Jan 9 / jmusport

Guest Post: The Case for Frisco

Brooks won our prediction contest for the JMU vs. Weber State game. Here is a fun piece he wrote to get us all ready for Frisco.

Life is full of adventures. Some of them happen and we have no control over the details. Others build up over a period of time, giving us the opportunity to choose which direction to go, what decision to make. One of my life’s biggest adventures was the season-long journey to Frisco, Texas, and the National Championship in January of 2017. 

But first, a bit of build-up…

At the time, I was reaching the end of a previous adventure, a five-year hiatus from my schooling. I’d decided after my freshman year at JMU in ’09 that a four-year university might not be the right fit for me, so I made the transition to the community college lifestyle. I took my time getting an associate degree, working intermittently at a few different places, some good, some not so good. By the time I was done, I was ready to move on to bigger and better things and start to make something of my life – some would call this the “real world”. That venture lasted all of about nine months. I’d moved from the comforts of Harrisonburg – a place I’d known my whole life and had a love/hate relationship with – to the never-ending parking lot that is Northern Virginia to work for Coca-Cola. It wasn’t long after I started that job that I realized I should maybe go back to school – I’ll never be able to pinpoint for sure the reason for my disdain of a that Fortune 500 company, but something jarred me; maybe it was the sunup to sundown hours, miniscule pay, or the ever-increasing back pain. Almost as quickly as I moved away, I moved back to Harrisonburg, ready to enroll for the Spring semester of 2017. 

Now, all this time I had been an avid rooter of the Dukes. I purchased season tickets after leaving school in ’09, going to every game for several years. I saw Mickey leave, Withers get hired, Withers leave, Houston get hired, and endured the poor play and playoff drought at the beginning of the decade. As a fan, I was beginning to lose patience. I wasn’t into the whole coaching carousel thing, despite knowing it to be a reality for most top tier FCS programs. Initially, I was in the camp that would have been more than satisfied with the hiring of a less sought-after coach if it meant having them more than a couple seasons before they took the money and ran. Someone a little older; maybe their record was not as stellar as other candidates but produce some creative schemes that the players could rally around. Houston wasn’t older, and his record surely was stellar, so I obviously was apprehensive, knowing that he was going to jet off to the land of FBS sooner rather than later. But once I saw the on-field product, bolstered by dropping an 80-piece on Morehead State in Week 1, I didn’t care. That 2016 offense was going to take us places, and we were going to get wherever we were going pretty damn fast. Before we knew it, the “wherever we were going” happened to be the Fargodome for a semifinal clash with the Bison. It was a dream scenario: a chance to beat one of the best college football teams of all time in their building to go to the National Championship; if we didn’t win, that’s okay because it was a great season regardless and, like I said, they’re one of the best college football teams of all time.

Watching that game, packed into a friends’ living room, screaming at the TV, cursing the green and yellow, bowing down to Bryan Schor, celebrating like we’d won the Super Bowl; it was a dream come true. We almost forgot that there was another game to play, an even more important game. We paced around the living room of the house, staring intently at our phones, filling in all the personal information forms to hopefully secure tickets to the National Championship. We were so anxious that we wouldn’t receive tickets, the buzz around the team had turned into full-blown pandemonium, and we were way too far down the priority list, surely. How was anyone supposed to know that Youngstown State wouldn’t fill their allotment? 

Game tickets secured, flight/hotel/rental car reserved, bags packed, myself and two of my best friends took off for BWI. We took a giant risk to save money by being on the first flight of the day on Saturday morning. It was going to be tight, but we were confident we would make everything on time as we tried to calm down enough to get some sleep the night before. We wake up to our worst nightmare: snow is covering the ground and flights out of BWI are being cancelled left and right. We trudged onward, determined to stay positive despite it looking like we’d be watching the game from 2-star hotel bar in No-Man’s Land between Baltimore and DC. Whatever; we would be together watching our favorite team, and everything would be fine.

We got off the shuttle at the airport and ran to check the flight boards. The list of cancellations was creeping closer and closer to our departure time. We went through security and got to our gate, hoping and praying to whoever would listen that we would still get to continue on this increasingly stressful journey. We boarded, found our seats (very back row by the bathroom – Go Dukes) as the pilot started making an announcement letting us know we would be the first and last plane out of BWI that day. We were stunned – like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this was going to work, we were going to make it.

The hours seemed like days in the back of that plane. All we could think about was how silly Schor & Co. were going to make the Penguins look. It seemed as though all three of us were laughing and smiling the whole way there, finally relieved that our final destination would be reached. The wheels hit the runway, and as we begin taxiing to our gate the pilot makes another announcement. Our original gate has been filled by another plane, so we’ll be waiting for an unknown amount of time until another gate opens up. An instantaneous rush of despair took over our bodies. After all the previous turmoil of the morning and finally getting that big bird in the air, we still weren’t going to make it. We were in a helpless and hopeless bind; we still had to get our rental car and drive up to Frisco and kickoff was less than an hour away. We all but sprint to the rental car and break six or seven traffic laws on the way to the stadium. We pull into the parking lot as the military flyover leaves its colorful streaks of smoke over the field. We run over some traffic cones and park haphazardly in an obviously full lot, but we didn’t care. We could feel the buzz from the stadium full of purple and gold while waiting in line to get our tickets scanned. As we breached the threshold of the fence surrounding the stadium, we heard it: the perfectly synced-up screams of thousands of people announcing the first JMU National Championship touchdown in ten years. A sea of streamers filled the air, high fives and hugs being passed around, and we knew that we’d finally arrived. 

The hours that followed produced so much joy that it’s almost indescribable. Rushing the field as the clock hit triple zeros, we felt like the fastest sprinters on the planet. Swerving in and out of the throngs of people who were most likely feeling the same way. The trophy was handed out, pictures taken, fight song sung; and just like that, it was over. The last piece of confetti fell, and everyone exited the field with one last look around, making sure they didn’t miss anything or anyone. It was the most surreal feeling, walking out of the stadium, looking down at the field and compartmentalizing what we’d just witnessed (and knowing for myself that my first class of the semester was at 8am Monday morning, less than 48 hours later). It was the most epic adventure and worth every minute.

I say all this to encourage you: do whatever it takes to get yourself to Frisco. I realize that by the time you read this it will most likely be near impossible for this year, but this will not be the last time the Dukes make the National Championship. The experience of being there, rootin’ hard fer the Dukes, win or lose, is truly unforgettable. The football program, really JMU Athletics as a whole (outside of the free throw shooting of the Men’s Basketball team) gives us something to believe in and lean on when the world around us seems to be unsure of itself. The strongest sense of connection that I’ve ever felt with my friends was that victorious day in 2017; it really is a story that we’ll have for the adventure that will be the rest of our lives. And for those of you that will be in attendance on Saturday, see you in the parking lot bright and early!

Root Hard Fer Dukes & Giddy Up!

3 Comments

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  1. Zac / Jan 9 2020

    This is REAL! Thanks for sharing your story. Keep telling it! I want to run out onto that field so bad in 2 days. GO DUKES!!

  2. Rob K / Jan 9 2020

    Great post! Go Dukes!

  3. Justin S / Jan 10 2020

    I always was bummed about not being able to make it to the 2004 natty in Chattanooga (I was a freshman at JMU at the time) so I told myself I would go to their next championship game. Going in January 2017 to Frisco was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Met some fellow fans during the tailgate, went crazy in the freezing cold, met some old friends while rushing the field. Wish I could’ve gone back for this matchup, but maybe one day in the future. Go Dukes!

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