It’s tailgating, wearing team apparel and, of course, cheering on your team in your own unique way.
There were grills and coolers in the parking lots near Barron Stadium before Saturday’s NAIA championship game between the Saint Xavier Cougars of Illinois and the Carroll College Fighting Saints of Montana, and some grills were still going as the game was played.
Inside, each set of bleachers had fans that showed their love for their team in their own way.
What is commonly known as the home side was awash in purple and gold with some wearing wigs of the dual colors.
Across the field, red and white dominated the stands.
Cheering for the red and white was Joan Phillips, who clutched an orange Bible and did a dance when the Cougars scored in the third quarter.
She was there to cheer on her only grandson, junior wide receiver Shane Zachary, who caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first half.
Even though it was the first time the Cougars had been to the championship game, she had no doubts.
“They are going to win this one,” she said early in the second half when the Cougars were trailing.
Behind Phillips was Chris Sarna, who held a big fence that had a few red spots on it that was preceded by a “D.” Yes, Sarna and his pals who drove down to Rome from Illinois for the game were cheering on the defense.
Shane Kenney, a sophomore, made the hat he wore and carried a foam finger. His face was painted red and white and he said gave his team an advantage over some fans on the Carroll College side of the field who chose to wear less clothing.
Travis Knoll is a freshman on the football team who was not in the game but was toughing it out on the sidelines without his shirt with some buddies who had painted gold letters on their chests outlined in purple that spelled out “Saints.”
Andy Ritter, also a freshman wide receiver on the team, cheered on his brother, Matt, a senior wide receiver on the team.
With only eight minutes left in the game and Saint Xavier ahead by four points, Ritter admitted he was a little nervous but was confident his team would find a way to get the win.
And as the clock ticked away to the final minutes of the game, some of the gold letters on the young men’s chest had begun to peel and fade as the hopes of the Saints taking home their seventh championship also began to fade.
Saint Xavier won by a score of 24-20.
The loss was going to be bittersweet for the team, said Barry McWilliams, father of Carroll County senior Noah McWilliams.
It was the last game of Noah’s football career, which had begun when the 22-year-old was just 8, his father said.
McWilliams said they have loved coming to Rome for the past two years.
The love for Rome’s hospitality was shared among visitors who supported both teams.
“We’ve had an awesome time,” said Cougar’s fan Vicki Rooney. “The thing we’ve enjoyed most is the hospitality in Rome. We’ve hungered for this for so long. I don’t even know a word to describe it.”
Both teams have a chance to come back to Rome for the championship game in the future, as Rome will host the game at Barron Stadium through 2015.
Click here for the Carroll athletic site.
Click here for the St. Xavier athletic site.
Click here for the NAIA Championship Game site.
Click here for the NAIA site.