Tailgating in the rain

This is the fourth in a five-part series on college football. This week provides a glimpse of a college with a Division II football program.

ALLENDALE, Mich. — It felt more like Seattle. The rain started at 5 p.m. Saturday and continued for the rest of the evening, letting up only occasionally to catch its breath.

At times it was a gentle drizzle. Other times the stadium lights reflected off the furious downpour, creating a white sheet in the sky and making it difficult to see the other side of the bleachers from the press box.

The rain was the least of the problems, though. Due to lightning, the start time for the Grand Valley Lakers' football game against Michigan Tech was pushed back from 7 to 8:53 p.m.

The game was delayed again at the end of the first quarter because of lightning, with the host Lakers up 7-0. The two teams resumed play, but at 12:15 a.m., with Grand Valley on the Huskies' three-yard line and 8:12 to play in the second quarter, it was declared a No Contest due to more lightning near Lubbers Stadium.

Despite the lengthy delays there was a gigantic contingent of raincoat-wearing fans who stuck around to fill the stands and left the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press writer muttering, "If I'm just a 'Joe Fan,' why the heck am I still out there?"

What he failed to realize is that Grand Valley State's football fans are far from average.

Fans of the Lakers, the consensus No. 1 team in Division II, arrived at 3:30 p.m. to begin tailgating.

"The first thing we do is run the flag up and start drinking adult beverages," said Bill Downs, who has been raising an American and Grand Valley State flag since 1978.

Downs started watching the team when family-friend Brian Houser began his career with the Lakers. Four motor homes later (the current edition has Grand Valley State vanity plates with the message "GV RV") he has followed the team to Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa and North Dakota.

It is even a trek to home games. He lives in Lansing, Mich., which is an hour and a half away.

"After night games we don't get home till one, two o'clock, but we still come," said Downs, who was wearing a black Grand Valley baseball cap and a blue Grand Valley pullover commemorating the team's 2002 and 2003 national titles.

His enthusiasm for a school he never attended has not been lost on others. He served as an honorary coach for a week. He receives alumni mailing. He is referred to by some as "Fan No. 1 Extraordinaire" and is one of the regulars who eats the "victory eggs" as part of his pregame diet.

Pat Vadas began bringing her deviled eggs to football games at the suggestion of her former boss at Grand Valley.

"I kept bringing the eggs and they kept winning so they became victory eggs," Vadas said.

Now she has things down to a culinary science. Even if she cannot attend, Vadas prepares 24 eggs before every Lakers' game. ("I took them on the train to North Dakota," said Ernie, her husband.)

Then, after the coaches have stopped to talk with Ernie, the players have mingled with the tailgaters and the band has marched by, everyone cheers "To victory!" and eats the eggs.

It would have been nice if Vadas also cooked up some eggs that could have warded off the thunderstorms.