UTSA students proudly wave their school banner.
UTSA students proudly wave their school banner. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

UTSA came into the Alamodome wanting a win, and most of more than 33,472 fans on hand wanted a hometown win, too. In the end, Arizona escaped with a scare, and for the Roadrunners and their growing fan base, a close loss became another win in terms of building a great young program.

School spirit has never been higher.

According to senior political science major and vice president of UTSA’s Alpha Tao Omega chapter Al Valdez, “If you win the tailgate, it doesn’t matter if you win the game.” 

Unfortunately for UTSA, Arizona held on to win 26-23, Thursday night, but a what was once known as a commuter school, has become a university, campus and a culture with its own distinct identity and passionate spirit. You don’t have to be a UTSA alum to sense that spirit if you’re anywhere near downtown as people pour in for a home game.

Only four years old, UTSA and its nationally renowned head coach, Larry Coker, are a force to be reckoned with. Since its first game in 2011, UTSA’s football program has grown faster than any other football program in college history.

In its first game alone, 56,743 fans filled the Alamodome. 

Tailgating can be a victory in itself at UTSA.
Tailgating can be a victory in itself at UTSA. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Spirit has grown in size since the team’s inception, and according to UTSA’s President Ricardo Romo, Roadrunner pride has become “remarkable.” Dr. Romo should know. He’s a familiar figure not only at games but also at pre-game tailgate parties.

San Antonio commuters along the central parts of I-37 and I-10 probably noticed a block of traffic heading into downtown early Thursday evening. Along the streets surrounding the Alamodome and Sunset Station, UTSA students and alumni set up elaborate tents to cheer on the Roadrunners. 

As early as 1 p.m., football fans began grilling and exhibiting school spirit, undeterred even heavy rains that passed through the city. 

UTSA fans rallied for their team by wearing orange for the UTSA “Orange Out.” 

UTSA’s mascot, Rowdy the Roadrunner, made multiple appearances before the game, displaying a spirit that was true to his namesake. 

Fans were treated to a performance from the school’s marching band and the traditional pre-game “spirit walk,” in which the UTSA football team, led by the band, Dr. Romo and other members of the administration, walks from Sunset Station to the Alamodome. 

Of all the events that take place before the game, this is what Valdez enjoys the most. “To see football players, it’s like seeing mini celebrities,” he said. 

Like many students, Valdez enjoys tailgating before the game almost as much as the game itself.

Tailgating is a tradition at UTSA dating back to the start of the program. Even then, the pre-game rituals drew thousands of fans.

What is it about tailgating that draws so many spirited supporters? 

Valdez and his brothers enjoy grilling and drinking before the game. “The beer and food inside is way too expensive,” he said. “(At tailgating) you get food and drinks for free. It’s a great way to pregame.”  

While Valdez believes UTSA’s Greek organizations truly capture the spirit of UTSA Football, the alumni association serves as an impressive host for its supporters. 

A post-game tailgating party at UTSA. Photo by Sarah Gibeens.
A post-game tailgating party at UTSA. Photo by Sarah Gibeens.

Alumni Association Board Member Charlin Jones knows UTSA alumni spirit firsthand. As a 2002 undergraduate, 2007 masters graduate and current UTSA staff member in the division of student affairs, she and the other alumni waited patiently for many years for UTSA to have its own football team. 

“As an undergrad, I had a ‘UTSA Football still undefeated’ t-shirt. That first game in 2011 was so emotional in so many ways. It was so great to see our students and alumni, and even our city, come in support of our university,” she said. 

The growing number of residents living in or near downtown San Antonio are seeing UTSA home games transform otherwise quiet weekend days and some weekday nights as tends of thousands of fans pour on to the River Walk, downtown streets, and across the expressway on to the near-Eastside. UTSA’s contract with the City and the Alamodome runs to 2035, so there is plenty of time for the fan base to build beyond the alumni.

While some dream of attracting an NFL franchise here from another city, the rest of us already have a home-grown team and program that has captured our loyalty.

Home games do bring heavy traffic that runs south instead of north, but the economic stimulus to the downtown makes it worth it, especially with fans patronizing downtown local businesses before and after the games.

According to UTSA’s economic impact study, athletic events contribute almost $12 million to the local economy. 

When football was initially approved, the budget for the program was less than $10 million. Today it’s a $23 million program. 

Senior Associate Athletic Director Brad Parrott said that no revenue is made from game day proceeds in the Alamodome. The program is funded primarily via student fees ($240 per student) and donor contributions. 

Holding games in the Alamodome has directed a lot of traffic downtown, 18 miles from UTSA’s main campus. 

Roadrunner spirit has driven traffic downtown.
Roadrunner spirit has driven traffic downtown.

Students like Valdez long for a more convenient location. “I wish we had a stadium near campus,” he said, citing the long drive and distant parking as one of the Alamodome’s drawbacks. 

Jones, however, has embraced UTSA Football’s centralized location, saying, “I don’t want a stadium closer to UTSA (Main Campus). This is such a great venue.”   

Despite the team’s loss to Arizona, the stadium was alive with school spirit throughout the game. 

The Roadrunners (1-1) face another formidable opponent Sept. 13 against Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. Hardcore fans will have to travel to Stillwater to attend that game, but the team will be back in the Alamodome Saturday, Oct. 4 for the next home game against New Mexico. That’s your next chance to attend a UTSA football game and see firsthand what all the excitement is about. Get Rowdy! 

*Featured image: UTSA students proudly wave their school banner. Photo by Sarah Gibbens.

Correction: Attendance numbers have been updated to reflect 33,472 fans for the Sept. 4 game and 56,743 for the 2011 game.

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Sarah Gibbens is a student at UTSA studying English and Political Science and the editor-in-chief for The Paisano student newspaper.