Fans trickled into the White Lot next to Bulldog Stadium on Saturday to remember the legacy of Coach Jim Sweeney.
While the ceremony did not begin until 1 p.m., fans began showing up as early as 10 a.m. to enjoy a tailgate in Sweeney’s honor.
It might’ve seem like an odd request, but fans said they felt that it is what the legendary would have wanted.
Joshua Culwull, a Bulldog fan since age 7, could not think of a better way to honor him.
“I think Sweeney would’ve appreciated it,” Culwell said. “I think this is the way he’d want it to be. He’d want everyone to come out, young, seasoned, and everybody have a good time. Sweeney liked to have a good time. He liked his players to have a good time. He thought of all of us as a family, fans and players. It was all family to him.”
Sweeney’s legacy reached across the Central Valley. Fresno State alumni and fans remembered his effect on the Valley.
“He’s kind of the father of Valley football,” Bulldog fan Matthew Tobin said. “I think that it’s important to always remember what Jim Sweeney did by taking this program from Ratcliffe Stadium, coming over and building Bulldog Stadium, having Fresno State beat Pac-10 teams, getting us nationally ranked and winning bowl games. That stuff was just huge. He really put his stamp on this program.”
Fans remembered Sweeney as a primary reason Fresno State has reached the levels of success that it has over the years.
Fresno State fan Brian Boever, though not from Fresno or an alumnus of the university, said that when he moved to the area in the ‘70s from Southern California, he quickly identified with Sweeney’s no-nonsense style.
“He was Bulldog football, basically,” Boever said. “There’ve been a lot of other great coaches. I mean, we love Pat Hill and all that stuff and everything that came behind him, but as far as putting the ‘Dogs on the map, so to speak, he (Sweeney) was it.”
Pete Gonzalez, a Fresno State alumnus who has not missed a game in 20 years, said Sweeney’s legacy should not be overlooked.
“He’s Bulldog football,” Gonzalez said. “This stadium and field are named after him, so we owe it all to him. He’ll never be forgotten.”
Firebaugh native Tommy Burciaga said that the Sweeney legacy was able to extend past the Fresno city limits.
“It permeates throughout the Valley, because Coach Sweeney was a big fan of Fresno State football, not only at Fresno State, but also from the Valley in general,” Burciaga said. “He got some local talent here playing for him. It’s a good thing. I’m really happy to be here today to celebrate his life and his legacy.”
There was one sentiment that rung clear throughout the tailgating fans: Bulldog Stadium would not exist without Sweeney.
“As far as I’m concerned, he built this stadium,” Culwell said. “He painted the Valley red first, kept it like that, handed it over to Pat Hill and did a wonderful job throughout.”