TERRE HAUTE —
So what’s the excuse this time?
Indiana State’s football team — who, by the way, were averaging 37.2 points going into Saturday’s game against Missouri State — came into its game against the Bears with a 3-2 record and were fresh off an unholy butt-kicking of Illinois State during the Homecoming Saturnalia that was the 59-24 victory over the Redbirds.
Missouri State came to Terre Haute with tails firmly between legs after suffering a 72-59 loss at Murray State. Every indication was there that it was going to be an entertaining shootout.
Sounds like high time to get that ISU bandwagon rolling! Full steam ahead like a big blue (or in the case of football, black) locomotive filled to the brim with giddy Sycamores fans, right?
Guess again. If Saturday’s “crowd” at Memorial Stadium was any indicator, the ISU bandwagon is akin to a rusted out 1973 Chevy Impala sputtering along Wabash Avenue with Wabash Cannonball looping and skipping on its 8-track.
The grand total in the welcoming committee that greeted the Sycamores’ conquering heroes on Saturday after last week’s victory was 3,194. That counts tickets sold. The real total was more like 2,300. This, on a clear, beautiful blue sky day that God couldn’’t have made more perfect for watching football.
Terre Haute and ISU fans who once again advertised their apathy ought to be ashamed of themselves. Good for those who came, but there should have been a lot more.
I mean, what the heck is going on here? I’m not declaring … I’m asking.
The Covered Bridge Festival? C’mon. It’s been going on for a week and it’s the same nearly every year. Pre-Nationals? They were over by the time ISU’s game kicked off. WIC Day at the Dome? Some of those games were over too.
Oh right. Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame were at home. Last I checked, none of those universities are in Terre Haute. What happened to supporting the teams in your own hometown?
ISU coach Trent Miles — a Terre Haute native — was asked what his reaction to the low attendance was. He was diplomatic, but direct.
“I don’t know what the reason is for a poor crowd, but we’re going to do battle if there one or 12,000 in there. Our kids rose to the occasion, and I’ll tell you what, as loud as it got, it felt like there was 15,000 in there at the end,” Miles said.
All true, but it doesn’t mean Miles and the rest of ISU’s supporters don’t want to see more butts in seats.
“I feel sorry for the people who are missing these games. You’re making a mistake not coming out here to watch these kids. There’s also something good that the university is putting on, there’s a good environment here, these kids are laying it on the line for you,” Miles said.
Miles cited some reasons for the low turnout. Some of it is legitimate. It is hard to believe the Sycamores are on the cusp on first place in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, but they there are. No one gave it to them, ISU earned it.
“I don’t think people believe yet. Homecoming? It was a good crowd, but it was a fluke, Illinois State didn’t play well. They won against a NAIA school and a Division II school,” Miles said. “But hey, these kids are winners and they’re proving it each week. You’re missing good football, you’re missing a good time.”
Miles said it’s vital not only for the ISU community to support football, but Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley as well.
“We have a good university, we have a good administration, but we can’t count on thousands of alums coming back for games. It’s just not going to happen. We need the Terre Haute community out and involved and supporting us also. You need to buy in, we can be special,” Miles pleaded.
“We wear that WV on the back of our helmets for the Wabash Valley. We want to the Wabash Valley to support these young men. They need to get out here and see that we have something special going,” he added.
Being a native Hautean, Miles knows this community can support the Sycamores. Its done it before.
“I’ve been in this stadium as a ballboy where there were 16,000 people here. I played in there when there were a lot of people. They need to be here now because they’re missing out on something special,” Miles said.
The excuses for not going to games are tired. I’m sure I’ll get the usual e-mails — Beanie Cooper did this in the early 80s, Dennis Raetz did that in the early 90s, the school doesn’t care about the community, the community doesn’t care about the school, et cetera, ad nauseum.
Who cares? Virtually none of it has any relevance to the present-day. Most of the slights ISU fans and Hauteans come up with to not support their hometown team happened a decade to a quarter-century ago … or more. That’s a long time to hold a grudge.
For too many years I’ve heard that support would be forthcoming when there was a winner on the field. Based on Saturday’s turnout, it appears that was an empty promise. ISU is finally giving people the winner they want. Not only that, but a winner that’s entertaining to watch and is a great rags-to-riches story.
“I’m going to be on it. We’ll give [reluctant fans] this week, because we’re going on the road, but the next week [when ISU hosts South Dakota State], if I have to shake and rattle people to get them out here, they’ll get out here. People are going to start believing.”
I hope so. But I’ll believe when I see it.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Please check out Golden’s Down In The Valley blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.