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Northern Colorado alumni, longtime football supporters excited for home opener

It’s supposed to be a party in the parking lot and the stands Saturday at Nottingham Field. Several longtime season ticket holders plan to tailgate and have fun together at the University of Northern Colorado’s home opener.

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The game represents so much more than just football for these supporters. It’s about family, friends and spending time together.

A number of supporters attended the season opener at the University of Colorado, and a handful went to Houston Baptist, but it’s different when the game is on local turf.

“We’ve scheduled (our tailgate) with about four other families, but we’ll see 100 people that we know, easy,” Larson said. “The social thing is the big part of it. And, as a small business person, I’d rather spend my money here with the community.”

Several of their friends have similar ties to UNC as well. Attending games together is a way of supporting their alma mater, local students and maintaining friendships as busy adults. Larson and several families attend football, basketball and volleyball together as much as possible, he said.

In fact, Larson said, those in his friend group want UNC to succeed. But if the teams lose, it doesn’t matter much. They’ve stuck with the program through good, bad and ugly, and plan to keep it that way.

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“The teams are going to have their ups and downs, so we’re not fair-weather fans,” Larson said. “We’re going to support the teams no matter what.”

The Larson family has a long history with UNC with family members attending the school as far back as the 1930s. Larson and his son participated on the track and cross country teams, while his wife, Maureen, also earned her degree through the university.

Additionally, Larson sponsors the new football coaches show that airs every Tuesday on KFKA and a scholarship for track and field athletes.

“There are just so many people that we see up there and good people from the community that have been around a long time,” Larson continued. “You develop those friendships, so it’s not for us all about winning or losing. It’s about the people we see, and supporting the UNC community.”

Former UNC athlete, administrator and public address announcer Tom Barbour will be at the game as well.

Barbour attended UNC back when it was still called Colorado State College. He was a freshman in 1969 and spent one season as a football walk-on. Ultimately, Barbour decided football wasn’t for him, but stuck around the program.

In fact, Barbour spent time as the lead communications manager for the athletic department until 1983, before taking a few other central administration roles. He left the university as a full-time employee in 2000.

Even after spending more than three decades on campus, Barbour — a UNC Hall of Famer — came back to call football and basketball from 2006 to 2016.

“More than half of my life has been spent on the UNC campus. It’s just been part of me,” Barbour said. “I grew up in Denver, and most people ask me how I came to Greeley. I tell them, ‘I came to Greeley to come to school, and I haven’t gone home yet.’ Greeley is my home. And the university is the biggest reason for that.”

Barbour has been a season ticket holder since Nottingham Field opened in 1995 with the same tailgating spot, B3, since 2011.

Like Larson, Barbour is excited just to be back after nearly two years. He expects to do a lot of catching up with friends he hasn’t seen in a while. Plus, they’re all looking forward to finally seeing UNC coach Ed McCaffrey on the sideline in Greeley … with the new turf.

McCaffrey was hired in 2019 but didn’t make his debut until Sept. 3 due to COVID-19. The team planned to play in the spring, but concerns about health and safety ultimately led to the season’s cancelation.

Now, the Bears are 1-1 with two good performances, and people are anticipating good things.

“This place really does have a wonderful football history of conference championships and great players,” Barbour said. “It kind of lost some of its luster there for a while, but in naming Ed the head coach, it almost immediately put them back on the map. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what he does with his program.”

UNC will face FCS opponent Lamar at 2 p.m. Saturday. As of Friday afternoon, tickets were still available for the game. If fans cannot attend, the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.

Face masks must be worn in all public indoor spaces on campus.

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