Nov. 14, 2009.
As Utah State's beat writer for the past five seasons, I will never forget that day, or the solitude, or the cold and damp weather at Romney Stadium.
USU beat San Jose State that Saturday, and did so by two touchdowns. But the Aggies accomplished this before about 300 fans sprinkled across the stadium. Most of those who did come left by halftime. If nothing told me before that Utah State was a downtrodden program, with little hope, little history after 1978 and little community interest, that day did.
Today, the Aggies are nationally ranked, and winners of 11 games for the first time ever, thanks to a convincing win over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. They've done it in a steady, dramatic four-year climb from once being dubbed the worst team in America by multiple magazines to now being looked upon as a savior of sorts for the Mountain West Conference.
Gary Andersen's Utah State has grown dramatically over that time. I have too, as a journalist and a writer. It was challenging to write about a losing team every week, finding different angles, devising grand schemes to keep my editors interested in the Aggies. Especially when Utah and BYU dominated the headlines across the state.
But then the winning came. Incrementally at first. An upset of BYU here. A near-upset of Auburn there.
Suddenly, USU has become a relatively hot ticket. Now, the challenge for me this season has been finding unique angles on a beat where everyone else is looking for the same.
That's how far the Aggies have come in four years. From 300 fans at a game in mid-November, to almost as many writers around to country clamoring for time and interviews. Utah State has been to consecutive bowl games. The program is seeping into national consciousness. Andersen is sending out public statements, turning down job interest from bigger schools.
It's been a long time since USU football has enjoyed momentum like this, if ever.
I have to admit. Remembering that isolated day in November a few years ago, I never thought I would see the program have this kind of success.