With all due respect to men like Randy Moss and Jim Tressel, Saturday's FCS national title game was the best of the 40 FCS/I-AA championships that have been staged so far.
When you take into account the level of the two teams involved, the fact not one seat in the stadium was missing a rear end, the tenacity of the pregame tailgating, the future NFL players, the fact that it was down to the final seconds before we knew who won? Hey, the 40th title game lived up to hype that truly began before Christmas of 2016 after these two teams played an FCS Semifinal in Fargo (N.D.).
The FCS Nation got the matchup that was predicted in the preseason, along with when the bracket was released in November when these two teams were placed at a firm No. 1 and No. 2. James Madison was the defending champion, and North Dakota State was the five-time occupier of that throne prior to JMU.
Like last year, today's game of blue-collar ilk had the big plays, the pivotal calls by the referees, the stunning receptions (Google Riley Stapleton) and an unparalleled fan base that sold out a neutral stadium and had thousands on the outside looking in, even though they were both more than 1,000 miles away and mother nature lost her mind this week. Just one look at the NDSU Bison 'Herd Tracker' online would tell you that just like their mascot, these fans don't give a damn if the elements are challenging — driving south on I-35 is a second love.
The defense was stifling as advertised, there were no surprises there — neither team can spell finesse. This wasn't some offensive shootout where the team with the ball at the end would win by a basketball score, this was one of those turn-your-innards-inside-out games — not only for the teams, but the fans. Every extra point mattered. Every field goal was as welcome as 8 ounces of precious water to a man dying of thirst.
It was a great advertisement for its level of football. Keep in mind, Weber State nearly beat James Madison, and South Dakota State did beat North Dakota State and several other programs came close to these two this year as well. While these two teams were clearly the best two in the FCS, others were close. And that's good.
At the end of the game, I stood a few steps away and watched several NDSU players stand near the entrance of where the JMU players would head to the locker room. I watched multiple Bison players embracing JMU players with tears in their eyes and heads down. One in particular was JMU senior Raven Greene, and you could tell he appreciated the gesture.
Later, walking back to the hotel, I saw the same gestures coming from NDSU fans towards their counterparts. While the jawing between these two fanbases has been sometimes hilarious and intense for weeks (if not months) it has been good natured and nothing epitomized that more than watching them mingle prior to the game and afterwards. Who knew Fargo and Harrisonburg (Va.) natives would find something big in common.
Yep, this was the best one. Those on-campus Marshall games with Moss in the 1990s were great, so were the Youngstown State games and the Appalachian State wins and the tight Georgia Southern wins — as well as some of those games Eastern Kentucky was a part of when the I-AA title games in the early years.
This one just slid into first place. Can anybody top the 40th game?