Thousands of people sat inside the Bounce House Saturday night, watching the football game and honoring those who died on 9/11.
The Knights' game against Bethune-Cookman University marked the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that took nearly 3,000 lives in New York.
John Heisler, UCF's senior athletics director, said in an email that UCF had set up several special tributes throughout the game to commemorate the tragic event and honor first responders.
"Here's how Knights will recognize that event: a moment of silence prior to the national anthem, the anthem sung by (a) UCF Air Force ROTC student, a combined halftime tribute by the UCF and Bethune-Cookman bands to America's first responders - including a performance of "America the Beautiful" and a bagpipe player performing "Amazing Grace" - recognition of a first responder as hero of the game (and) 9/11 stickers worn by UCF players on the back of their helmets," Heisler said in the email.
First responders who were present at the game were also asked to stand up and be recognized as heroes, and when the UCF and Bethune bands performed the halftime show together, many players and audience members reacted with emotional surprise.
Asherah Collins, a freshman student athlete on UCF's track and field team, said she loved the halftime show and everything UCF did to honor these people.
“I think that it was amazing, and they should always do that every year,” Collins said.
UCF alumnus Cory Hullsman said he thought the halftime show was "epic" and that the display of rival bands performing together was an example of unity for all Americans.
“The bands coming together really showed ... how we can come together as a nation,” Hullsman said.
Terri Fine, a UCF professor of political science, said that before 9/11 there was an "othered" sense of security - one that would call for vigilance overseas, not here at home. After the attacks of Sept. 11, she said, the American notion of security would never be the same, and this is something that even commemorations cannot convey, as generations born after the attacks do not share in the lived experienced.
"Young people have no memory of how life changed so much that day," Fine said.
Some UCF football players said they were happy to play with the stickers on the back of their helmets and be a part of one of the many gestures of that night.
Running back Johnny Richardson said he thinks it's important for all people, including younger generations, to remember 9/11.
“I think 9/11 is important to us because history doesn’t repeat itself,” Richardson, a sophomore with an undeclared major, said.
Wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe said 9/11 was a sad moment, something he’ll never forget. O'Keefe, a criminal justice junior, said many of his family members are first responders.
“I’m glad I got to go out there and perform the way I did because it’s a special day and really a remembrance for it,” O’Keefe said after the Knights won the game 63-14.
While Knights fans were visibly and wildly excited at the win, the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks hung in the air at certain moments of solemn observation, making it so that some parts of the night took on a different, deeper meaning. For many, the night was not just about the game.
“(9/11) changed the course of history for the U.S.," UCF student Thomas Cutler said. "It changed the course of history for the whole world, really."