FRESNO, Calif. — At roadside stops Simonian Farms and Gibson Farm Market, the fall harvest is on display in rows of well-stocked wooden crates of produce.
Most of the grape, almond and bell pepper crops are in and the sweet Selma Pete raisins are already bagged in the stores.
In Fresno County, which produces 99 % of the nation’s raisins, this marks the time of the year when the Red Wave, as Fresno State’s legion of sports followers are known, flock to Bulldog Stadium.
But the 40, 727-seat “Doghouse ” will be devoid of fans on Saturday for the start of its 40th season when the University of Hawaii and Fresno State finally open their COVID-19-impacted schedules and the resulting stillness should be music to the Rainbow Warriors’ ears.
“The Red Wave won’t be there and that will be a huge thing that we’re missing, ” Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer acknowledged. “That’s a huge advantage for us when it it rockin’.”
In this curious environment, new Rainbow Warriors’ head coach Todd Graham is the beneficiary of a situation that many of his predecessors could only have dreamed of, a largely serene and sterile Bulldog Stadium.
After years of being the targets of torrents of verbal abuse—and more than a few tossed objects as well—in a place where the Warriors have gone 8-15-1, this time UH won’t feel the urge to plug the ear holes on its helmets. Especially if the annoying, constant refrains of “Who Let The’Dogs Out ?” are absent, too.
While California said it will now permit pro events to have some fans in attendance at their events, colleges are prohibited from opening up the stands.
Some spots in Bulldog Stadium, however, will have cardboard cutouts that fans will pay $60 apiece to have placed in their seats.
The money, such as it is, will be used to try to help offset the loss of $5 million in ticket sales and contribute to the lowering of the debt that last week forced Fresno State to announce it was cutting three sports—men’s tennis, wrestling and varsity lacrosse—in an effort to save $2.5 million.
Officials said some crowd noise and music will be piped in and the Bulldogs, who usually work out on an adjacent field, were scheduled to practice in the stadium this week to get attuned to the artificial sounds.
Those sounds would be a welcome change for the Warriors who have regularly taken more verbal abuse at Bulldog Stadium than any place they’ve played in the conference.
One year it started the day before the game. In 2000 the Warriors made the mistake of holding their walk-through session on Fresno State’s practice field adjacent to fraternity row on a Friday evening. Members of the Delta Sigma Phi house, many with drinks in hand, climbed up on the roof and around the field to serenade the Warriors with some colorful epithets.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, ” UH offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh said at the time.
“We’ve been telling guys since we’ve started that they are going to have to bring their own energy, ” Fresno State offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “With the stillness of the stadium, things like that, we’ve got to rely on our veterans to create that game-like atmosphere. We know that we have a very supportive community and that they are going to be watching, it is just that they are not right there with us.
“They are looking at us. Just because they aren’t sitting 20 or 30 feet away doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”
The fact that they aren’t there should be the first step toward a successful opening for the Warriors.