Photos Courtesy of Walt Just and Kelsey Artz
The Fargodome isn’t the only place in the United States that’s rocking on Bison football game day. Restaurants and sports bars around the country stream NDSU football games for NDSU transplants to gather and watch the mighty Herd. But one place in Mesa, Arizona, might hold the distinguished honor of being the best.
The next time Easton Stick scores a touchdown, think about your celebration. The next time the Bison put up six points and the Fargodome burst into thunderous chaos, scream until your lungs burn and chest tightens. The next time, enjoy what you’re seeing live, right in front of you.
Because the next time that touchdown is scored, somewhere in the middle of Arizona—Mesa, inside R.T. O’Sullivans Pub to be exact— there’s a man running through the bar waving an NDSU flag, surrounded by droves of Bison fans and alumni.
Why Mesa, Arizona? Well, there’s hundreds of Bison fans that pack the bar every Saturday during the fall to cheer on their school. That’s why.
Walt Just retired from Ag Country Farm Credit Services 10 years ago. He and his wife moved to Arizona but their love for the Bison remained strong. The 1971 graduate set out to watch the Bison from his new town.
He found himself at R.T. O’Sullivans, an Irish bar in Mesa that resembles a gambler and trivia enthusiast’s dream. Just also found R.T. O’Sullivans was the place to be for Bison gameday after researching the NDSU alumni website and finding the closest watch party location.
Just and his wife started taking over the watch party site responsibilities and were suddenly setting up around the bar and restaurant before games, packing up to 300 Bison fans for every game. NDSU décor covers the restaurant for Bison games and Just gathers prizes for halftime giveaways. He also collects information on NDSU football alumni and updates the crowd on how former Bison are doing in the NFL.
The crowd that gathers at R.T. O’Sullivans is older with many being retirees from North Dakota and old NDSU professors. But the atmosphere generated during football games still reminds Bottineau, North Dakota, native Kelsey Artz of Fargo.
“When I was moving down here, I hardly knew anyone,” said Artz, who moved to Arizona last fall after graduating the tri-college program that saw her spend a couple years at NDSU before finishing her degree at Minnesota State-Moorhead. She’s pursuing her doctorate in audiology at A.T. Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona.
“I feel like I’m in Fargo,” said Artz of the watch parties. “I actually have a lot of connections when you start talking to a lot of these people. They know my dad, they know my aunts and uncles, we have connections and that’s just how North Dakota is.”
The crowds have grown bigger and bigger, according to Just. During the 2015 playoff run, Just said the bar started cracking down on the number of patrons because the fire marshal wouldn’t have been happy with the 336 fans packed inside to watch the Bison. The crowd restriction caused fans to show up two hours before kickoff.
Artz said it’s not just Mesa where the Bison fans roam in Arizona. By the end of last season, the NDSU Alumni Association had six watch parties listed for Arizona residents.
Artz and her friend Josh will takeover watch party duties from the Just family this fall.
Director of Athletics Matt Larsen, Senior Associate Director of Athletics and Team Makers Executive Director Pat Simmers and Senior Associate Director of Athletics for Development Jack Maughan all made it to R.T. O’Sullivans at the end of February. They met with 60 Bison fans to show their support and thanks to the Bison community outside of Fargo.
It’s now up to Artz and the passionate Bison Pride from fans across the state of Arizona to keep the atmosphere booming inside R.T. O’Sullivans. And with a national championship to reclaim next year, the crew down in Arizona will have no problem replicating the vigorous support of a Fargodome atmosphere.