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LAWRENCE: State-U contest was more than just a game

It was crisp, clear and around 50 degrees as I pulled into Brookings.

Football weather.

The college town was ready for some gridiron action as South Dakota State University prepared to host its archrival, the University of South Dakota, on Nov. 17. It was readily apparent the game was on a lot of minds.

As a Brookings native and SDSU graduate, I was excited to see the heavily favored Jackrabbits run past the Coyotes, and other people were in the mood for some pigskin fun as well. Dad and I drove through Pioneer Park and spotted two guys chucking a football on one of the green spaces. I was tempted to get out and run a button hook pattern, but was able to resist the idea.

Downtown, fans in blue and gold were getting fired up for the 2 p.m. kickoff. Some, like us, were munching down on hamburgers from Nick's, the venerable burger joint on the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue.

Others were drinking their lunches, as the bars were doing well at 11 a.m., although there was no evidence of any rowdy behavior. I can't speak for the night before.

As I walked into Nick's, a group of red-clad USD fans passed me. A young SDSU fan, seated at a bench by a neighboring bar, shouted out, "Better dead than red."

Although he seemed a little tipsy, he was not threatening, and smiled as he taunted the Coyote backers. They marched on before stopping at a tavern, where they braved a sea of blue. While their colors were different, they had a thirst in common.

It was the first football game between SDSU and USD in nine years, and the hype started a year ago when USD erected a billboard outside of Brookings depicting a ravenous coyote chasing a fleeing jackrabbit.

"Have an old friend for dinner," the billboard stated.

That caused some heartburn in the SDSU community, and soon a very real, and very dead, coyote was slung over the billboard in response. But that was as mean-spirited as this rivalry renewal got.

People in both red and blue were in a good mood before kickoff. Some who chose to avoid either color also seemed happy to see the universities meet again on a gridiron.

I ran into Gov. Dennis Daugaard a few minutes before the game started. He was alone, which surprised me, and was wearing a tan jacket.

I asked why, as a USD graduate, he wasn't in red, and then said maybe he was making the safe choice in Brookings.

"I'm incognito today," he said, noting the blue SDSU sweatshirt I was wearing indicated that I was proclaiming my loyalty loudly and clearly.

Daugaard's chief of staff, Mitchell resident Dusty Johnson, another politician with Coyote roots, was wearing a red checkered shirt. When I told him the governor wasn't wearing his school colors, he said his boss was a coward.

Dusty was smiling when he said that, by the way. Hate to cost him his job, even if he did go to USD.

During the game itself, the SDSU fans far outnumbered the USD backers. The crowd topped 15,000, at least officially, and that was well short of a new record.

There were a lot of empty seats, including some in the front row of the SDSU cheering section.

The State fans had a lot to cheer about, since the Jacks jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and took a 24-0 lead into the locker room at the half.

The Coyotes tried to make a game of it in the second half, but their offense stalled when they mounted threats. The final score was 31-8.

I was hoping for 100-0, especially after that fast start, but a 23-point win was fine. It was just good to see the two teams on the field again, and especially with that outcome. I'd like to see both every year.