WACO, Texas -- Baylor football is back on campus for the first time in nearly eight decades.
When the 10th-ranked and Big 12 champion Bears open sparkling new McLane Stadium on Sunday night against SMU, they will play their first game on the Waco campus since Nov. 9, 1935.
"Going across the bridge and the river and seeing the stadium get a little bigger was awesome," receiver Levi Norwood said, referring to the route most fans will take to get there.
The Bears closed out 64 seasons at Floyd Casey Stadium, about four miles from campus, on a bitterly cold Saturday last December. They beat Texas for their school-record 11th win and took their first outright league title since the 1980 Southwest Conference.
"[As recruits] we were being sold on hope and vision. Now there's reality. You can come in and see the Heisman, you can see the Big 12 championship trophy, you can see our bowl trophies, and now you're going to see that stadium," fifth-year senior offensive tackle Troy Baker said. "It's actually here and it's happening."
Baker grew up in Waco, and remembers as a kid going to high school games at Floyd Casey that drew more fans than Baylor games. That certainly changed over the past few seasons, especially after Robert Griffin III was playing for the Bears and won the school's only Heisman Trophy three years ago.
Only a handful of tickets remain for Baylor's regular-season finale against Kansas State in December. Every other game this year at the 45,140-seat stadium along Interstate 35 and the Brazos River is sold out, including a school-record 28,000 season tickets and an unprecedented demand by students for tickets. Some $30 general admission tickets on the berm for the opener were listed Thursday on Stubhub for $113.40, with several other seats for more than $500.
Baylor players have been in the horseshoe-shaped $266 million stadium for two scrimmages, and inside their new locker room that is 50 yards long. They are ready to play there before a raucous crowd.
"They're extremely anxious, without question," coach Art Briles said. "It's hard to talk about what's going to happen on Sunday because there's so many unknowns with how many boats are going to be in the water, how many people are going to be on the bridge, how many people are going to mingling outside of the stadium. The stadium, the atmosphere inside, they're all unknowns to everybody."
Some fans will get to the game by walking across a 775-foot long pedestrian bridge over the Brazos River. Others will arrive by boat, with only a few having assigned slips in the marina.
This stadium is gorgeous pic.twitter.com/lHu6nURMfJ— Brian Kaufman (@BrianKWTX) August 18, 2014
Officials anticipate plenty of extra fans without tickets to be around the stadium Sunday, and along the riverfront from downtown, to share the experience and atmosphere.
A statue of Griffin will be dedicated on the stadium's South plaza more than three hours before kickoff, and the Washington Redskins quarterback is scheduled to attend. Soon after that ceremony, Bryce Petty and the current Bears will arrive by crossing a 100-foot pedestrian bridge over the basin.
"To be able to trot out there as the quarterback of the 2014 Bears and open up a new stadium is huge for me," said Petty, the Big 12 offensive player of the year last season. "It's a privilege for all of us, but it's one that's humbling too. ... We want to protect that palace with everything that we've got."
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