The Nevada football team's 49-10 walloping of Idaho State on Saturday night drew the largest home crowd of Jay Norvell's five seasons as the Wolf Pack's coach. It also was the program's largest home crowd since a 2016 renovation of Mackay Stadium.
The Wolf Pack announced a crowd of 23,965 fans, a figure buoyed by a strong student showing. Nevada said 3,704 student fans attended the game. In 2018, the most recent available year, the Wolf Pack averaged just 1,675 student fans per home game. The 23,965 fans were the largest for a home opener since 2013 when Nevada drew 27,052 fans for a game against UC Davis. That was the first game of the Brian Polian era, and Mackay Stadium's field was named after longtime coach Chris Ault that night.
"First place I look is in the Zonies," Ault told Nevada Sports Net about Saturday's big crowd. "They put the students there, and I thought that was a great move because that Zonie section is what lifted Mackay Stadium back in the day. And then I looked down at the end zone on the other end with the scoreboard and that section was full. I'm on the field looking, and I said, 'We've got a chance. We've really got a chance.' The team's a good team and they're fun to watch and all that stuff, but you can have a good team and be fun to watch and fans can still just watch on TV. So that was a great sign."
The Wolf Pack's 23,965 fans were the largest for a Nevada football game since a 2015 game against UNLV, which drew 29,551 fans. Mackay Stadium underwent a renovation before the 2016 season, cutting capacity from 30,000 to 27,000 and adding a club level on the west side of the stadium as well as chairback seats in several sections. But attendance has petered off the last several years. In 2019, the last year of full capacity attendance before the pandemic limited fans at Mackay to 250 or less in 2020, the Wolf Pack averaged 16,180 fans per home game. It failed to drew 100,000 fans for a full season for the first time since 2011 when Nevada shifted from announcing actual attendance to tickets distributed. So the 2021 home opener is a good sign for Nevada.
The previous largest attendance for a Nevada home game coached by Norvell was 21,431 against Boise State in 2018.
"It was so much fan having the fans back," Nevada quarterback Carson Strong said after the win. "The student section was cranked up, and just coming back here playing with the boys is always a good time. I was definitely surprised when we came out for warmups and it was basically full in the student section. That's awesome. I hope the students keep showing out."
Added defensive tackle Tristan Nichols: "It was great. It's been over 600 days since we were last here (with fans at Mackay Stadium). We were able to put on a show for everybody at Mackay, and it meant the world to us to see everybody in the stands. I feel like that helped out a lot."
The last time Nevada played a home game without attendance restrictions was Nov. 30, 2019 against UNLV when only 16,683 fans attended the game at Mackay Stadium. That was Nevada's lowest-attended home game against rival UNLV since 1989 when 16,545 fans were in attendance. But after a 7-2 campaign in 2020 and a season-opening with at Cal in 2021, the Wolf Pack saw record-breaking attendance figures Saturday despite playing an FCS opponent in Idaho State.
"It was so cool," Norvell said of the atmosphere. "I just loved the fact that we moved the student section to the south end zone and put the band down there as well. It just changes the atmosphere of the stadium. College football is about the kids and the students and their energy, and we could just feel it tonight.
"Awesome atmosphere. It can grow and get better. We're going to have some great home opponents the rest of the year and we can't wait to see our fans continue to grow."
Nevada's next home game is Oct. 9 against New Mexico State. The Wolf Pack hosts UNLV, San Jose State, Hawaii and Air Force during the Mountain West season.