October 9, 2021
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Capacity: 34,000)
Navy Midshipmen vs SMU Mustangs
Final Score: 24 – 31
A weekend of football in Maryland began with a bucket list game in the state’s capital. Annapolis is located about 25 miles south of Baltimore, along the Severn River and Chesapeake Bay. The unique location leads to this small city of 40,000 also being known prominently for boating and crabbing. Annapolis also has a ton of preserved history and the tight historic district has so much going for it that it is a must-visit weekend destination for anyone nearby. The US Naval Academy was established here in 1845 as students prepare to become officers in the Navy or Marine Corps. It is a highly selective place and the honorable that attend college here have the entire experience fully funded in return for at least five years in service after graduating with their degree. The football program dates back to the 1800s and includes a national title in 1926. There have been 2 Heisman winners and 23 All-Americans. Under their unique triple-option offense, Navy became a frequent winner again in the Ken Niumatalolo era (though the last few years have been a struggle). Their home stadium was built in 1959 and it is a true memorial to those who have served. Game-day here is something special.
Prestige Ranking: 5 out of 5
Annapolis is very walkable as everything is tightly clustered around the brick-lined streets of the Historic District, which has a European-style layout as roads branch out into different directions. The old houses and buildings are fascinating and many of the latter have becomes restaurants, pubs, specialty shops and boutiques that make wandering the area a treat. Remember that Annapolis is near a lot of water and City Dock is the best place to stroll as you watch boats head in and out. If you have extra time, take one of the many sailing sightseeing cruises that are offered. Finally, a visit to Annapolis isn’t complete without checking out the Naval Academy. Visitors are welcome after passing security and exploring The Yard (campus) is a great experience. Be sure to see Bancroft Hall, the Chapel, the Crypt, the Museum and the waterfront.
Location Ranking: 8.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Memorial Stadium is off-campus, about a mile outside of Annapolis’ core. Once you get past a cluster of medical buildings and a few small restaurants, it’s evident that the stadium’s neighbors are the houses within the Admiral Heights community. Getting here from downtown is just beyond a comfortable walk as we Uber’ed to the game and then walked the 25 min. back after the game for dinner. We parked at a free garage on St. Johns Street, which was an excellent place to set-up shop for the day. If just going to the game, note that stadium lots are only open for season pass holders. The tailgate scene is expansive and it’s pleasant to walk around as you’ll see nice spreads without the typical rowdy-ness. Those without a parking pass can go to auxiliary parking lots further out. You could also use a park and ride with shuttle service provided by the city. Annapolis is placed away from the I-95 urban corridor, so that means people will need to take US-50 (which is a highway) to get here. A few exits will get you into the city. Traffic can be problematic in this part of the country, but Saturdays occasionally aren’t troublesome.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 6 out of 8
Each tall sideline structure has the same white color that you see on many campus buildings, including Bancroft Hall. The east tower is made up of walls and interesting support structures, while the west tower has more of a piecemeal look to it thanks to some outer buildings. Both are decorated appropriately with classy logos and titles for stadium name. A gorgeous gold-plated USNA Seal adorns the west side. Only the north end zone opening lacks architecture as it is mainly a blue ticket building. The other end towards the city is striking, plus the landscaping really adds to the introduction. Make sure to stop and see the Blue Angels fighter jet on the Taylor Ave side.
Exterior Ranking: 8 out of 10
The concourse layout is the same on each sideline as the lower level features an enclosed area that becomes open air before you round each corner. White walls and blue paint make up nice aestheticts, especially with a few concession stands artfully painted. Space is tight at halftime, but you can escape to other areas for food and bathrooms. I did note that there were very few stalls compared to urinals in each restroom. The upper deck also has their own concourse, which is nice and ramps are needed to reach this area and accompanying seats. There is one elevator (and I used it a couple times), but it is kind of hidden and not signed all that well. Upstairs is more barren and there is an overhang if you need to protect against the elements. Back at ground-level, walking around the stadium is a delight as full views of the field are visible in many spots. Memorial Plaza in the north end is a fantastic area as the landscaping and walkway work compliments the remarkable displays and honors in this section. The other side includes a couple of corner clubs and outdoor premium sections that have been retrofitted well. A small kid’s area and a smattering of picnic tables are good amenities for the concourse.
Concourse Ranking: 4.5 out of 5
Food was fairly standard, enough so that I was surprised to see a Healthy Food stand offering California Rolls (2nd football game in a row that I’ve seen sushi). The subs and wraps offered at the stand brought some variety. Chick-Fil-A was a welcome sight for many. Sadly, there were no crab cakes to be found. They do have beer and an IPA from Seawolf Brewery brought a local flavor not just because of where it is made, but because it is owned by the Armed Forces Brewing Company.
Food Ranking: 5.5 out of 8
Memorial Stadium is a mix of individual chairs and bleachers with backs and the Navy blue coloring to each seat gives the stadium a really refined, clean look. Plus, the upper deck has gold chairbacks that spell “GO NAVY” when viewed from a distance. Each deck of seating provides a decent vantage point and the steepness of each row is adequate. Spacing is tight though as leg space can be a squeeze. Club-level suites are discreetly tucked between levels and the top of each side also features a set of suites and a triple stacked press box. The grandstands go to each goal line before giving way to end zone seating. A large grassy hill makes up the north end and what makes this unique is that they put nine sections of regular seats at the back of this hill. What a great idea as it’s perfect for parent who wants to sit while keeping an eye on their kids. The other end features a small, but steep set of seating sections, which are topped off by suites. The outside stadium view includes a few peeks at the Capitol building in town and a much more prominent view of the water tower, which has the team logo on it. My only peeve at Navy is the bizarre orientation of the seating numbers. I had Seat 3, figuring I’d be near the aisle. Much to my surprise, I found the seat to be in the middle and was totally confused searching for it while coming up the stairs. My section went like this for seat numbers: 16 –> 1, 25 –> 18. To avoid the sun, sit on the West side (Navy’s sideline).
Interior Ranking: 12.5 out of 14
End scoreboards are at eye-level for many of the seats and the rectangle shape gives it much more width than height. Still, the video screen is quite large and it certainly is excellent in quality. It’s used very well and game footage was fantastic. The background is blue and the top part of the board has ads and the stadium name. Score/game information is placed at the top of the video screen.
Scoreboard Ranking: 4 out of 4
Wow. Memorial Plaza in the north end zone is something to behold as it respectfully honors those that have served and given their life. Plaques all along a concrete wall are where to find many dedications. The most impressive feature is the arched panels that list all of the conflicts this section of the military has been involved in, along with lengthy descriptions of the more notable moments in Naval and Marine Corp history. At the center of this plaza is the striking bronze statue of the famous goat mascot/logo. There’s plenty more outside this area as for decades, the façade of the stadium interior has had the names of each campaign/battle and it has been a notable image for those that visit or catch glimpses of the seating on TV. Throughout the concourse, sections of walls will also feature memorial plaques. All of this is very appropriate, but I do think there should be more on the football team and its history. Obviously, that’s less important, but this is after all, a football stadium. While fans can check out the Lacrosse Hall of Fame at the facility, they’ll only see a small list of trophy winners on a corner wall for football.
Displays Ranking: 5 out of 6
Each face value ticket was $50 with a $10 fee. On average, this is cheaper than the other service academies, but more expensive than most AAC teams. Outside of the Air Force game, it shouldn’t be an issue to get a ticket that is 20% to even 30% cheaper on the secondary market. Official parking is an expensive $30, however there are several free options if you are willing to walk. For concessions, a hot dog was $4, cheeseburger $6 and a bottled water $4.
Cost Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
I was very surprised at the amount of people that did not return to the game after halftime. Navy had a 21-14 lead and nearly half the crowd stayed at their tailgate or just left. Why? That’s irritating as a sports fan. As for the crowd before then, it probably was less than 20,000 as you could argue that the stadium wasn’t quite 50% full. Not great for a game against a ranked, undefeated team. The same occurred pre-pandemic, including a poor showing (though it was raining) in 2016 against #6 Houston. Attendance rankings within the AAC see Navy in the middle of the pack.
Fan Support Ranking: 4.5 out of 8
Gameday traditions are aplenty at Navy and it begins with the March-On of the Brigade of Midshipmen. Students in full uniform march with remarkable precision to the field as each company stands at attention during the pre-game. The national anthem is inspiring and then the traditional fly-over is breathtaking. If weather conditions are right, a parachuter brings the game ball to midfield (didn’t get to see that during our game). Watching the game with all the Midshipmen in the stands is quite a sight and it’s even better after a score as many of them race to the end zone to do pushups as the fight song “Anchors Aweigh” play from the band. The Mids wave their hats during first downs and the occasional cannon and Navy-themed video graphics set the stage for a great atmosphere. Make sure to stay for the end too as the Alma Mater “Blue and Gold” is sung. As for crowd noise, it’s ok, nothing crazy. Fans do stand when you would expect them to and it can get loud at times. The defensive touchdown was particularly loud and noteworthy.
Atmosphere Ranking: 11.5 out of 14
Students and the athletic teams are known as “Midshipmen” or “Mids”……After playing as a long-time Independent, Navy joined the AAC in 2015…..”Beat Army” is a famous phrase that is seen and heard even when they aren’t playing. The fierce rivalry culminates in the final game of the season. Navy also plays Air Force annually and the winner of the 3-team series gets the coveted Commander-In-Chief trophy. Finally, Notre Dame is always a non-conference opponent. This is a result of the Academy saving Notre Dame from closing permanently during World War II…..Each U.S. State and territory has their flag flying at the top of each side seating bowl.
I know they have had success with it and I know they have won big games with it, but man do I hate Navy’s offense. If I had to watch one more FB Dive play go for zero yards, I’ll poke my eyes out. The Midshipmen were fortunate to build a 21-7 lead as they got touchdowns from a defensive scoop-n-score and a flea flicker play, plus they intercepted SMU in the end zone. However, the Mustangs came immediately back as they had a 95 yard kickoff return. They chipped away and eventually a 9-play drive in the fourth quarter sealed the deal as that was the winning drive with SMU going ahead 31-24. QB Tanner Mordecai was 30/40 with 324 yards and 2 TDs for the Mustangs, while Navy had 166 yards on the ground (not enough when you pass 7 times).