MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The University of Memphis football team kicked off an unprecedented season in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And game day looked a lot different.
The fountain on Tiger Lane was empty Saturday. Fans walked by the vacant places normally filled with excited tailgating fans as they descended on the Liberty Bowl for the first time in what will be an unprecedented college football season.
“Definitely very strange compared to usual. We’ve been coming to these for a long time and we love the Tigers but just a strange atmosphere,” said Matthew Phillips, Tigers fan.
The last time the Tigers played in the Liberty Bowl, 33,000 fans watched them win the AAC Championship.
Due to 12-feet social distance requirements by the Shelby County Health Department, only 4,537 fans were allowed at Saturday’s game.
Among the other changes -- face masks were required at all times, fans were instructed to stay in their quadrant of the stadium, and fans only received digital tickets.
“It’s a time when everything is new, so much of it is new. It’s amazing how much time and effort and thought we put into for 4,500 fans,” said Laird Veatch, Director of Athletics at the University of Memphis.
University of Memphis Athletic Director Laird Veatch says there were points during the summer that even he was unsure the college football season would happen.
With the home opener broadcasted on national TV, Veatch and his staff wanted the game to showcase the university and the city.
“We’re also representing Memphis, we’re on national TV. It’s a great opportunity for our university and for our city and we need to do that the right way too. I’m proud of our folks, they seem to be responding very well and I’m confident they will,” said Veatch.
Fans we talked to said they are willing to follow precautions to keep everyone safe.
“We’re glad to see the precautions that they’re taking. We’re certainly willing to do what we can to keep everybody safe,” said Kent Phillips, fan.
Tiger fans who were able to catch the game live hope that last year’s pinnacle season ending with at the Cotton Bowl can lead to even more success during this strange year.
“We’re definitely keeping our hopes up. A lot of guys coming back so it should be another good season hopefully.”