Not everyone can say they were there in the beginning.I had the pleasure of being at the inaugural UNC Charlotte football game, thanks to a good friend of mine who works there and has season tickets. The 49ers’ home, McColl-Richardson Field at Jerry Richardson Stadium, sits adjacent to the baseball stadium and other campus athletic facilities and a short walk from the student union and the heart of campus.Jerry Richardson Stadium – both the stadium and field bear the name of the Carolina Panthers’ owner – seats just better than 15,000 in a great starter stadium. The entire stadium sits below grade on the former site of the intramural fields, making for a bowl that traps sound nicely. The stadium is a one tier horseshoe, and its initial $45 million price tag did not include stadium lights, making each home game this season a nooner. At the stadium’s open end sits the Judy W. Rose Football Center. The field is already adorned with Conference USA logos, despite Charlotte currently competing as an FCS independent in football.It is clear that they are still trying to work out some kinks, which is to be expected, as football has been an unknown quantity at Charlotte to date. Many of the parking options – largely campus parking decks – prohibited tailgating, while those that allowed it didn’t come cheap. The stadium does sit along the Mallard Creek Greenway, however, and we chose a spot along the greenway to tailgate, about a mile’s walk from the stadium. It wasn’t expressly prohibited on the sign (though alcohol use was by permit only) and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police rode through the lot and said nothing, so while I can’t vouch for the future, at least the first game of the season was fair game.The stadium’s amenities are fairly average; food prices and offerings seem akin to what one might pay at a comparable stadium. I got away with a hot dog for $3.50. Perhaps the best added feature is the water stations. In an effort to reduce waste, the stadium offers water stations for refilling bottles. Fans are allowed to bring a clear, empty bottle into the stadium and refill it as many times as they wish. Many fans took advantage of this; many more bought their first water and used the opportunity to refill.
Charlotte played football once before; a team competed from 1946-48 when the school was still the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina, but for all intents and purposes, this is the birth of 49er football. The team is welcomed onto the field with a pregame video and the cheerleaders, dance team, and drumline. Charlotte does not yet have a marching band; that will come as the team joins the FBS ranks in 2013. In the meantime, the drumline, which inhabits the lower part of section 122 during the game, makes for a great start. As a line, they opt for crowd pleasing grooves over technically proficient notes that lack soul. The fans seem to react well, and every indication is that once the school does field a full marching band, it will fill the stadium nicely.
While it may not rise to the level of being inhospitable, the stadium can certainly get loud when the crowd is into it. One of the first game kinks is the fact that the sound system is difficult to hear. If I didn’t know any better, I would guess that it was calibrated for the size of stadium but didn’t take into account 15,000 bodies both muffling it and drowning it out. Charlotte football is not yet long on tradition, but that is to be expected. A crowd favorite was the call-and-response FORTY-NINER cheer, but that was about the only common cheer that got the entire crowd into it.
The over-capacity crowd stayed attentive, making for a great game atmosphere, but the stands emptied some as rain came in the second half. The rain – actually welcome by many in the midday heat – combined with the lopsided score made some fans head for the exit, but the majority of the stadium stayed to see the clock hit zeroes on the 49ers inaugural game. After the 52-7 victory over the Camels, the student section rushed the field. Normally I suggest they act like they’ve been there before, but knowing they haven’t, I say go for it.
Charlotte had options when it began football, including trekking clear across town to American Legion Memorial Stadium. I have a feeling that when they look back over their program’s history back to its first day, they’ll be glad they started in their own house from day one.
On a related note, here is a virtual tour of the stadium via Charlotte 49er athletics:
Special thanks again to Curtis (@80mins) for the great story.