Bears soak up excitement throughout McLane Stadium opener

Fans cheer for the Baylor Bears during the inaugural game against SMU on Sunday at McLane Stadium.Kevin Freeman | Lariat Photographer
Fans cheer for the Baylor Bears during the inaugural game against SMU on Sunday at McLane Stadium.
Kevin Freeman | Lariat Photographer

By Cody Soto
Sports Writer

Baylor football defeated SMU 45-0 in their opening game in its brand new home on the Brazos Sunday evening in front of more than 45,000 fans, students, and spectators.

This $266 million dollar project not only included McLane Stadium, but a new track and field complex, parking lots, tailgating areas, statues of notable football greats, and revamped service. Although other events were held in the stadium prior to Sunday’s game, Baylor supporters were able to experience the new game day tradition for the first time at Baylor’s inaugural game against SMU.

“I don’t dream big enough and don’t foresee big enough,” head coach Art Briles said. “The atmosphere today prior to the game was everything that we hoped it to be. It’s unmimicked. Nobody can match it anywhere, and that’s the great thing about it.”

Briles said that this game he felt indebted to so many people to win this season opener. However, he did not want that to rub off on his players.

“Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever coached in a bigger game because so many people put so much into making this happen and had so much enthusiasm and excitement that we thought would happen today,” Briles said. “It just makes it more meaningful. I tried not to let it rub off on our kids, but a reality is a reality. They got eyes, they got ears, and they can see and hear. It’s a pretty good sight.”

Baylor’s season opener included much more than an average football game. State and national representatives, Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III, Texas governor Rick Perry, and former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura joined the Bears on Sunday. However, these distractions did not bother the team, senior quarterback Bryce Petty said.

“As soon as we got off the bus and had the Bear Walk, there was an unbelievable amount of support and people there, and we wanted to show out to those fans and everybody,” Petty said. “That might have caught up to us a little bit, but overall we came into this game prepared. There was a lot of extracurricular stuff going on, but I thought our guys did an exceptional job.”

Out of the 45,733 people present at the game, approximately 10,000 tickets went to students, something that did not happen one year ago.

“Normally, the average was 6,500 students at Floyd Casey Stadium, but tonight it was 10,000 so we are really appreciative of that,” athletic director Ian McCaw said. “[The students] bring tremendous energy and excitement and we were really pleased to see such a large student presence [at the game].”

With the help of the growing football program, McLane Stadium also has sold more season tickets this year than any other season in the school’s history.

“Last year, we got up to 24,000 season ticket holders, but when I got here 10 years ago, we were at 8,000,” McCaw said. “When Coach Briles came, we were just creeping over 10,000.”

Having the entire stadium filled with Baylor added energy to the environment, and maybe too much excitement that Baylor’s offense was penalized when sophomore tight end Tre’Von Armstead threw a football towards the band when he scored a touchdown in the first half.

“It was a totally different environment because our Baylor family was there,” Armstead said. “That just pumped us up even more. When you have a positive team like this, I don’t know how you can’t be hot. It was a lot of good energy.”

McCaw said that the fans got a great first impression of McLane Stadium and all the excitement it brings to a Baylor game day.

“Fans were a big factor in Sunday’s game,” he said. “Overall, people are walking away with a fabulous first impression of McLane Stadium and Baylor football in 2014.”

Despite all the excitement going on around him, Briles said he still wants his team to focus and get the job done.

“When you’re on the field in the game, you got a job to do and you got to do your job,” Briles said. “The only time I looked around was after the game when our school song was playing. That’s the only time I really got to look around and enjoy what was happening. That’s something I hope to do a lot more.”
With a 45-0 shutout under his belt at McLane Stadium, Briles will be able to help use this stadium to build a prominent home field advantage for his team.

“We’ve done a great thing at Baylor and we need to all be thankful, respective, and responsible about all this; that’s how we feel as a football team,” Briles said. “We have a responsibility to maintain that excellence that’s been set before us.”