By Brendan Loy
Late on a Friday night this past September, our friends Sally and Amy – fellow residents of Stapleton’s East 29th Avenue neighborhood – drove to our house to execute a devious plan. Sally’s undergraduate alma mater, Michigan State, and my law school alma mater, Notre Dame, were playing in a football game the next day. In prior years, this game has been an occasion for some mild trash talk over Facebook or via text messages, but in 2013, Sally decided to step things up several notches.
With Amy’s help, Sally “toilet papered” our trees with white duct tape and decorated our house – which is, alas, a near-perfect shade of Spartan green – with a variety of MSU-themed messages. She also taped her Michigan State flag on our door. The result, I have to admit, was pretty hilarious and awesome (first photo above).
Thankfully, I got the last laugh. Notre Dame won the game, 17-13, and I celebrated by driving past Sally’s house Saturday afternoon while blasting the Notre Dame Victory March from my car stereo. I also began plotting what sort of grand revenge I could take the next time the Irish play the Spartans.
But more broadly, Sally’s prank got me thinking about Stapleton’s “school spirit.” There are many reasons why I love Stapleton – or #LoveStapleton as we say on Twitter and Instagram – but this is a particularly quirky and fun one. More so than any other place I’ve seen that isn’t a college town, our community loves to proudly fly its colors during college football season every fall. This picturesque scene in front of the iconic control tower (second picture above) is just one example.
I like to imagine that my wife, Becky, and I were trendsetters in the area of school spirit. In October 2009, just a few months after we moved to Stapleton, she bought me a USC flag and a flagpole for my birthday. USC is Becky’s and my undergraduate alma mater – that’s right, I’m an “Irish Trojan” – so we started flying our Trojan flag every Saturday.
Eventually, Becky grudgingly bought me a Notre Dame flag as well, and we began using that too – sometimes flying the flag of whichever alma mater had the bigger game that day, sometimes switching flags during the day when one team had an early game and the other played late. Of course, when the Irish and the Trojans face off in their annual rivalry game, we always fly the USC flag.
In the months and years that followed the inauguration of our flag-flying tradition, I started to notice more and more fellow Stapletonians doing the same thing. A neighbor down the street began flying a Stanford flag. An Oregon State flag would sometimes appear on a house around the corner. A family of Ohio State fans started flying an OSU flag on their porch and putting an inflatable Brutus the Buckeye in their front yard.
The trend seems to have really accelerated as Stapleton has grown. Nowadays, you’ll be treated to quite a display of school colors if you drive, bike or walk around our community’s residential streets on any fall Saturday. I know this, because I’ve done it.
This fall, I decided to take an informal survey of sorts, exploring all of Stapleton on game days to see how widespread this phenomenon really is. I’m delighted to report that Stapleton has even more “school spirit” than I realized.
This was by no means a scientific survey. For one thing, I couldn’t do it all at once. It took me three separate Saturdays, several hours each day, driving and/or walking a combined total of more than 35 miles (as I looped up and down the many streets of our community’s grid) to adequately observe each neighborhood. Yet despite being so thorough that some joggers and dog-walkers who I passed multiple times surely wondered just what the heck I was doing, I inevitably missed many homes. And of course, I can’t account for particular weekends when certain residents didn’t happen to be flying their flags.
That said, several trends unmistakably emerged from my “survey.” First and foremost is this intriguing fact: Stapleton is Big Ten country.
Although our region’s most prominent local team, the Colorado Buffaloes, have the Big 12 in their recent past and the Pac-12 in their present, the amount of visible support for those conferences here in Stapleton is positively puny when compared to the massive amount of Big Ten pride that’s on display on any given Saturday. In my wanderings, I saw at least one flag for every single Big Ten school – of which, thanks to conference realignment and fuzzy math, there are twelve – except, I believe, Purdue and Minnesota.
The SEC, winner of seven consecutive BCS championships, is a clear second to the Big Ten in Stapleton’s conference-popularity “power rankings.” The Big 12 and Pac-12 are third and fourth, with the ACC (boosted by partial member Notre Dame) and Mountain West (thanks to Colorado State and Wyoming) in a battle for fifth. The former Big East, now known as the American Athletic Conference, comes in seventh, and only makes the list at all because of a Louisville basketball flag that I saw on a Saturday in mid-November.
As for individual schools, Ohio State and Michigan State are the big winners. I don’t have an exact count, but those two definitely appeared to be the most popular teams. Wisconsin, Penn State and Nebraska, in some order rounded out the top five, in my estimation. Yes, those are all Big Ten schools if you’re keeping score at home.
It’s not all Big Ten pride, of course. Other flags you’ll see repeatedly if you drive around Stapleton include Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Notre Dame, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech, Florida State, and of course, Colorado and Colorado State, among others.
You’ll see flags flown in moments of triumph, like Baylor fans joyously flying their colors after their Bears’ huge win over Oklahoma. You’ll also see flags flown in loyal solidarity when teams are experiencing rough patches, such as the many Northwestern fans who I saw – undaunted by a long losing streak – still proudly adorning their porches in purple and white this November.
It’s also interesting to examine the differences from neighborhood to neighborhood. If Stapleton held a school spirit contest, Central Park West and Eastbridge would be the clear favorites. I’m not sure who would come out the winner. Central Park North would probably win the bronze medal, with Westerly Creek, the South End and, I’m sorry to say, my own East 29th Avenue neighborhood, trailing far behind. (I didn’t see any flags in Bluff Lake or Conservatory Green, but with all the new construction, that’s not too surprising. Give them time.)
Central Park West is the most Big Ten-friendly neighborhood, with a Buckeye, a Spartan, a Badger or a Nittany Lion seemingly lurking around every corner. Eastbridge earns points for greater variety, with a reasonably strong SEC flavor.
It also seems clear that “peer pressure” is at work in some particular areas. One resident’s school pride will tend to inspire the neighbors to follow suit. The most impressive example I found of this phenomenon was on the north side of Eastbridge, where, within a single square block, I counted 10 flags for 10 different schools from five different conferences: Clemson (ACC), Colorado (Pac-12), Texas and Texas Tech (Big 12), LSU, Georgia and Ole Miss (SEC), and Ohio State, Northwestern and Penn State (Big Ten).
And then, of course, there are the homes with two different schools’ flags flying side-by-side, or else a single split flag—presumably reflecting a “house divided” where the residents have different rooting interests. In my travels, I saw two Colorado/Stanford houses, a Penn State/Texas A&M house, a Michigan State/Missouri house, and a Michigan/Alabama house. I had to wonder, as I looked at those households with a Big Ten/SEC split, whether there’s a weekly competition to see whose flag is put up first – and if so, whether “SEC speed” usually carries the day.
Anyway, I hope we’ll see this trend continue to expand and accelerate in the years to come. If we can up the ante on the school spirit enough, perhaps Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso might grace us with a visit one of these weekends. Can’t you imagine it now? “ESPN College GameDay, live from Stapleton!” It will be just as awesome as having the HGTV Green Home here. Dream big, my fellow Stapletonians. And go team!