A pack of nine purple Huskies stood out in an ocean of orange and blue tailgaters outside Albertsons Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Nikki Blakney of Issaquah, Wash., her husband, Tyler, and other family members were invited to the game by friends in Boise. She said they had positive — and playful — interactions with area residents, including an undercover police officer who saw them tossing cornhole bags outside their friend’s house earlier in the day.
“As he drove by, he said, ‘You guys are wearing the wrong colors,’ ” Blakney said. He welcomed them to Idaho, but as he left, he turned on his siren and on the loudspeaker said, “Go Boise!”
Friday’s opener against Washington attracted a sellout crowd of 36,836. The Huskies received 3,500 tickets for their fans, the same number Boise State requested for the game at Washington in 2013.
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The enthusiasm was amped up by the much-heralded return of former Broncos coach Chris Petersen to the blue. Petersen, still called “Coach Pete” in Boise, left to become head coach of the Huskies in December 2013.
“It’s like ESPN’s dream for a storyline,” said Mike Francis, who graduated with a degree in industrial engineering from Washington in 2006. The Payette Brewing owner has season tickets for the Huskies, but he also goes to Broncos games.
“I’m a UW fan first,” he clarified.
Husky fan Kathy Gano and her husband, Steve, drove from Tacoma, Wash. — and brought their two dogs, both huskies — to show support for Petersen and his team.
“I like him because he’s not helping the Broncos anymore,” said Steve Gano, an Idaho Vandal.
Tailgaters were allowed into the stadium parking lot at about 4 p.m., and it wasn’t long before fans were sipping beer and grilling burgers. Some displayed homemade signs, such as: “Only Prince Should Wear Purple!” and “Fear the Blue”
Boiseans Karyle and Bruce Edgerton planned ahead and had a table full of dog-themed snacks, including “chew sticks” (pretzels), “puppy chow” (rice chex, chocolate and powdered sugar) and dog bones (homemade bone-shaped cheese crackers). They were also boiling and grilling ’dogs.
Their daughter, Courtney Priest, earned her LPN at Boise State 17 years ago and finished her bachelor’s in nursing this summer. Priest’s 10-year-old son, Gavin, wore a No. 11 Bronco jersey (in honor of Kellen Moore).
Priest recalled meeting Coach Pete when her older son’s Optimist team won its league. She was impressed he took extra time and care in signing her son’s jersey, and she has a lot of respect for what he did at Boise State.
But Friday was game day.
“We want to show him that we’re just as good, with or without (him),” she said.
Bronco fans were enthusiastic about the game but gave mixed responses on whether it should be on any Top 10 lists, including top home games.
“In my opinion, this is the biggest game that’s ever been played by Boise State at Bronco Stadium,” said Bill Belau, a local pharmacist who supports his team as part of a group known as the Blue Elvises. “We’re playing an opponent from a Power 5 conference at home and add in the Coach Pete drama.”
The Blue Elvises, three men who don Elvis-style jumpsuits and blue wigs, always sit in the south end zone bleachers. Longtime Bronco fan Shelby Ransom has season tickets in the same section, though higher up.
“I think it’s a big game — maybe a top 10 home game, with the expectations that Boise State has for the year and the whole Coach Pete thing,” the Nampa woman said.
There was talk of avenging Boise State’s blowout 38-6 loss to Washington in 2013, but not much about payback for Petersen moving on to another program.
“The revenge factor is there,” said Anthony Blaine of Caldwell. “This is just wanting to beat Pete because he left you. It’s the new-girlfriend syndrome. You’ve got to try to remind him what he left and make it sting a little.”
That said, Blaine thought fans should be respectful in welcoming Coach Pete back.
And they were.
“He was (92-12) during his tenure,” Blaine said. “It’s hard to get mad at somebody for wanting to take on a new challenge.’’
“Now that the dust has settled a little bit, and we’ve got a year under our belt, I can see it was time,” said Max Buxton, a Boise State alumnus who has had season tickets on and off for three decades. “When all is said and done, I think him leaving has hopefully been good for him, and I think we’re going to look back and say, ‘Wow, that was great for Boise, too.’ ”