A boffo opening night for Georgia State football and its fans

Does this look like football? Sure felt like it. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Does this look like real football? It sure as heck felt like it. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

If Georgia State never wins another game or scores another point, the Panthers and their fans can say this: On Sept. 2, 2010, a start-up college-football program outdrew a first-place big-league baseball club head to head. On its first time out of the box, GSU served notice that there’s enthusiasm in this city for this brand new team.

And that wasn’t always a given. Indeed, there were those — that’s my hand you see raised — who feared GSU would unveil its football team to an intimate gathering of friends and family beneath the cavernous Georgia Dome. But there was nothing small about the crowd Thursday night, and there was nothing intimate about the setting.

The Dome’s lower bowl was full, and the overflow spilled upward into the second tier. Cheryl Levick, GSU’s athletic director, reported that there were 11,000 students on hand, and certainly her estimate didn’t seem fanciful. The students arrived early and yelled all night — they even shrieked after a successful Panthers fair catch — and they roared their approval when the school president took a pregame walk in front of their end zone.

Said Mark Becker, the president in question, recalling his promenade: “Our student section was already full; their bodies were painted. I’ll never forget the excitement of those kids. … To see the student excitement and to see them fill the student section straight away will be with me forever.”

Someone asked Becker if he could have imagined such a crowd. “Two months ago, no,” he said. “A week ago, yes. Just the buzz around the city has been electric. … In the last couple of days, I predicted at least 25,000.”

He got it, plus 5K. Attendance was announced as 30,237. (The Braves, by way of contrast, drew 24,895 for their game against the Mets.)

Said Levick: “I am shocked and excited to do 30,000.”

About the game: The Panthers beat Shorter 41-7. They scored on their first drive and scored on their last, eight seconds from the end. They stopped themselves with some penalties, but this was, after all, the first time they had done this. (And it’s not as if established programs can’t be penalized. Ask the folks in Athens.)

Bill Curry, who had coached at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky, was so moved by this Opening Night that he gathered his family for photos before the game in front of the GSU students, who already were roaring. And his players were so stoked that they nearly injured themselves taking the field for warmups, so furiously were they leaping and smacking one another and waving to the crowd.

On the field for the coin flip — for history buffs: GSU won the toss and took the ball — and the kickoff, Levick said she looked into the expectant eyes of her players and “felt chills.” And it wasn’t, she noted, just the players. Walking the concourse, she kept being stopped by gray-haired alums who wanted to say thanks.

And then there were the folks who actually attend GSU. Said Levick: “[The students] are electric down there. They finally have a team, and they’re proud of it.”

When it was done, GSU was a 41-7 winner. The Panthers sprinted to the end zone and sang with the band — to go with a new team, Georgia State had to assemble a marching band — and celebrated with those wearing blue body paint, and it felt like a real football game had just been played and won.

“When you come to the moment of truth, you don’t know what’s going to happen when the lights come on,” Curry said. Then, pointing to the “incredible turnout,” he said: “I wondered if [the crowd] would unglue us. It did not.”

If anything, the crowd emboldened the new team. Forty-five minutes before kickoff, a cluster of Panthers gathered in the tunnel, and one shouted, “This is our house!”

Fancy that. The Georgia Dome — not Deion Sanders’ house, and not Arthur Blank’s, either. Instead it belonged, at least on this night, to a team that had never played, and darned if the Panthers didn’t make themselves at home.

231 comments Add your comment

mmgtfan

September 2nd, 2010
10:59 pm

Mark Bradley

September 2nd, 2010
10:59 pm

Kudos yet again, mmgtfan.

Gonna Miss Bobby, That's for Darn Sure

September 2nd, 2010
11:01 pm

Nice, Mark, and thanks for the blog.

GT Trumpet

September 2nd, 2010
11:03 pm

Here’s to a great season GA State!

Directions

September 2nd, 2010
11:03 pm

Will this excitement continue for Lambuth next weekend in the Dome. C’mom, GSU fans the Panthers will need your support against mighty Lambuth. They recently hired the legendary Ron Dickerson and their 750 student body is fired up. Don’t let Lambuth outdraw us.

Mark

September 2nd, 2010
11:06 pm

Good to see them win, but I can’t hop on board just yet. They played Shorter who is a Div.III program. Waiting to see how they do against teams in their own division

Coach291

September 2nd, 2010
11:07 pm

Will GSU become another Tulane or UAB? or because of the size and the location of the school in one the best recruiting areas in the nation ….can it become something special?

ButlerGSU

September 2nd, 2010
11:08 pm

I’m hearing rumors that GA State will be scheduling NAIA foe Emmanuel College next season in order to build a great in state rivalry!

Mark Bradley

September 2nd, 2010
11:12 pm

OK, folks. I’m headed home. Thanks for sticking with me all night. It’s been even more fun that I would have envisioned.

Bryan

September 2nd, 2010
11:15 pm

You forget to mention that the GSU game outdrew the Braves game because Georgia State gave away 11,000 FREE tickets to students. I bet the braves could sell-out every night if tickets were free. What a joke.

5150 P.O.A.D

September 2nd, 2010
11:18 pm

Well Paid RESPECT MARK. I am almost crying thinking about the passion of being the FIRST. My heart swells with pride and my eye cloud with tears to know some 80+ young men get to keep pleying football for a few more years. To know that those young men get to learn about LIFE from Bill Curry is an even greater gift in my opinion

Hairy Dawg

September 2nd, 2010
11:20 pm

Congrats to the Panthers on their first win.

Hairy Dawg

September 2nd, 2010
11:22 pm

Thanks for the coverage, Mark.

My parents are a couple of GSU grads who couldn’t be there. I’m sure a lot of them appreciated the attention tonight.

Tim

September 2nd, 2010
11:24 pm

I’m not going to get cocky after the resounding win by GSU …. but now we know who the REAL GSU is in this state!!! Sorry ga southern … it ain’t U !!!

Tim

September 2nd, 2010
11:25 pm

Hey Bryan …… “L”

Panther fan

September 2nd, 2010
11:26 pm

Excellent execution all the way around. Top notch experience. It’s difficult to believe that this could be pulled off. The entire experience was nothing short of attending a I-A game from an established program. The Athletic department and administration should be proud!

Tim

September 2nd, 2010
11:33 pm

Georgia State University established who the real GSU is in this state tonight.

Georgia Southern …. just go away. why are you wasting your money sending your kids to a hick-town college in Statesboro. Heck. you’d be better off sending them to Shorter.

E-Roll

September 2nd, 2010
11:34 pm

Bryan actually the cost of the “tickets” is the increased student / athletic fees that every student is paying to field the team. So if you really think about it, GSU “sold” another 14,000 tickets due to the students that are currently enrolled that didn’t attend.

Kickoff Kid's Dad

September 2nd, 2010
11:37 pm

Sealing the special night was watching my son, Pete Tatum, hustle on the field and pick up the FIRST EVER GSU Kickoff! Being an Alumnus of G-STATE, my pride was overflowing and emotions pouring from my eyes. To my wife, a UGA Dawg — Honey, I’m not going to Athens anymore!

GO G-STATE!

GSU FAN

September 2nd, 2010
11:37 pm

Like the write-up suggested, I don’t care if they never win another game. Tonight was amazing and they deserved it! They’ve worked their tail ends off and got the result that proved it. No, they didn’t play a powerhouse. But they played LIKE a powerhouse! Good for them!! Oh, and for all the naysayers and party poopers… you can’t take away the feeling they all have tonight… it’s theirs and they earned it! GO GSU!

Reality Check

September 2nd, 2010
11:38 pm

It was a lot of fun and are there really people on this blog talking down Georgia State? Please name any school who on their very first football game had 30k fans in the seats. Heck Teck struggles to get 50k now.

It was a great night and like you said Mark, it was much more fun than I expected.

Panther Prowler

September 2nd, 2010
11:44 pm

I was there in the front row, and the GEORGIA STATE DOME was ELECTRIC!!!

SEE YOU NEXT WEEK WHEN WE DESTROY LAMBUTH!!!

LET’S GO STATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dannyboy

September 2nd, 2010
11:57 pm

Mark,

I’m a GT grad, and a GT football fan through and through…and it hurts me to say this, but the city of Atlanta has been looking for a team to call their own for years. Unfortunately, because of GT fans’ apathy towards non “Tech people”, GT could never fill the role of Atlanta’s college team.

I attended tonight’s game, and what I saw were a bunch of GSU students, alums, and general fans that beamed with pride that they finally have a team to call their own.

GT will always be an elite institution, but the attitude of their fanbase towards “sidewalk” fans will give GSU every opportunity to make Panther football Atlanta’s college team. I hate to say this, the day GSU outdraws GT in attendance is in the not too distant future.

G-STATE!!!!!!!

September 3rd, 2010
12:06 am

Bryan you are a DOPE! You do know the student did pay for the ticket via the increased athletic fees right?

Tim

September 3rd, 2010
12:10 am

Mark, Mark, Mark. You media types kill me. Before I start, yes, I am a GSU fan and thank you for your coverage of GSU.

Now, then, to compare the opening night attendance of GSU’s game to the Braves attendance tonight is sophomoric at best. Something tells me if you were to go back and look at the record for Atlanta Stadium (yes….before Fulton County was inserted and yes I searched for it!!) I bet the attendance for their opening game was around 56,000, as that is what the stadium held. And I am sure there were many thousands who were turned away at the gate. Mark, I expect more out of you than that. You should be embarrassed and owe the Braves an apology. Mark, this does nothing for your credibility …. stick to the subject.

Didn’t they teach you this in Journalism school?? yes….. sophomoric.

Chief Wiggum

September 3rd, 2010
12:13 am

Mark, can you kill all the idiotic trackbacks from what appear to be spam sites?

Congrats to Georgia State. They probably aimed a little low with their opener, but when you start a program from scratch, you have to guess how good you will be (or won’t be). Pleasant surprise.

Emily

September 3rd, 2010
12:21 am

Not to sound redundant, but anyone who saw their tuition bill lately knows how much we’ve paid for our tickets! And even though a little bit (ha!) came out of my pocket, I am still so proud of our Panthers!!!! Go State!!! :)

Jughead Obama

September 3rd, 2010
12:24 am

You only get one chance to see the first ever football game; This will be the 15th chance to see Booby blow it.

GSU_Alum

September 3rd, 2010
12:27 am

Wow! The game was amazing, the crowd was amazing… I’ve been waiting years for tonight. So much fun. As for those trying to rain on our parade, it’s pretty laughable. You play/beat whomever is on your schedule. GSU’s just played their first game in their history and won handily. Who cares who they played. Who cares who they play next week. Just win, baby! The conference schedule will hit them next year. In the meantime, get some experience and some measure of swagger.

Edlver

September 3rd, 2010
12:28 am

congrats to Ga State. Nothing compares to college football. I think the lower bowl dome set up is great for now but what about the future

Panama

September 3rd, 2010
12:32 am

Mark ay 11:06
If you’re going to jump on the bandwagon NOW for YOUR school you never will. I tailgated today and had the time of my life and I for one am happy to not be a college football orphan any longer. Maybe you should go see if Terrance Moore needs a roommate. GO PANTHERS!

http://www.panthertalk.com

Panama

September 3rd, 2010
12:34 am

Bryan, before you start popping off do some research and know what youre talking about,

red holtzman

September 3rd, 2010
12:43 am

The crowd was electric and the dome was filled with excitement what a memory! The first game ever only happens once. Thought they executed very well. Should be an interesting first season. time for the other GSU sports teams to step up to the plate and get some national and regional recognition. Hey Mark did your fellow employee who wtote the other article here actually attend the game. His article sure doesn’t sound like it

Hammer22

September 3rd, 2010
12:44 am

Bryan, as everyone else said the students already paid for their tickets through the increased students fees.

Bottom line, people HATE to see us succeed and no matter what we do, some nut will talk down on it. Research b/f you talk and you will know that some students paid the increase starting 2 yr ago b/f any game was played.

dawg day afternoon

September 3rd, 2010
12:49 am

Great job, G State!! I’m pretty sure you’ll have better attendance than the North Avenue Nerds all season. Congrats on finally bringing college football to Atlanta (not counting the women’s team at the Joke by Coke)!!!

GStateBen

September 3rd, 2010
12:50 am

Just returned from the game and as an alum (B.A. ‘03) a booster and fan, this was my greatest sports night of my life.

The crowd was amazing and a credit to the need for football at Georgia State. Just to give you some perspective, it was the largest crowd for an FCS (formerly 1-AA) opener since South Florida opened in 1997. 2nd All Time Folks. Can you believe it?

Lambuth will provide a bigger challenge as they throw the ball all over and will provide our DBs with a challenge but for tonight. We are undefeated and I’m filled with more pride than I have ever been.

Thanks for the coverage MB!

UGAJD

September 3rd, 2010
12:51 am

Congrats to the Panthers! Love the enthusiasm Best wishes for a successful season.

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Ken

September 3rd, 2010
12:57 am

I first entered GSU back in 1984. At the time, it was said there were two things that would never be seen at GA State: dormitories and a football team. As the ever-so-mature 18 year old I was, I didn’t want to attend GSU initially, because I wanted to go to a “real” school such as UGA or GA Tech, or at least one that had a true campus and football team. Thankfully, as I grew older and a little wiser, I realized what a great institution GSU is, and I appreciated it far more than I had at first.

Well, three degrees later, I have finally seen my alma mater hit the big time. I was skeptical when I first heard that GSU was building a football program, but darned if they haven’t done it right. Everything went perfectly tonight, from the outstanding marching band to that amazing singer who did a dynamite rendition of our national anthem.

I can remember leading cheering sections at our basketball games back in the 80’s and early 90’s where we were lucky to have 500 people show up (and that included the “free” student tix). I remembered the pride I felt when we made it to the NCAA tourney, and how great it was to feel you were a part of something special.

Perhaps we aren’t destined to win a BCS championship in the next century, but 30,000 people to see a GSU athletic event? I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

And I am so proud of my school right now.

Dawg day afternoon

September 3rd, 2010
1:00 am

For those wondering, yes I went to UGA-milledgeville

Trae

September 3rd, 2010
1:00 am

Congrats to all McCaslin Georgia State alumni. Let’s hope Georgia State survives Alabama to play next year, too.

Tide Rising

September 3rd, 2010
1:05 am

That’s pretty awesome for Georgia State. 30,000 for a first ever game is flat out impressive. There are a lot of D-1 teams that don’t seem to draw 30k that have been playing forever. I know that our game with GSU later in the season will be a mismatch and we’re getting a lot of criticism for it. But I’m glad for it because of the exposure it will give GSU not to mention the money to keep building their program.

Congrats to the panthers.

Oh, and Bryan. You are classless punk.

TTTT-Thumbody Thed Thats Thupid!

September 3rd, 2010
1:07 am

Since there is already a GSU in Georgia(Statesboro) with a football team, which one is going to be able to use that designator? Sounds confusing to me and maybe to others also. When I see GSU I think it’s Georgia Southern.

messin with...........

September 3rd, 2010
1:08 am

dogboi, what a assinine comment.

John Trotter

September 3rd, 2010
1:13 am

Great article, Mark! I love stories like this! I am a UGA alum but I am pulling for the Concrete Panthers all the way! Or, perhaps the “Pavement Panthers” has more alliteration. Go GSU! Hey, what about GUS the Blue Panther…like UGA? I hope two of my Southside Boys, Jamal Ransby and Blake Wyatt, both freshmen, had a great game. I watched them play regulary at Newnan and Landmark Christian respectivefully. Great kids who can play! Congrats to Coach Curry, another Southside Boy from College Park High School!

Paco

September 3rd, 2010
1:28 am

Enter your comments here

Real GSU Alum

September 3rd, 2010
1:32 am

@TTTT-Thumbody Thed Thats Thupid!

http://www.gsu.edu

That should answer your question.

GSU Alum

September 3rd, 2010
1:33 am

GSU! GSU! GSU! Thanks for the blog, Mark. I’m excited for the entire season!

I_Was_There

September 3rd, 2010
1:38 am

What are these programs you people keep talking about? I didn’t see any programs! I would have liked to keep one…

Ace

September 3rd, 2010
1:45 am

A football team like Georgia State plays 1 day a week (usually on a weekend) and a baseball team which plays 4 to 5 times a week. I wonder who wins the weekly attendance battle if that’s of interest?