Heather Lyke's Best Decision as Pitt AD Was Featured This Weekend in Charlotte

Alexandra Wimley / Post-Gazette

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I joined thousands of Pitt faithful this weekend and made the trip to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Subway ACC Championship game between the Pitt Panthers and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  While there, it occurred to me that a major decision by Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke was fully on display in such a positive way. 

I am referring to the decision for Pitt athletics to go back in time, and return to the royal blue and yellow color scheme. 

The Royal Family

Each time Pitt scored a touchdown on Saturday evening in their dominating victory over Wake Forest, a sea of royal blue would erupt from one side of the stadium.  It happened often as the Panthers trounced the Demon Deacons 45-21.  The game ended with 31 unanswered points for Pitt in a full team effort that really saw few errors from the Panthers after the 1st quarter.  It was one of the most impressive wins of Pat Narduzzi’s career as Pitt’s head coach and the most important.  For the first time in program history, the Pitt football team is the Champion of the ACC conference.  

Before the game was when I really took notice to just how many Pitt fans made the trip to Charlotte.  Every bar we walked into there was an overwhelming scene of royal blue.  The Fan Fest outside of the stadium put on by the ACC Conference was also 85-90% blue despite the event having no allegiance to a single fan base.  It looked like the outside scenes of a Pitt home game with few Demon Deacon fans speckled in.

However, when we sat down for the opening kickoff, our preconceived notions, based on the tailgating scenes outside, took a small hit.  While I do believe Pitt fans outnumbered Wake Forest fans, despite their trip to Bank of America stadium being just an hour and half in travel time, the difference in numbers was not quite as large as it appeared outside.

That is when I realized how powerful the royal blue is for the fan base.  When passing a couple dressed in black this weekend, I didn’t know if they were local Charlotteans looking to have a drink among the crowds, or if they were Wake Forest fans attending the game.  In contrast, when I saw a family in royal blue, I knew exactly what their intentions were.  And it may sound silly, but I think it helped make the experience that much more enjoyable for Pitt fans like myself.

I have visited other cities for Pittsburgh sporting events before.  Most of the time, I try to keep a low profile and just enjoy the game.  I am at an age where I’m not looking to ruffle any feathers or cause a scene with the local crowd.  This weekend, however, I felt like I traveled 7 and a half hours for a home game.  It felt as if we were with family from Friday night, to Sunday, seeing Pitt fans everywhere we went.  Whether it was a diner for breakfast Saturday morning or gassing up at any Sheetz from Charlotte to Pittsburgh, the royal blue was everywhere.

Even driving back on 79-North, a car filled with fellow Pitt fans honked its horn as it drove passed.  My Dad asked those of us in the car, “how did he know?”  We took one look around the vehicle and saw we all still had on our royal blue sweatshirts from the night before.  My Dad had his answer.  Even through small car windows, the royal blue popped.  We were just another member of the royal and yellow family that weekend.

And I do think it translated inside the stadium as well.  I'm sure as soon as we entered the stadium we would have been just as comfortable hollering in support of the Panthers no matter who we were sitting among, but I felt a sense of community among the royal and yellow.  It was a truly unforgettable experience for so many reasons, but the power of the royal blue is among the memories I will never forget.

For those that weren’t there, I hope I painted a proper picture.  Where Wake Forest fans just seemed to fit in with the normal landscape of a downtown picture in their black colored outfits, Pitt fans popped out of the scenery.  It created an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and really added to the experience as a whole.  As long as Pitt has this color scheme that stands out from a crowd, this camaraderie travels with it.  It gives Pitt fans a family at home and on the road. 

And returning to this color scheme will be an everlasting decision from Pitt AD Heather Lyke.  Anytime Pitt fans travel, they will know exactly who traveled with them, even if they have never met before.  It is a powerful thing to feel comfortable on the road, and this decision from Lyke makes road trips for Pitt fans an indefinite comfortable experience.  It may just be me, but I can't wait for my next Pitt road trip.