To celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, FIU News is sharing 50 moments in FIU’s history as part of our “50@50″ series. The video below contains unedited footage from the pre-game festivities, highlights from the game and the post-game celebration from FIU football’s inaugural game vs. St. Peter’s on Aug. 29, 2002.
By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
Two nights before the floodlights at the old FIU Stadium powered up and the university community gathered to witness the first game in the history of FIU football, linebacker James Knapp was slightly on edge.
A member of the 2002 inaugural FIU football team, Knapp and his teammates were less than 48 hours away from being at the center of an experience not many student-athletes get to be a part of – the birth of a collegiate football program.
Restless, Knapp ventured out late in the evening to the vacant and darkened field by himself, walking along the sidelines and envisioning what would be taking place right where he was standing.
Still, at that moment, the significance of what he was about to be a part of was beyond anything he could muster in his mind, but that solitary experience brought about a peace that followed him leading up to the game.
“That was something that really put me at ease,” Knapp recalls. “Just being by myself on that field, imagining what it was going to be like – I still couldn’t get it, I couldn’t grasp it… but walking up and down that field is a moment I’ll never forget.”
Below: Kicker Doug Jones, linebacker James Knapp and defensive back Kevin Timothee were all members of the inaugural FIU football team in 2002 and share their memories from the first game in program history.
On Aug. 29, 2002, it all became very real as a sold-out crowd of 17,314 fans packed into every seat in the stands and the temporary end-zone bleachers that were set up at the stadium to watch the Panthers take on St. Peter’s College.
Former Dolphins quarterback and legend Dan Marino – a former teammate of Don Strock, FIU football’s first head coach – and Governor Jeb Bush were in attendance; students and alumni decked out in blue and gold apparel gathered for a lively tailgating experience; and the FIU marching band passionately played as Knapp and his teammates ran out onto the field for the first time.
It felt like a celebration long before the opening kickoff was made.
“This is one of the great days in the history of our university,” President Modesto A. Maidique said before the game. “It’s a day that everybody who is here will remember forever.”
Once the game began, the celebration rolled on as FIU asserted itself on the field.
With 8:18 left in the first quarter, the crowd erupted when freshman quarterback Jamie Burke fooled the St. Peter’s defense with a fake handoff to the running back, rolling to his right and completed a short pass to fullback Jerrid Lundstedt, who dove into the end zone near the pylon for a 5-yard touchdown pass – the first-ever for FIU football.
The Panthers went on to score 27 points in the first half en route to a 27-3 win over St. Peter’s, giving the program its first win, the final “first” in a day filled with many memorable ones. Once the final whistle blew and the teams shook hands on the field, a fireworks show lit up the night sky, marking the perfect end to a perfect evening.
FIU football went on to post a 5-6 record in their first season of play in Division I-AA, laying the foundation for the program that would move on to Division I football as a member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2005, a conference championship and two bowl game appearances. Today, FIU football is a member Conference USA and is competing in its 14th season.