Homecoming Through the Decades
North Dakota State University has changed a lot in 124 years, but our love of football remains the same. From 1894 to 2018, this online exhibit follows the trail of NDSU’s homecoming traditions through the years. This exhibit is a companion to The Rise of Thundar currently on view at the Main Library.
Founded in 1890, North Dakota State University’s first name was North Dakota Agricultural College (NDAC). Back then, its athletics teams were known as the “Aggies.” Other sources indicate that the teams were also called “The Fighting Aggies” and “The Farmers.” The photo to the left shows one of the first football games between NDAC and the University of North Dakota in 1894. The two schools would develop a fierce rivalry evident in many homecoming games in the future.
In 1920, the Aggies played against UND at Dacotah Field. This game was equivalent to what would become known as homecoming the following year (right).
NDAC celebrated its first homecoming in 1921. The football team had a rough first homecoming game, losing 0-54 against South Dakota State University. Since 1921, homecoming has become a tradition celebrated at the university annually, except for the war years of 1943 and 1944.
In February of 1922, The Weekly Spectrum reported that the NDAC Lettermen’s Club voted to adopt the nickname “Bison” for the university’s sports teams. Over the years, Bison athletic teams were also called “The Thundering Herd.” The student body embraced the name change, and this became especially evident during homecoming celebrations. The new name also encouraged students in their rivalry with other universities. The editors of the Spectrum wrote that the new name would “undoubtedly prove conclusively to UND how big a flickertail looks under the foot of a bison.” Shown above is a 1922 parade float featuring a worn-down “UND Football-Machine” played on the rivalry between UND and NDAC with a banner reading, “She ain’t what she used to be.”
A 1928 letter from the General Secretary of the Alumni Association demonstrates how popular homecoming had become among students and alumni. Attendees were encouraged to reserve their tickets early, as more than 2,000 people failed to get seats at the 1927 game. View the letter here.
In 1956, the Bison won their homecoming game against the SDSU Jackrabbits, 26-9. Homecoming floats had become a tradition, and many parade floats showcased the intense rivalry between the Bison and the Jackrabbits, as you can see on the left.
November of 1960 marked the change of NDAC to North Dakota State University. During this time, costumed mascots became popular among university athletic teams. NDSU’s pep club, the “Rahjah’s,” sponsored the Bison mascot. The first costumed mascot appeared in 1964 and was required to be present at all football games. The 1960s also marked an increase in the significance of homecoming games. Kick-off at the 1969 homecoming game pitted NDSU against its old rival to the north, the University of North Dakota. In a one-sided battle, NDSU prevailed 64-14.
Soon, the Bison mascot, Thundar, became a staple at homecoming events, as well as at all home football games. In 1991, he even handed out candy at the NDSU Homecoming Parade. Thundar received a revamp when North Dakota State University moved to Division 1 athletics in 2004.
By the 2000s, NDSU had deeply established its traditions of a Homecoming Parade on Broadway, a performance by the Blue Key Honor Society, and a Homecoming Court. The photo on the left shows Cody Montgomery and Kim Schaff, the 2004 Homecoming King and Queen, in the Homecoming Parade. The 2013 game against Missouri State drew record attendance, with 19,108 attendees packing into the 19,000-seat Fargodome.
This year’s homecoming dates are Monday, September 17 through Saturday, September 22. The Bison will play against Delaware at 1:00pm on Saturday at the Fargodome. A full schedule of events can be found here. Don't forget to stop by the Main Library to learn more about The Rise of Thundar. The exhibit will be on display through the fall 2018 semester.
Photos in this exhibit come from the University Photo Collection, NDSU Archives.