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|| News Item: Posted 2001-09-28

Leading Off: Going Home to Fresno State
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today
You can't go home again. Thomas Wolfe, 1940.

Damn straight. Bert Hanashiro, 2001.

I was there in 1977 when then head football coach Jim Sweeney was lifted on the shoulders of his players on a cold, misty night in Fullerton when Fresno State won the PCAA championship.

I made the photograph of Bulldog quarterback Kevin Sweeney when he broke the NCAA career passing yardage record in 1986.

I even covered Fresno State's upset win over USC in the Freedom Bowl in 1992 (which eventually cost Trojan head coach Larry Smith his job).

So when I was assigned to cover Fresno State's home game against Oregon State a few weeks ago, it was not only another football game, it was home.

Fresno State was just beginning their run as college football's "feel good story of the year" after a win against Colorado in Boulder. And a game against the Beavers, picked by Sports Illustrated to win the National Championship, was not just big, it was HUGE in Fresno.

Fresno State University has always been one of those so-called "mid-majors" --- a school occasionally sniffing around the top 30 or so in the football and basketball polls, but never quiet making it to the Big Time.

I grew up in Fresno, went to FSU, worked at two newspapers in the area for 13 years before moving on to USA TODAY in 1989.

Not much has changed around Bulldog Stadium in the 8 or so years since I was last there. The uniforms are the same. The P.A. announcer is the same. Even the tri-tip sandwiches they serve in the pressbox are the same. And one thing that certainly had not changed, was the practice of Bulldog fans of wandering down from their seats and standing on the sidelines.

As the points started to pile up on the scoreboard (a rented "jumbotron" hanging from a crane in the north endzone) it was becoming evident that the Bulldogs would pull off another upset of a "name" school" the more the fans lingered on the sidelines.

Bulldog Stadium's design, odd as it is, has always had the fans walking along the narrow sidelines to get to their seats. This wasn't a problem in 1984 when Fresno was playing teams from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Sacramento State and only 8,248 members of the "Red Wave" turned out on a hot September night.

But Fresno State is now attracting sellout crowds, even needing temporary bleachers set up in the upper reaches of the stadium to accommodate the throng expected for the game against the Beavers.

And by the third quarter, what had started off a fairly manageable sideline had turned into a mob scene of boosters, two-deep. Mind you, Fresno State does not get the hordes of photographers a USC game does, heck they usually don't have more than what you'd expect at a De La Salle High School football game.

I've been to Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, Fiesta Bowls, you name it. But the sidelines during that game was THE worst I've seen. You could not move out of the endzone to shoot because the space between the bench and the back of the endzone was jammed with fans.

During the 4th quarter, I even counted a dozen children under the age of 12 around the 20-yard line on the south side of the Fresno bench.

I don't want to wax nostalgic, reminiscing about the "good old days" when I was one of only 5 shooters prowling the sidelines during a Bulldog - San Jose State game. Or how quaint it was when my buddy Barry Wong and I would cover games for the Daily Collegian with four rolls of Tri-X and Nikkormats with 180mm lenses.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today
No, I don't want to whine that these days the "fans" at Fresno State games aren't just excited about cheering on the team, that boosters crammed on the sidelines scream at the referees just a few feet away or the Bulldog Faithful still sitting in their seats throw trash at the opposing team's bench.

After all, things change. Especially if you aspire for the "Big Time."

During the closing minutes of the game as Fresno was running out the clock on a 44-24 win, you could feel something would happen and I mentioned to a "security guard" that they should stop the people from throwing things at the Oregon State players and that they might want to block the stairs from the seats to the field (you know, the ones wearing the worn, faded t-shirt with "SECURITY" printed on the back?).

Mister Yellow-Security-Shirt told me he was "busy" (meaning he was watching the game) and that they "would take care of it."

Of course nothing was "taken care of" and more ice, cups and hotdog wrappers rained down on the Beavers' bench. And when the clock finally ran out, every nut, wacko and fool in the lower stands ran out onto the field so they could mug for the ESPN cameras and start a NEW tradition: ripping down the goal post.

The final score: Fresno State 44 Oregon State 24 Bulldog Image 0. 4 people injured.

It was a long way from that chilly, foggy evening in Fullerton in 1987.

I guess I know now that something big may have changed over the years since I left Fresno.


* * *


The tragic events on September 11 have affected us all. Many of our Sports Shooter contributors (as well as many of you readers) have been busy covering the events and aftermath of September 11 and I would like to salute you all.

Our lives and world have changed irreversibly. Anxiety, tension, depression and a feeling of helplessness have touched us all. I hope that the handful of articles we have in this issue concerning the events of September 11 help educated, enlighten and entertain you at least for a few minutes.

We are happy to lead off issue v.35 with a hands-on report by USA TODAY's Bob Deutsch on the new Canon digital camera, the 1D. Bob had the opportunity to spend a morning playing around with Canon's eagerly anticipated professional digital camera and he has written his first impressions on the 1D for Sports Shooter.

So sit back, adjust the contrast on your monitor, set the VCR to tape "Enterprise" and enjoy Sports Shooter v.35.

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