This past November, SDSU announced a partnership with the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation. The $8.5 million deal made Sycuan the inaugural founding partner for Snapdragon Stadium. It also gave them naming rights to two of Snapdragon’s most unique features.
SDSU’s new home contains three piers modeled after the amphibious structures dotting San Diego’s coast, with the largest jutting out towards the field of play. The stadium was also designed with four exclusive suites and 48 club seats that give the owners access to every event held in the stadium. These special areas, now named the Sycuan Piers and the Sycuan Founders Club, are a testament to the relationship built between the university and the Kumeyaay.
Along with Sycuan, there is a long list of people who deserve recognition as founders of Snapdragon. Brady Hoke and Rocky Long are on that list for being architects of the football program’s turnaround. Athletic Director JD Wicker and SDSU President Adela de la Torre are there as well for spearheading the university’s efforts. Jack McGrory makes the cut for his work with the project. As much as anyone in this elite group, recognition should be heaped on former SDSU quarterback Ryan Lindley for his contribution to the project.
“It’s something special,” Lindley said on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast. “Just talking to a few of the coaches (at SDSU), they’ve taken some tours. I said, ‘Shoot, if I get back for vacation this summer, I got to figure out a way to go check out Snapdragon. … If you got a 35, 40 thousand seat stadium, you got to have your ticket to go there and show up. There’s an exclusivity to it that will be phenomenal. The atmosphere, just from looking at everything, looks like top of the line, state of the art. It really just fits the vibe too. …”
“I got two seats sitting at my parents’ house (from the old stadium), and I’m all about the nostalgia. I watched Tony Gwynn. I watched the ’98 Padres. Qualcomm and the Murph hold a special place in my heart, but this is a place the Aztecs can call home. All of that was great, but this will be the Aztecs’ home for years to come. San Diego State fans and alumni and players can take pride in that for a long time.”
It is doubtful SDSU Mission Valley would exist without the resurrection of the school’s football program. The political process coalesced around the need for a home for the Aztecs. When Lindley arrived on campus in 2007, SDSU was at the end of the worst period in its history. The Aztecs finished with a winning percentage greater than .600 only four times from 1980 to 2007. Since 2010, they have accomplished that feat nine times.
The depths the program had fallen to in the first part of this century threatened to derail Snapdragon Stadium before anyone dreamed it possible. Without Lindley leading the group that set the foundation for the program during Brady Hoke’s first tenure, the only football teams on campus would be playing soccer.
Lindley’s first year as a starter was the disastrous 2-10, 2008 season. On December 28 of that year, Mark Zeigler of the Union-Tribune wrote the now infamous article, A no-win situation: It’s time to drop football at SDSU. Zeigler, one of the best sports journalists in America, had the courage to talk about the elephant in the room. The program had reached a crossroads.
“Nobody wants to be a punching bag or the butt of a joke or read in the newspaper talking about, ‘Why are we even taking up school funding and all that stuff,’” Lindley said. “That wasn’t lost on anybody. It wasn’t necessarily the time of social media, but we got the printed paper, and we looked at it. That wasn’t lost on us as 19 and 20-year-old kids at the time.”
“In a lot of ways, I look back at it. It was motivation. Everything in moderation, taken like that, can be good for you. It definitely, among other things, was part of the fuel to the fire.”
When a team is trying to rebuild, a great QB is a shortcut. It allows a program to compete while the foundation and recruiting base are formed. Lindley led the Aztecs from a pass-centered offense to a more balanced attack. He took a reduced role to embrace Hoke’s system. It paid off with only two extra wins in 2009.
There were moments Lindley said during his first two seasons where he nearly lost his job. On multiple occasions, he was warned by the coaches to improve or his backups would be given a chance to lead the Aztecs. Not only did Lindley respond, but he grew into an NFL QB and rewrote the school’s record books. His 12,690 yards, 1,732 attempts, 961 completions, and 90 touchdowns are tops in program history.
As Hoke slowly established the ethos of toughness, accountability, passion, and integrity into the program, Lindley made the team competitive on the field. SDSU won nine games in 2010. It was the first time the school had accomplished that since 1977. The team’s .692 winning percentage was the highest since 1996. The season culminated with an invite to the program’s first bowl game since 1998.
August 17, 2020, was the official groundbreaking for Snapdragon stadium, but the beginning of the project started at the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010. 48,049 people poured into Qualcomm Stadium to watch the Aztecs’ first bowl win since 1969. SDSU racked up a school bowl-record 555 yards (279 rushing and 276 passing), modeling the balance of Hoke’s ideal offense.
Michigan hiring Hoke away from SDSU a month later threatened to derail the process, but the love affair between San Diego and SDSU was rekindled, centered around a native son under center for the Aztecs. An average of 40,212 diehards watched Lindley’s seven home games his senior season.
“It was not on me,” Lindley said humbly. “Coach Hoke came in there. The timing of it was phenomenal. The things that he preached as far as accountability, brotherhood, everything that’s cemented everything. Coach Long took off with it and put his own spin on it. It was phenomenal for quite a long while. It’s good to see Brady back. You know he’s going to be there for the long haul. I think it’s the beauty of Aztec football and really Aztec athletics. That’s a family that’s second to none.”
2022 is fittingly the 100th season of SDSU football. The storybook coincidence that lined up the centennial and the opening of Snapdragon Stadium was dangerously close to never happening. It took a San Diegan to reverse the trend at his hometown school. In the process, Lindley became a hero and left a legacy for future generations.
Currently a senior defensive analyst at Mississippi State University, Lindley works under former SDSU defensive coordinator Zach Arnett and MSU head coach Mike Leach. His chosen profession will likely prevent him from taking in an Aztecs game as a fan at Snapdragon Stadium anytime soon. Whenever that day comes, perhaps, Sycuan could open up one of their suites to recognize and honor Ryan Lindley, a Snapdragon Founder.