December 16, 2010 in Sports

Blanchette: Kick in the tail feathers for no-show Eagles fans

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Dear Montana fan,

I’m not sure how to say this, so I’m just going to say it.

Help.

That’s right, help.

If you’re not doing anything Friday night – and I know there’s no football game in your town (sorry) – do you think you could be coaxed over the mountains to fill a few seats at Roos Field?

Apparently, people here can’t attend games because they’re far too busy.

So far, Eastern Washington has hosted two games in the FCS playoffs – you know, for the national championship? – and managed to attract a total of 7,725 customers. That’s roughly the number of people who shoe-horn themselves into the bar across the bridge from Washington-Grizzly Stadium to watch on TV because they can’t get one of the 25,000 tickets when Montana plays a Division II palooka in September.

Now the Eagles have another game in Cheney – against defending FCS champion Villanova – with a trip to the title game at stake.

So, a little help?

This is not going to be well-received, I know.

The Eastern people are going to hate it. They hate everything Montana, pretty much for the sport of it now. They hate how you win every year – well, until this year (sorry) – and all the times they’ve been zeebed in Missoula and the unfortunate smugness that inevitably infects a segment of the fandom of any successful program.

And this will only encourage that segment – those who have convinced themselves that Missoula, if not the birthplace of the game, has always been Rabid Football Fanboy Central. Although the few of us who used to shiver on those creaky old planks in the “temporary” stadium that was used for 20 years know better, don’t we?

Well, too bad. These are desperate times.

There’s a football team in Cheney that deserves a bigger audience, and an audience three hours to the east that’s used to being at a football game this time of year (sorry).

OK, “deserves” is an awkward concept. Attendance at a football game is not a civic responsibility. Elections deserve 100 percent turnout and never get them.

Still, this is a community that goes ga-ga over big events, and some not so big. Skating? The first time the national championships came to Spokane there were people standing at the convention center to watch 12-year-olds fall down, and setting attendance records at the Arena. The NCAA basketball tournament fills the joint. The Memorial Cup drew mega-crowds even for Guelph vs. Val d’Or. The Zags, the Shock, the Indians – none lacks for an audience.

And yet when EWU hosted Southeast Missouri State two weeks ago, a whopping 3,665 showed up, nearly 2,000 less than Eastern’s worst-attended regular-season game.

Yes, it was Apple Cup weekend and the Zags were on TV, and likely there was a discount coupon for a pizza that could only be used at that hour. Alibis R Us.

But there was no sporting competition to speak of last Saturday, when the Eagles pulled out a thriller over North Dakota State. The thrills were shared by all of 4,060 – a not insignificant portion of whom wagon-trained in from North Dakota, which is a freeway few exits east of Argonne Road.

I know, I know. The students were gone for the holidays. Snow was in the forecast. Another pizza coupon.

Here’s the punch line: Spokane actually bid to host the FCS championship game in January. Wisely, the NCAA said thanks-but-no-thanks, and stifled its giggles – at least until it heard the city couldn’t figure out how to get snow off the field for a high school playoff game.

This indifference can’t be pinned on the school’s marketing efforts. They’ve worked that angle like crazy this year, playing off the gimmick of the new red field, and sold more season tickets than ever. There have been giveaways or themes every game, and this week they’ve even arm-twisted some businesses into buying tickets for kids.

There are 35,000 Eastern alums in Spokane County. Presumably, many have spouses, kids, friends and neighbors who enjoy football.

And yet we’ll field the usual few phone calls at the newspaper this week complaining about how Eastern is ignored, because it’s easier than looking inward and admitting, gee, too few who went to school there give a damn about athletics – or even the school, for that matter.

So, getting back to the earlier appeal – come on over, Griz fans. If I recall, many of you did just that back in 1997 when the Eagles were advancing in the playoffs and your team had been eliminated (sorry). Yes, you’ll have to put up with the red field, but the football played on it is still good, and you’ve proven you appreciate good football.

As for you folks here, the game’s on TV. It’s a great opportunity to use that pizza coupon.


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