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The Tailgate Chronicles: Fort Lewis College at South Dakota Mines

Jay Arnold talks about the Send Jay Away trip and his journey up to Rapid City to take in South Dakota Mines’ unique stadium experience.

I hold the privilege of traveling to some incredibly unique places over the course of both my playing career at Texas A&M and my adventures as a writer. The joy of college sports comes from the passion of the athletes and the fans. Sure, those 100,000-plus-seat stadiums feel incredible. Witnessing the electricity in person never gets old. But when you strip away the passion of the athletes on the field and the energy of the fan in the stands, all you find yourself with is another stale corporate environment. I try to drive home that passionate fans can be found anywhere, no matter the stadium capacity. In my journey to Rapid City to watch South Dakota Mines, I found a shining example.

The Tailgate AND The Game

Some expert grilling going on at O’Harra Stadium

Normally this blog splits the tailgate and game into two categories.

With South Dakota Mines and O’Harra Stadium, the two belong together. Thanks to the ingenious design of the stadium, the jewel of Rapid City features a multi-tiered ramp parking system that allows you to tailgate and watch the game at the same time.

The resulting scene makes for one of the most unique game-viewing experiences in all of sports – not just college football.

And the best part?

The supporters of South Dakota Mines absolutely love their Hardrocker football.

On crucial third downs the combination of voices and car horns make the ramps an extremely rowdy environment.

In fact, some fans have taken it upon themselves to get even more creative with the horns. I was lucky enough to experience that first hand!

Meanwhile, as the game rolled on, so did the tailgate! I spent most of my time with the incredibly generous group of parents of the players who had plenty of beverages and scran to go around.

The burgers you see on the black top up above?

Probably the best you’ll ever have at a football game – no joke. And every other person you pass by asks how you’re doing and if you need a beverage – in between screaming for their Hardrockers of course.

A properly adorned Hardrocker football supporter.

The Hardrockers went on to dominate Fort Lewis en route to a 48-10 victory. Even though the game was a blowout I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the support and the electricity of the ramps.

The Spirit of College Football

I talked about the full trip at length in my Send Jay Away recap over on my substack but my biggest takeaway from the trip was the passion of all of the folks who took in the game at O’Harra Stadium.

The Ramps are undoubtedly one of the best pieces of the wacky and wonderful world of college football but it goes beyond just the unique quirk of tailgating at the game. You couldn’t help but feel the passion of each person that rolled up to support South Dakota Mines.

And that is what college football is all about.

The combination of incredible environments, passionate supporters, and unique tradition.

South Dakota Mines has all of those factors and for that reason, I can’t wait to get back. Hell, I have half a mind to see if I can’t find some extra eligibility, get in shape, and play a season or two up there.

So long as places like O’Harra Stadium in Rapid City see supporters show up for their squad, I’ll keep on chasing down stories for the Tailgate Chronicles.

In spite of what some would have you believe about the future of the game with NIL, the transfer portal, realignment, TV contracts, and whatever other changes might be coming down the pipeline – the spirit of college football lives on in the hearts of the kids chasing down dreams on the field, and the fans making noise off of it.

P.S. I want to give a special shout-out to Coach Tumbleson and the rest of the staff at South Dakota Mines for giving me the lay of the land up there. The trip would’ve been special regardless but their hospitality really took it over the top.

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