(This is in response to Grantland's Bryan Curtis, who wrote "The Rules of College Football Fandom" and "Part Two" for the site this week. Halfway through part two, Curtis uses a tweet of mine to explain why as a Ball State graduate, I can't have a second college football team.)
Dear incoming class of Freshmen to Ball State University,
There are many things that you clearly don't truly know about this world only because your birthday took place in 1994. Now I understand it isn't your fault for not knowing that Michael Jordan clapped chalk into the air before Lebron James tossed it high, that Terry Bradshaw called his own offensive just like Peyton Manning did, or that it is simply foolish to attempt to make the jump at Koopa Troopa Beach all three laps in Mario Kart 64.
(Wait, do you even know what a Nintendo 64 is? A Sega Dreamcast? A Super Nintendo? Oh boy, this is getting bad.)
Before you gorge yourself with Freschetta pizza and barbecue chicken melts from the LaFollette Grille, you need to fully take in what I am about to say. Now I can only skim the details, just like you will only skim your Spanish 102 book because let's face it, it is better to study the three-to-one girl to guy ratio that exists on the campus. But you should know the basics of history, just as you should at least know it is bad to leave your mochila en la biblioteca.
Ball State football, at least when I walked onto campus during the late August of 2005, was epically bad. I really don't think you could understand how bad it was though by just reading that sentence.
We were so miserable that during three of the first four games of the season, we lost to Iowa, Auburn, and Boston College by a combined score of 157-3. Instead of being ranked in the BCS polls, we were ranked by ESPN.com as the second worst team in the nation. Instead of going to games, despite the fact they were free, students tail-gated prior to games and then found their way home by halftime. Not even the best statistical quarterback in the history of the school (at the time at least) in Junior Joey Lynch could save the program from the depths of college football Hell.
Even though the losses were stacking up in what turned out to be a worse than what it looks 4-7 season, the students had hope. Let me rephrase that. We had Hoke, as in the man that would change our student-body lives, drinking habits, and student sports coverage as we would forever know it.
After somehow landing prized recruit Nate Davis, the 15th ranked quarterback in the nation that was as mythical and amazing as a big blue ox, Hoke put his players in position to not only win games my sophomore year, but to change the college football landscape as we knew it. Little does anybody remember, but Ball State was less than ten yards from potentially tying number-two ranked Michigan (34-26) a week before their matchup against number-one Ohio State. Sure that year was as comparable to horshoes, hand grenades, or in college terms, almost getting the girl who lives in the dorms four floors above you to stay the night before she makes her way four doors down. But we felt like not only did we finally matter, but we were about to take off as fast as that new website that was called "Facebook", though it wasn't very cool compared to MySpace because I couldn't listen to Indy bands for free.
(Wait, you don't have a MySpace account? What about PureVolume? I can explain all of this to you, just give your AIM screen name. Eff it, I give up.)
My junior year, when I wasn't busy using Tupac's opening lyrics to "Hit'em Up" in debate class, I was taking notice of a complete change that was going on campus. Instead of students wearing Indiana, Purdue, Florida State, Florida, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Oregon, Miami, and whatever division-one football team was popular at the time paraphanelia to Ball State football games, they were actually representing the Cardinal and White. In return, the football team on the field looked as if they had a puncher's chance in each game.
Despite a 14-13 season-opening loss to the University of Miami on the renovated Scheumann Stadium (despite most Central Indiana high schools having turf fields, Ball State played on grass in a stadium that looked less superior to Carmel High School), the Cardinals captured our hearts with a 34-31 overtime win at Navy, a heart-wrenching 41-40 loss at Nebraska, and a 41-20 victory over Toledo on ESPN 2. Hoke had pulled a complete turn-around from the mess that he had inherited, pulling out a seven-win season that was only ruined by Rutgers running back Ray Rice rushing for 300+ yards in the International Bowl.
Sometimes when I sleep at night, I still see Ray Rice running in my nightmares alongside Rashard Mendanhall and Garrett Wolfe with his blood-red eyes past the Ball State defense.
I would need three-thousand more words, and maybe testimonials from the players, fans, professors, and even Jason Whitlock to even remotely explain what happened my senior year. As a student journalist that year, I attended every game but one, and have many classic moments on my hard drive that I still revisit today.
Just know, that nobody in even the National Football League now was going to catch Dante Love as he out-ran Navy's defensive corners and free safeties 61-yards in the defining moment of the "Hello America, we are Ball State Football" campaign in a 35-23 victory. At the same time, I hope you never have to experience the sickness in my stomach when I saw Love drop to the ground with a spinal cord injury in the 42-20 victory over Indiana.
Just know that when your team goes 7-0 with a 24-7 victory over Western Kentucky, the cool thing to do was to go up to every person you know on campus, stop in front of them, bend your body forward and rearend back, stick one hand out, and attempt to copy the Louis Johnson to Darius Hill handshake ten thousand times.
Just know when your team goes 11-0 against rival Central Michigan in an racous away game that was approximately three degrees with windchill, that Nate Davis never flinched against Dan LaFevour once. Yes, history shows MiQuale Lewis rushed for 177 total rushing yards that game, but it was Davis that marching down the field with ice in his veins to connect with Briggs Orsbon to take the 31-24 lead. LaFevour may have ended his career as the best overall player in MAC history statistically, basically performing as an exact clone to Tim Tebow in a lower-tier conference, but Nate won the war that night as the Ball State students rushed THEIR field.
Just know, that everything on that night we finished 12-0, was perfect right down to a T. That one my now-fellow Cardinal, can be watched in the video above this column.
I wish history ended there on that wonderful November night, but unfortunately the 12th ranked team in the nation had to play in the Mid-American Conference championship game against the University of Buffalo on December 5th, 2008. Our heroic quarterback Davis got the flu before the game, fumbled inside our own 30 yardline TWICE (both on consecutive drives that were returned for a 92 and 74 yard touchdowns), and despite his epic 351 yard game that had 31 completions, was the scapegoat for 42-24 loss that eventually landed Turner Gill a job at Kansas.
I broke down in tears on the middle of the field in a crumpled heap as Buffalo was handed the trophy, and future co-worker/Ball State alum Jeremiah Johnson may or may have not consoled me.
Just know the deflated Cardinals didn't stand a chance against Tulsa as we were routed 45-13 in the GMAC Bowl causing us to finish 12-2 during an undefeated season. Yes, I know that doesn't make any sense, but either did the "Undefeated" tee-shirts that were sold at TIS Bookstores.
By the way, that Head Coach Brady Hoke that turned everything around for the program? There was a rumor that spread that we offered him about three-hunded to four-hundred thousand dollars less than San Diego State did. Hoke wanted to be a Cardinal, but our athletic department under AD Tom Collins (who we could write a ten-page column on why he messed up everything) flubbed up everything as bad as you will when you first attempt to hit on a senior girl at a party.
So what can you, as an incoming freshman, take away from this letter in the end?
Well last season Head Coach Pete Lembo righted the once-again sinking ship that was Ball State football by winning six games and becoming one of two bowl-eligible schools that didn't play in the post-season. But soon enough, most likely during your tenture, Lembo will lead the Cardinals to a magical season. Maybe they won't go undefeated, maybe they won't even win eight games, but eventually Lembo will lead the team to prosperity and it will be some of the greatest moments of your college years. The parties, the tail-gates, the games, the after-parties, the buzz on campus, and everything that has to do with that season, you will savor for the rest of your life.
And when Lembo leaves the program to take a better job that he deserved, if it does happen, you will love him uncontrollably because of what he did for you. When he eventually finds himself at his dream job, just as Brady Hoke is now at the University of Michigan, you will cheer uncontrollably like you did for your Ball State Cardinals when he wins his first BCS Bowl game, just like I did for Hoke when the Wolverines won 23-20 over Virgina Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
History often repeats itself, and soon "the dynamite will go boom again".
Best of luck future freshman, and also remember that romantic walks by Benny will be the cheapest date that will automatically get you to second-base,
Ken "Bud" Sothman
(So what do you think Bryan, can a Ball State fan at least cheer for Michigan on the side?)