When Northern Michigan University junior kicker Rockne Belmonte kicked off to Minnesota State-Mankato on Thursday evening, I was pleasantly surprised to find a full student section at the Superior Dome for the Wildcats' opener.
When the Mavericks kicked off the second half with an onsider, I once again saw a familiar sight from my college days - an empty student section.
You've probably read this column before. It wasn't written by me, but by countless other local sportswriters in newspapers across the country. It could have been written in this publication by another sports columnist at one time, but I'm hoping my perspective as a 26-year-old who has only been out of NMU for just over four years helps bring a different perspective.
Maybe it will also help to admit I too walked out of my fair share of NMU football games during my time at Northern and as I was reminded outside the Superior Dome on Thursday, was the program's harshest critic.
Three of my four years from 2003-07 were spent covering the hockey beat as well as NMU soccer, but being the football fan that I am, I often got in on the football coverage as a columnist.
My preferred place to watch the games was always the press box - and it still is. While the complementary pizza, soda and water is nice, the view of the field and ability to watch plays fully develop from overhead is the true perk.
Occasionally I'd join friends in the stands - there was always plenty of room - in an attempt to be social and not to be a work-a-holic.
No matter where I sat, however, it was often ugly to watch.
Prior to Bernie Anderson's arrival for my senior year, NMU football won a total of seven games in three seasons from 2003-05. My freshman year was a banner year with three wins, followed by two each in '04 and '05.
The 2004 season was especially bad with the 'Cats losing their first three games 45-6 to Michigan Tech, 45-27 to Mercyhurst and 41-0 to Findlay in Marquette. The third butt-whooping resulted in my not-so-popular column with now offensive line coach Rob Boss and his teammates titled, "Please don't make us wear paper bags on our heads."
Detroit Lions fans at Ford Field were my inspiration for that headline.
The shutout by Findlay was one of a few lopsided losses witnessed at the Superior Dome during those three years - 45-29 to Grand Valley State in 2004; 42-21 to Michigan Tech in 2005; and 70-20 to Northwood that same year.
Was it right to walk out on our team and classmates early? No. I wouldn't think of walking out of Lambeau Field early, but Wildcat football was tough to watch in those days.
That is not the case in 2011.
Those who walked out of the Superior Dome early on Thursday night in hopes of getting back to the dorms in time for "Jersey Shore" missed quite the show in the Superior Dome as Carter Kopach hit Julian Gaines for a game-winning touchdown on fourth and 1, followed by Jacob Lehman reeling in the interception that sealed the win.
Just as it can be unwise to judge a book by its cover, pundits should be leery about judging a team by just one game. However, Thursday night did nothing to make me question my prediction of an eight- or nine-win season for the Wildcats.
The ink and paper used to publish this column may be going to waste right now, since I doubt very few college students these days buy newspapers, but hopefully these words reach some eyes through www.miningjournal.net via laptops, iPads and smartphones.
There will be plenty of time throughout the course of your college days for beer pong, flip cup, quarters and keg stands. I guarantee MTV will give you 100 more chances to catch Snooki, JWoww, Deena, Sami, Pauly D, Vinny, Ronnie and The Situation on repeat in the next month, and if you're one of those students who does homework, you can take care of that Monday morning.
Special teams like the one NMU has this season only come along every so often. Help them live up to their potential and try sticking around for a complete football game for a change.
And don't worry. You can leave the paper bags at home. Save them to hide your shame from watching "Jersey Shore."