A roar, nearly 20,000 voices strong, erupted from the University of Wyoming War Memorial Stadium on Saturday as the UW football team jogged onto the field.
The stadium seating rippled with thousands of fans clad in yellow and brown rising to their feet and cheering for the home team during the highly anticipated rival match against Boise State.
With new statutes in place permitting the university to serve alcohol at the games, I decided to grab myself a chilled Saddle Bronc Brown Ale, brewed just a few hundred miles north in Sheridan.
“Football in Laramie is huge,” said Paul Weaver, a former Laramie city councilor standing near the north end zone. “Game days bring the community together, and the visitors boost the local economy.”
A UW alumnus, Weaver said he’s attended UW football games for years.
“The tailgates are phenomenal,” he added, pausing mid-sentence to cheer as the ball switched into UW’s possession. “There’s a lot of good, free eats and stuff to do before the game.”
Outside the fence, RVs, cars and trucks — tailgates down, hatches open — lined three parking lots east of the stadium. The aroma of grilled hotdogs hung thick in the warm evening air and children raced up and down the avenues, sporting freshly painted, brown and gold faces.
“Wyoming is a small town with long streets,” Weaver said over the din of the game. “And, UW football is the center that brings everyone together to celebrate.”
At halftime, the UW marching band took to the field, dazzling fans with fancy footwork and modern tunes.
Steve Lang, a middle-aged man wearing a backward Chicago Bears cap, smiled as he listened to the band and watched children scramble across turf north of the field.
“We’re from Chicago, and you can’t move around at the games there,” he said with a nearly imperceptible accent. “There’s no personality to it. This, though — this is a great atmosphere. Everyone’s walking around, hanging out, playing, and it’s family friendly.”
The Illinois native lives in Denver, Colorado, but his younger brother is attending UW, so Lang, two other brothers and their dad came out to visit and watch the game.
“I follow college sports pretty thoroughly,” Lang said. “Coming to a new stadium is always an amazing experience, but this one tops the cake. It’s like a giant party with football at the center. I’ll definitely be coming back.”
After the game, I caught up with Joel Funk, the editor of the local newspaper, the Laramie Boomerang.
“Laramie, as a college town, has a lot of sports bars and the weather isn’t always conducive to attending a game in an outdoor arena,” Funk said. “But my experience with going to UW football games for the last few years is it’s unparalleled to anything you can experience in a bar or living room.”
A Wyoming native, Funk said he enjoys arriving at games a few hours early to tailgate with his friends from around the state.
“There’s an electricity surging through the crowds at the stadium,” he said. “But outside War Memorial, businesses are thriving, visitors are lined up at local restaurants and people are learning about all the things Laramie has to offer.”
As a reporter and editor, the university is not just a relaxing destination for Funk, but a constant source of stories. Over the years, he’s gathered a few tips for attendees.
“No. 1, stay hydrated, and prepare for weather,” Funk said. “No. 2, prepare to engage with an eccentric fan base. They can be loud. They can be obnoxious, but I’ve never seen so many good-hearted people gather in one place.”
Lamenting Boise State’s win, 34-14, Funk bowed his head and furled his brow thoughtfully.
“My last tip would have to be don’t come for the game,” he said. “That can be disappointing sometimes. Come for the experience, because win or lose, UW fans know how to have a good time.”