The Aggies of Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College hosted the Wyoming Cowboys in College Basketball last night at Fort Collins' Moby Arena in a traditional rivalry between neighboring schools within the Mountain West Conference. The atmosphere was positively electric.
The Aggies, sporting their bright orange home jerseys, claimed victory thanks to a second-half comeback.
Confused? I was, too.
Even though members of my family (and the South Stands' own John Reidy) attended Colorado State University, I was unaware that it had once been known as Colorado A&M and that the "am" in "Cam the Ram" (the mascot the school adopted in 1946) stood for "Agricultural and Mechanical". I had no idea that it wasn't until 1957 that it was re-named CSU and that the school dropped "Aggies" in favor of Rams - after a mascot that it already had. I had no idea, that is, until last night.
CSU was celebrating what is known as an "Orange Out", an homage by its athletic teams to the school's storied history and to the orange-clad Aggies of the past.
I also had no idea how much fun Moby Arena could be.
I was invited to attend the game by Renaud Notaro of Mile High Sports Radio (weekdays 6-8 pm), who has been a frequent guest on the Fancast and is a friend. Renaud picked me up at 3pm so that we could get to Fort Fun with plenty of time for pre-game drinks and socializing at Fuzzy's Tacos right off the CSU Campus.
Renaud is a member of the Ram Nation online community, members of which get together prior to sporting events to share college memories and to get pumped for the game. Most, but not all, Ram Nation members are alumni of the University like Renaud is.
He introduced me to dozens of people - all very nice and very welcoming - and he told them that I was attending my first CSU Basketball game. To a person they told me that I picked the perfect one.
CSU is a long-shot for an NCAA Tournament bid but they remain in the mix. The Rams (Aggies) Coach Tim Miles, who is in his fifth year, had helped earn his squad a record of 15-9, (4-5 in-conference). They were facing the 18-7 Wyoming Cowboys in what is known as the "Border War", a heated rivalry between schools separated only by a short stretch of 287.
People in Wyoming, Renaud told me, refer to Coloradans as "greenies" because of our license plates. And they are not too fond of us, apparently. The feeling is mutual among residents of Fort Collins who consider Wyoming residents to be hayseeds. Prior to my trip I was aware of the vitriol between Laramie and Fort Collins but I had never experienced it first-hand.
Since it's not too long a trip, several hundred Cowboys faithful made it to Moby Arena for the big game. That's part of the reason that it was packed to the gills.
So far 100% of the CSU basketball games I have attended have been sell-outs. On Saturday night the gym was filled to the rafters with students, boosters and supporters sporting Aggie Orange. Hints of Cowboy yellow and brown colored the edges of the gallery. It was an absolutely incredible atmosphere.
Having attended dozens of Denver Nuggets games over many years I was blown away by the attentiveness of the crowd. There were no disinterested attendees lost in their smart phones or fumbling with concessions. Everyone in Moby was intensely focused on every possession, every turnover, every shot. They weren't on the edge of their seats. They were standing - for the entire game. I'm not sure why they even needed seats, quite frankly.
Renaud had worked with Danny Mattie, CSU's Assistant Media Relations Director, to get me press credentials as a writer for South Stands Denver. Such a thing is a rare treat for a blogger and I was thrilled.
The difficulty for me, though, was that, as a member of the "media", I couldn't cheer for CSU. In the area where Renaud and I were sitting people are expected to take notes dispassionately and to cover the game rather than to cheer for either team. As an animated and vocal fan I found this to be pretty tough. I actually stuffed my hands into my armpits, crossed my arms across my chest and tried my best not to shout. I slipped, but not too often. I was able to mostly act the part.
The Rams (Aggies) got their clocks cleaned for most of the first half. Wyoming, lead by #5, Leonard Washington, by far the biggest kid on the floor (Renaud and I referred to him as "Lebron"), seemed to be manhandling them.
CSU trailed at the half by seven, 28-21.
Being an NBA fan I wasn't prepared for the low-scoring nature of Mountain West basketball. I found myself saying "SHOOT IT!" over and over again under my breath as the student athletes passed the ball and then passed the ball some more. It's a different game. The shooting ability of the players is not as advanced so they must play more of a team game to find open looks at the basket. That's not to say I found the College game to be any less exciting. I rather enjoyed it, actually.
Tim Miles talked his players up at half time and the Rams (Aggies) made adjustments. They came out in the second more aggressive and, as a result, forced more Cowboys errors. CSU's shooting percentage improved, too, from 47% in the first half to 55% in the second, while Wyoming's fell from just over 52% to just under 24%. In other words, Wyoming went cold. Ice cold.
The Rams (Aggies) chipped away at the Wyoming lead until, with 6:41 left in the second half, they took their first lead of the game, 41-40, after a successful three-pointer that whipped the Moby Arena crowd into a frenzy.
The Rams didn't look back. They never trailed from that point. Thanks to accurate shooting and smothering defense, they were able to overcome Wyoming's hot start and go on to win the game by a final score of 54-46. It was a tale of two halves.
Before the game ended, Renaud took me from the press area to floor level. The press passes around our necks allowed us access to the corner in-between the bleachers at one end of the court where we were offered a far different perspective as to the speed of the game and the power of players.
As the final seconds ticked away we were able to experience the elation of the arena from the same level as the players. Looking up into those stands at all those orange shirts (some of which were Broncos gear) and at all those screaming kids I was blown away.
What an experience.
The sweaty Rams players exited the arena right in front of us and Renaud slapped each of them five as they trotted past, smiling and celebrating a conference victory.
Afterwards we went to the facility's auditorium for the post-game press conferences of Rams (Aggies) stars Dorian Green and Greg Smith as well as that of Coach, Tim Miles, who is a charismatic guy with an easy smile.
In the room were student reporters as well as scribes from regional papers and Lindsay Jones, a Denver Post beat writer who ordinarily covers the Denver Broncos and has granted an interview to the South Stands in the past. I found myself reflecting on my life and wondering why I hadn't become a journalist. That small, hum-drum press conference was as exciting to me as the game its self.
At one point Coach Miles asked the peanut gallery what the clock read when the Rams (Aggies) took the lead. Without looking at my notes I shouted out, "six-forty-one!".
After coach miles had taken his final question Renaud tugged me into a hallway where we waited to catch the coach alone. Renaud congratulated him and needled him for off-the-record commentary on the game. I witnessed a professional radio guy at work, getting the inside scoop and feeding his relationship with a Colorado Sports personality.
When Renaud finished and Coach Miles hustled off to meet with boosters, we left the arena.
It was incredible night and I am very grateful to Renaud, Ram Nation, Coach Miles and Danny Mattie who allowed me professional access even though I am only an amateur when it comes to covering Sporting events. The fact that I am "just a blogger" didn't phase Danny and for that I am in his debt.
I hope to return to Moby Arena for another Rams (Aggies) game very, very soon.
Colorado has a hidden gem in CSU basketball. More fans from the Denver area should make the trip up to catch a game. From what I am told, the sell-out for the Wyoming game is a rarity and that's a shame. Fort Collins is not much further away than Boulder. Renaud and I made the trip in about forty minutes. I found it to be a friendlier environment, too; less pretentious and more blue-collar than Boulder.
Colorado State University, the school once known as Agricultural and Mechanical College, has a great fan base and a basketball team that is emerging. According to my pal, Renaud Notaro, next season should be a good one for Coach Miles and his Rams, with top juniors becoming top seniors and with talented red-shirt players set to make their debuts.
In the meanwhile, the Rams have four regular-season games left to play including two at Moby Arena, beginning with a clash with New Mexico (who could be ranked in the top 25) on Tuesday, February 21. They also face Air Force on Saturday, March 3 in Colorado Springs. That will be a fun game to attend as well.
The Mountain West Conference championships begin March 8. One thing I know after visiting Moby Arena this weekend is that I will be watching.