The biggest University of Colorado football game in the last decade kicks off at 6pm on Saturday night. Roughly 50,000 people will be there, but it’s a fair bet that about half of them will still be outside the stadium when Ralphie runs.
Do me a favor, and look up any CU home game from the late 80s, the 90s or the early 2000s on YouTube.
You’ll notice a few things: The Buffs usually win, they’re usually ranked, and the crowd is always there in full before kickoff.
Then, for a contrast, check out a game from the last few years. The Buffs usually lose, and the crowd doesn’t completely “fill in” until sometime late in the first quarter. Thus far in 2016 the Buffs have been winning, and they’ve been ranked, but the fans haven’t gone back to being on-time. It’s time to change that; starting on Saturday night.
I’ve written about this before, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but the late-arriving crowds are an issue that can no longer be ignored given the importance of the games CU the Buffs will be playing the rest of the season.
Now, I realize that the world has changed quite a bit since the 1990s when Folsom was regularly packed at kickoff. Metal detectors, pat downs and bag searches (not to mention E-tickets that won’t scan) have all increased the amount of time it takes to get into the stadium. It’s a pain for everyone, but that’s the reality we live in, and it’s not going to change.
What can change is the amount of time people allot in order to get to their seats ahead of kickoff. You can wrap up your tailgate fifteen minutes earlier, or work in more of a margin for error for your commute. There are other fanbases that seem capable of doing this without much trouble.
I was reminded of the chronic lateness of CU fans when I went to see the Broncos play their season opener against the Panthers last month. The game was at 6:30 on a Thursday night, which was far from an ideal time in terms of traffic and people’s work schedules. Mile High Stadium has the same clear bag policy as Folsom, and every fan had to go through metal detectors at the entrance. The stadium was full fifteen minutes before kickoff.
To be fair, the Broncos are a religion in Colorado and they have one of the longest sellout streaks in all of sports. I also realize that Mile High has many more entrances than Folsom does, and that it doesn’t take as long for people to get inside because of that. But think of the game the Buffs played at Michigan this year. 110,000 people were there, and almost all of them were in their seats by kickoff. I can’t imagine the Big House has shorter lines than Folsom does on gameday.
Home field advantage is more important in football than just about any sport. Crowd noise disrupts play calling, forces unplanned timeouts, and causes false starts. Against the caliber of competition the Buffs will be playing the rest of the season, something small like that could decide the outcome of a game. And a decisive play could come at the very beginning of the first quarter (anyone who hasn’t blocked out the memory of Super Bowl 48 could tell you that).
This is not a drill. The Colorado Buffaloes have a very, very good chance to win the Pac-12 South. There are six games remaining in the season, and four of them will be at Folsom Field. They have an excellent opportunity to win all of those games, but it’s not going to be as easy as their first three home matchups.
On Tuesday, Rick George suggested that fans arrive at the stadium an hour early in order to avoid long lines at kickoff. While that may seem like a lot of time to spend waiting, I can tell you that I’ve been arriving that early for years and it’s a far more enjoyable experience than waiting in a long line and hearing the cheers when Ralphie runs while a security guard pats you down.
Folsom is always praised for its architecture and its scenic location, but its atmosphere is rarely mentioned these days. Incoming teams are always reminded of the altitude in Boulder, but the home crowd isn’t considered a major factor. The real truth, as any longtime CU fan can tell you, is that Folsom can get extremely loud when it wants to. The fans are right on top of the field, the slope of the stands is steep, and Dal Ward, the club level and the Champions Center bounce a lot of noise back onto the playing surface. Mike MacIntyre has commented several times this season on the considerable amount noise at field level, even when the stadium isn’t close to being sold out. Imagine if these four games were all full from the opening kick to the final whistle. Folsom Field could quickly transform into one of the most challenging places to play in a conference that generally isn’t known for its home field advantages.
It took years of losing for CU fans to develop these bad habits. It doesn’t have to take take years to correct them. In fact, it could happen overnight if every fan took it upon themselves to ensure they got inside the stadium on time. The team has played well enough this season to deserve seeing a full crowd when they run out of the tunnel. Besides, do you really want to miss Ralphie?