Kragthorpe: Boise's mood more blue than orange
Dozens of neatly folded T-shirts cover the tables in front of The Blue & Orange Store on the second floor of the mall, just as owner Travis Hawkes ordered.
Yet the designs, featuring Boise State's bowl destination, are not exactly how Hawkes pictured them as of late November.
There could be no better illustration of the impact of the Broncos' loss to Nevada than shirts promoting collision-repair specialist Maaco, the Las Vegas Bowl's sponsor. What's missing? Roses.
An unbeaten season almost certainly would have landed Boise State in the Rose Bowl, filling the spot now occupied by Texas Christian. The same day when national championship contenders Auburn and Oregon trailed at halftime before winning, the Broncos' fans were devastated after an overtime defeat spoiled their season.
"I didn't sleep for three days after that. â¦ Nobody slept," Hawkes said. "It was a weird feeling in this town for a few days."
Hawkes, 35, remembers when cheering for the Broncos was not as cool, and the notion of a store devoted exclusively to blue and orange merchandise would have seemed silly. That was before fans filled 33,500-seat Bronco Stadium (more expansion plans are in the works), dutifully wearing gear that creates a color-coded effect in the stands, as assigned for various games.
In the retail industry, the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. Nov. 26, 2010, will be remembered at The Blue & Orange Store for multiple reasons.
Hawkes' contingency order of Boise State/Rose Bowl merchandise was for multimillion dollars, and you can do the retail math. "You can't help but think that," Hawkes said of the potential profit. "But it hurt just as much or worse, as a fan."
He recognizes being lucky to have opened Blue & Orange, spun off from a general sports-themed store next door, in the summer of 2006. When the Broncos first played in the Fiesta Bowl, shoppers responded to what they believed was a one-time opportunity.
It's different now. Even followers of a program that has played football as a four-year school for only 43 years and competed at the highest level for 15 seasons can develop a sense of entitlement. That explains the sadness, even bitterness, in Boise.
"This hangover will last until the next time they're in position for a BCS bowl," said Jeff Caves, a KTIK radio talk-show host and former BSU player. "Until that happens, all achievements will be compared to, 'We were in the conversation for a national championship and a Rose Bowl.' It has re-established the bar."
David Gardner, a Bronco fan living in Sun Valley, Idaho, describes the current expectation level as "just ridiculous." Gardner is more grounded; he remembers saving a newspaper clipping when Boise State received one vote in the AP Top 25.
The Broncos, who beat Utah State 50-14 on Dec. 4 to conclude an 11-1 regular season, say they have regrouped, going into the Las Vegas Bowl. "We're not in any bad situation," said receiver Austin Pettis. "We still have a nice bowl game. â¦ Everyone's kind of embraced it."
Boise State likes playing the best possible opponent in a bowl game, and athletic director Gene Bleymaier was happy to extend a trend of finding good landing spots for the Broncos, outside of the Bowl Championship Series.
The Broncos will have about 8,000 fans in Las Vegas. Of course, they may have quadrupled that number for the Rose Bowl.
And as if Bronco fans need any reminder of what once was possible this season, there's the display at Hawkes' next-door store. Reluctantly, he's selling Oregon's national championship game T-shirts.