The last time Bruce Barnum watched ‘Animal House’, he was the president of the Streeter Dorm on the Eastern Washington campus. The year was 1982 and Barnum was a linebacker for the Eagles.
Last week, the Portland State head coach watched the film for the first time in a generation. That’s part of life on the road for the Vikings, perhaps the college football team with the most highway miles in all of Division I.
“Back in 1982, I remember I got the film on a Thursday, had an Animal House toga party and watched it on Saturday, I was fired from the dorm president gig on Sunday,” Barnum recollected with his customary chuckle. “But it was one helluva a deal. And now, so much later, John Belushi still makes you laugh.”
Showing his Viking players iconic comedies is just part of the deal as Barnum takes his team on what he calls the “Americana Tour.” Last week’s trip was particularly pleasant because the 1,144 miles on the highway from Portland to UC Davis seemed calm after the Vikings pulled out their first road win, 51-29.
“We finally put one together,” Barnum said. “It was fun. It helped the program. It helped my practice field right now. Kids are working hard, rejuvenated. This week, woke up this morning, wife asked what day we left. Quick week, short week. Get on the bus again tomorrow morning.”
While Portland State has piled up the bus miles like no other team in the Big Sky over the past two years, this week marks an even more unique circumstance After riding for more than nine hours to Davis last week, PSU now gets back on the bus to go to Sacramento State in virtually the same exact spot, approximately 1,162 miles from home.
“Look at the end of this year: we drive right back from Sac and jump right in the head, play the Beagles (Eastern Washington) on Friday,” Barnum said. “That will be a shorter week. That’s just our world. There’s no complaining. They ate more Church’s chicken after our Friday practice than they have at the turkey farm in Utah.
“We just do it. No complaining, no bitching, the wheels on the bus go round and round.”
Before last season, Portland State fired Nigel Burton and replaced him with Barnum, Burton’s offensive coordinator during the previous mostly lackluster five seasons. The powers that be declared Portland State football needed to become financially independent as soon as possible.
Barnum was given an interim tag and many wondered if the City of Roses would have Division I football much longer. But last season, Barnum led the Vikings on an all-time Cinderella run. Portland State beat five ranked FCS teams and upset Pac 12 Washington State to open its season. On the lone plane trip of the season, the Viks went to North Texas and posted a 66-7 win, the largest margin of victory by an FCS team over an FBS squad ever. PSU took a 9-2 mark into the playoffs and earned the No. 6 seed and a first round bye.
All with the same travel challenges this season’s Vikings are facing. Last season, PSU bussed to Pullman and pulled a 24-17 upset of Washington State. Barnum pulled over the bus to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.
The Vikings bussed to Pocatello and posted a 34-14 win over No. 24 Idaho State. Portland State bussed to Cheney and beat rival Eastern Washington 34-31. Perhaps the most epic of PSU’s bus trips came on a 14-hour one-way trip to Cal Poly. The team stopped at Alcatraz Prison and spent a day in San Francisco on the way down. Following a 38-35 win, the Vikings went back up the highway and the trip totaled almost 1,700 total miles.
“Initially, it was like, ‘Really?’” PSU junior wide receiver Josh Kraght said earlier this week “But our first brutal bus trip, we went all the way down to Cal Poly and that is stretching the limits of what a human can endure (laughs). Eight hours to Sac isn’t terrible. But that trip, we went down early, stopped at Alcatraz, got to hang out in downtown San Francisco. We won a close game. Guys really warmed to it after we got to hang out and talk that whole ride back.
“Our guys really embrace the whole bus ride mentality. We embrace what Barnum has done around here. If it means we eat a better dinner or stay at a nicer hotel, I think guys are willing to do that.”
The squad endured an off-season filled with peculiar tragedy. First, starting outside linebacker A.J. Schlatter died from complications of tonsil surgery. Then All-Big Sky left tackle Kyle Smith died of a drug overdose. Then senior defensive lineman Michael Doman’s young son died abruptly.
The tragedy coupled with a rash of injuries and a depleted defense that hasn’t been able to replace FBS Defensive Player of the Year finalist Patrick Onwuasor have led to PSU sitting at 3-6 with two games to play in the 2016 season.
The one thing that hasn’t changed for the Viks however is a tight budget and a prevalence of highway miles. PSU again played two FBS games with healthy payouts to stimulate the bottom line, taking their lumps at San Jose State (66-35) and Washington (41-3).
The San Jose State trip covered 1,340 miles round trip. The “Americana Tour” included a stop at the Oregon Wildlife Safari and a stop at In-and-Out Burger, a team favorite. The Washington trip was the shortest trip of the season, covering 358 miles roundtrip.
During Big Sky Conference play, the Vikings — who are 2-4 in league — flew into Las Vegas for the Southern Utah trip, then rode the bus 171 miles to Cedar City, where they lost 45-31. The trip included a stop in Sin City to watch the Criss Angel production ‘Mind Freak’ at the Luxor Hotel and another midnight stop at In-and-Out.
For PSU’s trip to Weber State, the Vikings flew into Salt Lake City less than 30 minutes from Ogden. The team visited Temple Square and the Hogle Zoo. After a 14-10 loss, the Vikings loaded up and trekked 733 miles home on the bus.
“The Weber State bus ride back was not nearly as enjoyable as coming back from Davis,” Kraght said. “I think come guys during the game or we are up, we think about, ‘Let’s win this so we don’t have to deal with a loss on the way back.’ I definitely think it is motivation.
By the time this weekend’s trip is over, PSU will have ridden 4,906 miles on the bus, surpassing last season’s total of 4,394. At an average speed of 65 miles per hour, that’s nearly 80 hours on a bus in back-to-back years.
“This one, I wouldn’t say they are doing double backflips but for this senior group in the Barnum era, this is their last one,” Barnum said. “We are going to get on it and we are trying to work out one last Americana tour, the last one of the ’16 season. I’ve been on contact with Folsom Prison and the people down there. We will show them where Johnny Cash made a name for himself. And then hopefully we win another football game.”
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