While driving on I-81 north on the road to Syracuse, you eventually go around a bend and over a hill and suddenly the city of Syracuse greets your eye for the first time. And during that first glimpse of the Salt City, the Carrier Dome emerges from the hills of Onondaga County, towering above the city on the Syracuse University hill. It's a welcomed site for alumni and diehard fans as in a few short miles you'll be exiting I-81 to find a parking spot around campus and begin a day of tailgating and football.
On this crisp October Saturday morning, alumni steadily crowded the campus and the surrounding area for Homecoming weekend. Alumni quickly pack the quad and Marshall Street, a street right off campus containing a variety of restaurants, bars, and apparel shops. On M-Street, as students affectionately call the strip, some soon-to-be Carrier Dome patrons grab a last pregame beer at one of the several bars; others find comfort in a slice of Varsity Pizza. The quad becomes one large "pregame party" as the school calls it. There, advertisers hand out every conceivable orange colored knick-knack that might make your game experience better. Discarded orange colored seat cushions, pom-poms, and roll-up banners will litter the Dome and the quad following the game.
Before every game, the Pride of the Orange Marching Band performs on the steps of Hendricks Chapel just a few feet away from the closest entrance of the Carrier Dome. When the band is done, it's time to get into the Carrier Dome to enjoy the game.
The quality of the product inside the Carrier Dome can vary dramatically. During the Greg Robinson era, the football was terrible, students were non-existent, and the crowd was quite complacent. Things have begun to change inside the Dome as the football team is getting better; the students are starting to show up; and the crowd finally provides a home-field advantage.
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This score would be a five if there wasn't an extra category (explanation for that in a bit). The food in the Carrier Dome isn't much different than what you would normally find in any other stadium. The prices are fair (a slice of pizza runs you three dollars, same for a soda), and you also get a pretty large portion. The sausages are large, as are the Dome Dogs, a Carrier Dome staple. There's a bistro located on the southwest corner of the dome which provides healthier, more expensive options. In the southeast corner, a Burger King where you'll find expensive fast-food that's mass produced.
The crowd inside the Carrier Dome tends to be small, leaves early, and does not always get into the game. When a rival or a ranked foe enters the Dome, the crowd will get into a game, but at the first sign of trouble, the fans seem to get real quiet, real quick. Things are improving as the team improves as attendance is up in 2010 and frequently surpassing the 40,000 mark for each conference game. The Carrier Dome can become deafly loud at times when all 40,000 people get on their feet. It is called the Loud House for a reason.
The stadium is right on campus, so there isn't much of a neighborhood, but the stadium being on campus makes up for that. The Carrier Dome is almost completely surrounded by the campus with only the north side bordered by parking lots and a neighborhood. The campus itself is beautiful and provides for a great backdrop and scenery as you walk to the stadium. Marshall Street is just a short walk away giving you pre- and postgame entertainment options.
Restaurants and Bars (All located within a 10 minute walk of the Carrier Dome except Dinosaur Barbeque):
Dinosaur Barbeque- The first thing anyone who has ever been to Syracuse asks a current student at SU is "Have you ever been to Dinosaur Barbeque?" The answer better be yes. Getting into Dinosaur BBQ on game-day is tough. The wait will likely be well over an hour, but if you have the time, wait it out. You will never, ever regret it. Dinosaur BBQ is also located about 15 minutes away from the stadium in the downtown area.
Varsity Pizza- The best pizza on the SU hill, but also serves breakfast and various grilled entrees. The line for pizza is usually long before a game, but it moves very quickly. Following victories, the football team gathers in Varsity to flip the opponent's banner to signify a win.
Pita El Saha- The award winning pita place on campus.
Faegans- A restaurant featuring wide variety of beer and great food. Faegans is the most expensive place to eat on campus, but it's worth it.
Chucks CafĂ©- A bar featuring the cheapest alcohol and outstanding cheap food. It's located in an alleyway behind Marshall Street.
Funk'n Waffles- Need breakfast? Here's the place you want to go. They have a wide variety of waffles and other breakfast foods that will fill you up.
Acropolis Pizza House- Wide variety of entrees, but try the buffalo chicken pizza. You won't regret it.
You can't go more than about three minutes without somebody in your row getting up to go get food, beer, or to the bathroom. The fans are knowledgeable, but as mentioned above, you won't find many people getting the crowd going. Those who do are usually ignored. The student section is rarely full, but the students who do show are usually very rowdy.
There are parking lots right next to the stadium and parking is widely available downtown, but that's a 20 minute walk away. The school also uses parking lots near the South Campus, but those lots are a bus ride away. The Manley Field House and South Campus lots are your best bet for parking despite the bus ride. There's plenty of room to tailgate and the buses run frequently and don't take away much from the game-day experience.
There's really not a bad seat in the Carrier Dome, and Syracuse University has been running many ticket specials throughout the past two seasons. You can grab cheap tickets, sit in the rafters, and still have a great vantage point of the game. With the team playing much better, you're definitely getting to see decent football for low costs.
The Carrier Dome is the only on-campus arena in the country that the NCAA has allowed alcohol sales. Being able to buy beer in the Carrier Dome might be the top reason people kept coming to games even when the team was terrible. You can drown your sorrows with a $6 alcoholic beverage when things get rough.
*Photos courtesy of the Syracuse athletic department
The Carrier Dome doesn't offer a lot of frills - but it can one of the most exciting venues in all of sports, especially for Big East basketball.
The food is standard fare with a couple minor exceptions. Parking is scattered around the hill - plentiful, but you need to be willing to walk a ways, take a shuttle, or arrive nice and early. The walk up the hill can be cold and miserable on snowy January evenings, but it is Syracuse.
A fun place - no bad seats in the house - and an entertaining and involved student crowd during the basketball season.
I did not enjoy my Carrier Dome experience. The dome is old and in need of some upgrades. Thankfully, according to the schools media relations director for athletics, the team is beginning to make some upgrades, especially to the concession areas. I am hopeful that this is improve my experience the next time I visit.
The fan base is there, and they show up and are loud if the team is doing well, but with the exception of last year (2010) the team has been down lately since McNabb played there, resulting in a lot of lack-luster crowds and a bad, stale atmosphere. They didn't even sell out for the game against old rival Penn State a few years ago.
The good news is tickets are cheap and usually easy to find, so the return on investment is good.
Be aware of where you park and allow plenty of time to ride the shuttle if it is one of the far lots.
Also, be sure to check out the Ernie Davis statue they put up a few years ago.
After going to games in Beaver Valley, this place was a little disappointing. The Carrier Dome is a very cool place but the fans just weren't as into the game as I'm used to seeing students. They weren't bad but not, well...rabid. The thing I liked best was the fact that the stadium is right on the campus. Lots of fun stuff for a young person to do. Plus I was staying at a frat house with a friend. I'm told it was quite a weekend.
Great place to watch a game, when the team is good. It gets really loud and there isn't a bad seat in the house. I like that you have to walk through campus to get to the stadium. Its a bit of a workout to get up the hill, but well worth it.
I think its the only on campus venue that serves beer. Dome beers are delicious.
As someone who hasn't been to a football game here in about a decade, my opinion is probably too dated to be useful. But that's ok; as an alum and a former season ticket holder, I wouldn't be able to be objective anyway! But I'll try my best...
"The Dome" might not quite be an iconic college football venue, but it's a well-known one at least. And frankly, considering its celebrity, you might be a little disappointed. Our football team is on an upswing, but we haven't been a power for a while. The seats are a little uncomfortable. Despite being named for an air conditioning company, there isn't any air conditioning in the dome. It can get very hot early in the season. Cuse fans aren't bad or fair-weather, but lots of us wish we were a little more passionate.
That said, The Dome is unique. Tickets are reasonably priced and the seats are good. For D1 football, it's a fairly small facility. You won't get this close to a storied program in many other places. Many of the parking lots require a shuttle, but once you're at the Dome, you're in the middle of campus and can even take a walk to downtown Syracuse.
Overall, it's not quite as special as I wish it were. And it's better for basketball.
Random tip: The air pressure is greater inside the stadium than outside. At a few sets of exit doors, you practically get blown outside. Once outside, jump up and down in between the concrete columns. It sounds likes like a light saber.
246 W Willow St
Syracuse, NY 13202
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