Photo by: J. Alan Paul Photography
Traditions are about as common at NDSU as victories on the gridiron. From fan rituals to rivalries that have lasted generations, Saturdays in the fall are the best time of year for Bison football fans.
Jay Schimelfenig started his own tradition in 1988,two years after his first Bison football game.“In 1988, there was a player named Carlos Myles, number eight,” said Jay. “He played football like he was possessed.”Jay and his brother Jim fell in love with Myles’ tenacious style of play, and wanted to show their appreciation for their favorite player. That’s when Jim came up with an idea that has been passed from Dacotah Field to the FargoDome.“We talked about a Hit Man Fan Club during a game and thought we should contact Carlos to see if he wouldn’t mind being our first ‘Hit Man,’” Jay recalls. “Jim said he’d call him.”
As the story goes, Jim contacted Myles and sure enough, number eight was all in, thus beginning the Hit Man Fan Club. 2014 is the Hit Man’s 26th season as a group. Since the inception with the frozen bleachers of Dacotah Field, the fan club has grown to more than 20 members, ranging in age from 3 months to 70 years, mostly sitting in Row A of section 32 inside the FargoDome.
One of the oldest members, Dave, remembers joining Jay and his brother after recognizing his then co-worker, Jay, at a football game. The age difference wasn’t the only thing they didn’t have in common, before the unlikely partnership happened. “He (Jay) had long hair, kind of a hippie guy. I was a Republican,” Dave explained looking back at the time he joined the Hit Man Fan Club. But none of it mattered when the Bison brought two people from the opposite ends of life together.
Dave is one of the original Bison diehards, going to his first game in college back in 1962. “They were 0-10 that season,” Dave said. “I heard Darrell Mudra was coming and decided to keep following.”Dave remained a devoted Bison fan during his college years, watching his favorite football team’s record steadily improve. Then, during Dave’s senior year at NDSU, the Bison won their first National Championship. Dave sits back now and laughs at all the cold days he spent at Dacotah Field, cheering on the Bison. “Of course, during my time here, I liked to believe I had something to do with it,” jokes Dave. “They went from 0-10 to National Champs!”
Otis’s story is similar to Dave’s, tagging along with him since 1962, although he was never a student. But that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the first people in the tailgate lot since the late-1980s.“He has to drive the camper almost 50 miles to get here,” said Jay. “ Some call him crazy.”
The Hit Man Fan Club started tailgating during their inaugural year as a group. They would park their trucks where the south end of the FargoDome parking lot is now and bring one cooler and one grill. “For awhile there, we weren’t sure we could actually do what we were doing,” Jay admits while explaining the hundreds of people that visit their tailgating area before each home game.
From getting kicked off buses riding down to the 1990 championship game, to having coaches change numbers of players to eight for the fan club (Joe Mays, seriously), it has been a wild ride for the Hit Man Fan Club.
“We thought the 1990 Championship was something special,” said Jay. “Going again, especially since we went D-1, may have been a pipe dream, but along comes this group of players that takes us to the promised land in 2011, 2012 and 2013.”
Jay, Dave and Otis continue the Hit Man tradition this season, honoring incumbent Hit Man and Senior Safety Colten Heagle as the Hit Man of the year. And you can guarantee they will be tailgating in their same spot, sitting in Row A and cheering just as hard this season for the Bison as much as ever before.