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Glitz, blitz kick off new football season

It was a country concert, a flight show, a skydiving demonstration, a pyrotechnic marvel, a cinema and an all-out, knock-your-socks-off stadium dedication bonanza.

And somewhere in between was a football game.

Not that 11-year-old Hanna Hale really cared: "It was all really cool. The fly bys were awesome. I really loved the parachute man. Except the second guy moved the 'X'. That wasn't cool."

Sure, there were a few glitches. Country singer Chad Brock's halftime performance was interrupted in the middle of his hit single, and running back Antwoine Womack's name was spelled incorrectly on the scoreboard several times, but overall the dedication of the expanded Carl Smith Center went smoothly and spectacularly.

The festivities kicked off with a ceremony honoring Carl W. Smith, the former Virginia lineman (1949-50) who donated $25 million to the $86 million stadium renovation. Along with Smith, Frederic W. Scott, Lawrence Lewis, J.C. Herbert Bryant and David A. Harrison III were recognized for contributing to the creation of the current facility.

And what an incredible facility it is. From the Jeffersonian pergola enclosing the stadium's north end to the expanded restrooms and concession stands, a lot of fans were left wide-eyed.

Graham Powell from James Madison University exclaimed, "[The stadium] is absolutely incredible! The energy is electric. It makes me wish I went here."

Class of 1994 alumnus Dave O'Brien agreed, saying "this is no rinky-dinky U.Va. kind of thing. [The stadium] used to just be a football field in the middle of a parking lot. Now it's a real stadium."

Following the dedication ceremony, the 60,435 spectators experienced a litany of big budget performances. After seeing pinpoint skydivers and hearing the deafening F-15 flyover, fans were treated to a 21st century short film marvel, starring the Cavalier mascot as an animated Toy-Story-like character galloping through the Academical Village. Before the Cavalier confronted a diminutive BYU Cougar on the steps of the Rotunda, it stopped by Cabell Hall, Minor Hall and galloped up the length of the Lawn. Predictably, the larger-than-life Cavalier slew the virtual Cougar in crowd-pleasing fashion and rode through the stadium to enthusiastic cheers.

For third-year College student and Honor Committee Chairman Thomas Hall, the pre-game festivities, which culminated in Brock singing the national anthem and fireworks, were the best part of the afternoon.

"I thought it was great," Hall said. "It really inaugurated the stadium in a new and exciting way."

Unfortunately, the Virginia football team didn't hold up its end of the bargain. After jumping out to a 21-point lead, the Cavalier defense allowed BYU 35 points in the second half and failed to make a key stop in overtime. The Cavs lost, 38-35, right before the rain started and put a depressing damper on an otherwise bright and joyous day in Virginia sports. To make things worse, the loss came before the largest crowd to ever attend a football game in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

"The crowd was so hyped up," senior linebacker Donny Green said. "On the defense, we really feed off that. The crowd really stepped up for us."

But Virginia coach George Welsh's assessment of the crowd's impact on the game wasn't nearly as enthusiastic. When asked to gauge the increase in crowd noise, Welsh simply said, "I didn't notice any difference."

Despite the loss, spirits remained high at post-game tailgates and parties. On the second floor of Bryant Hall, the Virginia Football Alumni Association met to schmooze, booze and discuss how far things have come since the old days.

"When I played, we had to dress in Memorial Gymnasium and take a bus to Scott Stadium," said Don Kovach, who was an offensive lineman for Virginia from 1954 to 1956. "We had nothing like this. For someone like myself who played a long, long time ago, it's almost overwhelming. I can't comprehend it."

Class of 1949 alumnus and former teammate of Smith, Barney Gill, agreed with the assessment but added that the changes are as much a response to economic concerns as to the sky-rocketing popularity of college sports.

"It's a different world now with TV-sponsored games and the economics of the way things are going and the way sports are taking over. As an old-timer, I just sit back and say I'm glad I'm still here to recognize it."

The University tradition of getting dressed up for football games was alive and kicking at the game Saturday, thanks to the superb weather. But game attire of high heels for women and long pants and shirts for men is not generally amenable to climbing multiple flights of stairs in the heat, which some University students found themselves doing.

Despite the expansion of the student section, seats filled up before the game even started, leaving many disgruntled game-goers roaming the hallways and upper deck sections in search of a seat.

"I was here 15 minutes before the game started, and I have been trying to find a seat for over an hour. And it's so damned hot," third-year College student Patrick McCreesh said.

Students crammed themselves in the section aisles for a while before being asked to leave to find seating elsewhere. Event Staff workers stood at the entrances to the student sections and turned people away as they came, saying there was simply not enough room for them.

"I'm pretty mad," said second-year College student Ledia Tabor. "We've been walking around for an hour trying to find a seat."

Other students felt the expansion of the student section vertically into the upper deck actually hindered the ambient noise level and atmosphere.

"What's the University's rationale for splitting up the student section [on

two different levels]?" fourth-year College student Michael Finnegan asked. "When it's spread out like this, it's not as loud."

"It's very sedated up here," second-year College student Jon Cleborne agreed.

Nevertheless, the awe and power inspired by the new stadium is undeniable. Football games will never be the same.

When asked what he thought, fourth-year College student Ben Levy said, "I've been watching U.Va. football since the 1984 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, and I'm so excited to see U.Va. football elevated to the next level. I hope this helps keep George Welsh here"