For Bison fans, going to Frisco for the FCS championship game means more than watching their favorite football team play for another title. Going to Frisco is always an adventure. What better way to enjoy a trip of a lifetime than spending it with people that mean the most in your life?
Joan (Lauf) Deal has made the trip to Frisco every season the Bison have qualified for the championship, but earlier this football season the season ticket holder had to put her Saturday trips to the FargoDome on hold.
Deal was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November and had surgery to remove the tumor in December. She wouldn’t attend a Bison football game for the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
“I’m so blessed for the TV coverage we get,” said Deal, who moved to Pierre, S.D., five years ago with her husband Greg, who she has been married to her for 23 “blissful years.”
Deal was fortunate to be able to watch the Bison on TV through the playoffs and feed her Bison fandom.
Deal’s Bison blood started flowing since the day she was born. Her grandmother Gladys Lauf was inducted into the Bison hall of fame in 1980, her father Robert Lauf was inducted in 1974 and her cousin Donni Lauf was inducted in 1991; the same year Deal earned her bachelor’s degree at NDSU.
In 2003, Deal made North Dakota State University history. She was named the first female president of the NDSU Athletics community-based support group called Team Makers.
A woman so entrenched with NDSU has a core-tailgating group she always goes to the games with. Since her absence, the group set up a display of Deal to show that she may not be there, but her presence is felt at every tailgate. The group spent so much time together and figured they would be going to Frisco with each other again this season.
During the first playoff game against South Dakota State, the tailgating group came to the realization that if the Bison were to run the table again and earn a spot in the championship game, the trip to Frisco wouldn’t include their ill friend.
That’s when the decision was made to go south. But the group took an early exit in South Dakota. Not to avoid the blizzard conditions on I-29, but to see their dear friend.
“I was in utter surprise,” Deal said. “Like they said, instead of going down the interstate they took a sharp right to come see me in Pierre.”
Unannounced, Deal’s tailgating group came to her door Friday night before the championship game and told her to be ready for tailgating bright and early the next morning; they would be watching the game with Deal, in the comfort of her home surrounded by her old tailgating group.
“I had no idea,” Deal said. “It was more fun than it should’ve been but it was great. It was amazing. I still can’t believe it; I’m still in utter shock.”
Deal said 15 members of her tailgating group watched the Bison game in her living room. She also reassured her fellow Bison fans in Frisco that her Bison flag flew high above the Missouri River while the game came down to the final moments.
Deal has made many connections at NDSU and has close relationships with the people at the Alumni Association. They have sent her various gifts since she was diagnosed. One gift included a pillow that has the phrase “In It To Win It” stitched on the front. The saying has become her inspiration through the treatment process. Another gift was a Bison football helmet signed by the team.
With 1:38 left and the Bison down four, somebody told Deal to get in the game; the Bison desperately needed its most beloved supporter.
“The helmet went on and I wore it until the end of the game,” Deal said. The helmet worked and the Bison came back to win its fourth consecutive championship.
Deal is currently receiving chemotherapy and was recently released from the hospital to return to her home in Pierre.
But for one day, the cancer would be forgotten and Deal was surrounded by the love and support of her friends and fellow Bison fans. They accomplished the thing they have grown accustomed to doing every Saturday during the fall, rooting and cheering their Bison to another victory.