By Marc Daniels
"They will never build a stadium on campus"
"Where will they get the money for it?"
"Why would you leave the current stadium you are playing in?
"I'll believe it when I see it"
UCF fans, leaders and doubters heard it all. Whenever the idea of building an on-campus stadium came up there were eye rolls and laughs by many. The growing school was seeing a huge increase in enrollment and while Daunte Culpepper made a name for UCF Football, the program was still growing and drawing a crowd of 20,000 was still viewed as a big gate.
There were blueprints drawn up that never materialized. There were helicopter rides over the supposed place the stadium would be built. There were dozens and dozens of meetings and business lunches but they never became a real plan.
But former UCF President John Hitt had a few people in his ear that felt it was the right time. That there could be funding from the state and private donations and there was a building model that could have a 45,000 seat stadium be built in two years. Hitt supported UCF Football and saw a successful program as part of the long term vision of growing the UCF brand. As enrollment was growing so were the opportunities to promote that UCF was far more than the commuter school label many placed on the east Orlando campus.
Hitt heard from program supporters Jerry Roth, Dick Nunis, David Albertson and others who felt the city didn't think UCF would ever build an on-campus stadium so the school's requests of a better deal or upgrades at the Citrus Bowl went nowhere since there was a position of "well, where are they going to play if not here?"
The city knew the Citrus Bowl was outdated and upgrades were needed but funding was challenged. Political leaders lumped stadium improvements into plans for a new downtown arena for the Orlando Magic and a new performing arts center.
UCF didn't want to wait and see what might happen to the city's plan and didn't feel they would get a better deal to generate more revenue if they stayed. There was a vision of what an on-campus stadium would bring. UCF had never experienced what many schools had in a game day experience: tailgating, promoting your colleges and bringing people to your campus that had not been before and most of all...make more money.
In December 2005, the UCF Board approved plans to move forward to build the stadium on campus and everything changed for UCF. Construction started in March of 2006 and 18 months later UCF opened its new stadium on September 15, 2007 hosting the Texas Longhorns.
I remember driving to the stadium that day and slowed down to soak it all in. I saw fans parked all over campus with their tents and grills busy with smiling faces and footballs being tossed and music blasting and it was a moment many doubted would or could happen but it did. UCF was playing its first true home game.
That day, Texas beat UCF 35-32 before more than 45,000 fans. Of course, because it's Florida, there was a 15-minute lightning delay in the first quarter. But the atmosphere from pre-game to the final second was electric. The BOUNCE HOUSE was born that day. Fans learned early how the stadium truly shaked when they jumped and a tradition was created.
Tonight marks the 100th game played in UCF's stadium, now called FBC Mortgage Stadium. Over the 15+ seasons UCF has played in their stadium they have won 76 of 99 games. A home game at UCF generates millions of dollars for the program and school. It has become one of the main attractions on campus and it has brought fans together to create memories and relationships that last forever.
Doubters became critics and some mocked the type of stadium UCF built. But some of those were just filled with jealousy wishing they did what UCF did(you know, certain schools that are not located in the geographical region of their name). Would you rather have your 45,000 seat stadium where you make millions every home game or hope to someday build a stadium 8-10 times the cost of what UCF built and wonder where you will raise the money to build such a stadium?
Over the years UCF's stadium has provided many great moments for fans. That initial 2007 season saw UCF host a conference title where the Knights beat Tulsa(Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa that year). In 2008, UCF beat 13th-ranked Houston at home. They won another conference title at home in 2010. In the Fiesta Bowl season of 2013, UCF battled Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team in what was their only loss of that season.In 2014, UCF beat BYU in an overtime thriller. There was the double-overtime loss to Maryland in 2016 that introduced UCF fans to a young dazzling quarterback named McKenzie Milton. The magic of 2017 gave you Mike Hughes and his "reservation for six" kickoff return to beat USF in one of the greatest games in program history only to be followed by the next game at the stadium a week later with the double-overtime conference title game win over Memphis. 2018 saw the rout over a melted Pitt team, an ESPN GameDay victory over Cincinnati and Darriel Mack's memorable performance to beat Memphis in the conference title game.
There are millions of other memories at that stadium that fans created along the way of the first 99 games. There are selfies, player walks, BBQ, rain delays and slow wifi that make a game day at UCF unique. But UCF's home games are their home games and on one elses.
The building of that stadium is one of the most significant moments in program history. There is no argument that UCF's 41 wins over a four year period from 2017-2020 played a huge role in the Big XII extending an invitation to join the league. But the on-campus is part of the fabric of the program and sits smack in the middle of its athletic campus and the UCF brand has made the most of the moments over the years to the point it will enter one of the biggest and deepest football leagues in the country.
Tonight's game against Temple is the 100th game at the stadium. It's also the latest Space Game for UCF, as it celebrates the unique relationship the school has with the space industry. There are special uniforms and game day activities that make today a little different than a typical home game. But UCF has been a little different in doing things for years. It's what led to the plan to take an idea of an on-campus stadium and make it a reality.
More than 3.5 million fans have come to the first 99 home games at the stadium. By the time game number 200 comes capacity might be closer to 60,000.
When kickoff takes place tonight, there will be several people who played a significant role in the making of that stadium possible. You may have never met any of them and that's ok. But if you are at the game, look around and soak it in and enjoy a moment that doubters said would never happen. It's always sweeter when you make dreams come true. Here's to those who had a vision and made it happen.
I have been fortunate to broadcast all 99 games at the stadium. I'll be sitting in the best seat in the house when toe hits ball and the 100th game gets underway...
Final note: UCF not only opened a football stadium in 2007. The school became the first to open a football and basketball arena in the same year when they cut the ribbon on their new 10,000 seat home for UCF basketball.