ALBANY — After a four-game spring football season played essentially in silence in front of empty stadiums, UAlbany is preparing for the total opposite to kick off its fall season.
Not only are the Great Danes set to play in front of fans on Saturday for the first time since Dec. 7, 2019, they’ll be thrown straight into perhaps the most raucous atmosphere at the FCS level — the 19,000-seat Fargodome in Fargo, North Dakota, where they’ll take on the powerhouse North Dakota State Bison.
In trying to find a comparison for Capital Region fans to get a sense of what the Great Danes will be entering Saturday, UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso likened the Fargodome crowd to the wildest environment at an Albany Empire arena football game inside Times Union Center — just scaled up a whole bunch.
“The biggest Empire game,” Gattuso said during Tuesday’s practice at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, “probably times eight.”
But this crowd, Gattuso said, won’t be particularly friendly to the folks from Albany.
“Their fans are about 10 feet from you, if that,” he said, “and they’ll be calling us a bunch of fun names.”
That environment, quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said, should only serve as added motivation for a Great Danes team eager to get back to the form it showed when reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs in 2019, rather than the injury-plagued 1-3 campaign when they played in the spring after the fall 2020 season was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s probably going to be the loudest game we’re going to play,” Undercuffler said. “That doesn’t matter. That’s just another reason for us to be even more locked in, dialed in, and just execute our own gameplan. We’ll let the chips fall where they may. Just go out, have fun and ball out.”
Still, it can’t hurt to prepare.
So, as the Great Danes went through 11-on-11 drills during Tuesday’s practice, the Casey Stadium public address system pumped in a barrage of noise meant to simulate the cacophony that will greet the team inside the Fargodome.
“A little training for us,” center Kobe Thomas said.
Dealing with the noise will be most paramount for Thomas and Undercuffler, who will need to be able to communicate to make sure the UAlbany offense runs smoothly.
Thomas doesn’t foresee any problems.
“We’ve already got our cadence down,” he said.
Linebacker Danny Damico knows the environment won’t be friendly. But, he said, that’s part of the thrill — especially after a spring season with empty bleachers due to pandemic-related restrictions.
“We’re not going to see a whole lot of purple and yellow, but we’ll definitely be seeing a lot of [North Dakota State] green and yellow,” Damico said. “It’ll be a lot of fun hearing the noise and the camaraderie of the game.”
There are only 11 Division I college football teams that play their home games inside domed stadiums. Somewhat strangely, UAlbany will be playing its first two road games in two of those domes.
Two weeks after playing North Dakota State, the Great Danes will make a considerably shorter drive across the NYS Thruway to face Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
“We were trying to figure out who else we could’ve went and played — maybe Northern Iowa, or somebody, and played three,” Gattuso deadpanned.
Whether playing under a roof or in the open air, Gattuso is confident his veteran team can adapt to the environment they’re in.
“It’s just football. That football field never changes,” Gattuso said. The noise level might change and the intensity in the building could change. Believe me, it’ll be a harsh environment. I’ve been in them before. It’s all about controlling your emotions.
“If we start running around and getting panicky, if we let the noise bother us or the fans calling us names from 10 feet away, we’re not who I think we are.”