September 28, 2013
Yale Bowl (Capacity: 61,446)
New Haven, CT
Yale Bulldogs vs Cornell Big Red
Final Score: 38 – 23
In a time where top college football teams are in an arms race to make their stadium bigger and better, it was refreshing to make another visit to the Ivy League and a Yale football game. Yale’s historic campus is intertwined with the city of New Haven, Connecticut’s second largest city located close to the Long Island Sound with a population of 129,000. The third oldest university in the country started in 1701 and can count five Presidents as part of its alumni. Along with the architecture, Yale is home to several museums and theatres that attract visitors. The biggest sport at the school is football, which has been played since 1872. The Elis dominated for their first 60 years with countless wins and terrific players (including Walter Camp). Even after the formation of the Ivy League in 1956, the Bulldogs took home 14 championships, with the last one coming in 2006. In 1914, Yale introduced the first ‘bowl’ shaped football stadium as the Yale Bowl opened. While the history, significance and uniqueness of this place is great to experience, the inside is crumbling despite renovations in 2005. Chipped and in some cases, broken wooden seats make viewing a game not enjoyable.
Prestige Ranking: 3 out of 5
Yale Bowl is located in the western fringes of New Haven and most of Yale’s outdoor athletic facilities are in this complex (including the 15,000-seat Connecticut Tennis Center, home to a WTA event). This area is a couple miles away from campus in the middle of New Haven. Along with touring campus and visiting Yale’s museums and historic buildings, downtown has a lot of character and includes many highly-rated restaurants, which are eclectic and diverse. Pizza is famous in New Haven and their old-world style apizza places are delicious. Downtown is where most of your non-game time should be spent as the area around Yale Bowl itself is not as enticing.
Location Ranking: 6 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Getting here from an east-west direction via I-95 or Route 15 is very easy, whereas for those coming from the north-south I-91, you have to travel through the city, which can be busy with both cars and pedestrians. While there are other lots, most of the parking is in the grassy Lot D, which is well-signed and directed as cars are navigated to their spots. Getting out was a little busier than coming in, but neither involved much traffic, though I’m sure the situation is much different when four times the amount of cars jam the small streets for the Harvard game.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 7 out of 8
I was expecting some sort of old-school structure walking up to the bowl, so it was certainly surprising to see such an understated outside. The field was excavated and with the remaining dirt was use to craft out this bowl, therefore, the unique creation does not require an actual building. Much of the outside is made up by a surrounding 10-foot beige wall with tall grass above leading to the top of the bowl. It is quite a strange intro, but interesting after learning more about the process. The only real face comes at the front of the stadium, where the Kenney Center (built in a recent renovation) includes team meeting rooms and an alumni center.
Exterior Ranking: 2.5 out of 10
The surprises continued as I began to realize when approaching the gate that there is no concourse. Instead, a giant outdoor walking path surrounds the stadium. At least it is roomy with plenty of space off the pavement. Besides being a space that most stadiums have outside, amenities in this pseudo concourse are ridiculously spaced out, including separate bathroom buildings that are lacking (just four of them) and quite ancient (hello troughs!).
Concourse Ranking: 0.5 out of 5
Food stands are few and far between. When found, items include hot dogs and snacks, while a pair of separate stands feature sandwich wraps, burgers, sausage, chicken and fried dough. Nothing that looked particularly appetizing.
Food Ranking: 2 out of 8
There are 30 gates that lead into the stadium via a very long tunnel and the anticipation builds during the walk to see such a historic structure. Yale Bowl is literally a bowl, one that has 61,000 seats and is split in the middle by a walkway. At the top, there is another walkway that almost goes all the way around. Remarkably simplistic, there is an awe factor when first entering. Then after closer examination, I realized the place is falling apart. Nearly all of the blue, wooden bleachers were chipped, cracked and even broken in spots. This made for a remarkably uncomfortable experience with nasty splinters possible by sitting or even just walking down the narrow aisles (which also meant my 6’2” frame had a difficult time with leg room). Additionally, the seating slope is very shallow which leads to poor sightlines. Towards the center of the stadium, ropes and ushers protect the “Reserved” seats, which the only benefit is a centered view. Ushers guard these seats like a moat and won’t let other fans pass by using the walkway. A small press-box is at the top of the east sideline and the area also includes an alumni section with tables and folding chairs. While the bowl doesn’t allow for an outside view, there is one neat spot on the top of the southeast side where fans can see the nearby Sleeping Giant hill formation. Yale Bowl may be a historically significant venue and initially pleasing to the eye, but it is one of the most uncomfortable places I’ve been to for a game and it is the first time I’ve had to consider the prospects of receiving a giant splinter.
Interior Ranking: 3 out of 14
On top of the north end is a relatively new blue scoreboard. Simple and efficient, the scoreboard gives basic info and has a scrolling message board at the bottom. “Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field” is spelled out at the top. It is odd not to see a game clock at the other end, which really puts that offensive team at a disadvantage in an end of half situation. Plus, no video.
Scoreboard Ranking: 2 out of 4
Though most fans will not see it or walk through it, the Walter Camp gate is a Greek-like structure off of Derby Ave that leads to one of the entrances. Otherwise, the main area with the displays is in the Jensen Plaza, where a bulldog statue guards the entrance. The plaza includes bricks featuring the name of every football letter winner. A couple of other plaques are on the outside walls, including one for designer Charles Addison Ferry. Inside, the walls behind each end zone feature 14 “Ivy Champs” banners.
Displays Ranking: 3 out of 6
With $8 general admission seats and most parking $5, this is a very affordable place. The reserved $15 seats are for middle sections, but feature the same crappy wooden seat. It should be noted that prices for the Harvard game increase big time with tickets $10 – $40 and parking going for a pricey $20. As for food, despite the lack of options, it is a bit expensive with $4 hot dogs and $3 drinks. Programs were $3.
Cost Ranking: 7 out of 8
The attendance was announced at a healthy 18,600, though it was hard to get a gauge on whether that number was legit in the context of a 61,446-seat stadium making it harder for an eye estimate. The school not only averages annual five-digit numbers, but they are also a consistent leader in Ivy attendance, even after taking out Yale-Harvard games. Speaking of “The Game”, it truly is a spectacle. There are over 50,000 that cram into Yale Bowl every other year and the outside festivities and tailgating is amazing. Add in the true Ivy spirit which includes pranks and other student sideshows, a Yale-Harvard game should be on many bucket lists.
Fan Support Ranking: 6 out of 8
Starting with the tailgates, I like how the school separates them in that there is a student tailgate village where most of the kids hang out. Meanwhile, in the grassy parking lots, older alumni can be found quietly enjoying some food and company. Inside, the fans were mildly into the game with occasional cheers of “Let’s Go Bulldogs”. Some stood during touchdowns and made a bit of noise during the most critical plays. Noise was there, but it certainly gets lost in the large bowl.
Atmosphere Ranking: 7.5 out of 14
In a rivalry simply known as “The Game”, Yale-Harvard is a storied and special one. Always the last game of the year, these two have played 130 times and Yale has the slight edge in wins (though the Crimson have dominated recently). Fans come out in droves for the event and it really is quite a spectacle whether in New Haven or Boston. Perhaps the most famous game was in 1968, when both teams came in undefeated. Harvard rallied with 16 points in the last 42 seconds to “beat” Yale 29-29…..In 1987, Yale Bowl received the designation of National Historic Landmark…..Handsome Dan is Yale’s live bulldog mascot and Sherman is the current, 17th version, though he was nowhere to be found at the game…..At a stadium full of amazing old-time touches, another one is that there are no lights.
Yale jumped out to a quick start thanks to a long kickoff return and a fast-moving offense that led to a 7-0 lead. The Bulldogs then had some trouble against Cornell and going into halftime, the game was tied at 10. In the second-half, the Elis dominated and led by a blitzkrieg of bubble-screens, Yale scored 28 straight. All of those points came from receiver Deon Randall, who finished with 11 catches and 148 yards. The Big Red tacked on a pair of meaningless scores late and the final ended up being 38-23 as Yale started the season 2-0.