Photos by Paul Flessland and special to Bison Illustrated
I’m sure some of you know me, but there’s probably a larger number of you who don’t. My name is Ross Uglem and I’m the newest member of the Bison Illustrated team at Spotlight Media.
I grew up in a small town in North Dakota. Northwood might’ve had 1,200 people in it when I was a younger kid, but it’s probably closer to 800 now. Northwood, 35 miles west of Grand Forks, is deep in Fighting Hawks territory.
That was never an option for me though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My father, Bruce, played football for the Bison (however briefly) in the 70s, and both he and my mother, Jonal, attended North Dakota State during their undergrad. I’m even old enough to remember events at Dacotah Field, but the Fargodome is where I found football and fell in love.
Unfortunately, my dad’s athletic gifts made a very late appearance in my genes, and for most of junior high and high school, football wasn’t an option for a 5-foot-6, 130-pound kid. I found golf instead. I could hit it straighter (and eventually longer) than most, and for all of those who would associate me with NDSU, I actually played golf for the Cobbers across the river. I am technically not a Bison alum (though there are definitely NDSU credits on my transcript).
I majored in Mass Comm there and wrote for the Concordian. My first writing break was for my other football passion. I fell in love with Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers because six-year-old Ross saw the Bison uniforms on his grainy, 1996 TV and didn’t really care when someone corrected him. They’d go on to win Super Bowl XXXI, and I never looked back.
My Packers writing led to my inclusion in the creation of what was then Scout.com’s only FCS site, BisonReport. BisonReport focuses on recruiting (now a part of 247 Sports) and as a school-specific site, was a part of a huge network. Gopher Illustrated, InsideCarolina, Hawkeye Insider and… BisonReport?
Why was that possible? Why was it financially viable to run a school-specific recruiting and x’s and o’s site whose only topics were about North Dakota State University?
Hint: It’s probably the same reason that this magazine works. Bison Pride.
The first thing I want to clear up is the admission that yes, winning helps. I cover football and men’s basketball for BR, and since the time that I started, those two sports have accrued five conference championships, a Summit League Tournament Championship, an NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament appearance and three NCAA FCS Championships.
It’s easier to write about a team that’s winning. It’s easier to break down film when players are playing well. More people read your stuff when the team is winning because everyone is on the bandwagon. “Bandwagon” is a rough word, and NDSU has an extremely loyal fan base, but that fanbase is much bigger than it was when I was a kid, or even when I was in college during the Steve Walker/Joe Mays years.
Bison Pride, though, is more than that. It is more than a bunch of people that are really excited about a program and a university because it wins all the time. It’s a bunch of people excited about a program and a university because it represents them, and it represents them well.
Fargo, the Red River Valley and the state of North Dakota are full of hardworking people. Despite a booming economy and quite literally feeding the rest of the country through agriculture, North Dakota is largely overlooked.
People want to feel that. “Us against the world.” It’s sometimes funny to watch. Nick Saban and Bill Belichick do it all the time, even though they run the most successful organizations in all of football. They convince their players (and their fans) that everyone is out to get them and they never catch a break.
NDSU is in a unique position that way. While strictly based on success against their peers, NDSU is more successful than both the Pats and ‘Bama. That may be a wild way to look at it but they’ve won six of the last seven national championships. The Patriots only have five Super Bowls in their team’s history and Alabama has just five championships since 1992. Those are both incredible feats, but they aren’t six titles in seven seasons. The argument can, of course, be made that the FCS is not the highest level of college football.
That’s where “us against the world” or “nobody believes in us” comes in for a program even as successful as North Dakota State’s. That’s where Bison Pride comes into play.
More than anything, in my opinion, Bison fans love beating “the big guys.” Minnesota, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa, Iowa State, Colorado State—these are all fanbases who, at best, were welcoming hosts and, at worst, spoke of NDSU’s football program as “JV” or “High School,” but they were all defeated in the same manner: with toughness. (The same goes for men’s hoops over Wisconsin, Marquette and Notre Dame, women’s basketball over Minnesota, big wins from softball, baseball and track and field, but it’s football season so that’s the example I’m using).
When the farmer from Hatton picks up a Bison Illustrated and reads about how Luke Bacon and Landon Lechler wake up at the crack of dawn and hit the weights with Coach Kramer, stick to their nutrition plan, go to practice and succeed in the classroom they can identify with that. North Dakotans and people of the Red River Valley understand hard work. They work hard.
When they see the success on the field, on the track and on the court, they throw on their Green and Gold because they are represented by these student-athletes. They are represented by the program and by the University.
When you see NDSU ranked highly in these “top 25 tailgates” or “top 25 gameday experience” lists, the writers aren’t being “cute” or “meta.” The Fargodome game day experience is truly incredible. I’ve tailgated everywhere from Manhattan to Iowa City to the Rose Bowl and NDSU is a special place. If you don’t believe that because the Bison tailgate is the only one you’ve ever known, please know that your standards are set extremely high.
Why is that possible? Why is BisonReport possible? What about Bison Illustrated? Herd and Horns? In a market like Fargo with an athletic budget as small as North Dakota State’s, how does that work? Bison Pride. I’m proud to bring you all stories and perspective on NDSU athletics and super proud to be the newest part of the team here at Spotlight.