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Zopf: Georgia State's first game too exciting to miss
Football adds to schools identity
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ATLANTA – My friends don’t care about history.

We’ve been waiting for this day ever since we first stepped foot on campus in 1997. That’s when we first heard the rumors; the whispers of a football team coming to Georgia State University.

Always a little envious of the surrounding schools and their thriving football teams, we longed for the day we joined them. The day we too could celebrate Saturdays in the fall with cold beers in the parking lot of wherever we played our home games.

We couldn’t believe it, especially since this was an urban campus comprised of commuters who arrived on campus minutes before the first class and left minutes after the last. There was zero student involvement.

So how could a school like this get a football team? We couldn’t even get 800 people to show up to a basketball game, how could we get 70,000 to show up for football?

Back then it wasn’t possible.

Now it’s happening. Sort of.

The Panthers played, and won, their first game in school history Thursday against Shorter, and it was too bad my buddies weren’t there to witness it. For the first game, 30,000 fans packed the Georgia Dome.

Apparently they had better things to do. Although both own their own companies – which shows you which two actually paid attention in college – they could have left work early to watch their alma mater play its first football game, and be one of the thousands who can say they were there to see it happen.

But no. Apparently work and other engagements come before Georgia State football, which has been my fear since I first heard the rumors.

If the students left campus quickly on a daily basis, they left even faster after they graduated. I did. So did all my friends.

But we don’t matter anymore. We’re a part of a different generation of Panthers. This new breed now lives blocks from campus and has helped turn this commuter school into a school with city living — and football.

And you know what? I think it’s gonna work.

For starters, the school already has one of the largest student populations in the state, and the fact it now has a football team will only draw more and more students. And those students will support football, which was evident by the raucous student section Thursday that left GSU president Dr. Mark P. Becker impressed.

“Before the game, we went down to the field and we did some photo opportunities for this historic event,” Becker said. “Our student section was already full, their bodies were painted and I’ll never forget the excitement for those kids.
“The students have been behind this program,” he added. “To see the student excitement and to see them fill the student section straight away will be with me forever. I love it.”

And it’s only going to get better.

As the success level increases, so too will the pool of athletes the Panthers have to choose from. Panthers head coach Bill Curry said earlier this year, they are “relying on guys an inch too short or a step too slow,” but that’s not always going to be the case. If the wins start coming, so will the top-notch athletes.

When I was in school – I know that makes me sound old – this wasn’t plausible. Now, it almost seems like it was always meant to be.

Georgia State needs football just as much as Georgia and Georgia Tech. The students are tired of not having a team to represent – trust me, I’m tired of it too – and their support will only lead to bigger and brighter things for this program.

 Am I going to say they go 10-0 or 8-2 this year? No.

 Are they going to sell out every home game? Probably not.

 But are there thousands upon thousands of current students and alumni ready to get in on the ground floor and be able to say “I was there at the start,” when the Panthers eventually become nationally recognized?  Absolutely.

 That’s the main reason I wanted to attend Thursday’s game. As someone holding a journalism degree from the school that’s now embracing the name “Concrete Jungle,” I wouldn’t have missed this game for the world.

 For anyone who knows me, they know college football isn’t my thing. I prefer the NFL game because of the level of play, the fantasy implications and the fact I have a team to root for.

 Prior to Thursday, I never had that.

 Now I do.

Jonathan Zopf is a sport writer for The Times. You can follow him on Twitter at

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