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  • Dustin Chapman

OPINION: Weber State Football's "Landmark Moments" Create Fans For Life

(Photo courtesy of Weber State Athletics)

By Dustin Chapman

Do you remember the moment in time that you became a fan of Weber State?

I can.

It was March of 1999. I had just turned 18 and had a bunch of friends over at my parents’ house, watching Weber State beat North Carolina in the NCAA tournament. It was an unexpected result for the 14-seeded Wildcats to beat the blue-chip Tar Heels, and Harold “The Show” Arceneaux and Eddie “The Thrill” Gill gave Wildcat Nation a lifelong memory. It was so enjoyable seeing our town and our school be the center of the universe for a bit.

I have a theory about sports fandom that says that those “Landmark Moments” - that’s how I refer to them - help create fans for life. I was not the only person who can trace their Wildcat fandom back to that one game. Landmark moments are those nights you remember forever - the games that leave you grinning years later when it gets brought up because you remember that moment in time in your head.

Of course, those moments can also involve heartbreak and leave you with a tinge of sadness as you remember them. The 2013 CIT Tournament Final comes to mind there. Weber State was worthy of an NCAA tournament bid that year and just didn’t get it. That final game at The Dee Events Center was a landmark moment, even though WSU didn’t win (they lost in excruciating fashion, actually). The Dee was as full as I’d ever seen it. It was loud and proud and it was remarkable, despite the finish.

The thing about these landmark moments is that they usually involve high stakes. In fact, the higher the stakes combined with the better the finish generally equals the level of "landmark-ness" in the moment, if you will. It’s why winning in any college program is so important and why sustained winning is the Shangri-La of college athletics. Winning puts your team in a place where high stakes contests are happening more frequently. High stakes games tend to have heightened awareness to your senses, due to the importance of it all, and when everything hits right AND you have a great finish, you get a landmark moment.

You get outright magic.

You get fans for life.

Which brings us to December of 2019. Weber State football was trying to reach the FCS playoff semi-finals for the first time in program history, and they were trying to take down a longtime Big Sky rival to do it. Any Weber State fan feels a level of animosity towards the Montana Grizzlies. There have been so many big games (which is a different, lesser level than landmark moments, in my opinion) against them in hoops over the years and also a few great football games, too. It all involves repeated big games, plus fan bases interacting, mixed, perhaps, with a hint of jealousy. Montana football is certainly considered a blue-blooded FCS program. In December of 2019, there could not be a bigger, better team to beat to reach never-before-seen heights for Weber State football, especially considering that, just less than a month earlier, the same Montana Grizzly team whooped Weber State pretty good in Missoula.

As fate would have it, we had a foggy, snowy and somehow simultaneously rainy night in Ogden (seriously... it felt like we were on the English Countryside or something) and we beat Montana to reach the FCS Playoff semi-finals. It was a landmark game in every sense of the term, highlighted by a defensive performance for the ages. I got home late that night (the game started at 8 PM, I believe) and I was starving. It was after midnight and I told my wife I was heading to In-N-Out before they closed.

Everything came full circle as it relates to landmark moments that night. I pulled up to In-N-Out and saw dejected Montana fans heading inside to console their sorrows with a Double-Double and a shake. Once I got inside, I was surprised to see the place packed with purple. There were college kids all over sitting at tables and booths with their friends in different groups, chatting and smiling and joking and laughing and, overall, just enjoying themselves. As I ordered and stood there waiting for my food and taking it all in, it hit me: This was their night. This was the night that those college kids would become Wildcat fans forever. How could they not? They watched a great game with great people around and made great memories.

That was a moment they’ll look back on and remember. That was a moment that will leave them grinning years later as they remember that very night.

That was their landmark moment. That was the night they became fans for life.

All of this brings us to Saturday, March 27, 2021. The ”Hail Malone.” And here’s the thing: I realize that a regular season game isn’t necessarily the most "landmark" of moments, in and of itself, but factoring in a crazy spring season (we’re actually playing real football games in March... let that sink in because it will NEVER happen again), a team with a top-five ranking trying to work their way into a top two playoff seed and all the advantages that come with that (read: home playoff games), you get a situation where every game means an immense amount. The game itself may not have been a landmark moment, but the finish was. The meaning of it was. The implication of it was.

And, really, how many of us have actually seen a successful Hail Mary happen?

So, how many folks had their landmark moment this past Saturday? I know that more than a few did, and I could tell because I took my time exiting the stadium (social distancing), and as I got to the front gate the Wildcat Gear trailer, there was a line 10-15 people deep with fans waiting to solidify their memory with some Weber State apparel. Anybody in attendance for that finish will be back for more soon, no matter what their level of fandom was prior to the start of that game. It’s what landmark moments do. They keep you coming back hoping to see it happen again, and every once in a while the stars align and you are rewarded.

Welcome to the pack, new lifelong Wildcat fans. The more of us there are, the more enjoyable the ride will be, so tell your friends and let the landmark moments convert them too.

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