(T-G Photo by Gary Johnson)
I've been covering the Blue Raiders for years and attended games while a student. Saturday night, I witnessed a few things that I've never seen before at Floyd Stadium.
After the Blue Raiders' disappointing 23-21 loss to Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia, they didn't walk slowly to their locker room with their heads held low. Instead, they proudly walked toward the student section behind the visitors' bench in appreciation of the great support, then made their way to the corner of the end zone directly in front of the Band of Blue which was playing a great rendition of the "Tennessee Waltz."
The team stood with their heads held high and their helmets lifted in the air as the band performed, while some 23,000-plus fans showed their respect for their performance with a standing ovation.
To be honest, Middle Tennessee outplayed the Cavaliers and deserved to win.
The other thing I noticed was how long it took to get off campus after the game.
Usually I get to my vehicle parked in media parking and drive right off. Saturday night, I had to wait in a long line for approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
Is that a sign that good things are happening?
I think so.
Since the Blue Raiders joined Division I-A in 1999, they've played 29 games against teams from the ACC, Southeastern Conference, Big East, Big 12 or Pac-10.
Other than a couple of huge wins at Vanderbilt, they haven't had much success against Bowl Championship Series opponents. The Blue Raiders have been competitive in a number of contests and it wouldn't surprise me if they collect their first win on the road against such an opponent this Saturday at Memphis.
It was a great atmosphere Saturday night with Virginia being the biggest-name football team to ever play at MTSU.
It's been reported that Middle Tennessee paid Virginia $200,000 for the home game.
A win would have been nice, but I still think the Blue Raiders gained a lot of respect from football fans across the nation.
It also had to catch the eyes of future recruits as well.
Throw in the extra ticket sales the 23,227 in attendance Saturday night brought in, along with the positive publicity across the nation after that outstanding performance, and it becomes a pretty good investment.
Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer.