Charlotte football ushering in a new normal

Yesterday was a day of firsts.

It was the first Saturday of the college football season.  True freshman played in their first game on the collegiate level.  Coaches got their first look at how their teams would perform in live action.  Fans got their first taste of the hold your breath experience they have been longing for since Alabama beat Notre Dame to win their second consecutive BCS National Championship.

All of these firsts recur at the same time each year.  For the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, these firsts were exactly that.  Firsts.

Everyone has “their” team, and Charlotte finally got one of their own.

In a game that got lost in the headliners across the country, the 49ers did more than just play their first football game in school history.  They put the axe down on Campbell University 52-7 and ignited a fan-base patiently waiting to start timeless traditions.

The score provided context, but the atmosphere became the story line.

“We are Charlotte” echoed through the students waiting to enter the stadium gates and continued as they made their way to their seats.  Green and gold were out in full force, and it didn’t go unnoticed.

Mark Hogan celebrates with his teammates after scoring the first touchdown in 49ers history. Photo by Charlotte Sports Information

Only 46 seconds into the game, Charlotte linebacker Mark Hogan intercepted a pass and crossed the goal line untouched to record the first touchdown in school history.

Hogan may have scored the first points, but he wasn’t complacent and couldn’t be for that matter.  He and the rest of the guys in the 49er locker room knew the day was about more than the team itself.  It was about all of the people involved.  It was about the “12th man.”

“The moment we experienced today in Charlotte is just special,” Hogan said in the 49er press conference after the game.  “To see everyone out here supporting — people that have been waiting so long.”

Sometimes, the closer you look at something, the less you see.  Other times, you can miss major details if you observe from afar.  But it didn’t really matter yesterday because one thing was so obvious and clear that it stared everyone watching right in the face.

Nothing was too big for this team.

“It was a humbling experience out there with the crowd and the stadium,” head coach Brad Lambert said in his post-game remarks.  “There were a lot of emotions and so many people put so much into this.  It was an unbelievable environment.”

Just like the players, the students and fans never took a play off.  They never sat down and never stopped chanting “49ers.”

Charlotte students react to a 49er touchdown. Photo by Charlotte Sports Information.

Everything that was “normal” for a UNCC Saturday before just took a backseat to artificial turf and the old-fashioned pigskin.  The unpredictability of college football has firmly entrenched itself in Jerry Richardson Stadium (named for Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson) and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Campbell head coach Mike Minter, the former Carolina Panther safety, has been around football his entire life.  But Saturday, August 31 left quite an impression on the nine-year NFL veteran.

“The whole thing was a memorable moment,” Minter said.  “I’ll remember this for a long time.”

What happened in Charlotte yesterday will be remembered for a while and can’t be dismissed.  It was a long time coming, and players and students took that to heart.

“Seeing a city expand and erupt like this is a proud moment,” said wide receiver Austin Duke, who finished with five receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown.  “I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Good news Charlotte, football is your new normal, and it won’t be the first, or last, time you hear about it.

But keep this in mind:  Saturdays will never be the same.


Information from the UNCC football website was used in this article.