A near-capacity crowd of roughly 10,000 K-State fans flooded Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas Thursday prior to the 2015 Valero Alamo Bowl. There, they heard a simple but significant message from head coach Bill Snyder — one that has become a staple for K-State supporters across the country and, even, the world.
“I don’t know that San Antonio knows what Kansas State is all about,” Snyder said. “We were here one time before, but this is what we are about, you’re wonderful, we love you.”
“This,” which Snyder was referring to, can simply be described as the mobile mob of K-State enthusiasts. Year after year, bowl after bowl, fans dressed in purple and white (sometimes including their hair) descend upon unbeknownst bowl-host cities to set up their own little slice of the Little Apple. These have included destinations like Tempe, Arizona, San Diego, California, New York City, New York and, of course for this year, San Antonio, Texas.
This year alone, fans from more than 45 states and several different countries have made the trip to southeast Texas to watch the No.11 Wildcats take on the No. 14-ranked UCLA Bruins.
The support is engrained into the minds of those very supporters each and every year. Take Aaron Nickell of Manhattan, Kansas for example. He, along with his wife Lori moved to the Little Apple three years before Bill Snyder announced in 1989 that “the greatest turnaround in college football exists here today, and it is not one to be taken lightly.”
A Kansas native, Nickell grew up with K-State football in his peripherals. He remembers the dark days in Manhattan where K-State went two-straight seasons without winning a game, and three-straight seasons without a conference victory.
“When we moved to (Manhattan), there was half a stadium open and at halftime you could walk in without a ticket and sit just about anywhere,” Nickell recalled. “Fast forward to now, I’ve been to a lot of different places. There was about a 10-year period that I went to every game, home and away. And K-State, I think, is still one of the best that I’ve seen.”
Part of the change of culture that has contributed to the drastic revitalization of the K-State football program is the tradition of strong bowl travel — a tradition that Nickell and his family have greatly been a part of.
Since 1997, when K-State made their way down to Tempe, Arizona to face Donavon McNabb and Syracuse in the program’s first Fiesta Bowl, Nickell has been in the stands. Thirteen-straight bowl games — count them — win or loss, New York or California.
It can be said that this passion is simply for the game. America’s most-watched sport is America’s favorite game for a reason. And people will always have a propensity to support whatever regional team is available.
But the same can be said for a lot of college football fans. Why isn’t this kind of enhanced loyalty the standard for the dedicated college football fan elsewhere? Why, when K-State goes to a bowl game, are they always praised for their fan turnout as if they’re doing something abnormal?
Nickell says that it is, in fact, the often-talked about family atmosphere that has become the mantra and battle cry for the K-State nation.
“We enjoy football, I mean we do enjoy the game,” Nickell explained. “But just the environment around it, the family that they talk about, we see a lot of the same folks year after year at bowl games that are friends of ours or people we’ve met at bowl games or at football games even in Manhattan and you just get to know so many people. There probably isn’t a hour that goes by out here on the riverwalk that I don’t see half a dozen people that I know.”
Nickell and his family are just a few faces in the aforementioned purple mob. But approach almost any Wildcat fan strolling the River Walk or visiting the Alamo here in San Antonio; the details may differ, but the themes are the same.
“It’s just fun being around a group of people that are enjoying themselves and have all come together for the same reason,” Nickell said.
At K-State, as it is everywhere around the country, winning is important. Wildcat fans are a competitive bunch with a unquenchable thirst for success. But, wins do not tell the story of the community of people who travel to support their team and support each other.
However, walk around the Alamo City this week and notice the endless sea of purple and white. That is the story to which K-State fans are apart of — a story that continues to be written year in and year out.