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‘Expecting big win,’ Boise State fans trade burgers for breakfast, eat up morning kickoff

With a spatula in hand, Eric Nelson was watching over a grill full of sizzling bacon and perfectly browned hash browns Saturday morning.

The Boise State fan was ready to eat, and ready to predict the team’s first win of the season, 34-14 over North Dakota.

“We’re going to support the team, whatever they’re going through,” Nelson told the Idaho Statesman at about 8:45 a.m. Saturday in the Albertsons Stadium parking lot. “I’m expecting a big win today.”

He said he’d already cooked about 50 strips of bacon by this point, still over an hour away from Boise State’s 10 a.m. kickoff — an unusual but not unheard-of time to start a college football game in these parts. (It would be no surprise to have to cook another 50 strips, as a group of children snagged whatever they could get their hands on.)

Behind Nelson was a huge tailgating truck, complete with televisions tuned into ESPN’s College GameDay and tables full of condiments, bread and other ingredients needed for a feast.

Nelson, it turned out, was nowhere near alone in cooking and doing some early morning breakfast tailgating. The parking lots surrounding Albertsons Stadium were full of people enjoying breakfast meats, sweet pancakes and, of course, a healthy dose of mimosas.

Brats had been replaced by bacon, burgers by breakfast burritos.

A sunrise sunburst greets Boise State tailgaters before the start of the Broncos’ 10:00 a.m. game against North Dakota, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.
A sunrise sunburst greets Boise State tailgaters before the start of the Broncos’ 10:00 a.m. game against North Dakota, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, at Albertsons Stadium in Boise.

Boise State announced that 32,218 tickets had gone out for the early game, and despite the time and an FCS opponent, Bronco Nation showed up.

Not too far from Nelson’s spot, two men were just starting to fire up their grill as friends and family began to arrive and huddle under a large blue Boise State picnic tent, shielding themselves from the quickly intensifying heat and bright sunshine.

“We’re expecting 30 to 40 people,” Michael Bergmann said, as grilling partner Ryan Carlson dumped a pack of small breakfast sausages onto the grill. They emitted an aggressive sizzle immediately.

The duo said they tailgate for every Boise State home game, but Saturday’s kickoff time offered something different than what they were used to.

The Broncos started the season 0-2 for the first time since 2005, getting steamrolled by then-No. 10 Washington and then losing on a last-second field goal at home to UCF last weekend.

“I think there’s a lot of question marks here with the group,” Bergmann said. “We’re obviously not overly thrilled with the performances so far, but we’re hoping we can rebound this week.”

Boise State fans tailgate in style aboard a double-decker bus Saturday morning.
Boise State fans tailgate in style aboard a double-decker bus Saturday morning.

Boise States’ winless start to the season seemed to hang over the throngs of tailgaters, like the smoke from grills that filled the air.

“It’s not something we’re used to,” Bob Sorbaag said, before his wife, Julie, added, “We’re used to winning.”

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The Sorbaags, along with close family friends Tom and Shelly Cable, have been tailgating at Boise State games for nearly two decades. The Sorbaags’ daughter was Boise State Homecoming queen in 2002, they proudly noted, as Tom wore a shirt highlighting Boise State’s “Decade of Dominance” from 1998 to 2008.

Before setting up their grill — which was smoking dozens of sausages — the quartet said they had been enjoying breakfast with some traveling North Dakota fans.

“The relationship between Boise fans and our opponents is great. There’s no animosity,” said Tom Cable, as some of the unconfirmed orange-colored drink sloshed out of his cup. “I think in this environment here, we always feel safe. The security is awesome. It’s a great atmosphere and tradition.”