How Frisco turned into Sports City USA
If you’re gonna play in texass. . .
The song is by Alabama Country Legends. The next line (and the rest of the title) is “you must have a violin in the band”. But at some point in the past twelve years, the 1984 hit became a college football playoff anthem, nothing to do with Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide, or the College Football Playoff.
Rather, it’s the soundtrack to an annual December scene in the Football Championship Series (FCS) world, at stadiums like Harrisonburg, Virginia (home of James Madison University); Bozeman, Montana (State of Montana); and, most importantly, Fargo, North Dakota (State of North Dakota). What fans and players in these cities dream of every season is a trip to Texas, specifically, a Texas exurb thirty miles north of Dallas.
In the NFL, athletes like Troy Aikman and Tom Brady are paid to say “I’m going to Disney World” because they won a Super Bowl. In FCS, hearing “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” means you’ve reached the Championship game in Frisco, where it’s been played since 2010.
When Montana State sealed its Dec. 18 victory over South Dakota State in the FCS semifinals, giving the Bobcats their first trip to the title game since 1984, it was, “If you go play in texas. . . “
In Fargo, where the tradition began, the state of North Dakota has been so dominant that its officials can sometimes drop the needle long before the semifinal game is over. NDSU has won and won the FCS Championship so many times – eight in the past ten years – that fans at the Fargodome know every word of the song. Some wrote up new lyrics, like “If you’re gonna play Texas / you gotta have the Bison in the game.” Even last year’s champion Sam Houston State performed the song in Huntsville after his semifinal victory over NDSU, most likely to troll opponents.
The FCS Championship game is only part of the sporting landscape of Frisco, which is called “Sports City, USA”. Visit Frisco, the city’s tourism board, first offered the marketing designation in 2017, but Frisco has been built on sport for as long as it has been a city. Visit Frisco began in 2003 when the Texas Tornado junior hockey team and the Frisco Rough Riders minor league baseball (the AA branch of the Texas Rangers) began playing there. It was also around this time that the Dallas Stars made Frisco the NHL franchise’s training site and front office operations. Two years later, the MLS team of FC Dallas (formerly the Dallas Burn) opened their new home field, Toyota Stadium, in Frisco. And in 2016, the Dallas Cowboys came to town with “The Star,” which is part an indoor stadium (seating 12,000 people), part an NFL training facility, part an office. team and a 100% tourist attraction. Along the way, the population of Frisco has grown from 33,714 in the 2000 census to 207,748 in 2020.
“Sport is a kind of thread woven through every part of what our city is,” says Josh Dill, Director of Sports and Events at Visit Frisco. “In a lot of other cities, people love their sport. But it’s not like a pillar of the community.
Frisco feels like both a theme park and a corporate office park, where the attractions as well as the businesses are mainly devoted to sport. The Southland Conference, which until this season was the state’s premier FCS and intermediate basketball conference, moved its headquarters there from Plano in 2006. (Various waves of conference realignments have disrupted order hierarchical between the smaller Texas Division I athletic programs.)
“We knew it was a sport-centric community that was on the move and growing,” said Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett. “And quite adamant about sport as a quality of life issue.”
Back then, Burnett had to travel to Chattanooga, Tennessee most years to attend the FCS Championship game. But soon after settling in Frisco, he and his son attended an MLS Cup game at Toyota Stadium (then called Pizza Hut Park) and realized he was sitting in a hall of 20. 500 seats which was perfect for the FCS crowds. The annual championship game has been held at the University of Tennessee Field at Chattanooga Field since 1997, but when the NCAA began accepting offers for hosting rights to the event, the Southland (which serves host), Visit Frisco (representing the city) and FC Dallas (which manages the stadium) teamed up on a field. The game has been in Texas since 2010, with several near-automatic contract renewals (it’s currently stuck in Frisco until at least 2026).
Burnett remembers having to explain at those first meetings that Frisco was not San Francisco. But Dill, who joined Visit Frisco in 2016 after working similar jobs in Fort Worth and Lubbock, found the spiel was no longer needed.
Now team and league leaders meeting with Visit Frisco staff are saying, “No, no, no. We know exactly where you’re from, ”notes Dill. “If you are a sports enthusiast, you have heard of Frisco and at least know a little about what is going on there.” Sports fans may even know Frisco better than the city where the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers actually play. Much to the irritation of Arlington residents and rulers, their city is often mistakenly identified as Dallas.
As of 2017, Toyota Stadium has also had its own FBS bowl game, the Frisco Bowl, which recently featured the December tilt between the University of Texas at San Antonio and San Diego State. The site has also stepped in to host unexpected bowl games (due to COVID-19 cancellations and schedule changes) in each of the past two seasons – a New Mexico Bowl moved between Hawaii and the University of Houston , followed by this year’s completely improvised Frisco. Football Classic with Miami (Ohio) and North Texas.
FC Dallas is owned by Dan and Clark Hunt, whose family also owns the Kansas City Chiefs; their father Lamar, of course, started the Chiefs as the Dallas Texans in the American Football League, played football at SMU, and had a lifelong role at the Cotton Bowl (Hunt died of prostate cancer in 2006).
“My dad was a huge fan of college football, and he loved having these games played out in different venues,” said Dan Hunt. “He was so proud to have college football games at Arrowhead [in Kansas City] regularly, and he challenged me and my brother Clark to bring more college football to Toyota Stadium.
With the FCS Championship, Frisco aspires to run the event much like a game of bowls, with a week of fanfare and promotion, and much like the College World Series of baseball in Omaha, Nebraska. A tradition has settled in Frisco to give cowboy hats to all players in the title game, although players on this year’s Montana State team already have theirs (they are originating in the state where Yellowstone takes place, after all).
Along the way, Frisco has also turned into a playground for a team. College football fans in places like Huntsville or Nacogdoches are no less passionate about the sport than fans in College Station or Lubbock – they are just outnumbered, and their schools have fewer scholars, smaller budgets, and a focus. more regional. But the state of North Dakota is practically an FBS team; or, at least, “FCS’s Alabama”. He doesn’t have to compete with the state’s FBS programs for fans, money, or rookies, and he would likely have nine out of ten championships if last season hadn’t been delayed due to the coronavirus, which meant star quarterback Trey Lance was already heading to the NFL when the Bison made their playoff run (he was drafted third overall by the San Francisco 49ers). The previous season, when Lance led the Bisons to a victory over James Madison in the FCS Championship game, he became North Dakota State’s third quarterback, after Carson Wentz and Easton Stick, to cross. Frisco with the Bison on his way to the NFL.
Most seasons, fans in North Dakota state buy title game tickets well in advance of the game’s start, confident their team will be there. Even more fans are making the trip, even if they don’t have tickets. And many come by car. The school has its own Bison Tracker app for fans to track fans’ journeys south of Fargo, and Frisco and Texas feature prominently in Bison merch.
Fans also wave the Texas flag during North Dakota state home games, and at least one act of desecration has already taken place: the Lone Star with a Texas NDSU green color outline and the Bison logo. superimposed on it.
And Santa Claus did not disappoint this fan:
North Dakotas may know Frisco better than most people in North Texas. According to Mike McFeely of Forum, On Fargo’s daily life, Bison supporters are practically regulars at Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ next to Toyota Stadium, as well as’ must-see spots in Frisco and neighboring Plano like Scruffy Duffies, Twin Peaks, Ringo’s, Wild Pitch and Tight Ends. ”McFeely and NDSU fans have witnessed the Frisco boom up close, with the unique perspective of those who only visit (mostly) once a year.
“In January 2012, when the NDSU made their first trip to the title game here, you could look from the stadium east towards the original Frisco, a former agricultural and railway town, and see an open space,” he said. writes McFeely. “Now it’s urban sprawl. There is a Holiday Inn Express, a Candlewood Suites, a four story brick apartment complex.
“They call it ‘Fargo South’ for a reason,” says Burnett of the Southland Conference. “Honestly, I’m not sure there are a lot of people left in Fargo, when we play this game here. It’s like spring break: everyone comes, and they kind of show everyone, that’s how we fall back. This is how you support your team. This is how we travel.
Saturday’s championship game will be a little different this year due to COVID, as the ForumMatt Henson reported. But even the coldest January day in North Texas is still essentially Cancun for the North Dakotas. Temperatures are expected to drop to -19 in Fargo this weekend, while the temperature forecast for Saturday in Frisco is 61 mild. Time will tell if the Bison will add a ninth title to the program’s trophy, but either way, the weekend is another victory for Sports City USA.