“It’s a culture that is nasty, inebriated and civilly doesn’t give our fans the respect that any fan should expect when visiting an away team.”
It feels like it’s only been a few days since Boise State President Bob Kustra said those fatal words. Months have passed and the banners are flying high on the Palouse. People flock to its rolling hills in packs to man the lines in what is the final battle between the two schools. This is more than just a game. It’s Northern Idaho vs. Southern Idaho, its Liberals vs. Conservatives, its bitterness over a stolen capital and its anger over academic respect. In a traditional rivalry, nothing is impossible. Nothing is too unimaginable. When these giants of Idaho step foot on the field for the last time, Judgment Day will be upon us all and everyone in the state will lose.
Announced earlier this year, Boise State’s commitment to leave the Western Athletic Conference to go the Mountain West caused shadows to grow over the state. Doubt began to run like wildfire from fan to fan over whether or not a decade old tradition that brought the state together was going to continue. Their rivalry with the University of Idaho was now on the line, with many supporters saying to drop it and many saying to keep it alive.
Kustra’s comments about the Vandal faithful was more than just one man’s opinion, it was a testament to a much bigger issue. As much as they hate to admit it, Boise State was never able to grasp the concept of tradition like Idaho has. The fans and citizens of the city still treat the school as a community college and its football team as a member of the NFL. The abandoning of the rivalry itself shows the administrations and the fans own lack of willingness to commit to the most basic of college principles.
Most in the capital forget that rivalries go beyond one sport and that tradition goes hand in hand with them. Support and pride for Bronco Athletics is sparse beyond football. Fans that are fat and spoiled on the success of one sport are surprisingly apathetic to the others. After breaking their losing streak to the Broncos in men’s basketball in Moscow a few years ago, Idaho has dominated the bi-annual meeting on the hardwood, winning three of the last four games, handing Boise their worst home loss in decades, and costing one coach his job. Yet the stands are what tell the tale.
The last meeting between the two, while being embarrassing for the Broncos on the court, continued to be embarrassing off the court as well. The stands were dominated by black and gold clad fans that silenced the Boise State’s pep band by singing over BSU’s fight song with the words of Idaho’s. No matter how many times Bronco fans tried, the low attendance ultimately made them no match for a group who puts tradition and school pride as a priority as “I-D-A-H-O” rang through Taco Bell Arena unopposed.
Instead of slandering one culture, maybe Kustra and Bronco Nation need to travel around the west for a bit to see what tradition looks like. Boise isn’t too far from Salt Lake City. Maybe they could all hop a plane and see why “The Holy War” means more to Utah than a three game series between two BCS busters. Then they can head east to see why moving up a division means nothing to the Grizzlies if the Bobcats don’t come along. After that they can hit Washington and Oregon to see how the “Apple Cup” and “The Civil War” shuts the two states down completely for just one day.
Above anything else, these long standing traditions in the spirit of rivalries are much more than the games and confines of the stadiums that hold them. They are an excuse, a reason, a way for a state normally divided by politics, geography, and a thousand other factors can joke, cheer, laugh, and come together to celebrate what makes their state great. There is a reason why Boise only sells out Bronco Stadium when Idaho comes to town and vice versa. There is a reason why Dirk Kempthorne commissioned the Governor’s Cup. This rivalry is part of the Gem State’s tradition.
Greener pastures may await the Bronco football team in the Mountain West so its hard not to blame them for leaving. The Broncos are ready for more of the national spotlight, but still find themselves in the dark when it comes to knowing what it means to be a real university and how important tradition is in becoming one.