That time College GameDay came to the Zoo
Row the boat! Row the boat! Row the Boat! That was the chant that echoed through the Western Michigan University campus as early as 6 a.m.
The Broncos, led by fourth year head coach P.J. Fleck, had rowed their way to a 10-0 start, making them the only undefeated and highest ranked team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) non power five, getting the attention of ESPN’s College GameDay. The Broncos, who were already embracing a well paved historical season, had drastically improved from their 1-11 2013 season, went 8-5 the following season, losing to Air Force in the Idaho Potato Bowl 38-24, and were coming off of a 8-5 2015 season which included the school’s first bowl win. Needless to say, Coach Fleck, his players, students, and alums had a lot to be proud about as this wintery Saturday was about to begin.
As 9 o’clock approached, the snow began to fall, and the students that hadn’t been toughing out the elements since the crack of dawn, began to pack out the lawn in front of the newly built Sangren Hall. If you were there and thought the WMU campus was loud prior to 9 o’clock, you hadn’t heard anything yet. As Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Desmond Howard ushered out of the hard to miss College GameDay bus, the crowd just absolutely lost it! I mean the only thing that would’ve made the experience better, would have been sitting up there with them bombarding everyone’s headset and repeatedly yelling “row the boat!”
The excitement of hosting College GameDay isn’t just about having them on your schools campus, but seeing how creative the student body can get with their crafty sign making.
There were signs that read “We want Bama,” “Bring on the Browns,” “Buffalo pours Milk B4 Cereal,” and even a “Krusty Krabs Unfair” sign.
Running into some former WMU football players from the 80’s was much expected, being able to have them reflect on what it means to be back in the city during a time like this, priceless. “Coach Fleck said it best, it’s a community thing, getting everyone together as residents, students, and alumni…it’s just something really special, said Jody Sheets, former Bronco from the ‘81-‘82 season. “The season alone is a great thing, but being able to host College GameDay here in Kalamazoo is the icing on the cake.”
Kyle Hammerberg, a Western Michigan graduate, reflected on some of the down seasons while he was enrolled saying “You know, we had a lot of bad seasons while I was here, at one point I’m sure we were the joke of the MAC.” Hammerberg also shed light on this seasons success, and acknowledged Coach Flecks program turnaround. “It’s cool to not only be winning, but remaining undefeated and getting some national attention and exposure. We’re in good company when you look at that top 25…sure there’s a significant difference in scheduled opponents, but the numbers don’t lie, can’t take that away from this team. Coach Fleck has done a solid job of improving this team each season since he’s been here in Kalamazoo, he keeps it up, then I think the respect will come.”
Yes, very much so. If Coach Fleck and his Broncos keep on winning, they’ll be set to play in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) championship and assuming they win that, will be making an appearance in their biggest bowl berth yet, the Cotton Bowl Classic. Surely by then, they’ll have the respect they deserve.
Who knows, if the wins keep piling up,the trip to K-Zoo may become a memorized rout for the College GameDay crew. Maybe they’ll be back sooner than later, maybe not, but whether you were on campus in the bitter cold, or at the nearest frat with some friends, or maybe the local sports bar, College GameDay in the Zoo was one to remember.