Bison Game Day: For Bob Clark, 500 Bison games in a row has been a nationwide quest
What started in 1983 has taken the Fargo resident to 24 states and multiple destinations in the name of NDSU football.
FARGO — As the story goes, Bob Clark was a young student at North Dakota State when his family, from Minot, N.D., made a visit on parents weekend in the fall of 1971. His parents went to dinner at the Elks Lodge in downtown Fargo leaving Bob to babysit his younger sister Julie.
Bob asked Julie if she wanted to go bowling.
“I said, no, I want to go to the football game,” Julie said.
Julie was the sports nut in the family. At home, she was the one who had to alert her father when the Vikings were about to kickoff. So when her older brother asked about bowling, there was no question what she wanted to do.
“I’ll never forget the crowd,” said Julie Baker, who lives in Fargo. “Packed and loud and really cool.”
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That brother-sister football act is going stronger than ever. So ironclad in the family that Bob will be attending his 500th straight NDSU football game on Saturday when the Bison host Southern Illinois in the second round of the Division I FCS playoffs.
Earlier this year, Bob tweeted his journey of sorts before the Bison played at Towson University. Maryland was his 24th state in watching an NDSU football game joining a list that includes the traditional Upper Midwest states, but destinations like Georgia, Louisiana, Washington, California, Alabama and Delaware as well.
His streak started in 1982 innocently enough with some friends who dubbed themselves the “Road Warriors.” That was the year they drove to Davis, Calif., to watch the NDSU at UC Davis playoff game.
Things got serious in the 1983 Division II playoff run when the Bison returned to Davis for a semifinal victory and won the national title in McAllen, Texas.
Clark is in an elite group, especially in the FCS.
McNeese State fan Chris Buchanan was at over 500 straight games heading into the 2021 spring season. Assuming he’s still going — no news is usually good news in the world of a super fan — he’s at 518 straight.
At that rate, close calls of not making a game are most likely part of the attraction. Prior to the 2021 spring season, Clark was predictably paranoid of fans not being let into a game. There was some work to be done for him to attend the NDSU and Central Arkansas game at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome in October of 2020 — the only game in the fall for the Bison and was only open to a small contingent of friends and family.
Other super fans had similar close encounters over the years. Paul Layne was preparing for his 526th straight SMU football game in 2020 when the Mustangs traveled to Tulane. But the Green Wave barred all fans from the game with the exception of family members because of the COVID-19 pandemic putting Layne’s streak in jeopardy.
Thanks to the SMU athletic director, who contacted Tulane’s athletic director, Layne got into the game.
Clark had a similar nervous moment when the Bison played at Northern Iowa last spring. There were no tickets available to the public because the UNI season ticket base was more than the allowable fans in the game. But thanks to an Iowa State and Northern Iowa fan who was on an NDSU fan message board, he offered Clark an extra ticket.
“There were some parents who even couldn’t get into that game,” Clark said.
In 1998, USC fan Giles Pellerin died at his 797th straight game, a streak that began in 1926. San Diego State fan Tom Ables died two days before what would have been his 788th straight game in 2017. His allegiance included over 1,000 San Diego State basketball games.
After last season, Tommy Ray at Alabama had been to 618 straight. No word if that continued this season but most likely has.
One thing about Bob; he doesn’t leave much to chance. He left for the NDSU at the Youngstown State (Ohio) game three weeks ago on a Wednesday, driving from Fargo to Minneapolis before boarding a flight.
“What happens when a flight gets canceled on a Friday morning?” he said. “You’re at the mercy of the airlines and when you’re 1,000 miles away, it’s too late to drive. Especially if the wind is blowing and the snow is falling.”
He left for the Towson game on a Thursday for the same reason. Clark did not leave the streak up to the airlines to cancel his flight to 500 straight. Or most places for that matter. Julie accompanied Bob to one of NDSU’s games at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., during the Division I transition and found the pace rather quick.
They were in a couple of airports, rented a car in San Jose and drove to Cal Poly.
“I couldn’t keep up with him in the airport,” Julie said. “Bob is a nervous wreck about missing or not having a ticket or something. It’s gone from being kind of cool to being fretful about not seeing a game.”
Bob will tell anybody one of the best benefits has been getting to know the parents of Bison players over the years. Being in the same away destinations as them will do that, usually getting to know each other at tailgates.
“When you go to Youngstown or Southern Illinois, yeah, there are Bison fans that live in the area,” Bob said. “But the group of people that are there are the parents. I stop by their tailgate every Saturday and am on their email list. That’s the fun part about it.”
Current and former Bison parents and former players are invited to stop by a celebration tailgate in Bob’s honor west of the dome on Saturday. It’s located on the north end across from the Fargo Air Museum. A group of Bob’s friends rented a large tent.
"He was a catalyst for us joining Team Makers, he does a great job of being a quiet, reserved promoter of the program," said Tammi Jo Barta, who's helping with the tailgate festivities.
Barta and her husband Randy have been part of Bob's season ticket package of eight for many years. There was a time when John Mark, as the president of Team Makers and a former Road Warrior, made a big deal of Bob reaching 33 in a row in the 1980s. And from 1991 to 2007, Bob’s job took him to Minneapolis but he still didn’t miss a game.
A football game. Not a bowling match.