An Experience of a Lifetime: Florida Tech vs. Tarleton State Football
Sometimes in life you’re offered a once in a lifetime experience. An experience where you pinch yourself because it all feels unreal. An experience you keep in your heart for the rest of your days.
For me, this past weekend was one for the record books. I followed the Florida Tech football team, staff and alumni to Dallas, Texas as they played in Lone Star Football Festival in the largest stadium in the world, AT&T Stadium.
When I was first recruited for the trip by my department, I was excited. I mean, I like football and travel. This should be good, right? But I didn’t how much of a game-changer this whole adventure would turn out to be. It was unbelievable.
We departed on a balmy Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. from the Varsity Training Center on campus. Four whole buses of players, coaches, university staff, alumni and members of the media and local community. My stomach was in knots because I had no idea what to expect. Here I was, a lone marketing gal, in a sea of people I didn’t know with just a piece of paper depicting a schedule of events and my bags.
An awesome Melbourne police officer escorted our group to the Melbourne International Airport, and once we got there, the wonderful staff at the airport had a mini-cookout for all of us. After receiving our boarding passes and passing through a surprisingly swift security line, we loaded into the plane (but not before we took tons of group photos of the team).
Knowing that I was going to be situated next to two strangers on the flight, I was a little leery as I took my seat. The two gentlemen on either side of me were none other than Jerry Durney and Paul Van Scott, football announcers extraordinaire. I wasn’t acquainted with them before this moment, but we all bonded by the time the plane touched down in Dallas. I couldn’t have asked for better neighbors.
After a slight delay, we all arrived in Dallas at around 12:30 p.m. Before I could blink, we loaded the buses and headed off for a quick side trip to Dealey Plaza, the historic location of President’s John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Fifteen minutes later, it was time to book it to AT&T Stadium for our own personal walk-through of the space at 2 p.m.
One of the highlights of this trip was the police escort from the airport to Dealey Plaza, the stadium and the hotel. We all felt like royalty as five Dallas police cruisers cleared the roads to give us a rapid, smooth bus ride. Inside information told me that it was Coach Englehart’s idea, so thanks, Coach!
AT&T Stadium from the road was absolutely breathtaking. A pair of nearly 300-ft. tall arches covers the entirety of the building. And the inside, well, it was really something else. As we walked onto the field, we each took some time to take in the environment. Where do you even begin in a place like that? Football highlights played on the main video display, one of the largest high-definition television screens in the world. The dome’s seating area was filled to the brim with 80,000 seats. No, that’s not a typo. 80,000. The artificial turf felt soft to the touch. Legendary Dallas Cowboy player names lined the sidelines. And my goodness, this place was immaculate. It was almost too perfect.
I spent half the time gawking at all the stadium amenities and the other half capturing the reaction on other people’s faces. I’m a people watcher. Always have been, always will be. It’s delightful to witness pure joy happen right in front of you, and this event was the Super Bowl of reactions (see what I did there?). These players and coaches have dreamed their entire lives to play in a place like this. This was the big time.
To add icing on the cake, we all were able to go into the Cowboy locker room to get a behind-the-scenes look at where the professionals hang out and prepare for the game. Many “selfies” took place in front of Tony Romo’s space.
And just like that, we were off to check into the hotel for some down time before the evening’s events. The alumni and community traversed to the Fort Worth Stockyards for some Texas fun, while my team and I stuck around for the player and coach dinner and meeting.
Coach Englehart spoke passionately as he painted the game scenario to the players during the team meeting. He talked about drive, obstacles and most of all, focus. It was so inspiring, I wanted to suit up and jump onto the field myself. With a fight scene from the Rocky movie series, a short visit from a current Dallas Cowboys player Ronald Patrick (originally from Cocoa High), and a late-night snack of milkshakes and buffalo wings, the evening concluded.
It was finally time for game day. While the team wasn’t shuttled off to the stadium until 2 p.m., I left with the first group of travelers at 10:30 a.m. to explore the stadium and catch a few of the games. The Lonestar Football Festival is almost like a super concert. Four football games take place over the course of the day. It’s a well-oiled machine — once a game ends, teams are promptly escorted off the field in preparation for the next.
The rest of the day was an adrenaline rush. Time before the game consisted of assisting Athletic Communications and oohing and ahhing the suites, radio and press box. I felt like a superstar with my all-access pass. From the Florida Tech football team running out of the stadium tunnel, to our fantastic surprise win, I was on the field capturing video and living in the action. I could smell the player sweat. I could hear the coaches yelling out to the team. I could feel the electricity in every down.
And we won! Tarleton State was #12 in the nation at the time. The home side of the stadium was filled to the brim with thousands of fans. The cheerleaders, flag team and marching band performed a huge fanfare for their beloved team. We were the “puny” visitor team. Nobody thought we could win. But we did. Final score was 37-31. What an unbelievable feeling.
With a huge sense of Panther Pride, all of us departed from AT&T Stadium for the journey home to Melbourne. On the trip back, one of the flight attendants presented our president, Dr. Catanese, with the game football, courtesy of Coach Englehart.
Nothing could’ve topped that day. I’ve always liked football, but now I have a bigger appreciation for the sport. I understand the widespread popularity. I’m so grateful for this experience and I thank my department and Ryan Jones in Athletic Communications for the trip. I only wish I could rewind and do it all over again!
See some of my game highlights below:
by A’riel Tinter, Marketing Officer