Logan • The coach of Air Force men’s basketball team was wearing dark suit pants at Utah State last month. Dave Pilipovich probably worn those same pants dozens of times. The legs were arguably a bit on the long side, appearing to slightly drag on the court as he paced up and down the sideline.
All of a sudden, during the first half, a small contingent of Aggies fans noticed and let him know about it. It sounded faint at first, but then more fans joined in.
“Hem those pants! Hem those pants!”
Such is life as a Utah State opponent at The Spectrum. The student section, which calls itself The Hurd, is relentless and creative. They’ll likely be at full volume when the Aggies play their last home game of the season Tuesday against San Jose State.
“It can be hell in here,” said Suzette Smith, a longtime USU fan and former season ticket holder with her husband, Glade. “Sometimes they are pretty ruthless.”
Utah State’s student section is famous for its chants. The Hurd’s voice is constant, consistent and cacophonous. The design of The Spectrum aids in that because the front-row fans are just feet from the court.
One of the most recognizable chants is “Winning Team, Losing Team,” where fans emphasize who’s ahead (the Aggies) and who’s behind (the opponent). When they say “winning team,” they point to USU’s bench in unison.
The chant has been around for at least a decade. When USU basketball was in its heyday during former coach Stew Morrill’s tenure, the sound of it feels earth-shaking even through old video.
And it’s the chant current Aggies players and coaches often mention when asked which of The Hurd’s antics they like most.
“Sometimes I kind of mutter it under my breath, honestly,” sophomore forward Justin Bean said.
But some of the regular chants were born out of spontaneity. Cole Noel, a junior at Utah State, was showering earlier this year when he came up with an idea.
“What if when the Aggies were winning, we sang ‘If you’re winning and you know it, clap your hands?’ ” he thought. He took the idea to his Hurd friends, some of whom are on The Hurd committee, which raises student awareness about athletic events and comes up with ideas for in-game antics.
Noel’s idea evolved into a two-part chant. After the “winning” portion, the crowd would sing, “If you’re losing and you know it, clap your hands,” then point at the opposing team. The thought was no one on the other side of the court would clap. That chant now happens at almost every home game.
Senior guard Sam Merrill gets a kick out of that one. He recalled a game where the fans sang it and he made eye contact with the opposing coach.
“The coach just started laughing,” Merrill said.
Most of The Hurd’s heckles are taken with an almost begrudging grace. Trevor Wilkey, president of The Hurd committee, said one of the University of Nevada’s players, Jazz Johnson, recently replied to a message he received from a USU fan, saying his team is “always afraid” to play the Aggies because of the home crowd.
But some fans of opposing teams get irked at the student section. One Twitter user, an apparent fan of Nevada, wrote “USU students are the worst in the league with their hazing."
Students and players balked at the use of the term. But that doesn’t mean The Hurd doesn’t occasionally toe the line between having fun and lobbing insults.
For example, when the opposing team’s starting lineups get introduced, the entire student section turns its back on them. And after each player’s name gets called, the fans loudly yell, “Sucks!”
During a recent game against Boise State, fans chanted “where’s your hairline” to a player who wore a headband. They chanted “ugly duckling” at another Broncos player.
There’s also an unofficial newsletter distributed to the student section with opposition research on the visiting team. Before each game, someone writes:
The Hit List: roster of the opposing team.
In All Honesty: scout-type information about the team. Who the writer thinks is good, not good, etc.
Miscellaneous information about specific players. Comments are made about their appearance, skills, nicknames, and other attributes.
This document has been around for years and has gone by different names. The current iteration is titled “Spectrum Magic,” a term used to describe the atmosphere at The Spectrum. When USU played in the Western Athletic Conference, the publication was called “The Refraction.”
The newsletter, student officials say, is meant to be fun and clever, just like the planned and spontaneous chants. For the most recent game against Wyoming, which is the worst team in the Mountain West Conference, only half a page, instead of the standard full page, was printed.
“Yes, it’s only half a page,” the paper reads. “Why? Well to be honest, Wyoming isn’t worth printing a whole paper for.”
Braden Tomlinson, vice president of athletics and campus recreation for USU’s student government, oversees The Hurd and its committee. He sometimes fields complaints about comments students make during games and suggestions that the fans should support their team more and heckle less.
“One thing we’re really good at is getting into opposing players’ heads and one thing I think we can be better at is being more supportive of our team,” Tomlinson said. “Not saying we’re not supportive, but when I say that, I mean more just cheering them on.”
But those complaints seem limited. Even the fans not in the student section — those who are older or bring their young children — appear to enjoy the atmosphere the students bring. And they don’t mind the sometimes caustic nature of the heckles.
“The meaner, the better,” Glade Smith said with a laugh.
In a way, the students want to be mean. They want to be obnoxious, annoying. But mostly, they just want to have fun.
"My goal and most of my friends’ goal out there is to make the other team laugh,” Noel said. “If we can get them to smile or laugh, we know we’re in their heads.”
Junior guard Abel Porter said that even before the arrival of coach Craig Smith, when the Aggies weren’t winning as much, the student section still brought it. Nowadays, he said, the atmosphere at home games is “unparalleled.”