CHARLOTTE – As fans filed into Bank of America Stadium on Friday evening for Fan Fest, they encountered an escalator waiting to whisk them skyward in a matter of seconds.
Once inside the stadium bowl, fans turned their eyes upward to massive new video boards blanketing the sky above each end zone.
And at the end of the evening, fans gazed higher still to a truly memorable fireworks display that lit up the night sky.
From beginning to end, it all pointed to one inescapable fact: The sky is the limit for the Carolina Panthers in 2014.
"We're excited about the renovations and we're excited about the fans here tonight," linebacker Thomas Davis told a crowd of 36,315 following a spirited practice to kick off training camp. "Now we're looking forward to giving the fans something to be excited about."
Some fans showed up four hours early to ensure they'd have the best seats in the house for all the festivities. When the gates opened five minutes early, some fans literally ran to secure their spot.
Dillon Duckworth made the 90-minute trip from Morganton, N.C., with his children and brother and got in line early enough to snag seats on the front row of section 131.
"The kids were really pumped about coming, and me and my brother are huge fans," said Duckworth, who exchanged high-fives with his family after surveying their vantage point. "We wanted to get a good spot, so we figured we better go ahead and get here."
While the Duckworths settled into their front-row seats, Norm Mozer of Lake Wylie, S.C., had a little more elbow room. He headed to the very top row of the stadium in section 517, an area very familiar to him because he's owned two seats there since the day the stadium opened.
"I wanted to see the difference with the video boards from my seats. It really makes a big difference," Mozer said. "When I first walked into the bowl, the video boards really struck me. They're so much bigger. The ribbon boards really struck me, too, and I can tell the sound is better.
"The escalator is nice. I didn't mind walking up the ramps, but I definitely understand why they added them."
Once fans picked their seats, they settled in for the main attraction – their beloved Panthers' first practice of training camp. Robbie and Roxanne Miller of Mooresville, N.C., came to check out the stadium upgrades but also hoped to get an initial feel for what kind of team the Panthers will field in 2014 on the heels of a 12-4 season.
"There have been a lot of changes, so we're just waiting to see what comes from those changes," Roxanne Miller said. "We're hoping they'll have a season just like last year."
The fans weren't the only ones floored by what they saw Friday. The turnout was one of the best if not the best in the history of the event.
"It's an amazing crowd," head coach Ron Rivera said. "Some of the guys from small colleges were saying it was the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of. That's kind of neat to hear."
Rivera is counting on similar support when the Panthers relocate to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., on Saturday for the two-and-a-half-week road trip that is training camp. But before hitting the road, the Panthers organization thanked fans with an electric fireworks and laser lights show.
Panthers players plan to thank fans over the weeks and months to come.
"This is BOA. We didn't expect anything less. It was great," quarterback Cam Newton said. "The fans hold us accountable, and we have to put a great product on the field so the whole Carolinas can be happy about it."