Before the semester began, several questions about the CSU Rams football squad went unanswered. Would the Rams improve from last season? How would Steve Fairchild fare in his first season at the helm of the team? Could the Rams pull off an invite to a bowl game?
With just over two weeks removed from the Border War win over Wyoming, sealing a 6-6, bowl-eligible season, the Rams will flock to Albuquerque, N.M. to compete against Fresno State in the New Mexco Bowl.
But two questions still remain: Who is going and how are they getting there?
The stranded flock
From the northeast corner of the CSU campus to the southeast corner of Avenida Cesar Chavez and University Boulevard —- where the New Mexico Lobos play and the New Mexico Bowl is hosted — spans nearly 512 miles of pavement, lanes and road signs.
Mapquest.com estimates the time of departure to the time of arrival to be just over seven and one half hours, about a third of a day.
In years past and during the course of this year’s football season, the Associated Students of CSU herded eager Ram fans to and from games, including a major bowl-game trip to San Diego in 2005.
Ram Road Trip headed two convoys during the 2008 campaign, including what Student Services Associate Director April Ragland said was a successful trip to Invesco Field for the Rocky Mountain Showdown in late August.
Ragland said the program sold out of tickets to the game and charted 6 busloads of students to Denver and back.
But an unsuccessful trip from Fort Collins to the Air Force Academy, which Ragland called “discouraging,” left prospects for bussing students to Albuquerque, N.M. for the New Mexico Bowl bleak.
“We were all looking forward to going to a bowl game,” Ragland said. “We could have got the money, but we couldn’t afford to lose money.”
Joel Cantalamessa, founder and owner of RamNation.com, an independent CSU athletics Web site, said several factors could have lead to ASCSU and the Athletics Department not scheduling a trip, including finals, lack of enthusiasm and students arranging trips home for winter break.
“So, while in a perfect world, I think providing an inexpensive, easy trip for students to the New Mexico Bowl would have been nice, the logistics didn’t make enough sense,” Cantalamessa said in an e-mail.
Cantalamessa said he would be making the six-hour trip from Denver to Albuquerque and suggested students do the same.
“Road-tripping is one of the great past-times for college students,” Cantalamessa said. “Students need to make their own effort to get out to the game.”
He recalled making the 16-hour drive to San Diego as a student to watch CSU play Michigan in the Holiday Bowl in 1994, saying students could make a seven-hour drive to prove to bowl committees that the Rams fan base travels well.
“Bowl games are fun, no matter who you play, or where they’re played. If we want CSU football to continue to improve and get better bowl bids in the future, we need our students and alumni to travel in masses,” Cantalamessa said.
Cantalamessa said in a phone interview that he could see the Athletic Department subsidizing student trips to bowl games in a good economic climate, but especially in the current economy the department couldn’t pay, and students need to find their own way.
“The students are the life-blood of a good crowd,” Cantalamessa said.
He added that students have been losing interest in CSU athletics since he attended school.
“I just don’t understand why the passion is gone.”
On the road again
The Rams knew about their post-season berth shortly after taking down rival Wyoming, and planning began.
It just so happened that the New Mexico Bowl, CSU’s first invitation since 2005, fell just one day after the conclusion of finals week.
Because the bus traveling to Albuquerque leaves this Thursday, required performers, including the marching band, cheerleaders and CAM mascot, needed to rearrange tests and graduation celebrations.
In an e-mail to CSU faculty, Interim Provost Lance Perryman said, “Now that the bid to the New Mexico Bowl is finalized, those members of the Colorado State community who are obligated to perform must rearrange their final exams to fit the travel schedule,” continuing on to say he appreciated professors understanding of the matter.
Although Executive Director of the New Mexico Bow Jeff Siembieda said he did not believe teams are contractually obligated to bring performers, “it’s definitely a suggestion. It’s definitely preferred.”
Associate Athletic Director Gary Ozzello agreed, saying it is a “suggested requirement.”
“We’re excited that we can take the band along with the team and the spirit squad,” Ozzello said in a phone interview.
Ozzello said the department would send the entire 230 members of the band, which would be funded by the Athletic Departments bowl allowance.
“We think (sending the band and spirit squad) is critical to showcase the school,” Ozello said.
“We are very proud of our band. We would hate for a student to miss this opportunity,” he added.
Mike Wenzel, drum major for the CSU Marching Band, said traveling to bowl games is a great opportunity.
“We want to bring the whole band to help support the football team,” Wenzel said.
Going to his second bowl game in his five years with the band, Wenzel said he needed to rearrange just one final from Thursday to Monday. He said he believed that no one from the band had graduation problems.
“The only problem is that we can’t practice because there is snow on the ground,” Wenzel said.
Several senior football players will miss graduation on Dec. 20 because they will be more than 500 miles from Moby Arena, and their graduation ceremony.
Senior running back Gartrell Johnson said despite his mother’s disappointment, she knows that he loves football and would rather be in New Mexico.
“Have you been to a graduation? It’s kind of boring,” Johnson said. “All the fun comes before and after.”
“We came here for football, and to end on football is something special,” said senior defensive tackle Matt Rupp.
Senior running back Kyle Bell agreed.
“It’s a pretty special thing to play in a bowl game, so it makes missing (graduation) a little better,” Bell said.
News editor Johnny Hart can be reached at email@example.com.