ONLINE EXCLUSIVE ARTICLE BY ADAM ROGAN
“They call me superfan.”
That’s what class of 1967 Drake Law School alum and Des Moines native Phil Miller said of himself regarding his noticeable presence at nearly every Drake Men’s and Women’s Basketball game. He dons what can only be called Indiana Jones attire – complete with adventurer hat and jacket – and replaces the whip with an array of props ranging from pompoms to rally towels.
“I get all the fans up,” Miller continued with a mix of pride and enthusiasm. “I (will go) to every section and (say), ‘We got to have a “W.” We got to win here. Let’s get up off the seats and get cheering here!’”
Miller began consistently attending Drake Basketball home games in 2008 when the men’s team advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1971 and has kept coming back to the Knapp Center ever since. And while Miller may stand out compared to the rest of the crowd, he’s surely not the only reliable attendee.
Paul and Kay Johnson drive nearly four hours practically every weekend to see their daughter, senior Maddie Johnson, lead the Bulldogs as captain of the Drake women’s tennis team.
“In tennis, you go through juniors and a lot of parents, like us, traveled with the kids (and) you get used to going to the tournaments,” Paul Johnson said. “I like watching the sport. It’s exciting.”
The Johnsons want to come out and show their support for the team. Drake Women’s Tennis only has nine players on the roster and rarely draws in crowds of more than a few dozen, so the Johnsons’ continual presence makes a difference in terms of crowd volume and team morale.
“We want to come to support the girls, because some parents can’t come,” Kay Johnson said. “It’s nice to have somebody coming out to cheer for them, even if it’s not just (for) my daughter but the whole team.”
However, they denied any influence on the game itself – opposite of what Miller may claim – even if the girls appreciate the support.
“What happens on the court happens on the court,” Paul Johnson said. “I’m just here to support my daughter and the rest of the team.”
“It’s great to have my parents come out and support me and the rest of the team,” Maddie Johnson added.
In Drake Women’s Basketball home games this year, attendance was 25 percent higher during wins as compared to losses.
Attendance was just a single percent higher at home losses for men’s basketball in 2015-16. However, those numbers are slightly inflated by large opposing turnouts in games against high-level, close-proximity programs like Northern Iowa, a team that won the Missouri Valley Conference and nearly advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament this year.
Home field advantage comes from more than just fan support. Playing on the field or court one is accustomed to brings its advantages, as does not having to travel across the country for a road match.
But while it’s true that the fan section – whether it’s full of alumni, parents, students or a combination of the three – may not be able to directly affect where the ball lands on the court, field or diamond, their cheers are still heard by the Bulldogs.