By: Will Burchfield
ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming to Western Michigan for the first time ever this weekend, just the second time the popular TV show has been held at the campus of a Mid American Conference school.
Broncos’ head coach P.J. Fleck can hardly wait.
“It’s historic,” he told 97.1 The Ticket on Thursday morning, “I’m not going to lie. It’s a historic day in Mid American Conference history, it’s a historic day for Western Michigan University, the city of Kalamazoo, the state of Michigan.”
The 10-0 Broncos, ranked No. 21 in the latest College Football Playoff poll, host Buffalo at 3:30 p.m. at Waldo Stadium. Fleck is calling for a record-setting turnout.
“We’re going to pack the city. It’s not just pack the stadium – that’s a given, we’re going to sell this thing out – but pack the city. We want to have more people than GameDay’s ever seen. To do that, they’re going to have to bear some cold, maybe bear some snow on Saturday but get here early, dress warm, and enjoy the day.”
Saturday’s forecast in Kalamazoo calls for morning showers with a low of 35 degrees. But it would take conditions far worse than those to spoil an unprecedented event.
“Just think of the kids in the community, little kids around Kalamazoo and the surrounding areas,” Fleck said. “How cool is it to be able to have GameDay right here? You can come with your dad and your mom and just show up and see (Kirk) Herbstreit and the boys. I think it’s going to be a historic day.”
Western Michigan is in the midst of its best season ever, having already set a single-season record with 10 wins. But Fleck said he and his players haven’t paused to reflect on their success.
“Not yet. I think the players and coaches will look back on it one day and really see the importance of it and see how special it really was. But when you’re in it, guys, it’s hard to do that,” he said.
Furthermore, Fleck went on, the Broncos haven’t operated any differently this season than they have in seasons past.
“When the purpose of your culture and your program is to literally serve and give, it’s just what we do. It might look on the outside as, ‘Wow it’s amazing, it’s new,’ (but) we’ve been doing this for three years. The only difference is we’re winning games,” he said. “We’re even doing more serving and giving now than we ever have.
“But again, it’s a compliment to our staff, it’s a compliment to our players. If you get the right people involved and get them rowing in the right direction, special things can happen – and that’s not just our football team, that’s our community. It gives people something to believe in, way bigger than just football and way bigger than just results and that’s what I’m here to do.”
Fleck said the Broncos are wary of this week’s opponent, despite Buffalo’s 2-8 record. He pointed to the rash of upsets that occurred last weekend as evidence that anything can happen in college football.
“It’s so hard to go undefeated. It’s so hard to do what we’re doing,” he said, “and everyday we’re learning more and more about how we can grow, how we can learn, how we can change our best and how we can be better people as well as better football players.
“But again, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. It doesn’t matter people’s record. They’re going to play like superheroes when they play against us and we have to be at our best every single week. And if we’re not, it’s going to be a close game no matter who you play.”
In Fleck’s first season at Western Michigan (2013), the Broncos went 1-11 and lost to a Division 1-AA team in Nicholls State. Images from that game are plastered on the wall outside Fleck’s office to remind his players that success isn’t a given.
“This team understands that if they’re not humble, anybody can beat them if they don’t play their best,” Fleck said. “But if they’re confident enough, and there’s a balance of that, they can beat anybody in the country if they’re at their best.
“The balance of humbleness and being confident is key when you’re on a run. We have to be able to want to play, want to go out and play like you’re a kid. You want to go outside to the back yard and play football for eight hours. That’s the mentality you gotta have toward the end of the season and those are the teams that finally separate themselves at the very end.”