McFeely: Frisco mayor to Bison fans: 'Of course we miss you'
FARGO — Yes, they miss the Bison in Frisco.
With North Dakota State’s football team losing in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, there was no yellow and green horde making its way to the north Dallas suburb for the championship game. There are no rambunctious -- but polite, always polite -- NDSU fans to spend money, drink themselves silly, spend money, eat at restaurants, spend money, stay in hotels, spend money, tip generously, spend money, fill the stadium and spend money.
For five years straight, it happened as NDSU qualified for and won the FCS national championship game. This year, it’ll be the James Madison team that beat the Bison and Youngstown State.
It’s not fair to say Frisco and next-door neighbor Plano are ghost towns because they are bustling suburbs in a massive metroplex. But the impact from Saturday’s FCS title game at Toyota Stadium just isn’t the same.
Best personal observation from last year:
Walking out of Half Shells Seafood Grill in Plano on the Friday before NDSU played Jacksonville State, my family and I passed a well-dressed couple walking into the restaurant packed with Bison fans. On the sidewalk outside Half Shells, NDSU fans clad in team gear were all over the place walking in every direction.
The woman looked aghast at the crowded restaurant.
“Who are all these people in yellow?” she asked.
The man, in a perfect Texas drawl, responded: “Oh, those are North Dakota State Bison fans. They’re football team is a playing a championship game over in Frisco. They come down here every year and kick the dog out of somebody.”
“Oh my,” the woman said.
It is not like that this year. NDSU fans who traveled to Frisco despite their team not being there are reporting that, at least so far, they aren’t seeing great numbers of James Madison or Youngstown State fans.
Mike Bice, who owns the Knickerbocker Liquor Locker in Hickson, N.D., visited all the usual Bison fan hangouts in Plano on Thursday evening — The Wild Pitch, Tight Ends and Scruffy Duffies — and said he only saw about a dozen James Madison fans and two Youngstown fans.
“All of those bars were heavily overstaffed,” he said.
It’s to be expected, of course. NDSU’s fan base is larger and more passionate than every other one in FCS and it travels. Each year the Bison made the title game, between 12,000 and 18,000 fans would migrate to Texas to party and cheer on their team. It’s not the same this year.
“Of course we miss you,” Frisco mayor Maher Maso said on my 970 WDAY radio show Friday morning. “We built a lot of friendships and relationships over the years. … It’s going to be different that you’re not here.”
Maso has been the smiling face who’s greeted Bison players, coaches, administrators and fans since NDSU first qualified for the title game in January 2012, following the 2011 season. Back then, Frisco was an unknown entity to North Dakotans. And vice versa. The city’s hospitality industry was not ready for the 12,000 or so Bison fans who descended on the area and drank Bud Light like Anheuser-Busch wasn’t going to make any more. The legendary story, true, is that NDSU fans drank a pep rally dry and the host hotel had to scramble around Frisco and Plano to find more booze.
A wonderful friendship was born — football fans looking for a winter getaway to party and a city thrilled to welcome them and their credit cards.
More fans swarmed Frisco in the coming years and the mayor’s smile kept getting bigger. Faces and names became familiar. Phone numbers were exchanged. Maso was even invited to Fargo to visit and once flipped the coin before a Bison home game.
Another legendary story, also true: The owner of one popular Plano establishment that features lovely servers clad in bikini tops and short-shorts gave his experienced employees the choice of working Bison Weekend or New Year’s Eve. The less-experienced workers would get the one the veterans didn’t choose. The veterans chose Bison Weekend, because the tips were much better and the people more fun.
Maso said he kept in touch with many Bison fans this year, even though the team didn’t make it to Frisco.
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“I have made a lot of friendships with fans up there over the last several years and some of them will continue to go on. It’s great meeting great people,” he said. “Of course I’ve had lots of interactions, whether it be with tweets or texts or phone calls. That’s not going to go away.”
As Frisco’s official ambassador for the FCS Championship, the mayor must walk a fine line and not sound like he’s too heart-broken NDSU didn’t make it this year. Frisco’s job, he said, is to make the event a first-class, memorable week for all the teams that qualify. But Maso’s fondness for NDSU fans is clear.
“Bison fans are a little different breed, pretty special,” he said. “Bison fans made this a very special event. … Frisco and Fargo will be forever linked, just because of the relationship.”
As usual, Frisco looks just a little different from the last time Bison fans were there. The population has grown to about 160,000, up from 152,000 a year ago (and up from 128,000 the year of NDSU’s first trip down there). The Dallas Cowboys’ expansive practice facility just down the Dallas Parkway from Toyota Stadium is finished. More office buildings are going up. More construction cranes stretch into the Texas sky.
Toyota Stadium is different, too. It is undergoing a $40 million renovation that includes the addition of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, new locker rooms, new scoreboards, a new sound system and expanded press box. Maso thinks the teams and fans that have visited the stadium in previous years will be impressed with the changes.
“There’s always next year for y’all,” he said.
One thing will be different, if the Bison do qualify for the championship game next year or beyond. Maso will no longer be mayor. He cannot run again because of term limits. First elected in 2008, Maso will leave office in May. If NDSU does get back to Frisco in January 2018, fans will have to break in a new mayor.
“I won’t be mayor, but I’ll be there to welcome everybody,” Maso said.
He had a final mayoral message for NDSU, Fargo and Bison fans:
“The Bison program, the entire NDSU community, the president, the friendships I’ve created … you guys are a class act. I know there is disappointment for not making the championship game but (it’s impressive) doing what you’ve done so many times in a class manner with character and integrity,” Maso said. “The fans have been so much fun. It’s been an honor to host you all. You can’t lose that. No matter where you end up in the championship, you all have something special going on up there.”