By Joel Delgado ’12, MS ’17
It’s been a strange month for FIU football.
After a season-opening loss to UCF just before Labor Day weekend, the Panthers returned home thinking they would be preparing for their first home game of the season the following week.
Then Hurricane Irma happened.
As the Category 5 hurricane stormed through the Atlantic with South Florida in its path, the football team – along with more than 100 other student-athletes from eight other FIU athletics programs – was uprooted and forced to run operations from Alabama for eight days.
“Everybody in South Florida faced enormous challenges with Hurricane Irma,” Head Coach Butch Davis said. “I think our kids did a remarkable job of being able to focus when we asked them to, and they handled everything with a lot of maturity.”
FIU was forced to move its first “home game” against Alcorn State to Birmingham and won the game 17-10 on Sept. 8, giving Davis his first FIU win.
Then the following week’s road contest against Indiana was canceled (that game is set to be rescheduled for a future season). To make up for the lost game, the Panthers scheduled an additional home game against UMass for Dec. 2.
In the midst of it all, student-athletes and coaches balanced concerns about family members and loved ones back home while also trying to focus on the game preparation while their schedules and routines shifted from day to day.
“Staying focused was the hardest part and the important part,” said senior defensive end Newt Salisbury. “We just tried to stay locked in on that week and not worry about everything going on all around us.”
Now, after defeating the Rice Owls 13-7 in Houston last Saturday, the Panthers are ready to – finally – play their first true home game of the season. FIU (2-1, 1-0 Conference USA) will face the winless Charlotte 49ers on Saturday, Sept. 30, at Riccardo Silva Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Coaches and players are looking forward to playing in front of family, friends, fans and the student body and settling back into a normal schedule. The Panthers are one of only two Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams who have yet to play a home game on their own home field (Georgia Southern is the other).
“This is my fourth year here, and I’ve never been through anything like this. It’s been weird,” senior quarterback Alex McGough said. “We haven’t really had a normal week yet until now.”
A NEW HOME EXPERIENCE
For fans, this weekend features special ticket deals, new pre-game festivities and in-game entertainment that will make the fan experience better than ever before.
Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know before Saturday’s game:
- Star Wars Night
As part of a special ticket package, fans can experience a meet-and-greet with characters from the Star Wars universe, including Darth Vader and Chewbacca and enjoy a special Star Wars-themed fireworks display at halftime.
This exclusive ticket package includes a game ticket, access to this VIP event and a light up, sound-activated light saber.
Click here to purchase your Star Wars ticket package.
- 4 for $54
FIU’s most popular ticket package, the “4 for $54” deal includes four game tickets, four hot dogs, four popcorns and four Pepsi brand products.
Click here to purchase your 4 for $54 ticket package.
- Panther Walk
New to the 2017 season, join Roary, the FIU Marching Band, and the Panther Spirit Squads alongside the Parkview Plaza streets to welcome the team to Riccardo Silva Stadium on gameday.
Butch Davis and the team will arrive at the stadium promptly at 5 p.m., two hours before kickoff, so make sure you get to the plaza early.
- Pantherland Concert Series
Located in the Student Tailgate Zone in Lot 6, the Pantherland Concert Series features a different local celebrity DJ artist before each home game. DJ Joe Maz will kick off the series this Saturday with the concert beginning at 3 p.m.
- All-you-can-eat for FIU students
The first 300 students through the gates of Riccardo Silva Stadium each home game will receive a free All-You-Can-Eat wristband. The wristband entitles you to free unlimited concession fares at the designated stand.
Menu items will be subject to change but typically will include hot dogs, popcorn, nachos and Pepsi brand beverages. The All-You-Can-Eat Concession stand will open one hour before kickoff and will run through the end of halftime.
For more game day information and season-long promotions, go to FIUSports.com.