EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- More than 34,000 football fans were back in the stands for the Northwestern Wildcats' season opener against the Michigan State Spartans Friday night.
Ryan Field opened at full capacity for the first time since 2019 with no vaccine or mask requirements. For the Wildcat faithful, this home opener felt like coming home.
"To have the fans back and just college football to be back on, back on the scene, it's just great," fan Jeff Truskowski said.
"Look at this. It's awesome. The tents, the music, the food. We're so glad to be back," fan Jim Weldon added.
At the pre-game tailgate, there were familiar sights and smells as some showed their team pride in new ways.
"You know, it also gives us an opportunity to show some school spirit in another way, in a blingy way," fan Yvonne Agnello-Adams said as she put on a purple mask.
While you must wear a mask indoors, you are not required to be masked out in the stands.
"We'll see what fall brings. I don't know, depending on the day, I'm a little bit more optimistic or pessimistic," fan Cara Conway said. "I hope that more people get vaccinated, so that we're able to be more social."
A vaccine mandate is in place for students, minus exemptions.
"Knowing that everyone in that student section is going to be vaccinated made it a little easier," senior Jacob Brown said.
Businesses are grateful, too. Bar 17 in downtown Evanston is a classic college sports bar, and even as COVID restrictions eased, business wasn't going to be the same without fans streaming into town on game days.
"It sometimes, you know, quadruples your sales for the day, and that makes up for a lot of the times when campus is closed or they're on break," said general manager Hannah Lindsay.
Let's Tailgate also got a welcome boost of business from fans grabbing last minute gear.
"It was very slow in here," said owner Cindy Gaborek of the effects of the lockdowns. "It was devastating."
With Big 10 football and fans back, there's reason to celebrate no matter who you cheer on.