On Saturday, April 29th, the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds began their 2023 AUDL Season at Highmark Stadium in the South Side. The Thunderbirds had previously called J.C. Stone in North Park home for several years, but the move would allow a closer connection to the fans and picturesque views of the city on the river.
One fan who attended the game, going by the moniker "@TheOptimoose" on Twitter, published a thread containing, what he wrote, were "...thoughts, photos, and videos from an electrifying home opener and victory for the Pittsburgh Thunderbirds at their new nest..." Below, in his own words, is his experience at a Thunderbirds home game:
It was a night where the Thunderbirds were so eager to get off to a flying start that their very own flag flew off the staff moments before the match got underway.
The music selection throughout was a mix of mainstream bangers and mashups that had me waxing nostalgic for my college Ultimate days.
One of the most entertaining halftime shows in recent memory included a human wheelbarrow race/scavenger hunt fusion and the "Huck It Bucket" Challenge, which had the visual flair of rice throwing at a wedding but none of the wasted food. Of note was the prophetic buzzer beater. pic.twitter.com/av1HqRXcLW— Coach Optimoose (@TheOptimoose) April 30, 2023
It was a lively, tightly contested match. I believe the biggest lead of the night was three goals by the Thunderbirds, who at times dominated the match with calm, patient passing. On the other side of the disc, it was several Thunderbird miscues that let Madison level the match.
Thankfully, Madison would return the favor late by dropping a poor dump attempt deep in their own territory, setting up Pittsburgh with excellent field position in the final thirty seconds. It was sure to be a dramatic conclusion, one worthy of a momentous home opener.
And dramatic it was! Madison defended frantically, forcing Pittsburgh from within ten yards of the goal line to nearly as deep as the mid-field line. With the home fans counting down the final ten seconds, a Hail Mary was hucked into the end zone on a wing and a prayer. And-
A raucous crowd celebrated as the jubilant Thunderbirds regained enough composure to form the end-of-game handshake line. pic.twitter.com/GbeKSPOObl— Coach Optimoose (@TheOptimoose) April 30, 2023
What followed was my favorite moment of the night. The Thunderbirds ran over to celebrate with and applaud their supporters. This is my favorite tradition in Soccer/Football, and I hope the team continues to do it, win or lose. It's a special connection that only forms in sports. pic.twitter.com/13JTJkezAN— Coach Optimoose (@TheOptimoose) April 30, 2023
After the celebrations and interviews, I grabbed this photo of a quiet moment between Max Sheppard and an individual I can't name. A coach, perhaps? It seemed they were breathing in the moment. A buzzer beater win in their home opener in a true, professional stadium. Storybook. pic.twitter.com/6gC03GWdTX— Coach Optimoose (@TheOptimoose) April 30, 2023
One last photo to cap off the night. Sheppard's Nest? Highmark Stadium certainly was tonight. I didn't hear an official nickname given for Max Sheppard, so I would like to throw something out there: "Commander"— Coach Optimoose (@TheOptimoose) April 30, 2023
"Commander" Sheppard. It's what I'll be calling him. pic.twitter.com/vVTuatI0Oi
I hope others will join me, not just in using the nickname, but in cheering on the Thunderbirds this season at Highmark Stadium. If the first match is the barometer, we're in for a high-flying, electrifying, cardiac arrest-ifying time on the south shore of the Mon. #Thunderstuck
Some additional context - the individual who shared a quiet moment with Sheppard after the game ended was Thunderbirds team Owner Dr. Tracy Neuendorf.
Stephen "Optimoose" Berrigan. The "Optimoose" is a nickname I picked up Freshmen year of college Ultimate. I played for George Mason University. I've been a Pittsburgh sports fan my entire life. I was thrilled when the Thunderbirds were announced and told my fellow Mason Ultimate alum and Pittsburgh transplant the team would be playing at Highmark Stadium one day. Looks like I was right! I'm a game designer and writer by trade, and I'm excited to have content featured by the Thunderbirds.