The road east of the stadium was blocked off by tailgaters. Groups of students buzzed from tent to tent, playing yard games, gorging on OMG BBQ and relaxing at the close of the week. Bodies painted entirely navy and white carried signs exalting Harambe the fallen Cincinnati gorilla. In total, 1,830 students attended the game, a 10-year high for student attendance at a football game.
The excitement around Friday night’s game may have come as a surprise to some college football fans. It was the home opener for Rice against Baylor University. Last season, the Bears defeated the Owls 70-17. But the apparent mismatch with the Big 12 power did not hamper turnout. According to Rice Rally Club President Jeremy Reiskind, the Owls drew a record crowd.
“We had more [fans] than the Conference USA championship game [in 2013] and more than the largest turnout in the last 10 years, which was a game against [Southern Methodist University] in 2008,” Reiskind said.
Taking on Baylor, a nationally ranked power and in-state rival, appealed to many Rice fans. In all, 27,047 fans packed into Rice Stadium, eclipsing last year’s most attended game by nearly 3,000 fans and overtaking the average attendance from last year by almost 9,000.
A portion of the student support was likely due to efforts by Rally Club, which aims to increase awareness awareness, support and enthusiasm for Rice Athletics. The Rally Club hosted a tailgate party to encourage more students to come to the game and promoted the event via social media. Other clubs such as the Rugby Team hosted tailgates of their own as students flocked to the stadium. Reiskind said that the timing of the game helped to improve turnout.
“I think the biggest factor was the game being on a Friday night,” Reiskind said. “I know many colleges were able to have a Friday in the Quad pregame tailgate before heading out to the stadium for the Rally Club tailgate. Many students also use Friday night as a time to unwind after a long week, so the football game gave them a great opportunity to do that with friends.”
Throughout the game, Rice students stood and chanted, both cheering on the Owls and harassing Baylor. In particular, students chanted the name of Baylor junior kicker Chris Callahan to distract him as he practiced. Callahan then missed his first two field goal attempts of the game and shoved his teammate in clear frustration as fans chanted “MVP” at him.
In the end, however, Rice fans went home unhappy. The Owls lost 38-10 and fell to 0-3 on the season. The Owls are hoping for an equally impressive turnout on Saturday when they play their first home Conference USA game against the University of North Texas at 5 p.m.