There is no sporting event in Maine that rivals the atmosphere of a University of Maine football game.
Outside Morse Field at Alfond Stadium, fans gather in the tailgating lots waiting to sample the variety of grilled meats, sandwiches and other goodies they have brought from home and to talk about their favorite players.
Youngsters dart around the lots and lawns, playing pass with a football or maybe even lining up for some small-group games.
In the background, the rhythmic cadence and the spirited music of the Black Bear marching band help set a festive tone for the afternoon as friends and family members gather to renew acquaintances or make new football friends.
Back at the dormitories, students get dressed in their UMaine T-shirts and sweatshirts in preparation for heading over to the stadium as a group. It’s a bonding experience, one that helps bring together the first-year students in a rare group setting that will be unmatched until their don their caps and gowns together at commencement, four or five years down the road.
Over on the field, players from the University of Maine and the opponent of the day are going through their stretching, warmup and pregame routines. For them, it’s one of only five chances each year to play on their home field in front of a partisan crowd.
All too often, fans are generally unaware of the high level of play featured during UMaine football games. The Black Bears don’t play Notre Dame or Alabama at Alfond Stadium, but they compete in perhaps the most prestigious of all Football Championship Subdivision conferences, the Colonial Athletic Association.
At every home games, fans will have the chance to see a handful of athletes who later will have the opportunity to play in the National Football League. UMaine has produced several of those high-level performers, including recently retired defensive lineman Mike DeVito, veteran tight end Matthew Mulligan of Enfield and tight end Justin Perillo, who is playing for the Green Bay Packers.
UMaine football games provide fans with all elements of the college experience, complete with touchdown runs, quarterback sacks, nifty passing plays and crushing tackles.
Single-game tickets start at $12 per person, while other packages provide a chance to save with a four-game package costing as little as $40 or a season membership for 55 bucks.
I have always been amazed at how few Maine high school football players I see at UMaine games. If their passion is football, there is no better place to see the game played at the highest level.
And there always are several athletes from the state, including some from Greater Bangor, who have proven themselves worthy of playing time.
The 2016 UMaine football team is expected to be highly competitive in the CAA, where it will battle the likes of Saturday’s opponent, seventh-ranked James Madison University. And this year’s Black Bears have unveiled a more multifaceted offense that should be more entertaining for fans.
As a football fan myself, I would encourage Maine sports fans to make the trip to Orono for a UMaine home game this season. It’s good, clean, family entertainment and fun — and games are much more enjoyable to watch when the Black Bears have a large group of vocal fans in the stands.
Kickoff Saturday is at noon. Check it out.