California Today: Why College Football Is King in the San Joaquin Valley

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The Fresno State Bulldogs enjoy a wide following in the San Joaquin Valley.

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Brian L. Frank for The New York Times

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A wave of red swept Fresno last weekend.

College football season has arrived, and fans donned in the color of their Fresno State Bulldogs ventured into triple digit heat to see the opening game.

In all, more than 39,000 people filled the stadium to near capacity — no small feat in a city of just 520,000 people.

Fresno has been described as the state’s truest college football town, a place more akin to College Station, Tex., than Los Angeles or San Francisco.

“It’s like a sleeping giant nobody knows really about it,” said Brian Panish, who played as a safety for the Bulldogs in the late 1970s. “And it’s the only thing in town. There’s no professional sports.”

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The California State University, Fresno campus is situated more than 150 miles from both of California’s main professional sports hubs, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

As a result, residents tend to adhere to a patchwork of allegiances to the Raiders, Giants, Dodgers and other teams.

“But those are all kind of secondary,” said Paul Loeffler, a sports broadcaster in Fresno.

The Bulldogs, he said, “really are the focal point not just for the Fresno community, but this whole San Joaquin Valley region.”

(If you map fandom based on Facebook “likes,” Fresno State dwarfs other California schools including U.C. Berkeley, Stanford and San Diego State — though not U.S.C.)

Supporters have had plenty to cheer about in the past as the relatively small program in the Mountain West Conference managed to attract outsize talent.

According to the Bakersfield Californian, Fresno State was the nation’s only college this year with former players chosen as all-stars in three major professional sports: Derek Carr in the N.F.L., Paul George in the N.B.A., and Aaron Judge in Major League Baseball.

Lately, however, the Bulldogs football squad has been slumping. Last year, it won just one game, prompting the coach to be fired and the attendance at home games to thin out.

Even so, it’s a new season, and excitement was in no short supply at the opener last Saturday.

Fresno’s biggest star, Mr. Carr, now an Oakland Raider, was on hand to see his No. 4 jersey retired in a halftime ceremony.

Regarded as one of Fresno State’s greatest quarterbacks, he gave a short speech about having dreamed of the moment as a boy. The crowd broke into thunderous applause.

Then the Bulldogs finished up a whopping victory over Incarnate Word, a Catholic university from Texas.

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California Online

(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)

• Facebook said hundreds of apparently fake Russian accounts bought ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to deepen divisions on race, guns and immigration. [The New York Times]

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Houses fill the landscape near the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

• To spur national economic growth, the feds or state governments should stop cities like San Francisco from abusing housing regulations. [Opinion | The New York Times]

• What are the politics of the nation’s tech elite? A new survey found their politics are far left, with one major exception. [The New York Times]

Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff, is coming to Fresno for a Republican fundraiser. But some local elected Republicans are staying away. [Fresno Bee]

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Leslie Van Houten reacted after hearing she is eligible for parole at the California Institution for Women in Corona on Wednesday.

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Stan Lim/Associated Press

Leslie Van Houten, a former member of Charles Manson’s murderous cult, was granted parole after more than 40 years in prison. It’s now Gov. Jerry Brown’s call whether to sign off. [Los Angeles Times]

• He was severely burned when Citrus Heights police officers pressed his body against the hot pavement for five minutes last June. Now covered in scars, he’s due to report to jail. [Sacramento Bee]

• More than 1,400 firefighters are battling a blaze west of Redding that has swept through 25 square miles and destroyed more than 70 homes. [Record Searchlight]

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Faisal Razmal was shot in his face with a flare gun during a robbery attempt by a gang member inside his apartment complex.

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Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee

• Photos: Afghans who risked their lives working for the U.S. military were granted safe haven in Sacramento. Danger awaited them there as well. [The New York Times]

• Mike Walters left TMZ after clashing with Harvey Levin. Now he is running The Blast, a well-financed entrant on the sharp-elbowed celebrity news scene. [The New York Times]

Joaquin Phoenix is one of the few celebrities with zero social-media presence. [The New York Times]

And Finally …

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A deer wandered onto the Bay Bridge last week, prompting the California Highway Patrol to indulge in some puns on Twitter.

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Sean Deise

The California Highway Patrol’s Oakland office is clearly having fun on Twitter.

Interspersed between posts about investigations and public safety, are others that are firmly tongue-in-cheek.

Last week, after officers encountered a deer on the Bay Bridge, the C.H.P. account posted a picture of the startled animal along with this report:

“This morning our officers stopped a doe for toll evasion, on the Bay Bridge. She said she usually pays it, but today she was a buck short.”

The tweet was favorited more than 100,000 times.

In other posts, the C.H.P account has warned against watching the eclipse while driving on the freeway or fixing car seats with duct tape.

GIFs — from “The Office” “Game of Thrones” and “The Tyra Banks Show” — are a common form of response to comments from the public.

The man behind the account is Officer Matthew Hamer, 32, who took the public information officer job in Oakland, along with Twitter duties, in July.

In an interview, he said his superiors gave him the green light to inject his own personality into his tweets.

For Officer Hamer, that’s meant a lot of so-called “dad jokes,” the pun-heavy sort that makes children’s eyes roll.

“Especially with what we do, not everything is going to be happy-go-lucky,” he said. “If there’s a little bit of humor that I can add to a post, best case it makes someone’s day better, worst case they don’t feel any different about it.”

California Today goes live at 6 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com.

The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Los Osos.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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