November 19, 2011
Franklin Field (Capacity: 52,958)
Pennsylvania Quakers vs Cornell Big Red
Final Score: 38 – 48
My fifth visit to a Philadelphia stadium brought me back to the University of Pennsylvania for a game at another historic venue: Franklin Field. Part of the Ivy League, Penn is a prestigious university that is the fourth oldest in the country with degrees offered in a vast amount of fields and a ton of research going on. The Quaker football team has a remarkable and storied history, playing since 1876. The 1,313 games played is an NCAA record. Penn has had 64 first team All-Americans, 23 College Hall of Famers and 11 undefeated seasons. More recently, that success has continued in the Ivy League as their 14 Ivy titles is nearly double the second place amount. The last two seasons ended in an undefeated championship, however this year they entered the game out of the race at 4-2. Penn has played at Franklin Field since 1895 (that’s right, the 1800s!), making it the oldest NCAA venue in use. Its current form was designed in 1922 and then a second deck of seating was added three years later. Since then, the stadium has not seen any significant changes. When you step inside, it is a completely different football stadium providing unique vantage points of the game and well worth a visit.
Prestige Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Penn is located in the University City section of West Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River just outside of downtown (Center City). It’s a unique section in that you have two major Universities right next to each other as Drexel bumps up with Penn. The location is terrific in that Center City is right nearby and you can make the long walk into it if you are fit. Philly has plenty of historical attractions that are well worth a visit. Meanwhile, closer to the stadium, Penn is a great campus to wonder and there is also the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology across from Franklin Field. Five minutes away at the corner of 34th and Walnut are several restaurants.
Location Ranking: 9.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
I-76 provides the best access and instead of using the school’s webpage directions of taking South Street, I opted to go through Drexel and use the easier Exit 345 and Market Street to get to campus. For a 50,000+ seat stadium, there is hardly any parking, however since crowds are minimal, the surrounding garages on campus seem to suffice. I parked at the garage/lot on 34th and Chestnut, which led to a short 7-minute walk to the stadium, which is on 33rd Street. Coming in, traffic was minimal, while leaving was easy as Chestnut brings you right back to I-76 or I-676. It was trafficy on a late Saturday Afternoon, but it seemed like that was not a result of the football game. Mass transit is an option as well, with both a trolley and regional rail train stopping about 10 minutes from the stadium.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 5 out of 8
I was thrown off walking down the street towards the stadium as, like the Palestra next door, there’s not much to give away that it is a football stadium. The brick building features two tall, flat sides with archways. In fact, the stands on one side are over South St and a walk down the sidewalk involves going under the higher stands. What is deceptive with the stadium is that the main entrance is in between a couple buildings (Weightman Hall being one of them) and it doesn’t even look like an entrance. Fans go through the gates and there is a small ticket office in the building on the right. A school sign for Franklin Field sits on the outside, nearby a historical marker for the Penn Relays (see Displays). Overall, the exterior has a better aerial look (from Google) than one can appreciate since they it’s hard to get a distant view of the venue.
Exterior Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
Most fans walk in via the Northeast gate at field level and this provides a different initial vantage point than most stadiums. An open end zone is set up with a few merchandise stands, along with a concession. There is also a small kiddie play area in the corner. Walking towards the Penn sideline, fans can either go into the stands or into what seems like a hidden concourse. It certainly feels hidden in the beginning of this walk as you have to go through a dark, creepy walkway. It opens up a little bit after that, but remains narrow and dark (remember this was built in the 20s).
Concourse Ranking: 1 out of 5
About four or five food stands are on the sides, along with bathrooms that seemed renovated and enough for the small crowd. Walking around to the other side, the concourse is wider and looks newer, but there were no food stands. Food is limited in variety, but all the essentials were there (hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, pizza, pretzels, etc.). Cheesesteaks were available and mine was expectedly weak (no onions, cheese wasn’t melted), but at least the chopped steak was good and the portion was huge.
Food Ranking: 4 out of 8
Franklin Field is a double-decker, horseshoe stadium with both amazing and awful views. The horseshoe design features a curved section of seats in the East endzone, while on the open end is the old Weightman Hall building. All of the seating on the sidelines is flat and facing forward and the first level is unique in that more than half the seats are covered by the upper deck. The further back you go, the more enclosed it feels, especially with the second deck over your head and brick walls both behind you and on the sides at the end of the seating. The old feel is really noticed here, especially where support beams are in the way of the view. Even more obscure, are the stairs at the back of the first level. They aren’t even connected with a walkway, they are just in the middle of the aisle and act as the only means of bringing fans to the second deck. That second deck, offers a great overhead view of the action. What makes it even better up here are the incredible views. On the South side, fans have a terrific view of the Philadelphia skyline to the Northeast. Many seats in the upper deck have a great view of the University of Pennsylvania, when looking over Weightman Hall. The only drawback, is there is a disconnect with the lower level and when I was sitting up here, you could barely hear any noise created from the fans underneath in the first deck. All of the seating is set way back of the field because of the track. However, given the history of that track, I’m a little more tolerant (see Other Stuff). Nearly all of the seats are aluminum bleacher set in concrete, though there are some blue and red plastic seats near the center of the field on the Penn side. The pitch to each row is decent and the legroom doesn’t matter much since you can find open seating somewhere at a Penn game. On top of one of the sidelines is a small, one-level press box with “University of Pennsylvania” written across the bottom. You will find many old football stadiums in the NCAA, however you will be hard-pressed to find one as pure and untouched by renovation as this one and that uniqueness makes it special.
Interior Ranking: 8.5 out of 14
A new-ish scoreboard is oddly placed in front of Weightman Hall. It is wide and features a typical football layout on one side and then a video board on the other side (with a Penn logo in the middle). The video shows replays and gameplay, which is nice, but a little difficult to see. Ads surround the sides and bottom. Overall, I probably could have done without it as it looks odd. Given that this is the home of the first scoreboard, a more traditional look would have been more appropriate. The top says “Franklin Field” and then there is an old clock above that with letters from “Pennsylvania” replacing traditional numbers.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2.5 out of 4
There are plenty of displays outside and inside of Franklin Field and it begins with the statue of whom the stadium is named after. THE Benjamin Franklin welcomes visitors upon the approach into the stadium. Several other plaques and statues can be found on the walls and ground, particularly in the open endzone. These honors really touch on the history at this place. Recently completed is a neat mural of the NFL Eagles’ years at Franklin Field. Penn’s Ivy League Titles can be found on the lower wall behind the visitor’s sideline. These are nicely done and complete with both Penn logo and the year. Also, there are many flags flying around the top of the stadium, however I couldn’t find what they were representing.
Displays Ranking: 4.5 out of 6
Well, it is Philadelphia and it is an urban campus, but I still get aggravated having to fork over $15 to park in one of the campus lots or garages. If you are comfortable driving in a city with tight roads, then I would suggest searching for cheaper street parking. Otherwise, mass transit is available by taking SEPTA’s regional rail line or the Trolley Line. General Admission tickets were a reasonable $8, but the reserved chairback seats were an out of touch $25. Seems like a big disparity to me. Programs were $3 and it was one of the better programs I’ve received. Most concession prices were high ($4.75 for fries, $2.75 for chips and $3.50 for water).
Cost Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
The 52,958-seat stadium would look empty even if they had 30,000 in the house. Still, with a paid attendance of only 7,609 (a few thousand of them being Cornell fans), it really made the place desolate. The lack of fans seemed like an anomaly as prior box scores indicate games with crowds over 10,000 (including 17,000 for the Princeton game a few weeks back). It was a poor showing on Senior Day and when Quaker great Chuck Bednarik was honored. Penn usually ranks third in the league, behind Harvard and Yale.
Fan Support Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
The Ivy atmosphere has some cool traditions and the first one came at halftime, where both marching bands played. Each did their wacky performance that seems to occur with every band in this league. Something completely unique (and weird) to Penn is the Toast Throwing at the end of the third quarter. And yeah, it’s really toast. When the band plays “Drink a Highball”, the last line says “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn”. The air is then filled with toast as they are thrown onto the track and sidelines. Ahh, the Ivies. As far as actual crowd noise, the stadium design can make it loud, but the small number of fans didn’t exactly pump up the volume. On touchdowns, they cheered and got the place going decently, however, that was the only event that really did it. They at least all seemed to be true fans who knew, cared and followed the team.
Franklin Field may be more known for something other than Quaker Football. The Penn Relays is an event at the end of April that features Track & Field (mostly relay races) from teams at all levels, including some international races. The Relays started in 1895 and have been popular ever since. Last year, nearly 50,000 came out on the Saturday races to watch…..Besides hosting other Penn sports, Franklin Field also is known for being home to the Eagles from 1958-1970. It was here that Vince Lombardi lost his only playoff game…..Because of the parking situation, tailgating was just about non-existent for the game..…Walking through campus, the band was making the rounds, which certainly makes for a unique sight in a city campus…The lights at the stadium are interesting in that they are kind of hidden and built into parts of the seating bowl.….At the game, I attended there was a halftime ceremony honoring Chuck Bednarik, who played for both Penn and the Eagles. He was one of the last Iron Men to play in the NFL. Dick Vermeil and Ed Rendell were there to present a statue of him.
The game was terrific as it was an up and down affair with the teams trading touchdowns. It started great for Penn as Cornell fumbled the opening kickoff and the Quakers scored a touchdown a few minutes later. Cornell got the TD back and then after a few punts, the teams traded touchdowns until it was 21-21. A Penn field goal put them up by 3 at the half. The Big Red got the lead after Penn turned the ball over on downs and Jeff Mathews threw a 54-yard touchdown pass. A few possessions later, Mathews got nailed and Penn picked up the fumble deep in Cornell territory, scoring shortly thereafter for a 31-27 lead. Cornell quickly answered and so did Penn, leading to a 38-34 score in the middle of the 4th quarter. Cornell drove it deep on their next possession, but failed to convert in the red zone. However, as Penn got the ball back, Billy Ragone threw an interception and Cornell this time cashed in on the next possession to take a 41-38 lead. The Quakers followed with a great drive again, but their 44-yard field goal attempt to tie it with 5:23 left was blocked. Penn’s defense had no answer for the Cornell offense all day and they couldn’t get a stop when they needed it as the Big Red effortlessly drove down field, eating clock along the way before scoring a final touchdown. They won 48-38 in a crazy game. Cornell’s Jeff Mathews was 35 for 45 with 548 yards (an Ivy record), 5 TDs and 1 INT. The teams combined for 46 first downs. Meanwhile, Penn had 9 players catch a pass.