A 6:00 pm kickoff, the opening game of the Todd Graham era, and a post-game fireworks extravaganza sounded like the perfect recipe for strong attendance numbers. I expected blue and gold masses to pour through the Heinz Field turnstiles on Saturday night to see the debut of high-octane football, after months of hype and excitement.
Unfortunately that wasn't quite the case.The box score shows announced attendance of 48,359 for the Panthers season opener. Disappointing in my eyes. Sure, the opponent was only Buffalo, but that doesn't come anywhere close to outweighing the other significant storylines surrounding the game. Paul Zeise of the Post-Gazette agrees:
It was a beautiful Saturday night, this was the first game of a new coach who has been selling excitement for six months, it was the first night of college football in the region, the city's professional baseball team was in Chicago and and the professional football team does not start until next week -- and the announced attendance was 48,359 (which means there was probably only about 40,000 there)?
Really? That's a bad, bad job by Pitt fans in supporting their favorite team. This team had plenty of preseason hype, a new system, a new coach - should have been a big crowd.
I couldn't agree more. As a Pitt fan, there were just too many compelling reasons not to see this game. I've resigned myself to the fact that I attend a university in a region that is hugely NFL-centric in its football thinking, but c'mon. Being unable to crack 50,000 on a beautiful late summer evening on the opening weekend of college football is pathetic. As Chris Peak of PantherLair pointed out (also mentioned by Bryan at PittScript), Saturday's attendance was actually worse than the last two home openers against New Hampshire and Youngstown State in 2010 and 2009, respectively. That's puzzling to me.
All I can say is, Pitt fans will continue to get what they give -- mediocre football, an uninspiring game day atmosphere, and little national respect. How folks expect any of that to change when they don't regularly show up for games is beyond me. Why would upper-tier bowls and TV networks want to affiliate with a team that has marginal support and a home stadium that feels like a tomb for all but a few games. There will always be the 35,000 loyal fans at Heinz Field, come hell or high water, and I salute them. To the rest, shame on you. You need to step it up, Pitt fans.
The one positive of the attendance, according to Zeise:
I will say this - as always -- the student section was rocking and rolling and sold out so they did their job.
Kudos to them. I know how much of a hassle it is to get from Oakland to Heinz Field, so enthusiasm from fellow students is always awesome to see. Other Pitt fans need to follow their cue.