While watching the FBS Playoff Championship game, I heard one of the announcers ask Head Coach Urban Meyer what winning the championship meant to him and Ohio State University. He replied with the typical sports clichés, as usual, but also referenced his team making history — referring to the first FBS Playoff Champion. Well I hate to break it to Coach Meyer, but NDSU made history two days prior to Ohio State.
The Bison became the first team in FCS history to win four straight National Championships. They not only made history, but they continued a streak of dominance associated with the premier program in all of the FCS, dare I say dynasty.
No wait, I take that back. The Bison are not a dynasty.
Before you stop reading and curse my name, read this first: They are more than a dynasty. Over the past few months I have become friends with Bison alumni and former Bison players. I had a chance to sit down and record a special episode of the PodBash previewing the championship game. We also talked about the success of former Bison players in the NFL and what it means to be a part of this Bison fraternity. The overwhelming term that is used to describe this program is “family.”
It’s an exclusive club with high expectations and even higher aspirations. The Bison family predates this magazine, the FargoDome and even predates myself. The exciting part of what I have briefly been able to experience has been listening to people talk about alumni they got to meet, the Friday walk-through they attend on the eve of the championship games, and how much it means to the alumni to be a part of the Bison family and connect with current players.
Becoming a part of this exclusive club would be something that any recruit would dream of joining. Not to mention that Bison football not only sets the bar for greatness, they are the “bar” by which all other schools are now measured.
The expectations of this program have been set so high that anything less than making the playoffs is absurd, and the idea of not having a winning record is next to impossible. NDSU’s recruiting footprint will continue to grow and they will bring in better out-of-state players, but the heart of the team remains its own local recruits.
Local players still make up over half of the roster and give this team a sense of local roots in the upper Midwest. There are those recruits that come to Fargo not knowing where it is or how to pronounce Bison correctly. It’s tricky, I know from experience. Those that do come for a visit want to stay and become a part of this special family. Some of those that come from across the country end up staying long after college and help move our community forward.
What does all this mean? It means that this team, this family, will be a large part of our community for decades to come. The Bison program means so much to this community, yet the players and coaches have the freedom to live their lives as any of us would. Just before Christmas I saw Head Coach Chris Klieman shopping at the mall with his daughter, completely uninterrupted and peacefully enjoying the day with his child. This program, the coaches and athletes reflect what this community is: hard working, humble and great.
This Bison family will continue to grow and more chapters will be written into the record books. There are many more games to win, more conference titles to clinch and more National Championship trophies to collect. As the saying goes: The strength of the Bison is the herd, and the strength of the herd is the Bison.
Jace Denman is a South Dakota native that has found his way into the middle of Bison country. Denman co-hosts a weekly podcast called “The PodBash.” The podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn and at podcastgarden.com.