Fans return to Welcome Stadium for first game in 658 days

Fans enter Welcome Stadium in Dayton, Ohio, 30 minutes before kickoff between the Flyers and Panthers Sept. 11. Cover photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett | Sports Editor

Reporting by Colin Birbal, Lucy Couch Andrew Hurley & Will Riesenberg

November 23, 2019. That was the last time Dayton football was played at Welcome Stadium, and after 658 days riddled with the COVID-19 pandemic, fans were back in the stands to cheer on the Flyers.

Fans who turned out to see the Flyers’ 17-10 win over the Eastern Illinois Panthers were enthusiastic – for the players as well as for themselves.

“A lot of these kids haven’t played a meaningful football game in two or three years, so it means a lot,” said Eddie Neal of Charlotte, North Carolina, who noted he’s not concerned with COVID protocols.

Some fans, such as Rob Lyons, father of redshirt junior defensive tackle Jake Lyons, are a little “apprehensive” with the recent COVID-19 surge, but said he missed attending games in-person “very much.”

Rob Lyons (second from left) was in-person to see his son, Jake, play against EIU. (left to right: unnamed Dayton fan, Rob, Jeff Lyons, Sue and unnamed Dayton fan). Photo courtesy of Colin Birbal.

“(I missed) this atmosphere, getting out here… being able to see (the players) get out and make some plays. And the band as well.”

Sue, a football mom from Columbus who has a freshman playing for Dayton, said, “(I’m) very excited for the game today, (I was) disappointed that the game last week got cancelled against Robert Morris because my son had his last three high school games cancelled and then his first game this year, but it’s to be expected.”

UD students were just as excited as parents and adults.

Jack Culbertson, a UD senior who has lived in Dayton his whole life, said he missed all the festivities that come along with the games — such as tailgating.

“I really missed the atmosphere of the fans,” he said. “It’s always a great feeling being in a crowd and all supporting the same team.”

Just over 2,000 fans were at Welcome Stadium Sept. 11 to see the Flyers (and the band) back in action. Photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett.

Junior Ryan Lally was happy to be back in person to cheer on his friends and hang out with his roommates outside.

“I missed being able to root for the teams that I love with a bunch of people around me. In-person crowds make every sport better,” he said.

Maria Due, like her UD classmates, missed watching football. 

“I have friends that are cheerleaders and football players and I’m glad to finally be here to cheer them on.”

Emily Stoll, 21, also expressed her excitement to be at Welcome Stadium.

“This is my first game ever, but I’m really excited to be here,” Stoll said before the game. “I love the atmosphere. I’m feeling really good. (The players) have had a lot of time to recover and prepare.”

Emily Ingrassia, 21, said she “totally” missed attending games in person. 

“This is one of the best days of my life,” Ingrassia said. “It’s small, but it’s a community as always.”

Stoll (second from right) and Ingrassia (right) at the game with two friends. Photo courtesy of Lucy Couch.

Fans, parents and students alike expressed their satisfaction being back at Welcome Stadium before the game had even kicked off. Once the game did begin with the opening kickoff, the players and coaches were able to experience the atmosphere on the field. 

After scoring the team’s first touchdown in 658 days on an 11-yard pass from senior quarterback Jack Cook to give the Flyers a 7-3 lead, the feeling for junior running back Jake Chisholm was “surreal.”

“The last time I was in the end zone in a game was in 2019,” he said. “It was surreal to turn around and then see the fans, and turn back around and see see my teammates put their hands up (in celebration). It’s a great feeling it really lets you know why you love the game so much.”

On the ensuing drive for the Panthers, redshirt junior linebacker Grant Dyer was involved in the tackle when senior safety Brandon Easterling forced a fumble. Dyer said he was “sure everyone got the chills.”

“Just being out here, this was a great day,” he said. “And 658 days, that’s a long time coming. So I’m sure everyone on the sidelines was happy about that.”

Dyer also said playing after nearly two years was an “awesome feeling.” 

“(It was) a great atmosphere, with the band, and all the fans loved it, I’m sure,” Dyer said. “(It was a) great time.”

Hearing the band play was a highlight for fans, players and coaches alike on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Zach Merz. 

Rick Chamberlin, in his 14th season as Dayton football head coach, said the atmosphere was fun, but joked about “not being in shape yet” after running out onto the field before the game.

“But it was just exciting to come running out, hearing the band play, the crowd cheer. This is something that we’ve missed. I know our guys are going to be sore… tired and sore tonight and tomorrow, but they’ll still feel good because they got to play.”

The 116th Dayton Flyers football team runs onto the field before their 17-10 win over Eastern Illinois Sept. 11. Photo courtesy of Zach Merz.

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