FRISCO, Texas -- They are everywhere, again. From the site of JFK's assassination in downtown Dallas, to the bars and restaurants in Plano, to the Dallas Cowboys billion-dollar practice facility in Frisco, to the hotels near the stadium in which the Football Championship Subdivision title game will played. You can't avoid North Dakota State football fans in north Texas.
Despite signs Bison fans had perhaps tired, somehow, of seeing their team mercilessly beat opponents into submission, they have again migrated to this Dallas suburb and the surrounding area by the thousands in anticipation of Saturday's game against Eastern Washington.
Yes, NDSU does have an opponent as it seeks its seventh national title in eight years. Although you wouldn't necessarily know it by hitting the popular spots around here. There is a smattering of red and black, Eastern Washington's team colors, but green and gold are the colors of the thundering herd that's taken over bars like Scruffy Duffie's, Ringos, Tight Ends and Twin Peaks.
The Bison Tracker app, developed years ago to put the Bison fan migration into numbers, by late afternoon Friday said nearly 12,000 NDSU backers had downloaded the app and made their way to Frisco. That's a record figure, according to Bison Tracker.
Winning never gets old, it seems. Nor does making the 1,000-mile trek to Texas.
NDSU football fans coming to Frisco in herds. pic.twitter.com/q0AhS1Ymff— Mike McFeely (@McFeely_Inforum) January 4, 2019
"It's different every time," said Bison fan Chris Nation of Fargo. "The ride down. The game. The experience. Everything is different."
Nation was standing a few feet from an "X" that marked the site of President John F. Kennedy's 1963 assassination on Elm Street in downtown Dallas, between the building that was once called the Texas School Book Depository and the infamous Triple Underpass. Green and gold-clad Bison fans were milling around the grassy knoll and, across the street, Dealey Plaza.
A long line of Bison fans snaked through the entrance of the Sixth Floor Museum, a historical exhibit chronicling Kennedy's assassination and the actual sixth floor of the building, from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, was packed with more green and gold. About 80 percent of the museum's visitors Friday morning wore NDSU colors.
Kelvin and LeAnn Howieson of Baxter, Minn., whose son Josh is an offensive lineman for the Bison, were among those on the grassy knoll, where conspiracy theorists believe another gunman fired at Kennedy. It is the Howieson's fifth trip to a title game.
"It's just the adventure of coming down and seeing all the fans get together. It's a big, fantastic party," Kelvin said.
"It feels like you're in Fargo," LeAnn said.
That might be the case at the game, too. Toyota Stadium chief operating officer Jimmy Smith said he expects a crowd of about 20,000 on Saturday, which would be on par with past games in which NDSU played. Bison athletic director Matt Larsen said enthusiasm and ticket demand for the game among fans is equal to, "if not more," compared to past title games.
"I think there are a couple of reasons for that, the biggest being that fans know this is a really special team," Larsen said. "It could go down as one of the best, if not the best, FCS team ever. The fans appreciate that and they don't want to miss this."
There are other factors at play, too. This will be the last game for popular head coach Chris Klieman, who is leaving after the game to take over Kansas State's program. It is the last game, too, for 24 seniors. Included are fan favorites like quarterback Easton Stick, running backs Bruce Anderson and Lance Dunn, receiver Darrius Shepherd and safety Robbie Grimsley. Those players have led NDSU to a 53-5 record and two national titles since 2015.
There was a question during earlier home playoff games against Montana State and Colgate whether Bison fans were getting bored. Attendance dipped well below capacity at the Fargodome, to barely above 17,000, making them some of the lightest-attended games since NDSU began its dynasty in 2011. But the fans turned out for a semifinal against rival South Dakota State and Saturday's game will be just like a home game for the Bison.
"I think the reason for those empty seats in the dome was that fans believed the outcome was a foregone conclusion," Larsen said. "We know it doesn't work that way, but fans saw how strong our team is and just didn't think we were going to lose. They were waiting, I think, for the semifinals and this game."
Not surprisingly, Bison fans are confident their team is going to beat Eastern Washington and win its seventh championship in eight years. An oddsmaker that takes FCS bets has NDSU as a 16-point favorite. NDSU enters the game 14-0, winning its three previous playoff games by an average score of 44-10. The Bison are No. 19 in the Sagarin ratings, which ranks all Division I college football teams including those from major conferences. NDSU is one spot behind Texas and one ahead of Washington State.
Outside The Star in Frisco, the Cowboys' headquarters and the top tourist attraction in the area, dozens of Bison fans ogled at the 2,270-square foot outdoor video board and checked out the artificial turf mini-football field that is open to the public.
"They keep on talking about the Eastern Washington offense, but I think the Bison defense is going to come up big," said Gardell Frey of Bismarck, who was playing catch with his son Austin.
"We're always confident. It's just not an option that we're going to lose," said Sam Teller of Minneapolis, sister of Bison safety Jaxon Brown. "So that's how it's going to go."
Even the former mayor of Frisco, Maher Maso, is fully on the bandwagon. The city's leader during NDSU's first five title wins in Frisco, Maso unabashedly believes the Bison are going to win.
"I don't have to be nonpartisan like I was when I was mayor. I can say now that the Bison look great and are easily the favorite. Eastern Washington has done a great job of getting here. We hope they have a great time and good luck to them," Maso said. "But from what I've seen of the Bison this year, the offense, defense and coaching seems to be clicking on all cylinders. Tough nut to crack."