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No football blues in Boise

BOISE, Idaho -- Befitting college football bourgeoisie, the RVs at places like Penn State and Alabama come with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, satellite dishes and horns that play the school fight songs. Everything but hot-and-cold-running Dom Perignon.

They have a couple of mansions on wheels at Boise State, too. But the tailgating vehicle that best fits this blue-collar, blue-turf football program is Jeff Flynn's 1972 Ford van with a cracked windshield and no back seats.

It took vision and ambition for a remote university just 37 years removed from junior-college status and nine years removed from I-AA membership to dream of becoming America's most unlikely football power. And it took vision and ambition for Flynn and a buddy to look at a junker and see a tailgating jewel in the making.

The entire van is orange and blue, right down to the spray-painted orange wheels. Out of a hole in its roof rises a preposterous prop: a retractable 15-foot-high goal post, made of PVC pipe. Suspended between the uprights, seemingly by the hand of God from a distance, hangs a blue-and-orange Boise State football.

"Fifty-pound test [fishing line], a hook and a rubber ball," Flynn said. "We're good to go."

Flynn flings open the double back doors to display the interior, which holds a grill, enough beer to intoxicate half the state and the base of the goal post.

"It's the only goal post that doubles as a stripper pole," he said with a rogue's smile, though no pole dancers were in the gathering just yet.

But the van's walls are the thing: They're carpeted with remnants of Boise State's previous blue artificial turf, the playing surface that was the brainchild of athletic director Gene Bleymaier and first gave the Broncos a national identity. Flynn, a paving contractor, collected the turf scraps when he helped re-do Bronco Stadium's parking lot a couple of years ago. He has wrapped the dash board and the steering wheel in scraps of the new stuff, a plush surface called Sport Turf.

Future plans for the van include a big-screen TV and a wet bar. Future plans for the fixer-upper football power are ambitious, too.

Boise State has commissioned a feasibility study to look at adding 10,000 seats to its 30,000-seat stadium, including luxury suites and a new press box -- an upgrade that could cost up to $50 million. More immediately (and more incredibly), this rampaging Broncos team has its sights set on lining up in early 2005 against a Miami, an Oklahoma or an Auburn is some glamorous (and warm) locale.

"BCS! BCS! BCS!" the stadium crowd chanted Friday night with 5 minutes left in the Broncos' 69-3 massacre of Hawaii.

The very fact that Boise State fans can chant that with straight faces underscores the time-lapse-photography maturation of this program. A school with almost no in-state recruiting base (there are 43 players on the roster from California, just 20 from Idaho, at a school with a 91 percent in-state enrollment) has simply kept winning as it kept growing, from JUCO to Division II to I-AA to I-A.

There has to be a ceiling out there, but Boise State hasn't hit it yet. With a 19-game winning streak, a No. 15 national ranking and an offense that leads the nation in scoring for the fourth time in five years, the program's momentum shows no signs of slowing.

"What is being built here is happening from scratch," said Dirk Kempthorne, the governor of Idaho and a graduate of rival Idaho, who celebrated his 53rd birthday in Bronco Stadium Friday night decked out in blue and orange. "This is being built right before our eyes."

Brick by brick, to borrow Boise State's catch phrase for the season. Yet as the team's fame starts to spread nationwide -- Kempthorne reports that New York Gov. George Pataki called and requested a Boise State hat -- the local fan base remains giddily unspoiled.

The fans stayed remarkably late in an utter rout of the Warriors, and they booed lustily when a questionable officials' spot of the football on a fourth-down play gave Hawaii a first down -- with Boise leading by 66 at the time. Then up went the BCS chant, giving voice to a previously impossible dream.

"I never thought I'd see this," John Durst, a 55-year-old Boise native, said of the program's meteoric rise.

"I remember the days of watching Notre Dame and Miami and saying it would be great if we could ever have a team that could play with those guys," Durst's friend, James Fica, said.

The men were having a pregame beer at The End Zone, a tight, blue-and-orange concrete bar across the street from the stadium. (Every aspiring power program needs a bar like this one, which is decorated in Boise football trappings.) When asked for the ultimate barometer on the popularity of Broncos football -- would Idahoans rather ski fresh powder or see Boise State play? -- they furrowed their brows and thought it over.

"Right now, most of them would choose Boise State football," Fica declared after a while. "Boise State now is the thing."

Even Lori Wright, co-owner of a snowboard shop near the stadium, agreed.

"I'd say football," she said. "I have just seen it go crazy the last three or four years."

You can feel the buzz in the pregame tailgating. Although the college students keep a fairly low profile in the asphalt jungle that surrounds the stadium, this is a crowd that is getting the hang of serious football partying.

"It's definitely snowballing," said coach Dan Hawkins, a prominent name on the 2004 Hot Coach List. "It's been steamrolling, been a slow build.

"We don't have the Big House with 107 (thousand). But you're starting to see the motor homes roll up on Wednesday, people rolling out in the morning and tailgating and going at it all day long."

Three hours before the kickoff, a man was selling blue-and-orange felt boas -- fairly weird football wear -- for $15. To his astonishment, he was unloading them at a rate of one per minute.

Orange towels that read "BCS or Bust" were going for $5. Dave Croft, who hasn't missed a home game since having a heart attack 10 years ago, bought two. Croft was having mai tais with his buddy, retired professor Don Wertman, at a "luau" -- if you can have such a thing with the temperature in the 40s.

If fans weren't getting enough sights, smells and tastes before the game, they could augment the sensory experience with sounds. Six radio stations were broadcasting live outside the stadium.

On the other side of the stadium, several guys were engaged in what might be a unique tailgating activity: foosball. And over at Jeff Flynn's van, a crowd of 100 to 150 was expected to raise a little pregame hell.

"We're proud of the way we tailgate these days in Idaho," one of the hell-raisers, Todd Hilde, said. "We've come a long way. We're not there yet, but we're getting close."

The program. The tailgaters. And Jeff Flynn's van. They've all come a long way in this most unlikely locale, and they're getting closer to arriving every week.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com.