In the nine months since he took over Indiana's foundering football program, former Washington Redskins assistant Cam Cameron has done several bold things: He has changed the team's uniform from crimson to Indiana basketball's red, scrapped the old block I logo in favor of a more intricate design and talked boldly about future Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl berths. But perhaps his most brazen act was showing up in South Bend to promote Hoosier football. On Day 2 of a four-day barnstorming tour of the state, Cameron and the perennial conference also-rans strolled onto the College Football Hall of Fame's carpeted half field and did 45 minutes of special-team drills in their street clothes. A crowd of 200 Indiana fans, many of them South Bend residents who have long endured the glory of Notre Dame, were delighted.
"There's an excitement and expectation with IU football," said Joel Krueger, a high school Spanish teacher who played clarinet in the Indiana marching band from 1973 to '76, during which time the team went 10-33-1. "In my day, we went into games with low expectations. About 35,000 would show up for a game, and I'd like to think a lot of them came to watch the band."
Last year, the average attendance at 52,354-seat Memorial Stadium was just 38,461, a number that seems to alarm Cameron more than the team's 3-8 record and was the main impetus behind the Hoosiers' taking their practices on the road. "The Big Ten teams we compete against play in full stadiums," said Cameron, a reserve on Indiana's basketball and football teams in the early '80s and the first alum since 1887 to be hired as the school's football coach. "All we need are 16,000 more people to fill ours. And we are willing to go door-to-door to find them."
Though traveling practices are common in the NFL, no one in memory had tried it in college football. After poring over the Hoosiers' itinerary, the NCAA decided that they could make the promotional trip, as long as they did nothing to promote it. Word got out anyway. About 1,000 fans showed up at Ben Davis High in Indianapolis on Saturday night, followed by the 200 in South Bend and 850 in Fort Wayne on Sunday night. Stops were scheduled in Evansville on Monday and Terre Haute on Tuesday.
Of course, not every team has to compete for instate attention the way Indiana does. The Hoosiers, whose poor record has traditionally limited their television appearances, must go up against Notre Dame and Purdue football as well as Indiana basketball for fan affection and media coverage. Even when they've done well—the Hoosiers went to six bowl games between 1986 and '93—few have seemed to notice. "It's frustrating playing at a place where basketball gets all the attention," said senior defensive tackle Al Haywood, who turned down Nebraska so that he could play in Bloomington. "But Coach Cam is going to change that. IU football is on the rise."
After those 45 minutes of drills, Cameron asked the crowd to gather with the team so he could thank them for coming and let them know his goal of making the Hoosiers "the state of Indiana's football team." Though Cameron made no promises about how his young team would perform this year, the folks clapped and cheered, and some lingered for autographs. After a tour of the Hall of Fame and then lunch, the players reboarded their buses and headed east on U.S. highway 30, past cornfields and grain silos, to Fort Wayne, 90 miles away.
The crowd at Snider High in Fort Wayne sat through scattered showers to watch the Hoosiers' one full practice of the day. Some, like Dave Preston, a local road supervisor, were just curious about how many people would show up. "I'm more of an IU basketball fan," said Preston. "So I'm probably just the kind of guy Cameron wants to reach. And it's working—after seeing the team here, I am more interested. But to keep me interested, they'll have to start winning. That's the real secret to drawing a crowd."