Fans turned out in force to witness the spectacle of the Big Sky tournament match-up between the Vikings and Weber State. In all 4,320 people attended the game, with roughly 600 PSU students. The student section at the visitor endzone of Memorial Coliseum was packed past capacity with students, most of them clad in green "The Horde" shirts supplied by the Cheerful Tortoise and armed with white rally towels.
While the Stott Center with its 1,500-person capacity was sold out for the last few home games, the raucous student section at the Coliseum was probably the apogee of Portland State athletics to date. The Vikings’ success this season has easily garnered the most student and media attention since the days of Freeman Williams in the 1970s.
All in all, the crowd on hand took the loss very well, even applauding the Viks as the clocked ticked down to zero, signaling the abrupt end to PSU’s promising tourney run. To the average Portland State fan, the loss could hardly be seen as shocking. Most students (really most everybody) greet Portland State athletics with such a degree of apathy that 500 tickets had to be bought by Peter W. Stott and given away just to get bodies in the student section to begin with.
With no track record of success, it is relatively easy to dismiss this latest shortcoming as simply indicative of PSU sports in general and fans in particular. The crowd was jovial and upbeat when the game began and most probably expected an easy win, or at least to move on to the championship game.
When it became apparent that the Vikings would lose to the Wildcats, fans who had seemed quite rabid just an hour earlier reverted to their old forms – those of people with better things to do than watch a silly game where the team they’re supposed to support can’t even win. Some who chose to leave the game early were greeted with shouts of "Fair weather fan!" by the more faithful among the student body.
As pathetic as fair weather fans are, for Portland State it’s a fine starting point. The game was a serious letdown from any angle, especially to those who were experiencing the Vikings for the first time this season. One can hardly blame some of them for being dissatisfied with the product on display Tuesday night.
Despite the stinging loss and all of its implications, it is important to keep some perspective. This is Portland State after all, not some D-1 power like Duke that is run like an NBA team. It was an impressive victory for PSU athletics just to have 600 students and 4320 fans total show up to anything, even if 500 of the tickets had to be free for it to happen. A couple of years ago this kind of turnout would have been unthinkable.
The real challenge now that Portland State has proven it can draw that many fans to a game is to learn how to parlay that enthusiasm and support to future seasons and across all sports.
There should be a renewed interest in the football team next season, as the Vikings have recruited some top local talent to augment a team that went 7-4 last season. And the men’s basketball season isn’t over yet. There still remains a good chance that Portland State will garner an invitation to participate in the NIT tournament, with possible match-ups against either Oregon State or University of Oregon looming.