We’d seen the cheering, the celebrations. But what would it be like to be there and be part of that?
The first surprise came on the plane, when a flight attendant led a Boise State cheer. Twice.
The next surprise was the number of Bronco fans in Atlanta. Not as many as for a game in, say, Seattle or Las Vegas – Atlanta is almost four times as far away. But spontaneous cheers broke out on the streets, and BSU colors seemed to pop up everywhere – the airport, our hotel, in restaurants, at the Civil War Museum, the Margaret Mitchell House …
Bear with me for a brief digression of travel trivia totally unrelated to football: Mitchell only wrote “Gone With the Wind” because someone told her she wasn’t smart enough to write a book. She wrote it in a tiny apartment she called “the dump,” hid the manuscript pages and denied she was writing it. And she wanted Basil Rathbone (best known as Sherlock Holmes) to play Rhett Butler instead of Clark Gable!
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Back to football.
The train ride to the stadium was, well, different. Fans in Rebel red outnumbered those in blue and orange by something like ten to one. It was weird to be engulfed by the opponents’ colors at a BSU game. Weird, and a little intimidating.
That changed, however, at the Chick-fil-A pre-game show. There were a lot of Bronco fans there. One was Linda Clark, superintendent of the West Ada School District. Clark figures she’s attended roughly 80 away games – two a year for 40 years.
“It’s a nice way to start the season,” she said, “and it’s always fun to go to a big game like this one. That and I wanted to be here for the start of a new era, with a preponderance of the new coaches having BSU ties. In case you can’t tell, I bleed blue.”
Unseen, at least by us, were the blue-haired Elvises, shirtless guys painted blue and orange and some of the other local-color staples of home games. That was okay, though. I was looking for staples of away games, and couldn’t have found a better one than Chuck Hallett.
Hallett was wearing orange pants, an orange BSU cap, a white and orange BSU shirt, orange and blue necklaces and was carrying an orange bag filled with pre-game memorabilia. A Capital High and BSU graduate, he’s lived in Olympia, Wash. for years but attends all of BSU’s home games and many of its away games.
“I live in a neighborhood where there are 300 Husky fans and two BSU fans, and BSU is better represented,” he said.
Hallett and his wife, Mary (blue shirt, orange blanket, blue and orange jewelry), have a BSU tent, balloons, banners, golf cart and other Bronco gear at their home in Olympia. They have autographed footballs, helmets, pool floats, a Kellen Moore display. A Husky fan had to pose for a picture wearing BSU colors after losing a bet to them. They take pictures of Husky fans’ pets lying on their BSU dog bed.
“We love the town of Boise, the team, the colors, everything,” Chuck said.
“And we really love going to the games,” Mary added. “We both have things we do on our own, but this is something we can do together that we both love.”
A bonus for BSU fans who made the trip to Atlanta was its newly opened College Football Hall of Fame. The Broncos were the first team to visit.
Some trivia totally related to football: The worst drubbing ever at a college game was Georgia Tech over Cumberland College, 222-0. (Mercy rules apparently were for sissies then.) Five rather than 10 yards used to be required for a first down, and a touchdown used to be four points.
BSU is well represented at the hall of fame – interactive displays, photos of a Bronco tailgate party and former coach Chris Petersen, film of the Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma … Nearly a thousand BSU fans passed through the doors the first week.
We’ve come a long way from the days when they could watch games through a chain-link fence.
Note: This is the first of two columns from Tim’s trip to Georgia. Next: Savannah.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on http://www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

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