An AND band marched in a row and played the school battle song – with spectators singing and clapping – as they led the Fighting Hawk football players to the Alerus Center at lunchtime, about two hours before kick-off.
UND and NDSU fans enjoyed the pre-game celebrations, with NDSU pitting fifth against AND tenth. Saturday’s competition marked the first time the teams had played at Grand Forks in 18 years.
“It’s extremely exciting,” said Julie Maag, whose son Garett Maag is an AND senior, wide receiver and one of the team captains. “We’ve waited a long time for this, that’s why it’s so special.”
Maag, of Bayport, Minnesota, expected the Hawks to play a “very physical” game against the bison, she said, noting that AND is “very strong on defense.”
Along with her husband Troy Maag and others, she said she hoped AND would play well when it came to “just not turning the ball around”.
Ron Erickson, 1975 AND alumnus, was optimistic about AND’s prospects.
“If it gets tight at halftime, they have a chance – hopefully their running game will be okay,” he said. “Everyone says they’ll be blown out; I do not think so. I hope you win. ”
As we meandered through the crowds of fans – talking, eating, laughing, drinking, greeting friends – the energy was palpable. With the music booming, several fans participating in cornhole competitions were running and members of the UND cheer team lined up and sold 50/50 tickets for the raffle to raise money for their team.
A couple of bison fans wearing large, domed, fluffy headgear – complete with horns – marched through the crowd.
The colors of UND, green and black, dominated the scene in the sea of billowing hedge trimmers, fueled by beer, french fries and a selection of hamburgers, brats and grilled meat. Green and gold were less common for NDSU, but fans from both camps seemed to mingle easily and heartily.
Anita and Loren Zavalney from Park River, ND, were out on the track for the first time and were eager for their son Adam, a close end for AND, and the rest of the team.
“We have a whole entourage here,” Anita said of the many family members who joined them.
“There is so much pressure” on the players, she said. “I told (Adam) to just enjoy it.
“As a parent, you get so upset that I have to calm down. I just hope he doesn’t get hurt. “
“It was so much fun,” she said. “It was a great, fun ride.”
During the game, she said she was looking for “some sneaky moves” that AND would use to gain an advantage over their opponents.
Although the rivalry between UND and NDSU is deep, the Zavalneys have a longstanding friendship with Park River NDSU alumni Dave and Jana Hankey, whose son Jackson is a bison linebacker.
“I get more nervous than most of the others at this game,” said Jana Hankey.
“(The Bison) have a lot of depth in all positions,” said Jana.
“It’s so cool” that teams from the state’s largest universities have returned, she said. “It’s just great for the state that the rivalry is back. Many people in Park River cheer both teams. ”
Former UND soccer coaches Roger Thomas and Dale Lennon, both from Bismarck, were part of the fun together and seemed to enjoy the chance to meet up with friends and former players again.
Former UND Fighting Sioux coaches Roger Thomas, left, and Dale Lennon are catching up while tailgating ahead of Saturday’s UND NDSU rivalry game at the Alerus Center – the first time NDSU has played at Grand Forks since 2003. Photo by Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
The three people recently inducted into the Hall of Fame were “(players) whom I recruited and trained,” said Thomas, who was a coach and athletic director at UND for nearly 20 years. “It’s like an old homeland week – it’s such a brotherhood of friends.”
The UND-NDSU game is a highlight for every team, he said. “Everyone is having so much fun with it. I’m just glad it’s back. “
“Everyone gets so emotional for the game,” said Thomas. “They could blow the roof on this place,” but he hoped the Hawks would “just relax and play their skills.”
In Bismarck he said: “Everywhere you go – in cafes in the neighborhood and the like – everyone wants to talk about the game. It’s the North Dakota Super Bowl. ”
“Look at this. Who doesn’t enjoy this?” said Thomas and looked at the crowd.
Lennon, who played soccer under Thomas, served as his coach and later followed him as head coach at the UND, is the sporting director of the University of Mary in Bismarck. He led AND to a national championship.
AND last played at Grand Forks in 2003 when Lennon was the head coach.
“I have a lot of positive memories of that game,” he said.
The rivalry resurgence “is long overdue – I hope it can return to the glory it once had”.
Through the eyes of a seasoned coach, Lennon said on Saturday that he would “watch the match-ups and see how UND is able to tackle NDSU’s physical condition. It’s a classic strength versus strength match-up. And that’s usually the formula for a pretty exciting game. ”
Both Lennon and Thomas were optimistic that the teams would meet again at the grating.
“The rivalry is back,” said Lennon. “It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.”