GREENVILLE, N.C. — After toiling on the scout team for three seasons, Emmett Davis Jr. finally made the Navy football depth chart and the travel squad as a senior.
It was a triumphant moment for the Broadneck High graduate, a wide receiver who wondered if he would ever get to play in a varsity college football game.
Davis is part of a close-knit family and wanted to share every moment of this senior season with his parents and two younger brothers. However, the coronavirus pandemic has made that almost impossible since games are being held in empty stadiums.
After dressing but not playing against BYU and Tulane, Davis made his collegiate debut against Air Force in Colorado Springs. Emmett and Gail Davis were praying they would be able to finally see their son play last weekend when Navy hosted Temple.
However, Maryland and Anne Arundel County health guidelines prohibited fans from attending sporting events inside college and professional stadiums.
“It’s been frustrating as parents when the stadium is just a few miles away and you can’t be there,” said Gail Davis, who resigned as Broadneck varsity girls' basketball coach to devote time to attending the athletic activities of her three sons.
The Davis family was dealt another disappointment when the Lafayette at Navy football game was canceled. Middle son Shane is a quarterback for Lafayette, a member of the Patriot League that postponed football season to the spring.
Brendan, the youngest of three sons, is a freshman member of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County men’s basketball team.
Last weekend, the Davises were relegated to watching the Navy-Temple game on television. They were thrilled to see Emmett Jr. on the field as a blocker for the kickoff return unit, but it wasn’t the same as seeing it live.
“Emmett said it was the most exciting moment he’s had in sports. We really wish we could have been inside Navy Marine Corps to be cheering him on,” Gail said.
Saturday, Emmett and Gail Davis had to drive almost six hours in order to see their son play college football in-person. They were among 3,500 fans in attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium Saturday as Navy nipped host East Carolina, 27-23.
Attendance for East Carolina’s home opener against Central Florida was limited to 350 family members of players participating in the game. Gov. Roy Cooper has since moved North Carolina into Phase 3 of his recovery plan, which allows for 7% capacity at outdoor stadiums.
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium seats 50,000, which is how East Carolina athletic officials arrived at the figure of 3,500. Tickets were mostly distributed among the families of East Carolina coaches and players with select season ticket holders and some students also allowed to attend.
As the visiting team, Navy was allotted 250 tickets, and all were distributed to parents and other family members of the players. Deputy Director of Athletics Robb Dunn said a ticket request form was emailed to all traveling players this week and they could apply as needed.
“We’ve kind of had our eye on this game in hopes East Carolina would be allowed to have some fans,” Gail Davis said. “We feel really lucky to be able to go. We’re planning to get into the stadium early and watch warm-ups. We want to savor every moment.”
Emmett Davis Sr. is an assistant coach with the Navy men’s basketball program and had practice until 5 p.m. Friday. He hustled home, picked up Gail and got on the road to Greenville as soon as possible, knowing they would not arrive at the hotel until almost midnight.
“That’s alright, we’re road warriors. We do this for a living,” said Gail, whose husband was previously head coach of men’s basketball at Colgate University before embarking on a second stint as an assistant at Navy.
Most of the Navy football parents and other family members got into Greenville earlier Friday, in time for a group gathering for dinner at Winslow Tavern. No tailgating was allowed outside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, so some of the parents got together for brunch before heading over.
Wally and Kathie Perkins came all the way from Barrington, Illinois to finally see their son play. They flew from Chicago to Raleigh then made the hour and a half drive to Greenville.
“It’s tough because we’ve made almost every game until this season,” Wally Perkins said.
Jackson Perkins is a starting defensive end and tri-captain for Navy this season. When that ticket request form arrived in the email this week, he did not hesitate to fill it out because his parents had already said they would go to any game where fans were allowed in the stands.
“Every game is a special opportunity for these seniors. Unfortunately, this season is slipping away for the parents who want to be there watching them play,” Wally said.
As it turns out, the Perkins made plans to travel to almost every Navy game before knowing whether they would be allowed inside the stadiums. Airline tickets have already been purchased so they’re coming to Annapolis next Saturday for the home game against Houston.
“We had already rolled the dice and planned to be there. I guess we’ll watch the game from a bar somewhere in Annapolis,” said Wally, who is then traveling to Dallas the following weekend for the road game at SMU.
“My wife and I are just going with the flow. It’s disappointing to not be able to attend the games, but we’re just dealing with it. Hopefully, it will be safe to get back into the stands soon.”
All the Navy supporters were seated in a socially distanced manner in Section 15 behind the visiting bench. Almost all of them wore masks and greetings were exchanged from at least six feet apart.
“It was great because we just haven’t gotten the opportunity to be in that stadium atmosphere so far this season,” Emmett Sr. said. “It was wonderful having all the parents back together watching our kids play.”
Following Saturday’s narrow victory, the Navy supporters gathered outside the visiting locker room to cheer the players as they boarded the team bus. Emmett and Gail Davis got an opportunity to briefly talk with their son and take a few pictures.