Former “American Idol” winner Jordin Sparks hung onto the word “braaaaaaaaaaaave” for 5 seconds, capping a rousing rendition of the national anthem and leading to showers of applause.
Then, about 5 seconds after that, the real showers began – and they didn’t stop for about 5 hours.
This is what people who were there will remember about the Monday night in November when the Indianapolis Colts and ESPN’s A-team came to Bank of America Stadium: rain. Relentless rain. (Well, that, and the Colts’ improbable comeback, and the extra period, punctuated by Graham Gano’s game-winning 52-yard field goal.)
Rain from earlier in the evening slowed uptown traffic more than usual. It slowed foot traffic through the gates, as fans cloaked in ponchos struggled to empty their pockets for security.
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Then as the game started, it fell steadily, plinking off baseball caps, smudging mascara and matting hair. It fell into wide-mouthed aluminum bottles of beer, making light beers just that much lighter. It made the guys selling frozen lemonade – yes, this was happening – very, very lonely.
Here and there, the drizzle chased people to the TVs mounted in the concourses. And, of course, it waterlogged the field, making for sloppy conditions that often led to sloppy play.
The only thing the rain couldn’t dampen was spirits, which is a terrible pun yet also a statement that’s rarely been as apropos as it was Monday night because ... actually, hold that thought.
First, let me say: Though the Panthers organization may have flaws as event managers (and one might be, say, security – how in the world did those protesters get into the stadium with sophisticated rappelling gear, when the rest of us couldn’t even bring in umbrellas?), it does the fan experience about as well as anyone and often better.
From my vantage point, that translates to short lines at (plentiful and efficient) concession stands; short lines in (plentiful and clean) restrooms; slick work from public address announcer Nick Pierce; astute song choices from game-day DJ Vinny Esposito; nearly instant instant replays on its crystal-clear video boards; and – as a friend who attends a lot more sporting events than I do points out – a refreshing refusal to bombard fans with constant marketing and promotions.
All of this works to minimize annoyances that can interfere with what should be the primary focus: the game. And when those tangible things are running so smoothly and keeping the focus on the game so sharply, it helps make the intangible aspects click together for fans.
As for those spirits that couldn’t be dampened...
Look, the Panthers are off to their best start in franchise history, so everyone who walked into the stadium wearing black and blue Monday night was already in a convivial mood, primed to celebrate great plays way more heartily than if the team were 0-6.
When Cam Newton connected with Greg Olsen on a 27-yard pass to go up 17-6 with time winding down in the third quarter, the college girls in the row in front of us spilled their beers as they spun around to hand out sloppy, wet high-fives.
When Newton hit Philly Brown in the fourth to make it 23-6, a glassy-eyed middle-aged man in an orange raincoat behind us wanted a chest bump and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
(This drive-by camaraderie is unique, by the way; I’ve never seen that kind of interaction between strangers at major concerts, and I’ve been to a whole lot of ’em.)
Also, when your team is on this kind of a roll, you’re more apt to suck it up in bad weather.
Inclement or extreme weather can make for lasting spectating memories to begin with – all other things being equal, we remember the time we got pelted with hail during a game but have barely any recollection of the various contests we’ve sat through on pleasant days.
And with a winning streak on the line, there was even more of a feeling at the Colts game that we’d remember the experience for a long time, that it was worth getting wet, that this is why REI sells ponchos.
In fact, on Monday night, it was raining hard enough that cellphones often stayed tucked inside pockets.
These phenomena created a perfect storm of sorts: Fans riding a high that has lasted now for eight weeks, bonding over their shared willingness to come stand in the rain for four hours, and remaining mostly unhooked from their mobile devices – leaving more hands free to dish out high-fives.
On what should have been an otherwise miserable night, strangers became friends, Monday became Tuesday, and about 15 minutes after that, the Panthers became 7-0.