Photos special to Bison Illustrated
Feature photo from Pat & Brooke Thiel wedding with Bison Pride flag
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Five offensive linemen try to pile into the back of a limo after a wedding. Turns out, it’s not quite big enough. It’s the opposite of the old cliché where 20 clowns stumble out of their tiny Volkswagen Beetle. What do these linemen, the clowns and jamming as many of each into the back of a vehicle have to do with North Dakota State? Plenty, actually. I was the clown, figuratively speaking of course, compared to a literal group of former Bison offensive linemen who spilled out of that limo in front of a south side Fargo establishment to kickoff the 2017 wedding season.
It was a warm Saturday in late April. Jon Dahl played left guard for NDSU, blocking for the likes of Lamar Gordon. Like Dahl, his four groomsmen, Trent Houmann, Kevin Johnston, Grant Gilbertson, and Eric Volk, also played for the Bison. Big guys all, and great guys to boot. But it’s tough to cram them like sardines into the back of one vehicle, even something the size of a limo. Dahl had just married Erica Boyle. It was a wonderful day, a beautiful celebration of Fargo’s newest married couple, who happen to be friends of mine. As we all walked from the limo and entered this particular establishment, the anthem of Bison Nation, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” happened to be playing (thank you, Touch Tunes).
It turns out you can’t fit more than two offensive linemen comfortably into the back of a limo. So, three of the guys–one who was really a fullback, but he was pretending to be a Ram for the day, which we won’t hold against him–rode in a separate SUV. It’s a lot easier to fit one small-sized Swany into a limo along with the bridesmaids, the wedding photographer, and the couple versus a group of road graders, even if they are a few pounds lighter than their playing days.
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Sitting around several tables pushed together before heading to the wedding reception, one of the guys asked, “Hey, Swany, didn’t you used to be a ball boy when we played?” Sure did, and darn proud of it. How many folks can say they went from college football ball boy turned daytime lawyer slash moonlight columnist for their hometown team. I’d like to meet them. We could form our own nerdy club.
My run with NDSU Athletics has range that would impress the most accomplished Renaissance Man. From football ball boy, sports editor for the student newspaper, The Spectrum, to columnist for this magazine, I’ve had an unlikely front row seat for the last two plus decades to some of the most memorable Bison moments. That day, we talked about old games, like demolishing UND in Grand Forks 31-10 on a gorgeous fall afternoon in October 1997, to the “kitty litter game” where the sages on the NCAA Division II Playoff Committee sent the higher-ranked Bison to Cleveland, Mississippi, to play Delta State in the national semifinals on a field that resembled a box of kitty litter after torrential rains made a mockery of things.
It’s days like this–far removed from the playing fields, the championships, and the media attention–that are the best. You’ll find no sweeter victories. As the wedding party and the rest of the group prepared to leave, the guys posed for a picture. They all held the Bison horns high, celebrating a marquee moment in one teammate’s life. It was better than hoisting any trophy. It reminded me of that timeless saying that sums up everything we are, the tie that binds Bison Nation: “Once a Bison, Always a Bison.” Later that night, when we all arrived at the reception, Jon and Erica Dahl walked into the banquet hall to that same song, Thunderstruck. “Sound of the drums, Beating in my heart, The thunder of guns, Tore me apart, You’ve been, Thunderstruck!” Everyone knew why the song was playing, just like all of you attending weddings this summer will know what it means when “Thunderstruck” comes on. It’s a Bison thing.
Two summers ago, I was a groomsman in a wedding for two other great friends, Pat and Brooke Thiel. Pat is the public address announcer for Bison volleyball, has filled in doing PA duties at Bison basketball games, and has even sung the national anthem at several Bison sporting events. After finishing pictures at Brooke’s parents’ house near Kindred, North Dakota, the wedding party gathered behind a “Bison Pride” flag for a photo that will be with the couple until they’re old and gray and watching NDSU play in a major FBS conference.
After the wedding ceremony, a Bison tailgating bus driven by the outstanding proprietor of Proseed (you know the commercials), Keith Peltier, whose son Jay is a great Bison and friend of the couple, drove the wedding party to the Bison statue on campus for another photo. Think about that. A parent of a friend who had gotten to know Pat and Brooke volunteered to allow them the use of his group’s tailgating bus for the greatest day in their life. To me, just like the photo from Jon and Erica’s wedding and the Bison horns, that’s Bison Pride, that’s the Bison family. It’s the bedrock of what makes being a Bison so special.
The national championships, the wins our teams have had over the likes of Kansas State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Iowa and Oklahoma are great, but nothing touches moments like these. I drove to Missoula, Montana, for the FCS Kickoff with great friends and Six Flags legends Nic Prothero and Eric Yantzer. These guys and their crew are the ones that hang the Bison flags from the signs of the various states where we’re about to play big away games, including the national championships in Texas. They light the path for the rest of the Herd that follows. That particular game in Missoula aside, what stands out to me more than the final outcome was our road trip driving the Six Flags tailgating rig over 1,000 miles and through mountains for some unforgettable moments at the M-Club and Stockman’s.
You have similar stories like this, too. Like newborn children and grandchildren in their first Bison hat or shirt. Or remarkable memories like my friends Shane Dierking and Nancy Wolff who took a breathtaking photo from across the globe standing atop Preikestolen, a steep cliff in Norway, holding their Bison Pride flag. People can look through all the trophy cases and ponder why NDSU is so successful. But if they really want to know what the secret is, it’s in the stories these photos tell.
To life, love, and the Bison! Everybody up for the kickoff, the march is on!