Field Notes: A first-time football fan experience

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Field Notes: A first-time football fan experience

Pitt fans reaching out during the singing of

Pitt fans reaching out during the singing of "Sweet Caroline" after the third quarter in Pitt's 56-14 win against Duke. John Hamilton | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt fans reaching out during the singing of "Sweet Caroline" after the third quarter in Pitt's 56-14 win against Duke. John Hamilton | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt fans reaching out during the singing of "Sweet Caroline" after the third quarter in Pitt's 56-14 win against Duke. John Hamilton | Senior Staff Photographer

By Ellen Kruczek | For The Pitt News

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The pounding of gloved hands on Heinz Field’s bright yellow seats echoed through the stadium.

“Make Some Noise,” the voice from the jumbotron screen commanded. The 35,435 fans in attendance screeched, swore and drank in response.

Except in the 10th row behind a goal post, where David Fudurich sat.

Fudurich is a senior mechanical engineering major at Pitt and a student who has never seen a football game. He’s never even looked at a sports section in a newspaper. With his thick glasses and slight frame, he doesn’t seem the athletic type. He accepts that he isn’t.

“What does redshirt mean? Is that like a Star Trek thing?” he asked a half hour before the game, when the likes of James Conner and Tre Tipton flashed on the screen. The group of guys in front of him decked out in Pitt gear gave him a look.

In the United States, we grow up with football. In teen movies, the football game is central to high school. The storylines in sports drama “Friday Night Lights” and romantic comedy “A Cinderella Story” are both centered around the game, as do many other cultural icons of young adulthood.

Almost every newspaper’s sports section revolves around football, including The Pitt News. It’s the most popular sport in the country, the one that generates the most interest and attracts the most readers.

The first sign of a game? School busses line up on Bigelow Boulevard to cart students to the stadium in droves. The Nov. 20 matchup between the Pitt Panthers and the Duke Blue Devils was no different.

Fudurich, though, didn’t feel the excitement. He couldn’t understand why everyone was standing for most of the game.

“Our ancestors invented chairs so we can have better lives than they did,” he said.

Fudurich wasn’t the only one out of place on the field. This was my first football game too. Both of us had the same reasons for never going before: We didn’t understand the sport, and we had other things to do. The only thing I knew about football was that you yell at the television. At least, that’s what my dad did in his “man cave.”

Luckily, we had super fan Robert Colombi next to us, screaming cheers and explaining plays. Colombi, who grew up playing street football in Queens, has been to every Pitt home game.

His reasoning is simple.

“It’s the only game on Saturdays, and I love the physicality of it,” Colombi said.

As a sophomore at Pitt studying athletic training and Italian, Colombi’s life revolves around sports. The highlight of his entire year was the Penn State game, when Pitt crushed its once in-state rival for the first meeting of the teams in 16 years.

“So, are we really good or are they really bad?” I asked when Pitt led 21-7.

“We’re really good,” Colombi nodded, “Yeah, we’re really good today.”

Others in the crowd thought differently.

“What losers,” someone behind us shouted at the team. “You all go down like bitches!”

“Yeah, how dare they play football. How dare they do their sport they came here to play,  yeah!” Fudurich jokingly shouted with them.

He tackled the normal challenges of a November football game from a fresh perspective, explaining how to stay warm with a full explanation of thermodynamics that ended with, “Just cross your legs.”

When the game got boring, just after Pitt’s second touchdown, he counted advertisements — about 48 in total posted on screens, flags and billboards bordering the jumbotron — and pointed out birds dotting the periphery. His highlight of the game? Drum Major John Kramer’s backbend during the opening band performance.

“Where’s John?” he asked in the middle of the game. “I want more John. He walks onto the field like he owns the world.”

Despite our ignorance and confusion, Fudurich and I got sucked into the emotions of the crowd. Quadree Henderson’s 52-yard touchdown run felt like fiction. The electricity of the audience pulled even Fudurich out of his pessimistic haze to feel “the rush.”

That rush of the crowd, however, wasn’t the same with manufactured and organized cheers.

“Hail. To. Pitt,” the crowd shouted when the cheerleaders told them to. Even “Sweet Caroline” couldn’t create the same excitement as Henderson’s touchdown, especially since so much of the crowd left after the song.

As the temperature dropped and the snow fell like a fog in the distance, it became easier to ease into the chants, cheers and seat slapping only because it warmed us up. With five minutes on the clock, Fudurich and I took our $3.75 hot cocoa and left. Colombi was left in the stands with his friends, slamming his hands on the seats as Pitt dominated Duke with a 35-point lead.

Fudurich and I didn’t talk about the plays. We didn’t talk about the oversalted and overpriced food. We didn’t talk about Conner’s ACC record or AJ Reed’s miss. We talked about family, the chill in our toes and the pressure of classes.

That’s what made the game bearable to us — good conversation, a warm drink and a chance to shout our hearts out.

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