Back in the day, the Tiger football team had some good years, too.
That’s why Fort Hays State University alumni were glad to see this year’s team make the post-season for the first time in 20 years with Saturday’s appearance in the Mineral Water Bowl. Even though Fort Hays State lost 30-22 to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, alumni who gathered for a pregame tailgate party agreed things are looking up for the Tigers.
“Coach (Chris) Brown has done a fantastic job for Fort Hays State, continuing to improve every year,” said Rich Dreiling, a 1969 graduate who was a running back for the Tigers from 1965 to 1968. “I think he’s doing an outstanding job. He has all the support from us.”
Dreiling, who lives in Wichita, was one of more than 150 Tiger supporters who registered to participate in the tailgate party sponsored by the FHSU Alumni Association. Stories were swapped while a fried chicken dinner was served.
“I had confidence when we brought Coach Brown in,” Dreiling said. “I knew there would be some rebuilding processes. I’m certainly glad he’s there.”
FHSU played in the 50th Mineral Water Bowl, and Excelsior Springs is not far from the Kansas City area -- home to many FHSU alumni. It was a rare opportunity to get to see the Tiger football team, said FHSU alum Denise (Stegman) Riedel, a 1986 graduate who lives in Overland Park.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “We get to see the basketball team a little bit out here. I think the baseball team has played out here a couple of times. I haven’t been to a Fort Hays football game in probably 15 years.”
The stands on the FHSU side of the field were filled for Saturday’s game, and the Tiger marching band performed before the game and at halftime. Tiger alum Bob Johnson wished he could have been there, but he was unable to make the game due to a family commitment.
Johnson, who grew up in Logan, played quarterback for the Tigers from 1963 to 1966 and owned the school’s career scoring record of 220 points until it was broken this season. Senior kicker Drew O’Brien, a Hays native, finished his FHSU career Saturday with the new record of 244 points.
Johnson didn’t know his record that stood for 49 years had been broken until he was told on Saturday.
“It’s surprising it was still there, all those years,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “As the talent gets better, the records will go -- that’s what they’re made for.”
Johnson, a 1967 Fort Hays State graduate, owns a party supply store in Lenexa and supplied the tables, chairs and tent for the Tiger tailgate party. Things have changed since his time on campus.
“I think with all the upgrades out there, the college is just fantastic to get players out there,” he said. “I know it’s a lot, lot better than what it was when we were there.”
These days, the Tigers play on artificial turf instead of natural grass -- and dirt and mud -- as they did until the late 1980s, and they have the luxury of practicing indoors during bad weather, in the Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility, which was completed in 2013.
Johnson said it was “very important” for the university to have a good football program. He said during his playing days, players treated each other like family.
“I was glad to hear so many players are coming back in the summer time, working out together, because from my standpoint our team was so close, friendships, doing stuff together … it became a family-type situation,” Johnson said. “I think that’s what Coach Brown’s got going today.”
On Saturday, it was a Tiger team doing something no other FHSU football team had done since 1995. And the Tigers did it as family, in front of family, for Tiger Nation.
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