By Dave Ongie
The scene that unfolded on the campus of East Tennessee State University last Saturday was years in the making.
It had been 5,034 days since the Buccaneers had played a football game on campus prior to Saturday night’s contest between ETSU and Limestone inside the brand-new William B. Greene Jr. Stadium. The chasm between the Bucs and their last outdoor home game on campus was 16,353 days, stretching back to Nov. 25, 1972.
But for those who had been yearning for crisp Autumn afternoons, the wait ended earlier than anticipated. A light drizzle rode in on an uncharacteristically cool breeze as hundreds of tailgaters set up tents and fired up grills under a gunmetal gray sky.
The damp weather did little to dampen the spirits of the Buccaneer faithful who gathered to see the realization of a dream that often seemed downright outlandish during the decade following the school’s decision to disband the football program back in 2003. Even though temperatures hung in the low 60s, folks ventured out of their canopies and tents to toss footballs and beanbags as game time approached.
The crowd around campus swelled as the afternoon wore on, and the atmosphere became electric. A little over two hours before kickoff, the ETSU football team made its walk across campus from the MiniDome to the Greene Stadium, symbolically bridging the gap between past and present by making the walk from ETSU’s old stadium to the new one. Shortly before 7 p.m., the gold-clad Bucs took the field much to the delight of their gold-clad fans, and ETSU’s football team wasted no time thrilling the rain-soaked capacity crowd.
The Bucs sprinted out to a 21-3 halftime lead and eased to a 31-10 win over Limestone to open the stadium in style in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Andrew Heyward scored the first touchdown in stadium history. After the final horn, fireworks illuminated the sky.
Earlier in the day, a band had taken the stage near the entrance to the stadium and filled the campus with the strains of the Rolling Stone’s hit “Time is On My Side.” At the dawn of a new era, the song choice was fitting.