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Official Review by Ryan Norris, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Fresno is located in the heart of the central valley in California's agriculture region about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. So entrenched with the San Joaquin Valley is Fresno that the Bulldogs wear a color clashing green "V" on the back of their red helmets. Because of their location away from major metropolitan areas, the Fresno State teams are top dogs in the California valley.
That's not to say that Fresno doesn't have a burgeoning population themselves. There are over 500,000 people in the city and they boast the fifth largest population in the state of California. Their nearest large neighbor is Bakersfield, 100 miles south.
From 1981 to 1991 Bulldog Stadium hosted the California Bowl, pitting teams from the Big West and Mid-American Conferences in one of the first bowl games of the college football bowl season. Fresno State played 5 times in this now defunct bowl, winning 4.
With the knowledge that this was the best ticket in town, and sixth ranked Boise State was visiting I was very excited to journey to Bulldog Stadium. This was Fresno's World Series, their biggest rival coming to town, Friday night, national television.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Bulldog Stadium has quite the selection of food options, particularly for a college stadium. They have all the staples including hot dogs ($4.25), chili dogs ($5), polish sausages ($5.25) and nachos ($6). You can get a Bulldog Souvenir Cup of soda for $6 and refill it throughout the game for $3.
More unique items include BBQ beef sandwiches, garlic fries, and a foot-long corn dog, smothered in battery goodness. Also available are items from chains Kinders BBQ and Jamba Juice.
I really wanted to give this a 5 star rating. I expected to. I expected the Fresno State faithful to absolutely knock my socks off with the enthusiasm of having the Boise State Broncos visit. ESPN, Friday night, game on. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps it was the 2 scores the Broncos put up quickly that sucked the life out of the place.
That being said, there's plenty to like about Bulldog Stadium. First, their tailgating is premier for football in Northern California. There are several lots around the stadium including one that looked to have a student party, complete with a DJ and plenty of adult refreshment.
The stadium itself was a site in of itself. It had a sunken feel with each side towering over both ends of the stadium. The stairs were steep so as to fit as many spectators as close to the field as possible. Each side had a bank of suites above the bleacher seating.
Personally I loved how the light structures stretched over the stands and shown on the field. Typically, light stations shoot straight up in the air beyond the spectators. This layout had the lighting closer than some fans, putting the field under a microscope. A very unique feature.
Adding to the atmosphere was the solid Fresno State band and student section. They kept things going while things were still close in the first half. Lastly, you can't complain when you're wearing short sleeves at 8:00 pm in October. California.
Bulldog Stadium is located on the Fresno State campus in a largely residential neighborhood, not far from downtown.
There is plenty to sustain you in the immediate neighborhood by way of strip malls. Lots and lots of strip malls. Chain restaurants abound with staples Red Lobster, Wingstop, Tony Roma's, and Marie Calendars all within walking distance.
Fast food is also readily available with Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Wendy's all within a few blocks of Bulldog Stadium.
There is nothing particularly interesting about the neighborhood surrounding the Fresno State campus, going downtown may reveal more interesting places. That being said it'll suffice any shopping urges or hunger pangs, and will allow for caffeine fixes.
What I didn't find in my very short visit to Fresno was a good spot to hang with fellow football fans before the game. I'm assuming there's something nearby that I missed. Any recommendations are welcome below in the comments section.
Big props to the Fresno State fans that nearly filled up their over 40,000 seat stadium for the Friday night affair. The student section was particularly rowdy and engaged throughout most of the game.
What was disappointing was the apathetic view of most of the patrons. Many made their way into the stadium late in the first quarter, saw the score, and decided to leave. Much of this was a product of the very fun, but very intoxicating, pregame festivities. Many were so drunk that the game wasn't a priority, or couldn't be a priority.
Behind the strong student section was a gaggle of students uninterested in the game, swearing and falling over. This became a place to socialize for many students once the score got out of hand, and police looked on to make sure they didn't get of hand.
I truly thought there would be an engaged, capacity crowd on hand for the nationally televised Boise State game. Instead I encountered an apathetic crowd with many people spending more time away from their seats than in them. In their defense though, the Bulldogs were absolutely dismantled by their opponent and the outcome was known very early on.
Four different freeways run through Fresno; 180, 41, 168, and 99, which runs as far north as Sacramento. If traveling from out of town I'd recommend staying on a freeway (41 or 168) as long as possible. You can exit from 99 at Shaw Avenue but it gets really backed up on game days and my 4 mile trip took over half an hour.
Parking lots are available one block from the stadium but street parking is also available nearby. Many fans walk from the residential areas nearby to save the 20 bucks on parking.
There are two main entrances at either end of the stadium that move slowly as the security guards take care to ensure everyone is safe once inside. Once inside however the entire perimeter surrounding the spectator seating acts as a walkway for people getting to their seats. This happens because all of the seats are below the walkways and are accessible from above. Restrooms and concession stands are not very crowded and are scattered throughout.
Ticket for Fresno State games start at just $18 and can reach $70. For premium games (Boise State, Ole Miss, etc), they start at $30. Still, these are relatively good college football prices. Food within the grounds is quite reasonable and parking lots are avoidable if you are willing to walk. Overall it's an affordable, quality product for the people of Central California.
There isn't a long history of championships or bowl supremacy hanging above Bulldog Stadium. What it does offer is a quality game in a beautiful venue and great weather. There are a few historical tidbits scattered around the stadium. Notable numbers retired are for David Carr and Trent Dilfer, amongst others.
At dusk, the valley looks quite nice. I suggest taking a break from the action and enjoy the setting sun over the Fresno State campus.
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