More than 16,000 fans watch UMass Football Bowl Subdivision home opener



Last modified: Monday, September 10, 2012

FOXBOROUGH GCo There were not quite as many spectators as the University of Massachusetts athletic department was hoping for and the 45-6 loss to Indiana on Saturday was a reminder that the MinutemenGCOs transition to the Bowl Subdivision wasnGCOt expected to be easy.

But the 16,304 who arrived in Foxborough for the first home game at Gillette Stadium produced an atmosphere that felt like the roots of an experience UMass is hoping to create.

While it costs $40 to park in the same stadium lots for New England Patriots games, UMass has been promoting free parking in hopes of fostering a tailgating culture. Many cars were already in the lots as soon as fans were officially allowed to set up, ready to light charcoal and pop open beers at 12:30 p.m., three hours before UMass alum Bill Cosby would assist in the coin toss to start the game.

The popular Minuteman marching band paraded through some of the lots closest to the stadium, stopping to play the fight song as a collection of fans with T-shirts and hats with logos and emblems representing several decades of UMass history briefly abandoned the burgers and hot dogs on their grills to clap along.

There were a few options for anyone looking to update their outfits. The Olympia Sports in Patriot Place, the mall connected to Gillette, moved its entire collection of Minuteman apparel to the front of the store.

While most of Gillette Stadium's merchandise stands still displayed New England Patriots gear, the kiosk behind section 105/106 was devoted entirely to UMass hats, footballs, sweatshirts, T-shirts, jerseys and other memorabilia.

But the selection in the stadium, at UMass' campus store and online wasn't enough for some fans, as nothing for sale had the popular new UMass football logo, featuring the word "Mass" crossing the oversized U. So, many remedied the situation by crafting their own UMass gear.

Mike Isabelle, a member of the Minuteman grounds crew, displayed a large black "Go Minutemen" sign with the new logo in silver and maroon that he made himself on the back of his pickup.

Matt Cahill, an accountant and 2005 alumnus living in Quincy, was especially resourceful. While a number of companies sell tailgate tables designed to look like logoed football fields for many of the country's top college programs, UMass isn't among those offered. Cahill, who was sitting in a UMass folding chair wearing a No. 22 Minuteman replica jersey, probably would have shelled out the asking price of $89.99 plus shipping and handling, but instead, he improvised.

Using a standard white folding table he purchased at B.J.'s Wholesale Club, some green paint, decals and Gillette Stadium and Mid-American Conference logos he downloaded from the Internet, Cahill's version looks better than many of the ones for sale.

His UMass football beanbag game, also a home version of something fans can buy ready-made for other schools, didn't fit in the car for this trip but will be part of future tailgating experiences.

Jim Clark's newest souvenir wasn't homemade, but it was certainly unique. Clark, a 1990 UMass alumnus, purchased former Minutemen coach Kevin Morris' coaching jacket on eBay, and found two small sheets with plays printed on them inside one of the pockets. Clark's was the only bid at $35, as Morris was neither especially successful nor popular in his three-year stint leading the Minutemen. Clark bought the coat as more spoof than souvenir.

Clark, a Weymouth resident, was pregaming with a group calling itself the Section U tailgate, a revolving crew of about 25 merrymakers, named for the Mullins Center section where many of the tailgaters first met each other. Standing under three flags - a maroon one with the UMass Minuteman logo, a 1776 model United States flag, and a specially ordered Section U banner - the Section U crew studied the plays on the sheets with cryptic names like "NASTY REX 12 DASH (ALLEY)" and "ZIP STACK ROY FAKE 46 PEPPER," wondering if any of them represented Morris' oft-used and famously unsuccessful halfback pass.

Those same three flags previously waved in the northwest corner of the tailgate lot at McGuirk Stadium.

"It's a great atmosphere here. There's already more people here tailgating," said Jeff Carson, a Hanover resident and one of Section U's organizers. "With this stadium there's more growing capacity that you didn't have in Amherst. It's awesome here."

The group's food might have been the culinary representation of the program's move across the state. Rich Pushkin brought ribs with sauce from Bub's BBQ in his hometown of Sunderland, while Mark Coogan, a 1998 graduate, brought Conn Smythe IPA, a beer brewed at his home in Hull. He named the ale for the NHL most valuable player award given to former UMass hockey goalie Jonathan Quick after his Stanley Cup-winning season in 2012.

Around the other side of the stadium, the first of 35 student buses began arriving and unloading college kids through a separate entrance where a disc jockey played music. The students, who each paid $10 for a ticket, lunch and bus transportation, were among the more boisterous fans during the game until the lopsided score followed by intermittent downpours sent many of the spectators to seek cover in the concourse.

Joe Sabella, a 40-year-old former UMass football player, who took his son Evan to the UMass alumni gathering at the CBS Scene restaurant in Patriots place before kickoff, was glad to be part of the first game of the new era.

"It's really exciting," said the Mansfield resident, who bought season tickets. "They talked about it for a number of years and fortunately the Krafts (Patriots owners Bob and Jonathan) came in and made it a reality. I was walking around seeing everyone tailgating. It's great to see UMass finally stepping up."

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.


 


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