After 658 days of sitting dormant, the tailgate fields and parking lots outside Memorial Stadium were full again Saturday afternoon before Indiana football’s game against the University of Idaho.
Grills were cooking, beers were cold and a sea of cream and crimson clad fans were ready to watch Indiana football. Fans were back in the stands for the first time since Indiana lost to then-No. 13 Michigan 39-14 on Nov. 23, 2019.
Things are different from the last time fans walked through the stadium’s gates. The world experienced a pandemic, and Indiana football had one of its best seasons in team history in front of thousands of empty seats.
With pandemic restrictions eased, fans were back in huge crowds ready to cheer on the Hoosiers.
“It’s honestly unreal, the fact that we can all come back together again with everything that’s happened,” IU junior Landry Buck said. “For three hours, we can forget about everything else and just have a good time.”
For father and son Chris and Zane Clodfelter of Evansville, Indiana, the wait to return to the stadium hasn’t been quite as long as most others.
The two stood across from Memorial Stadium during last season’s 36-35 win over No. 9 Penn State, listening to IU Radio Network announcer Don Fischer’s broadcast on a transistor radio. The two stood on the south side of the stadium attempting to catch a glimpse of the action on the jumbotron.
While they made it to the parking lot of Memorial Stadium and to Tampa, Florida, for the Outback Bowl last year, they were not in the stands in Bloomington last season. The two had been going to games together since the late 1990s.
“I missed the whole atmosphere, missed the people you saw every year,” Chris Clodfelter said. “We don’t all live in the same town, so the only time we see each other is at football games. Rekindling old friendships and sitting in a familiar place, it’s just all that.”
The Clodfelters were back, this time with nearly 10,000 more fans than the 2019 home opener against Eastern Illinois University.
“The last two times I’ve seen them in person were in the state of Florida, and there’s something wrong with that considering how many times before COVID I’ve been up here,” Zane Clodfelter said. “To actually get the opportunity to go into Memorial Stadium this year, I’m not surprised by how many people are here.”
While Saturday’s game was a return to the stadium for thousands of fans, it was a first for others, including IU freshmen and sophomores. Due to the pandemic, sophomores could not attend a football game their freshman year, missing out on the spirits and traditions passed down by the Hoosiers faithful.
“I’ve never been to a college football game in my life; let alone one here,” IU sophomore Quincy Williamson said. “Seeing all of this excitement and spirit around the game is absolutely crazy.”
Given the historic success of the team in 2020, excitement around the team is greater than ever among students and long-time fans.
In addition to coming off a historic year, much of the Hoosier faithful’s excitement can be attributed to fan-favorite head coach Tom Allen. IU junior Michael Pucci said he is all about Allen, and he “loves him so much.”
“The way he coaches and the way he brings everybody together is what I’m all about,” IU junior Michael Pucci said. “We haven’t had a great football team in a very long time, so seeing him create energy and a family for Indiana football is special.”
Indiana went on to beat Idaho 56-14 in its return to Memorial Stadium, and Allen’s team could feel that energy from the 47,417 fans in attendance on the field.
“I just appreciate it so much, it means so much to our players. They noticed it immediately when they came out during warm ups,” Allen said. “They were engaged, they weren’t just sitting there, they were into it. I just really appreciate our students, that student section was awesome.”