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Official Review by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Cramton Bowl has not hosted an FBS game since 2001, the last year it hosted the Blue-Gray Football Classic, so I was excited to attend the inaugural Camellia Bowl here – I have seen FBS games played in over 100 venues all across the country, so the opportunity to add a new stadium to my list was not something I wanted to pass up. The Cramton Bowl does play home to the Faulkner University Eagles (NAIA), as well as several local high schools, so if you missed the Camellia Bowl game, you still have plenty of chances to see this stadium.
The 2014 Camellia Bowl pitted the South Alabama Jaguars against the Bowling Green Falcons (Sun Belt vs. MAC). The stadium was only about half-full, and given the relative distance from the participating schools, not surprisingly, the majority were USA fans, although there was plenty of BGSU orange to be seen. The game itself was exciting, since it went down to the wire, and the stadium (recently renovated) has some interesting architectural features and a decent atmosphere, so it's altogether not a bad way to spend an evening in Montgomery.
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The Cramton Bowl sells all of the stadium basics, such as hot dogs, chicken tenders, and cotton candy for very reasonable prices ($3-$5 per item). They also sell beer, which makes sense given that the stadium is not located on a college campus, as well as all of the traditional non-alcoholic drinks, including soda, water, coffee, and hot chocolate. For those with a sweet tooth, the stadium also offers "gourmet" desserts, such as layered brownies and fancy cupcakes ($2-$3 per item) - I don't think these are part of the official fare, but more along the lines of bake sale-esque tables set up in the concourse, probably on behalf of a local fundraising group. So overall nothing to write home about, but nothing that will break the bank, either.
Because this is a small stadium, you definitely will not see the raucous atmosphere you might expect at some of the bigger-name schools. Also, since this is a "neutral-site" bowl game and not a true home game for either team, you miss out on some of the euphoria that traditionally accompanies a spectacular touchdown catch or a ferocious quarterback sack, since only half or at most two-thirds of the fans would be cheering wildly during the most exciting play of the game. The best you can hope for is a close game and/or a local team, which is exactly what took place in 2014, and even that wasn't quite enough to add tons of excitement.
This bowl game also lacks any of the special amenities that sometimes accompany bowl games, like a parade or a jet flyover, or even a simple fan give away like a towel, which is a little disappointing. It would be nice if the sponsors provided something like that. It is also a little disappointing that they don't sell much in the way of "neutral" souvenirs, like a pin or hat that shows both teams' logos - the only items they have are generic "Camellia Bowl" items with no team names or logos, or shirts/hats supporting only one of the teams. That is probably fine for most fans, but I was looking for something to better commemorate the event.
On the plus side, there isn't really a bad seat in the house; you can see perfectly well from any seat in the place.
Located in the heart of Montgomery, the Cramton Bowl itself sits in a pretty residential area, so there isn't much in the way of restaurants or bars in the immediate vicinity. However, from a historical perspective, there are plenty of museums and attractions nearby, given the history of the city. The state capitol is only 5-7 blocks away, as is the first white house of the Confederacy, and the Dr. Martin Luther King home/Dexter Parsonage museum. More well-known are several other civil rights museums, including the Rosa Parks and Freedom Ride museums (10-15 blocks away), which are definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. And for the music and literary fans, there is also the Hank Williams museum and the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald museum.
I have not been to a South Alabama home football game, so I can't speak to their home attendance, but it was a little disappointing to see how few USA fans chose to make the short trip to Montgomery. Their home stadium is larger than the Cramton Bowl, so it would have been nice if they had been able to get enough fans to fill half of it, which wasn't the case - this may have been due to the holidays or a less than stellar season for the Jags. Still, the USA fans that were there dressed in team colors, and cheered loudly at all the right times. The BGSU fans were more noticeable given their bright orange garb, but can be forgiven, I suppose, for their smaller numbers, due to the distance.
The Cramton Bowl is very easy to get to, but parking, while free, is a bit annoying. There is plenty of good parking right next to the stadium, if you have a permit. For those without, there is apparently a park-and-ride lot a mile or two away, but signage/directions on how to get to it are lacking. I also noticed cops in several places making fans move their cars, but there is no signage anywhere telling people they aren't allowed to park there. I would gladly have paid for parking, but there were no cash lots to be had; I ended up parking on a residential street a block from the stadium, which is legal at night and on weekends.
Access inside the stadium is great; there are plenty of bathrooms, as well as short lines for them, given the small crowd. The aisles and entrances inside the concourse are also fairly wide, making it easy to move around during the game, and making it easy to leave quickly when the game is over.
Tickets for this game cost only about $20 each via an outside vendor, and they are real cardstock tickets too, not the print-from-home paper tickets that are becoming ubiquitous in college football these days, so you are left with a decent souvenir. Parking is also free, and food and beverage prices are on the lower end, so there's not a whole lot out of pocket to attend a decent stadium, and a bowl game, to boot.
I definitely want to give a point for the unique architecture - there is a castle wall-type structure in the north end zone, which fans can walk through to get a better view of the game when they are on that end. Also, the new multi-purpose sports complex in the south end zone has a decent look.
A decent way to spend an afternoon or evening, it won't cost much more than going to the movies, and the weather should be good. This is probably not the best choice for the most die-hard football fans, since you will never see a powerhouse match-up or the rabidity you may be used to at some of the marquee venues, but for the more casual fan, it is a great place to take in a game in a relaxed, low-stress atmosphere.
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