Football fans crammed his Cornelius restaurant to watch the NFL games on TV, but owner Joel Pfyffer was nowhere to be found.
He was celebrating on a Lake Norman island with a dozen friends, a satellite dish, a generator and two TVs.
The lake-area friends cheer for different teams but share the same intent on the opening Sunday of the NFL each year: Camaraderie, Lake Norman-style.
“I'm a fair-weather football fan,” Dave Butler of Mooresville said. “It's more about the people out here, having fun, having a good time.”
Pfyffer started the tradition three years ago, combining his passions of football and the lake.
The friends boat to a tree-canopied island near Sherrills Ford. They set the generator 200 feet into the woods so it won't drown out the sound of the TVs they place on a table near the water. They stock coolers with bottled water, soda, beer and wine, and cheer their teams.
Last Sunday was sunny and in the high 80s, so everyone played in the water at times with their children. The island is ideal because only a shallow channel separates one side of the island from some land. “Boats can't cruise through the channel, so it's safe for the kids,” New England Patriots fan Kerrie Dezak of Mount Holly said.
“I'm cheering for the game and my daughter at the same time,” Pfyffer said as daughter Riley, 5, frolicked in the water with adults and other children. “The only thing missing here is a laptop with a (satellite) card so we could check our Fantasy (Football) stats.”
But the fun almost wasn't to be when the friends arrived on the island and Pfyffer realized he'd left the power strip at his Mooresville home. Volunteers boated the 15 minutes back to retrieve it. The power strip was crucial because it connected the TVs, satellite boxes and a cord that extended to the generator.
Then the generator wouldn't work, despite the repeated efforts of sweat-drenched strongman John Hosinski of Mooresville. When the TVs finally powered on at 2:15 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes after kickoff of the first games, everyone cheered.
Pfyffer “honored” his wife, Kelly, who was taking orders and cleaning tables at their Prosciutto's Pizzeria, Pub & Restaurant in Cornelius.
“Here's to my wife,” he said with a smile to the group as he raised a toast, “working while I'm out here.”
Pfyffer, a New England Patriots fan from New Hampshire, said boaters gave the group startled looks when the tradition began. They couldn't continue it last year because Lake Norman was too shallow due to drought to get their boats to the island.
Chris and Marji Wunder of south Charlotte spent last Sunday morning on their boat nearby and didn't know the group. But Chris looked to his wife and said, “Honey, they have two TVs over there!”
“Honey,” Marji replied. “They're not looking to adopt.”
But the group had already adopted Brian Snider of Harrisburg in Cabarrus County, who'd come to the island to commune with nature and eat his two hamburgers. He usually goes to the island with girlfriend Jackie Forster of Mooresville and Missy, his 9-month-old Jack Russell. But his girlfriend had “burnt out on the lake” for the summer, he said. “I love it out here.”
Only two members of the group, Seth Steele and Maureen Roth, said they were die-hard Panthers fans.
But the entire entourage stood up, cheered and hollered when Panthers tight end Dante Rosario caught a 14-yard pass from Jake Delhomme in the end zone to give his team a 26-24 upset win over the San Diego Chargers.
“A spectacular finish to a spectacular day,” Pfyffer said as everyone cleaned the island and returned to the mainland.