It was an exceptionally beautiful Saturday morning when I arrived at Heinz Field. The sun made the Three Rivers sparkle like diamonds. The sky was an endless blue.

Candidly, it could have been a rainy gray day in the ‘Burgh and I still would have had an extra spring in my step.

We were playing football.

And soccer.

The night before, our cross country teams ran the scenic Youthtowne course.

Volleyballs were again flying around Fitzgerald Field House as our three-time ACC champions began preparations for another title.

It was all so uplifting. It was all so—dare I say it—normal.

Of course, our world remains far from normal.

While I was excited to be back at Heinz Field, the current pandemic sidelined my favorite pregame rituals—surveying the parking lots for waving Pitt flags, visiting family tailgate parties, watching footballs flying on the Great Lawn, talking with donors and forever Panthers, listening to the band’s pre-game performance and watching the team unload the buses and walk down General Robinson Street to enter the stadium.

There is an obvious and palpable void without fans at Heinz, the Field House and Petersen Sports Complex this fall.

But know this.

Even though you, our most loyal and passionate fans, aren’t physically present for these games, our teams can still feel your presence and support. They know each time they step into the competitive arena, they are playing not only for themselves but also for the entire Panther Nation.

That’s why it was so moving to see Coach Pat Narduzzi lead our football team to the north end zone—where the Pitt Band and famed “Panther Pitt” normally reside—for a postgame victory tribute.

Never underestimate your impact on the young men and women who proudly wear Pitt’s Blue and Gold. Your effect is real—even when you can’t be there in person!

It has long been apparent that the coronavirus would present challenges that could not be overcome in a matter of weeks or months. However, with the remarkable work from groups like Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research, we have hope that the clouds of this pandemic will soon be broken.

In the interim, we will boldly move forward and not waver from the daily mission of the University of Pittsburgh.

For more than 230 years, Pitt has helped make the world a better, stronger and safer place. Those aspirations won’t change in the face of this pandemic.

Great adversities can only be overcome by working together. I’ve been so proud and inspired by the University of Pittsburgh’s communal effort to keep all facets of this institution moving forward over the past seven months and into the future.

It is an extraordinary testament to Pitt’s many extraordinary people that we have been able to safely launch six of our fall competition seasons—football, volleyball as well as men’s and women’s soccer and cross country.

I want to enthusiastically commend our outstanding sports medicine teams, coaches, athletic department staff members and, last but certainly not least, our student-athletes. Their collective commitment—especially our student-athletes—is why our teams have been able to not only play, but play and stay overwhelmingly healthy this fall.

Even though you are watching or listening to our teams in action from afar, I hope our Panthers have brought you enjoyment, excitement and a sense of pride during this most unconventional of Septembers. Together, we will continue to hope and strive for better tomorrows.

My best wishes to you and your loved ones for health and safety. Remember to wash your hands, socially distance and wear your Pitt face coverings with pride!

I can’t wait to “see” you all again soon!

Hail to Pitt!

Heather Lyke

Director of Athletics

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