The road trip Dan Mitchell has been on this year is by no means approaching the status of Bob Clark. The latter is the North Dakota State “Road Warrior” who this Saturday will be attending his 475th straight Bison football game.
Bob just keeps truckin’ along, sometimes flying out Thursday to a destination to not risk missing a flight connection. What he’s done for years is what Mitchell is doing in 2019.
There are several reasons the Bison are playing Nicholls State (La.) on Saturday in a second round playoff game and finding a MVP among the Bison players is debatable. There are several candidates.
As for the NDSU fans, the conversation for MVP starts with Mitchell’s 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. It’s been as reliable as the Bison bringing their West Coast offense and Tampa 2 defense to the field every Saturday.
“Thankfully it gets good mileage,” Mitchell said. “And it’s gotten a lot of miles on it this year.”
For starters, Mitchell lives in Seattle and has driven to every Bison game this season, albeit all not from Seattle. A 1973 Fargo North graduate, he retired from BNSF Railway after 36 years with the company in 2014.
“So I have the time,” he said.
He thought about following the Bison for an entire season a couple of times since retiring. Perhaps the last straw was running into an NDSU player at Costco in Fargo who was impressed with Mitchell being such a great fan.
“And I thought, I’d like to see how this kid does this year,” he said.
Mitchell is a lifelong Bison fan who can rattle off some of the best memories at old Dacotah Field like when warm-weather Sacramento State (Calif.) came to Fargo for a very cold Division II semifinal playoff game in 1988. NDSU won 42-20 to advance to McAllen, Texas.
“They spent most of the game huddled around their sideline heater,” he said.
He attended Division II title games in McAllen and Florence, Ala. He counts one of his favorite memories when former NDSU head coach Chris Klieman once returned his phone call and the time a Bison assistant coach let him and his nephew watch the final practice at the Fargodome before the team headed to the 2014 FCS title game against Illinois State.
“To hear Chris Klieman in his last talk before Frisco …,” Mitchell said.
He saw NDSU play at the University of Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa. This year he’s seen everybody.
For the most part, the weather has cooperated with his few thousand of miles behind the wheel. He’s been able to incorporate seeing his brother in Holmen, Wis., his sister in Silver Spring, Md., and a high school friend who lives in Ellicott City, Md., along the way.
The Maryland connections came about with the Bison playing at the University of Delaware on Sept. 14. That could go down as the favorite trip this year, so far anyway.
“Afterwards we hung out a good hour and a half with the Delaware fans,” he said. “They were great people.”
The constant three months of travel went something like this: Mitchell left Seattle and drove to Minneapolis for the Bison season opener against Butler University at Target Field. He returned to Fargo, where he has four rental properties, for the University of North Dakota home opener at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
Then it was the approximate 1,400-mile drive to Newark, Del., with an overnight stop in Indiana and the personal connections in Maryland. It was back to Fargo for the final non-conference game against UC Davis before Missouri Valley Football Conference play commenced.
“It’s been enjoyable seeing the country,” Mitchell said.
Driving to Normal, Ill., Brookings, S.D., Youngstown, Ohio and Carbondale, Ill., gave Mitchell the taste of life in the Valley. At Youngstown, he sat with Penguins fans who didn’t have much to cheer about — NDSU won 56-17.
The weather was cool and drizzly at Southern Illinois. The conditions at Illinois State in early October were much better than they were when he attended the Bison and Redbirds game two years ago in November. His brother from Holmen also attended that game.
“We went inside the fieldhouse at halftime,” Dan said, “came out and looked across the stadium and all the Illinois State fans were gone. Illinois State wasn’t out of the playoffs at the time, so Bison fans must love it when their fans travel. It was disheartening I would think for Illinois State fans to see more Bison fans than their own fans.”
It reminded him of the second FCS title game against Sam Houston State in 2012 when many of the Bearkat fans left Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas by the end of the third quarter. NDSU won that game 39-13.
It remains to be seen if the Bison reach Frisco again. And if so, if the Jetta is ready to make the trip.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting a lot of the players and a lot of the players have remembered seeing me there time after time on the field after the game,” Mitchell said. “Some of them have said, you need to keep coming back, you’re our good luck charm.”