Sam Overton Headshot

It feels like our country as a whole has aged 40 years in the last four weeks. In the month of September alone, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, the world hit 1 million coronavirus deaths, Breonna Taylor did not get the justice she deserved and, to top it all off, the presidential debate — if you could even call it that — dissolved into a series of low blows, rude interruptions and President Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy. Whew.

On the bright side, September also ushered in a slightly delayed football season for NC State. Students could cheer from their couches as the Wolfpack played to a mostly empty stadium with piped-in cheers and, most notably, several cardboard cutouts scattered across the strands of Carter-Finley Stadium. No fans, just their poster board counterparts with never-changing expressions. It’s not just in Carter-Finley, either. Fans can buy cardboard cutouts of themselves for volleyball and men’s soccer games, too.

With a ludicrous price tag of $79 for a standard cardboard cutout — discounted to $49 if you’re a current student — I was, to say the least, a little confused at this seemingly obvious ploy for NC State to gain a little more money from students and alumni alike. To be fair, it’s a tad cheaper for sports outside of football. My father, an NC State alum and sports fanatic, balked at the idea of spending money to place a cardboard cutout of himself in the stands of a game that he would most definitely attend if it were any other season. I can’t say I blame him.

Despite what seems like an opportunity to throw money at the University, cardboard cutouts have been popping up among college and professional sports programs alike. Fans have been receptive to the program, shelling out upwards of $150 or more for a chance to see their ever-smiling face on national television. To be honest, you could have some fun with this. Dean Smith, Russell Wilson, Jim Valvano, Scotty McCreery — stick a couple of their profiles in the first few rows of Carter-Finley and try to spot them in between downs. The football players may not notice, but I doubt they’d want to pay much attention to the slightly eerie sea of silent fans anyway.

Cardboard cutouts may become a thing of the past, now that stadiums are beginning to open to a limited number of fans, as many as social distancing guidelines allow. With the weather cooling down and the Wolfpack’s recent win at No. 24 Pittsburgh, it certainly seems like a good time to try and score some tickets to return to any semblance of normalcy in the months ahead.

Although the transition to limited capacity at Carter-Finley may result in the loss of our flat, cardboard counterparts, the idea of a completely silent crowd dotting the stands did, blissfully, take my mind off of the world at large. It’s an extremely minute detail, but little mental breaks like these — whether it be imagining Dean Smith staring down the Wolfpack, or heckling the sheer audacity of charging $79 for a piece of cardboard with a friend — bring a smile to my face. The absurdity of it all is laughable, but I’m welcoming a reason to laugh now more than ever before.