Charlotte embracing its 3-day college football fest

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Are you ready for some football? This town is.

Charlotte isn’t really known as a bastion for football. But maybe it should be. This bustling North Carolina city is overflowing with pigskin this week.

Georgia and Clemson fans are heading here in droves for Saturday night’s monumental top-5 matchup at Bank of America Stadium (7:30 p.m., ABC and Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta market), as well they should. But if they’re coming into town only for that one game, then they will have missed 66 percent of the Division I college football being played here over 72 hours.

Perhaps they didn’t know the Duke’s Mayo Classic actually started Thursday night. Fans of Appalachian State and East Carolina half-filled the Carolina Panthers’ stadium with an announced crowd of 46,000. They watched a one-sided but entertaining contest won by the Mountaineers 33-19.

“A really a good turnout, great atmosphere, great weather, great game, couldn’t be happier,” said Danny Morrison, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Foundation, which organized this little shindig.

Overlooked by many outside the city limits, however, is another college game being played in the city Friday night. The Duke Blue Devils are playing the Charlotte 49ers down the road on Charlotte’s campus (they don’t call it UNC-Charlotte anymore). By all accounts, 15,000-seat Jerry Richardson Stadium is a beauty to behold.

Then Saturday comes the Big Daddy: Clemson-Georgia.

Three days, three Division I contests. The citizens of Charlotte are loving it, at least a football-crazed subset of it.

Count Steve Luquire among that group.

Luquire is one of a very select number of people who are attending all three games this weekend. A loyal East Carolina alumnus, Luquire was, of course, at Thursday night’s game. But he also has tickets to see the 49ers, who he calls his hometown team. On Saturday, he’ll be back at Bank of America for Georgia-Clemson, a game he “just couldn’t miss.”

“I’ve been watching college football all my life. I grew up in Durham, so it wasn’t necessarily good college football.” said Luquire, who has lived in Charlotte since 1971. “But I don’t ever remember three games being played in a row in one town like this. So I couldn’t pass up the chance” at attend all three.

His wife, Melanie, would’ve been fine attending just one. But she has vowed to accompany her husband to all three games.

Meanwhile, Luquire also happens to be on Charlotte’s tourism board, so he kind of has a vested interest. In fact, his company designed the 49ers new logo – for the whole school, not just the football team.

But he also annually buys the football season pass offered by Charlotte Sports Foundation for about $750 a ticket. It provides seats for the two Duke’s Mayo kickoff games, the ACC Championship game that is played in Charlotte every December and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (formerly the Belk Bowl).

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbsteit, whose son, Tye, is a walk-on football player at Clemson, has covered several ACC Championship games here.

“I love going to Charlotte; I think it’s fun town,” said Herbstreit, who will be calling Saturday night’s game for ABC. “The opportunity to get in there and feel some of that energy from college football is good. I know it’s known in that region for hoops, but I think (football has) really grown over the last decade or so when it comes to the events that they’ve had in that that town. I’ve been very fortunate to call a lot of the ACC Championship games there and some neutral-site games. When I think of the heart of the SEC, I kind of think Atlanta. But I think every year with the events they’re getting and the way people embrace it,” Charlotte’s into football, too.

Luquire can attest to that. While he has a natural-born interest in the first two contests of the weekend, it’s that third one that he really has his attention. Of course, everybody in the country is anticipating that one.

“I have different feelings about every game,” Luquire said. “I’m excited for the 49ers’ opportunity. I was happy to get ECU and App here. But Clemson-Georgia, I mean, that’s a big-un. Should be a great game. But from a tourism standpoint, man, there’s no better way to get people in here. so, you know, truthfully, I’m sincerely happy for Charlotte.”

Morrison said the CSF has not seen any evidence of decreased attendance because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases or the city’s decision two weeks ago to mandate masks indoors. The Clemson-Georgia game has been a solid sellout for months. Prices on the secondary market were holding steady, with some of the most premium seats coming down slightly this week on sites like StubHub and SeatGeek.

Charlotte’s hospitality industry stands at the ready. On one side of Bank of America Stadium, Mint Street is crowded with craft-beer stands ready to pour. On the other side, a stage is set up where bands will be playing into the night Friday. Across the way, the ESPN “College GameDay” set – built by Home Depot – has risen up to consume almost all of Ramare Bearden Park.

Charlotte is ready for some football

“To work all this out and pull it off in a COVID era is really incredible,” Luquire said.