It is arguably the single most impressive streak in all of sports today. Anywhere on the planet, any level of competition, collegiate or professional. The North Dakota State football team is playing for an unheard of fifth straight national championship.
The Bison are the modern day equivalent of the New York Yankees from the mid- 20th century or those UCLA basketball teams under John Wooden. Simply put, there is NDSU, and then there is everybody else. All this team does is find a way to win titles – and not just conference titles, mind you, national titles. Most coaches, players and fans would twist the stars themselves to play for an opportunity at a single national championship and one championship ring.
The Bison have guys that could put the ultimate exclamation point on their career with a fifth ring, as in, one for the thumb. Can you imagine the parents of fifth-year seniors like Brian Schaetz, Ben LeCompte or C.J. Smith? If NDSU coaches had walked into their living rooms during the recruiting process and said, “Listen, we want your son to play for North Dakota State and be a Bison. We’ve got something pretty special here, and by the time he’s done, he’s going to have five national championship rings to bring home.” Right, okay, sure thing coach. Five national titles. While you’re at, can you guarantee me the winning lottery ticket, too?
But here they are, with a shot to do something truly historic. So historic, in fact, it has never been done in college football. No team has won five straight national championships.
Most Bison fans are familiar with Anish Shroff, the ESPN college football studio host and play-by-play announcer. Shroff has become an honorary Fargoan, calling NDSU’s epic title bout with Illinois State last January and doing several of the playoff games inside the Fargodome this year. After Esley Thorton’s game-deciding interception to clinch the four-peat, Shroff proclaimed, “The Dakota Dynasty continues!” And then some. Recapping NDSU’s demolition of Richmond in the national semifinals, Shroff summed it up this way during ESPN’s postgame analysis. “This is one of the great runs in sports. To win one championship, to repeat, that’s hard enough. North Dakota State is one win away from five in a row, that has never been done in college football.”
There is nothing like it in modern day sports. Not even close. Nick Saban’s Alabama teams are the next closest thing in college football, winning three championships in four years from 2009 to 2012. The Crimson Tide have not won a national title, though, since the year the Bison notched their back-to-back. Those Miami Heat teams that LeBron James famously predicted would win not one, not two, not three … not seven in a row were only able to go back-to-back. The impressive women’s college hoops team from the University of Connecticut and the University of Tennessee mustered three-peats. The Jordan-led Chicago Bulls pulled off the three-peat trifecta twice in the 1990s, but missed a shot at more when Jordan took two years off to dabble in professional baseball. No team has ever won more than two in a row in the National Football League. For as great as the New England Patriots have been since 2001, they went an entire decade, from 2004 to 2014, between winning Super Bowls.
To appropriately gauge the rarified company NDSU is in, consider this. The aforementioned New York Yankees won five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953. That was the longest streak for the Bronx Bombers and remains the longest in Major League Baseball history. The Wizard of Westwood took the Bruins to seven straight NCAA Basketball titles from 1967 to 1973. All these runs – from UCLA’s staggering streak to the famed Yankees and Bulls teams – belong in the pantheon of the greats. So does this run by North Dakota State.
Pat Riley, the legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach, is the only person on the professional level to hoist a championship trophy as a player, coach and executive. He described the task of repeating as, “The hardest thing to do in sports.”
What in the world does that make five- peating? It’s something not lost on the Bison. “Pretty remarkable,” said NDSU head coach Chris Klieman, describing the idea of playing in a fifth straight semifinal following a 23-13 quarterfinal win over Northern Iowa. “I know it’s an expectation for us to be here, but doggonit, it is hard … it is unbelievably hard for us to do what we’ve done the last five years.”
Klieman is right. To achieve this stratospheric level of success that has few equals in sports history – and that is not hyperbole, see the above-mentioned streaks – is a testament to the caliber of people involved with NDSU football. Hats off to Klieman and his staff for the sacrifices they’ve made. They deserve our gratitude. So, thank you to Klieman, Matt Entz, Tim Polasek, Atif Austin, Jamar Cain, Nick Goeser, Randy Hedberg, Joe Klanderman, Conor Riley, Tyler Roehl, Joey Blackmore and Jim Kramer, for allowing us to enjoy this ride and quest for the five-peat. Also, deserving of our thanks is Josh Kittell, Jake Otten, Brian Gordon, Hank Jacobs and Margie Trickle, for the work they put into making Bison football what it is, and the dozens of other student assistants, trainers, video and media folks, athletic administration, and the yell and cheerleaders.
And, first and foremost, thank you to our student-athletes. The guys that show up and grind; who do whatever is asked of them; who put the team before themselves and dedicate themselves to doing what is necessary to achieve the lofty goals they’ve set for NDSU football. It takes an unbelievably special group of guys and an unbelievable commitment to maintaining the high level of performance year after year, to get to a single championship, let alone a fifth. The time, effort and energy all these people have poured into building one of the best teams in America is truly special, something we should not take for granted, something folks across the sports landscape are taking notice of.
“I’ve been a lot of places throughout my career having played for the University of Texas,” began Ahmad Brooks, who served alongside Shroff as the commentator for the Richmond broadcast. “I’ve never been in an environment like this that’s so magical. It starts with the pregame festivities, the tailgating, then you come here and see the way the team is introduced, and last but not least, the way that the product is presented. These players come out here and play with extreme passion, and they really do want to win every game they play, and better yet, they expect to, and it shows up each and every week the Bison are on the football field.” This comes from a guy who played at a place, the University of Texas, where football is a religion and way of life.
With that said, the Bison know one last step remains. “We’ve got to keep working. We’re not there yet, we haven’t arrived anywhere,” concluded junior defensive end, Brad Ambrosius, upon NDSU punching its ticket to return to Frisco. “We have to keep working and keep getting better like coach has alluded to.”
Everyone up – and stay up – for the kickoff, the march is on! I’ll see you in Frisco!