With Bulls fever catching on, 300 to 500 of the football team's fans will be at Oklahoma rooting for an upset tonight.
By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 28, 2002
TAMPA -- To the hundreds of University of South Florida Bulls fans who boarded chartered buses and planes Friday bound for Oklahoma, it mattered not that the University of Oklahoma has won seven national football championships and 37 conference titles.
"Yes, we can win," said Stan Newton, who studied engineering at the University of South Florida in the 1970s.
If Florida State University can lose to the University of Louisville, as it did Thursday night, then "there is a football god and maybe he will shine on USF," Newton said.
Brenda Newton, another true believer, agreed.
"We beat Northern Illinois," she said. And Wisconsin, which is in the top 25, struggled against Northern Illinois. So therefore, USF can beat a high-ranked team, she said.
"USF has a chance."
An estimated 300 to 500 Bulls fans will be at the Oklahoma game tonight. It's one of the largest groups of traveling fans in the team's six-year history.
The reasons for the increased interest are many:
This is the Bulls' first time in the national spotlight. TBS will televise the game live, starting at 7 p.m.
It is the highest-ranked team by far that USF has played. The Sooners are No. 2.
And there is a sentimental reason: USF athletic director and Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Lee Roy Selmon was an All-American at Oklahoma. A few fans wore No. 93 shirts Friday -- Selmon's college number.
But diehard Bulls fans -- the ones who have traveled to away games since the beginning -- say there is another reason for the big turnout: Bulls fever is catching on.
"The team spirit is high," said Angie Brewer, who has two management degrees from USF and runs a financial consulting firm. "Someday, there will be thousands out here -- with their faces painted."
About 60 fans signed up for a trip organized by the USF Athletic Association. A bus picked them up Friday at USF and took them to Tampa International, where they boarded a chartered plane. The $520 trip includes a stop this morning at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial and a tailgate party.
Others planned their own trip, including Eddie Rocha and his pals from college and King High School. Others came as part of the Bull Backers (formerly known as the 12th Bull Club), which is "a people's boosters club," said Eric Thomas of Lakeland, a founder.
About 99 percent of the club are USF alumni. But not Thomas. He used to be a huge University of Florida Gator fan, but when USF's football program was born in 1997, he ditched the big guys and began rooting for the underdog.
"I wanted to start with a brand new team," he said.
Only a handful of people traveled to the away games in those days, Brewer said. They would huddle together in the stands with their green and gold pompoms and sponge fingers that read: "Go Bulls."
These fans went to games pumped, and then left -- when USF lost -- "quiet," said Michael Charles, who studied business at USF and now owns an air conditioning and refrigeration company.
Then came hope: Pittsburgh, Sept. 8, 2001, and an upset victory. It was the sort of breakthrough that true believers live for.
After the game, every single USF player ran by the Bulls cheering section and high-fived the fans.
"We were all hanging over the side of the wall, excited," said Rocha. "It was one of those games you don't forget."