If I was asked once I’ve been asked a hundred times in the past week, “are you sad to see the Stagg Bowl go?”
Sure I’m sad to see it go, but I understand. To be honest with you, I can’t believe we’ll have had it for 25 years when the final Stagg Bowl is played here in December.
Most of the times these NCAA tournaments move around. We had the Division III baseball championships for a few years when our new ballpark opened, but that didn’t stay forever. We’ve had other sports come and go, but it seemed like football and basketball would be here forever, and indeed they were my two favorites.
I’ve been to all 24 Stagg Bowls played here and I looked forward to each one. However, I didn’t look forward to it as much as I did the Tech-Miami game if it was in Blacksburg, or the Eagles-Dallas game on TV Sunday afternoon. Basically, it was two teams that I knew little about and cared little about playing for a championship in our town.
It was a pride thing, having the game here. It was nice to have NCAA championships two miles from my house, and it was fun to watch the athletes compete. While it wasn’t life or death to me, it was to the people on the field and the fans who drove hundreds of miles to be here. That made it special, knowing how much it meant to the participants.
Do I understand why it left? I guess. It’s going to Texas to a big new stadium for a couple years, and I’m sure the weather will be nice there. It was almost a joke for a while that the weekend of the Stagg Bowl was certain to be cold here in Salem.
Then, after two years in Texas, it’s going to Canton, Ohio at the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the weather probably won’t be any better than it’s been in Salem, the game will be played right next to THE PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME! How can Salem compete with that? Even when our museum had that Lakeside exhibit it couldn’t compare to stuff like Johnny Unitas’ hightops, Tom Dempsey’s shoe and a room full of busts of the greatest football players ever.
My high school buddy who lives outside Akron goes to the Hall of Fame game every year and he tells me the stadium has been remodeled and it’s really nice, plus they’re building a big hotel right on the site and putting in amusement park rides. Again, pictures of a rollercoaster competing against a REAL rollercoaster? You tell me.
I hate to see the Stagg Bowl leave, but it’s been a good ride and life goes on. I’d be a lot more upset if someone told me the Salem High football games were moving to Texas. That would be a bummer.
As for the basketball, I really liked the basketball. I went to the Division III championships at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan when Roanoke College made the Final Four in 1983, and never dreamed we’d be getting that tournament someday. What I remember most from Michigan was that it was so exciting just to be there it could have been anywhere and it would have been great. You don’t remember the food or the bands or the gym bag they give you for being there. You remember how you did in the games, and if you won it was a great experience and if you lost it wasn’t as good.
There’s no blaming our Salem folks. No one could be more hospitable, and the NCAA might just find that out the next few years. And, when you consider parking, site lines and the like, you’d have a hard time finding better places than Salem Stadium and the Salem Civic Center for the pure enjoyment of just watching the game. No regrets are necessary, Salem put on a great show and fans liked coming here.
But, like I said, life goes on. We’ll have those CIAA championship football games the next few years and those are exciting, wide open games. It even outdrew the Stagg Bowl last year, and once word gets out how good a time everyone had it should be an even better crowd this fall.
We’ll have basketball one more time as well, and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of basketball to watch once the NCAA tournament leaves. The folks at the Civic Center and Salem have always done a great job drawing events here, and I expect nothing less in the future.