Pitt fans celebrate during festivities prior to the Panthers' season-opening football game Monday against Florida State at Heinz Field. The Panthers fell, 41-13, in their first Atlantic Coast Conference game.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt fans cheer as their team takes the field Monday night against Florida State at Heinz Field.
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Russ Hall gathered Monday evening to tailgate with a group of friends under flags waving for the University of Pittsburgh and the Atlantic Coast Conference in a parking lot near Heinz Field.
Like many Pitt fans, he had been eagerly anticipating the kickoff of the Panthers' 2013 football season against Florida State University. But he was one of only a few to so intensely tick off the many reasons why Pitt's move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference will be fantastic.
"We have moved to a stable conference that will lead to more revenue for the university and the football team," said Mr. Hall, a 1993 alum who travels from Erie, Pa., as a season-ticket holder. "It's growing the fan base, and it should.
"Thanks, ACC! We love you."
He continued: Better road trips.
"I can't wait to go to the University of Virginia," he said.
And finally, a traveling fan base: People from other conference schools will come to Pittsburgh for games and spend money here.
Mr. Hall's point was easily made based on the smattering of garnet-and-gold- wearing Seminoles fans gathered all along the North Shore on the way to Heinz Field. They mingled in groups and occasionally with Pitt fans, taking in the scene and excitement around the city.
The two teams hadn't met since 1983. Florida State won last year's ACC championship and went 12-2, winning the Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois.
Brian Newman traveled from Tallahassee, Fla., for the game and was glad to see Pitt join Florida State's conference.
"It's a good sports program and a good school," Mr. Newman said about Pitt.
He and his friends made the trip to see the Panthers' first ACC game, for the excitement of a nationally televised Monday night game and for the get-away trip. They took in a Pirates game Sunday afternoon.
Hugo Acebo, a Florida State fan from Miami, said he did not expect Pitt to be competitive in the conference this year. But Mr. Newman quickly added, "They're not going to be a doormat."
Erin Elwood, a 19-year-old sophomore at Pitt, was excited for the debut of the ACC in Pittsburgh.
"There are different teams to play, better teams," she said.
Being in a football conference with a higher level of competition, said Ms. Elwood, of Allentown, makes more students want to attend, too.
"I don't think we'll have a problem selling out more games," she said. "Everyone wants to come. It makes the weekend way more fun."
Wally Thayer, a season-ticket holder who drives 41/2 hours each way from south of Philadelphia to root for his Panthers, expects the ACC will lead to more exciting games, too.
He has been cheering for Pitt since 1948 when he started at the university as a sociology major. Sixty-five years later, he still boards the school's charter bus to get students from the Oakland campus to the football game.
He described the Panthers' move from the Big East to the ACC as "wonderful."
Like Mr. Hall, Mr. Thayer cites as his reasons better opposition and a better class of schools. He also thinks that it's likely the ACC fans will travel more, bringing more excitement to the games.
Monday night, the bus dropped the students off at Point State Park, Downtown, instead of outside the stadium, making the 82-year-old -- dressed in a blue polo shirt with gold stripes, a Pitt jacket, bag and cap -- have a much longer walk with hundreds of college students than usual.
Mr. Thayer graduated from Pitt in 1953, and moved outside of Philadelphia in 1958. For decades, he would make the long drive for occasional home games, but in 2001 he became a season-ticket holder. He makes the trip from Media, Pa., by himself.
"I like Pitt," he said. "It's my association with Pittsburgh."