The pregame tailgate parties, the exciting game that went down to the wire, the pregame and halftime entertainment and the thundering sea of orange and purple clad fans filling the lower bowl of the modern NFL facility all were extraordinary.
But for members of the Bearkat football team, the aspect of the SHSU-SFA showdown at Reliant in 2010 that stands out occurred when the team took the field just before kickoff.
"What fired us up more than anything was when we came out of the locker room and found all those former Bearkat football players forming a human tunnel to welcome us onto the Reliant Stadium field," SHSU senior defensive end Eddie Decambre said. "We had no idea they were going to do that. Wow, that was so exciting."
With a new title sponsor, YP.com, and even more thrills planned for the 86th renewal of the oldest NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision rivalry in Texas on Saturday October 8, looks to top last year's event.
"No one understands what the 'Battle of the Piney Woods' rivalry means better than the players who have participated," Decambre said. "Those former players there in the tunnel to fire us up all have their own Piney Woods rivalry stories. You can't help getting fired up being around them. When I'm done playing, you know I'm coming back each year to be part of the tunnel and tell future players our stories."
Plans already are underway to make the Lettermen's Tunnel for the "Battle of the Piney Woods" presented by YP.com bigger and better. Former lettermen who wish either to participate in the tunnel again or join in for the first time may do so by contacting Justin Stapleton at the Sam Houston State athletic ticket office at (936) 294-1729. Former players also may contact the ticket office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ticket sales for the 2011 game October 8 are ahead of last year as current Bearkat players are well aware.
"Last year was amazing," Sam Houston center and team co-captain Travis Watson said. "To get to play in that setting not only is great for the university but also for the Southland Conference. Everywhere I go I run into fans who were at the game last year and cant' wait to come to this year's contest. I was on floating the river in San Marcos this summer and ran into some fans who had already bought their tickets."
The crowd of 24,685 fans last year at Reliant Stadium was the largest in Sam Houston-Stephen F. Austin series history. It also was the largest crowd for a Bearkat game versus an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
"I remember being excited as a young grad assistant here at Sam to have 4,000 people crowd into Pritchett Field to watch us play the Jacks in 1984," Bearkat head coach Willie Fritz said. "Wow. This was something. What a great experience for the players on both teams. Bobby Williams and Robert Hill, the athletic directors at both Sam Houston and SFA, and the people at Lone Star Sports Entertainment and the Texans are to be congratulated on putting on a first class event."
Game day started with a packed house at the pregame tailgate party in the Blue Lot south of Reliant. Fans already were in place at 10 a.m. and the crowd grew and grew.
"I was very surprised to see as many people," Sam Houston alumnus Jon Volkmer told a Huntsville Item reporter last October. "We arrive at 11 in the morning and there already were hundreds here. We tailgate at Huntsville, but it's not on this level. It's a lot of fun and it's exciting. We saw friends we haven't seen in a while. We're definitely coming back next year."
The event provided a stage for Sam Houston State to gain exposure in a city in which more than 65,000 university alumni call home. The Bearkats and Lumberjacks were featured in interviews on all of the city's television, radio and newspaper media throughout the week.
"This was an event that will help our program throughout the year," Fritz said. "When I was at Central Missouri, two teams in our league played annually at Arrowhead Stadium - the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. I always felt that was a big recruiting tool. Now playing at Reliant Stadium the next three years will help us the same way."
The Bearkat football team certainly agrees that the atmosphere at Reliant Stadium was electric.
"The game really brought everyone together," Decambre recalled. "Getting to talk to so many former players made us all proud to be Bearkats. We look forward to seeing all those guys and more back this October and to seeing all that orange and purple in the stands. It's an intense rivalry and a game that is just epic."
Tickets for the 86th "Battle of the Piney Woods" presented by YP.com Saturday October 8 at 2 p.m. are going fast. Tickets may be ordered now online at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU athletic ticket office at (936) 294-1729. The ticket office is located in the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.