The idea to build an on-campus stadium in Fort Collins was met with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement but wasn’t devoid of criticism and doubt. It was going to take a lot of time and money to make it possible to build an elite facility that would help put the Rams on the map and bidding farewell to the beloved Hughes Stadium was going to hurt. However, Colorado State desperately wanted to be a top tier football program and building a stadium in the heart of the town seemed like a natural step toward achieving that goal.
“If you want to be a big time college football team you have to have a stadium on campus,” Randy Cross, former UCLA/NFL guard and CBS color analyst told us on the Hull Show just before the construction began on what would eventually be named Canvas Stadium.
Mission accomplished. $220 million later, Colorado State had their on-campus stadium. 727,000 square-feet of football glory on display for all to see. It could rival even some of the top stadiums in the country….ok maybe top 30??
“Canvas is, I think without a doubt, the top stadium in the Mountain West,” the Coloradoan’s Kevin Lytle told the Hull Show.
In 2017 the magic began. I was there on that late August day when Head Coach Mike Bobo ran his team out for the first time inside CSU’s prized possession. The Rams would face a Pac 12 team in the Oregon State Beavers and man did CSU deliver. In front of one of the largest home crowds in their history (37,583), Colorado State stomped Oregon State, 58-27. After game 1, it was safe to say fans would support this shiny new stadium endeavor. In its inaugural season, home crowds averaged out at 32,062 (capacity outside of standing room is just North of 36,000). Things were looking good in FOCO and for the most part, so was the football team. CSU finished with a 7-5 record and advanced to the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, losing a close one to Marshall, 31-28.
In 2018 the wins dwindled and so did the fan support. Bobo and company followed up that New Mexico Bowl season with a 3-9 record, perhaps marking the end of the Bobo era. The average attendance dropped from 32,000 to 29,000. It was a rough year for the Rams but even worse for their head man. Bobo was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, forcing him to miss portions of the pre-season and kept him from calling plays for the first few games of the year.
2019 was better for Bobo’s health but more of the same for his football team. The Rams went 4-8 and ultimately showed Mike Bobo the door. That year saw another drop in attendance , nearly 6,000 less at 23,000. As the Bobo years dissolved so did the excitement and momentum from the new stadium.
It was terrible timing to fade in the win column. Talk of CSU joining a Power 5 school was ramping up back when Jim McElwain led the Rams to 10 wins and the Las Vegas Bowl back in 2014. Bobo did his best to keep that momentum, going 7-6 the next 3 seasons but in the end the Big 12 moved on without the Green and Gold and Colorado State only had one winning season inside the new digs.
Here we are now, post-covid (at least when it comes to empty stadiums) and there’s a spark around second year Rams coach Steve Addazio and crew. After beginning the season with home losses to an FCS team in South Dakota State and perhaps one of the worst Power 5 teams in the country in Vanderbilt, things were looking pretty grim for the former Boston College head coach. However, an unlikely road win against Toledo, an absolute ‘best punch’ of a game against Iowa and a home win against the defending Mountain West champs in San Jose State, Rams fans are starting to get on board. Attendance for last weekends Homecoming game was announced at 34,780 fans, the fourth-largest in Canvas Stadium’s history and the eighth in program history. Keep in mind it was Homecoming but still, that’s a fantastic showing for a program begging for butts in the seats.
The average through 3 games is 31,447 per game. Obviously, there are still 3 more home games left this season but if CSU can hover around that 31,000 range, it would be the second best year in Canvas’s existence.
The Rams rewarded that monster Homecoming crowd with a decisive win over the champs. So, while many, including me, have been skeptical about the support over the years, it would appear that if you win more than you lose, the fans will come. Unfortunately, that won’t always be the case. No one in the state has what the Broncos have. Win or lose, Empower Field brings the noise. Broncos Country might be mad about losing, but watching the Blue and Orange lose is better than not watching them at all. So can CSU create a culture, an environment that’s so fun, so engaging that even during a tough stretch or a coaching transition, Canvas stadium will provide a fun experience regardless of the win/loss record?
I suppose the first order of business would be to show them several seasons of winning. Create a winning culture much like the Broncos did. Broncos Country didn’t become Broncos Country just because there was football. People like Floyd Little, John Elway and Pat Bowlen busted their tails to out perform and out entertain on a yearly basis. Can Athletic Director Joe Parker, Head Coach Steve Addazio and President Joyce McConnell be those key figures for the foreseeable future?