NDSU fan hasn't missed a football game since '81
STATESBORO, Ga. - Bob Clark hasn't lived in Fargo since 1991. He hasn't missed a North Dakota State football game since 1981.
Yet at some point, getting to the games of his alma mater - the54-year-old is from the class of 1975 - became a priority.
Chasing a college football team around the country was easier before the Bison chose to jump to the NCAA Division I-AA level.
Clark, a computer programmer based in the Twin Cities, was in favor of the move; in fact, he thought it should have happened 20 years earlier. But it has made following his team "kind of a challenge."
According to NDSU senior associate athletic director for development Erv Inniger, fewer than 10 people will see all 11 Bison football games this season.
When Clark's string began in 1982 - today's contest at Georgia Southern will be No. 289 in a row - he was part of a group of seven self-proclaimed Road Warriors who attended every game.
But most of those trips were regional and made by car. When NDSU was in the North Central Conference, the longest trip was 930 miles one-way, to Greeley, Colo. And following a 1987 contest at Northern Michigan, the Bison didn't play a regular-season nonconference game away from home until 2002.
In its first three seasons since leaving the Division II league, NDSU's average road trip will be 1,187 miles. Included are the program's inaugural trips to Georgia and Louisiana, plus its first venture to Texas since 1985.
This fall, the Bison will travel more than 7,045 miles - or 1,500 more than in 2004, their first season out of the NCC. That's a one-way total and doesn't include the fact that the team is rarely able to fly directly to its destination.
Destination isn't generally a word used to describe places like Muncie, Ind., Nacogdoches, Texas, or Statesboro.
Most trips are a "fly-and-drive kind of thing," said Clark, who last week flew into Dallas and then carpooled the 200 miles to Nacogdoches with the parents of NDSU offensive lineman Jake Erickson.
On the bright side, Clark will fly free twice this season thanks to his abundance of frequent flier miles. Friday he flew with the team as an invited guest.
So has he found any diamonds in the rough during his recent travels?
"Some of them, I guess I would care not to go back to," he said. "It's kind of interesting because these places are probably places I'd never ever get to in life."
The highlight of his trip to Nacogdoches: Seeing former Bison quarterback Jeff Bentrim, a Houston resident. "Looked like he could still play," Clark said.
Most of the fans who back the Bison when they're off the beaten path aren't from Fargo. A majority are parents of players or NDSU alumni living in the area.
The NDSU Alumni Association will hold pregame parties before four road games this fall, a concept that's been well-received, even in the South, which isn't a hotbed for alumni. Three-hundred forty-four NDSU grads live in Georgia, only one in Statesboro's Bulloch County.
The alumni organization sends out fliers, usually between 1,000 and 3,000, to alumni within 200 miles of a game site. Sherri Schmidt, the associate executive director of the alumni association, said that the average turnout during the Division I transition has been 100 to 200 people, although 750 showed last fall in Bozeman, Mont., and "thousands" are expected Oct. 21 in Minneapolis.
Clark attends most of the pregame parties. Before a contest at Weber State, he met a 1958 NDSU graduate who drove to the Utah school from his home in Idaho.
"When alumni move out of the area after graduation, they maybe haven't been to campus or seen a football game since they've graduated," said Kari Sayler, alumni program coordinator. "They get very excited because it's been 20 years since they've had an opportunity to interact with the community."
Clark hasn't missed a game in that long. He plans to keep the streak alive.
"I'll be doing it until I can't do it anymore," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Terry Vandrovec at (701) 241-5548