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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Fresno fans roll out red carpet

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

FRESNO, Calif. — It is exactly 372 steps from the visitors' "locker room" to the playing field at Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium, but it is not a journey that can be measured in feet alone.

It is a trip best told in too-loud-to-ignore decibels, in hairs that stand up on the back of the neck, in frayed nerves and in the heavy home-field advantage they all add up to for the Bulldogs.

For it is on this infamous narrow asphalt path dubbed the "Red Mile" by previously vanquished teams where visitors begin to grasp the depth of the challenge they have undertaken even before they confront the home team across the line of scrimmage.

"It can be a very intimidating place to be," said June Jones, whose University of Hawai'i football team is scheduled to face the gauntlet Friday on the way to its nationally televised ESPN2 appearance.

It's an intimidating enough prospect, Jones acknowledged, that the Warriors will consider dressing at their hotel instead of the visitors' quarters. Perhaps even backing the bus up to the stadium to avoid, as much as they can, the "Red Mile."

The Warriors all too vividly recall their last visit in 2000. "It was like nothing I'd seen — or heard — before," said quarterback Tim Chang, who was a wide-eyed freshman witness to a scene where the Bulldogs have won 23 of their last 25 home games and 85 percent (40-7) of their Western Athletic Conference games.

Bulldog fans — the more confrontational and leather-lunged fringe of the Red Wave, as the red-clad faithful are known — line both sides of the path that takes the visiting team to and from its cramped locker facilities, which are located in the first-base clubhouse of the nearby baseball stadium.

From there it is an uphill march past the row of porta-johns and through jeering fans, then down into the reverberating bowl that is Bulldog Stadium, a course that must be negotiated again before the start of the game and then at halftime.

"Our fans really give it to the visiting teams and it can shake you up if you let it," said defensive end Nick Burley.

"It must be like 800 yards through a line of fans that are yelling and cursing and throwing stuff on you all the way to the field," Jones says. "I mean, it is a pretty good home-field advantage. It reminds you of some places in the south — Auburn, Clemson, Louisiana State — places where it is tough to be a visiting team. It is a great atmosphere — for a home team."

Not all coaches, however, have been as complimentary as has Jones.

Unless changes are made in time for their contracted visit next season, Oregon State has threatened not to return. San Diego State has decried what it faced.

"It is an interesting experience," said UH linebacker Matt Wright. "You have things being thrown at you, you have every cussword being yelled at you. You try to focus, but it is hard. The worst part is right before the game when you are out there and you have to stand there while Fresno State gets introduced and takes the field. You have fans on both sides of you yelling stuff about your mom, your girlfriend, everything."