By Mike Caputo
On a cold November night during my freshman year, I approached Alumni Gym with my face painted bright red because cranberry colors weren’t in stock. Rider was playing its first game of the 2003-2004 season against Brown.
My stomach churned with mixed feelings of nervousness and excitement. There were high hopes for this team, led by some guy named Jerry Johnson. More importantly, all I heard about was this so-called Broncs’ Zoo.
Growing up a fan of big-time college basketball and being a part of a crazy high school student section, I was pumped up to be a part of a rabid college student section. So when I made my way into Alumni Gym that chilly evening, I was ready for anything.
Unfortunately, I was deceived. If Alumni Gym was any type of zoo, it would have been a petting zoo. Yes, there was a decent crowd, but mostly families, alumni and administration. There were maybe only a handful of students. In any event, I won the first of five “fan of the game” pizza awards during my tenure here. It was hard for me to believe, because all I merely did was lead “defense” chants and shouted encouragement for the players.
The poor student support of the team remained true for most of my four years here. But I never let it bother me. I, along with a dedicated group of fans, unofficially called the Rider Screamers, attended every home game. The only instances I missed a home game were when the games took place over the break (I live two hours away) or if it took place on a Thursday (newspaper production).
There’s no reason why we can’t fill a 1,650 seat gym. Siena, who plays its home games at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y. — a size comparable to the Sovereign Bank Arena (SBA) in Trenton — gets an average of about 6,000 fans for each game. It’s not like Siena has many more students than we do — it has an enrollment of a little more than 3,000 students. You know what happens when we play games at the SBA? The attendance is usually less than the games at Alumni Gym. As a result, statisticians actually have to make up an attendance figure so it’s not so embarrassing.
Frontrunner fans came out during the Broncs’ magical run to the MAAC Championship in 2004-2005, but for good reason. For once, it actually felt like a big-time Division I school. Sadly, it was only a tease. Those people never showed up when the TV cameras weren’t rolling in Alumni Gym. That includes many of the fans you see on posters, brochures and programs.
Regardless, those of us who attended many games that year, especially those who ventured up to Buffalo for the 2004-2005 MAAC Tournament, totally understand what the feeling is. There isn’t an easy way to describe the pride we felt that special weekend. We were proud to root for guys like (we made up some of these nicknames) Jerry “Mr. 2,000 Points” Johnson, “Come On” Steve Castleberry, Robert “Beatie” “Uses Our Bathroom” Taylor and Paul “Mr. Glue” Johnson.
Although the team has changed greatly since my sophomore year (new coach, young talent), I’m calling out to Jason Thompson and Terrance Mouton to reach back this weekend and find some of that magic from 2004-2005. In the MAAC Tournament, it’s anyone’s game. There is no need to listen to the critics, because everyone’s slate is wiped clean (including 2-27 Iona).
Since I’m a senior, I’m praying for a miraculous championship run this weekend in Connecticut. For those of you who have more time here at Rider, take advantage because the team has an excellent shot at making a serious run at the conference championship next year. And in two years, the MAAC Tournament will be a 10-minute bus ride away at the SBA.
At the games, you can call me crazy. Call me stupid. Call me annoying. But you’ll never stop me from cheering on the Broncs.