The matter of whether or not Thursday night's crowd is the largest in UC Davis men's basketball history comes down to pure numbers: it's not. On January 23, 1999, an overflowing crowd of 7,926 jammed the building then known as Recreation Hall. Fourteen years later, I think I can say under the protection of statute of limitations that the UC Davis-Chico State game probably violated a fire code or two during those years. That record will likely stay untouched, as the building's current configuration will not allow anything larger.
But I'll take Thursday's crowd of 5,670 (ninth in school history) over anything we drew during the old Break The Record Night promotions of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In those days, the marketing & promotions office distributed thousands of free tickets to the community, particularly the local schools. As a result, half of the 7K crowds would consist of fans who, to put it nicely, had passing interest in the actual game.
For the record, here are the largest Rec Hall/Pavilion crowds in school history, at least for Aggie athletics events:
Men's Basketball: 7,926 vs. Chico State (Jan. 23, 1999)
Women's Basketball: 4,675 vs. Chico State (Jan. 23, 1999)
Women's Volleyball: 2,326 vs. Cal State Northridge (Oct. 12, 2007)
Wrestling: 5,150 vs. Iowa (Jan. 9, 2005)
The attendance record for women's gymnastics is unknown, mostly because the crowd count does not appear on any seasonal reports (and many meet reports, for that matter). Furthermore, we do not have attendance figures for the 1980, 1983 or 1991 national championships. Based on the existing records combined with the photographic evidence from those early-80s meets -- incidentally, the first time ESPN shot from that building -- the gymnastics attendance mark is 2,144, set during the 2005 "Beauty & The Beast" meet with Cal.
In Thursday's nationally televised tilt with Long Beach State, the estimates have more than 70 percent of the attendance as UC Davis undergrads (comparing the turnstile attendance to the actual tickets sold). The Aggie student-athletes took over the north-end seating in the lower bowl. Brandon Hassid, the student athletic trainer who literally was selected as "College Football's Biggest Fan" for donning body paint for every game, now had an entire row of what resembled a casting call for the Blue Man Group.
Simply put, while the BTRN crowds had more actual humans, this crowd had more decibels.
Without a doubt, this game will go down in Aggie lore alongside the UC Davis football game against Nevada in 1977, when a record 12,700 fans filled Toomey Field -- two hours prior to kickoff. (Bear in mind, the town's population was around 30,000, the university's enrolllment was just shy of 17,000, and students did not get free admission.) By all accounts, especially that of then head coach Jim Sochor, the Aggie-Wolf Pack football game boasts the most electric crowd in school history.
I'll also put it up there with the UC Davis-Iowa wrestling dual in terms of what I'll call "fan investment quotient," a qualitative measure of what percentage of a crowd is truly fanatic about the events of the contest versus the portion that treats the event as a mere social gathering. Wrestling was a program that didn't draw many casual sports fans. So a higher percentage of attendees were diehards of the sport.
Thursday night had a similar flavor. Any Aggie bucket elicited a response from every corner of the arena. That's another far cry from the BTRN crowds, which might have 500 children running around behind the bleachers, with their parents in hot pursuit.
So was Thursday a one-off? Will this become our Aggie version of Woodstock, an event that will never again be approached because all forces – national TV, a first-place visiting team, no other conflicting athletics events – conspired in its favor?
As a Facebook status the following morning, gymnast Anna Shumaker said it better than I can:
"I hope people realize last nights game doesn't have to be a one time thing. If you had a lot of fun then KEEP going to the games and other Aggie sporting events with that same Aggie pride and enthusiasm as last night and then EVERY game can be just as fun as last nights game. Just sayin."
Anna is absolutely right. Sure, the novelty of an ESPN2 broadcast drew more than a few fans who otherwise would have skipped the game. But once you were in the building, the lights and cameras took a backseat to the energy, the camaraderie of the fellow fans, and the effort put forth by the players on the court. I see no reason why fans should not continue to attend events – in all sports, mind you – and get invested in a similar manner.
But if you agree, give me a thumbs up. 'Cause I still can't hear you.
Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, attended all but one of the 5,000+ games in program history (missing the 1988 Sac State game due to illness). He also wants to give a shoutout to his favorite of the many clever signs: "I've got 99 problems but The Beach ain't one."