Old Dominion’s fans finally figured it out.
After four years, fans of the Monarchs finally showed up and made a true and legitimate difference. Sure, ODU coach Bobby Wilder has insisted from the start that ODU had a big home-field advantage at S.B. Ballard Stadium at Foreman Field, but until this past week I wasn’t a true believer.
Wilder had campaigned for four years about how “The 12th Monarch” has been helping his team win, causing the opponent to false start or forcing them to take a timeout here or there because of the noise factor between those two old clamshells that have been around since the 1930s.
But I wasn’t buying it.
I’d been to Clemson’s Death Valley and heard the roar of a crowd. I’d seen what can happen at Virginia Tech when Lane Stadium starts rocking. I’d even felt the stands shake at old RFK Stadium once when the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers faced off during Joe Montana’s years with the Niners.
I know the power of a crowd when it really comes to life.
But I hadn’t really felt it or really heard it at Foreman Field until last week’s playoff game against Coastal Carolina. As the sideline radio guy for Old Dominion Sports Radio Network this season, I’ve learned to live life in the lockdown zone for four hours every Saturday.
What’s the lockdown zone? That’s where I am when my headphones are on. I can hear only what’s going on in the booth, nothing more.
But in the third quarter last Saturday, I could hear the roar, even with the headphones on. It was impressive. And I knew the fans at ODU had finally learned how to cheer for their team, I looked around and realized they’d figured out how to roar as one, how to fill in the blanks for public address announcer Jack Ankerson, hollering in unison, “First down!”
I saw how they’d figured out, after four seasons, that you do the wave when the other team has the ball. And everybody does the wave, not just the overzealous.
But last Saturday’s 63-35 win over Coastal Carolina, however, was just a warm-up.
This coming Saturday when the Monarchs host Georgia Southern, there will be a national television audience. In four short years, the Monarchs have made it to the big-time.
ODU, Foreman Field, and the 20,000 who will be on hand, will be THE SHOW, ESPN’s noon game on a day that is oh-so light on college football.
(My gut is that there will be more than 20,000 watching, for I’ve been watching the railbirds who have discovered the free seats in the parking deck; and you know who you are).
The only other game on TV on Saturday is the Army-Navy game (which I must admit can be kind of a big game itself in Norfolk, what with the world’s largest naval base just a 5K run down Hampton Boulevard from Foreman Field), but since Army is dragging a 2-9 record into the game, even that doesn’t make for great TV.
Which leaves the ODU-Georgia Southern game at the very top of the food chain as far as college football goes on Saturday. Now, the football team understands that this is their opportunity to really shine on the national stage. But do the fans understand it’s their chance as well?
If they do, they will arrive early and go home late, unlike the habit they’ve had of doing the opposite. Too often, fans have arrived late and gone home early. But with the nation watching, this is an opportunity for ODU to make a significant stride in the right direction with the nation watching. And in showing the nation what it’s all about, ODU fans can also show Georgia Southern what it’s all about.
Last year, when the Monarchs traveled to Statesboro, Ga., the Monarchs weren’t shown a lot of respect by Georgia Southern’s fans. Then again, the fans were only following the edicts of the radio guys who had me on for a pregame show just outside the gates of the stadium. Ryan Chambers, Chris Blair and Terry Harvin weren’t about to give ODU any credit, or any chance at winning. They thought I was a fool to give ODU a chance.
It’s fairly fresh in my mind, how the Georgia Southern fans thumbed their football noses at the nascent Monarchs, and did it with careless disregard.
I then watched as both teams raced up and down the field in Statesboro, Ga., a year ago, neither really able to stop the other for much of the afternoon. Alas, Georgia Southern slowed ODU just enough to beat the Monarchs 55-48 in a game that made the heart skip a beat more than a couple times.
One thing I really remember is this: It wasn’t a sellout.
For all the hootin’ and hollerin’ the Georgia Southern fans did, referring to themselves as “the real capital” of the Football Championship Subdivision (and with six national titles it is something they can make claim to), only 13,226 were there in the stands, and I’d guess about 3,000 were ODU fans.
So Saturday is an opportunity for national exposure unlike anything this ODU football program has had to this point. Sure, a couple times on the NBC Sports Network during the regular season was nice, but this is ESPN.
And if ODU’s fans do it right, there won’t be an empty seat in the house.
NUMBERS, NUMBERS, NUMBERS
With ODU sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke having what should go down as a Payton Award-winning season (yes, if he doesn’t win it I’m saying the voters should be ashamed of themselves), here are some numbers to watch as Saturday unfolds:
- With 367 completed passes this season, Heinicke needs to complete 18 more to match the FCS record of 385 completions in a season, a record shared by Villanova’s Brett Gordon (2002) and Stephen F. Austin’s Jeremy Moses (2009). The only time Heinicke has completed less than 18 passes in a game he started came in ODU’s only loss this season to Villanova when he completed 16 of 32 passes;
- With 4,655 passing yards so far, Heinicke needs 208 yards passing to match the season record of 4,863 passing yards, set by Alcorn State’s Steve McNair (1994). Heinicke’s lowest passing yardage total this season came at Hampton (213 yards) in a game ODU dominated on the ground and a game that was shortened by over nine minutes by lightning;
- With 5,077 combined yards passing and rushing, Heinicke is second on the season-record list. McNair (1994) holds the record at 5,799, leaving Heinicke 722 yards shy of that mark. While that may seem far out of reach, one should remember that Heinicke holds the single-game record for combined yards rushing and passing, set when he went for 791 against New Hampshire earlier this season.