History and tradition: two things that the Ivy League is all about. One of their members is the University of Pennsylvania and a game at Franklin Field perfectly exemplifies Ivy football. Fans watch football take place on a field that was created in 1895. Penn has had quite a storied history here and during their time in the Ivy League, they have dominated with 12 outright titles. Along with hosting the successful Quaker football team, the Penn Relays have been held here for over 100 years. The stadium's current configuration was designed in the mid-1920s. Though there are several NCAA stadiums built in the early 1900s, you will be hard-pressed to find one as pure and untouched as Franklin Field.
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As fans enter into the open west end zone, there are a couple merchandise tents and one basic food stand. Your initial impression is "That's it?" But then, as you walk towards the seating bowl, it gradually becomes apparent there is a hidden concourse. The dark and cramped concourse eventually leads to some food stands on the sides that have a little more to offer than just hot dogs ($3.75), burgers ($5.50), peanuts ($3.25) and pretzels ($3.50). A traditional cheesesteak ($7.50) is offered at one stand, though it's not even close to the incredible cheesesteaks that are found at small places around Philly. It was filling, however, with a decent amount of steak stuffed in the hoagie. Pizza and chicken sandwiches are also available. Unfortunately, the food stands on the visiting sideline were closed and those fans had to walk over to the other side to eat. Lines were manageable, but the service was quite slow.
Given that the stadium has not changed much since the 1920s, fans are greeted to an experience that is hard to replicate. Franklin Field is a double-decker stadium with a horseshoe design and it is mainly bleacher seating. Though the surrounding track leads to the stands being far from the field, there are both views that are incredible and uniquely awful. Most of those bad seats are in the back of first level, where fans can have support beams and even stairs to the second level blocking your view. The corner seats are even stranger as a brick wall is at your side and back, while you have to turn your body 30 degrees so that you are facing the football field. But this is part of the allure of Franklin Field; seats that are so bad and outdated seem to have charm.
The best seats, in my opinion, are those in the upper-deck. These seats hang over the lower-level and give a great perspective of the field. They also provide some amazing views beyond the stadium, specifically on the home (south) side seats. Philadelphia's beautiful Center City skyline looms over the stadium on the right, while to the left is a view of the Penn campus rising over the old Weightman Hall building that dominates the end zone. The only drawback up here is that you feel separated from the rest of the stadium. Fewer fans sit here and it's difficult to hear any noise generated by fans below you.
Since every Penn football game features a stadium that is 60-90% empty, I highly suggest fans move around to a different seat each quarter and take in the good and bad views that are unique to this stadium.
Franklin Field is located in a great section of Philadelphia called University City. It is not just the University of Pennsylvania located here, but Drexel University actually is right next to Penn. Quite a site to see two Division I schools separated by just a street. Penn has a massive campus and the school is worth a pleasant walk around to see the many historical buildings. If you want to touch upon your inner Ivy, check out the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, which is across from the stadium. A perfect time to visit a Penn football game is in November when the leaves are on the ground and there is a chill in the air. Plus, you might get lucky and be able to follow a football game with a basketball game at the historic Palestra right next door.
Philadelphia's Center City is only a couple miles away on Market Street and there are plenty of places to eat and drink there. University City also provides a decent mix of bars and restaurants with a ton of variety. A couple of the good ones are right next to each other on Sansom Street: the New Deck Tavern (an Irish-style pub) and the White Dog Cafe, which is a little more upscale but has incredibly delicious food using a menu with only local ingredients. If you're in the mood for Asian, University City has plenty of options with many different countries represented.
Even a crowd of 25,000 wouldn't fill half the stadium, so Franklin Field will never look full for a Penn football game. However, I was disappointed in my visit with the fans as there was only an announced paid crowd of 7,609. Many of those fans were there for visiting Cornell. Even though Penn was out of the conference title race, it was still Senior Day and the team was honoring Philadelphia great Chuck Bednarik, so it was a disappointing turnout.
The fans at the game were all knowledgeable and caring about the team, but the noise and atmosphere is on the quieter side. Penn does occasionally get some relatively-decent crowds, especially for Homecoming and the Princeton game. Harvard and Yale usually lead the league in attendance, with Penn perennially third.
While at the game, make sure you are in your seat at the end of the third quarter for a tradition typical of an Ivy League school. The band plays "Drink a Highball" and at the end of the song, the lyric is "Here's a toast to dear old Penn". On toast, fans throw hundreds of toast (yes, toast, as in toasted bread) onto the track and sidelines. It's a wacky, but fun tradition. Speaking of the band, the halftime show is entertaining with the University of Pennsylvania band playing great music and using a lot of satire.
Though the University of Pennsylvania is not difficult to get to, parking is remarkably limited for a 50,000+ seat stadium. However, since crowds are minimal, there seems to be enough spots to park in. There are a few parking garages within a walk to the stadium and I decided to park in the lot at Chestnut and South 34th. The Schuylkill Expressway (Interstate 76) is the best way to arrive on campus by using Exit 345. This brings you through Drexel's adjoining campus and it's fairly easy to get to the lot on Chestnut and South 34th. Plus, getting out and back onto I-76 is a breeze. There are other parking lots/garages fans can choose, and if you are comfortable with city driving, try to save your money and search for surrounding on-street parking. University garages charge a ridiculous $15 for event parking. There are other options including Philadelphia's SEPTA mass-transit system like taking the subway, trolley, or regional rail, all of which bring you close to the stadium.
Bathrooms seemed a lot newer than the stadium itself and they are wider than expected. There aren't many bathrooms, but it didn't cause an issue or many lines.
The prices are high for your return of an Ivy League football game. But, for the opportunity to watch football at a venue like Franklin Field, it's worth a visit once. Parking in the university lots as mentioned before is a ridiculous $15, so be prepared for that. General admission seats are only $8 though. If you want a chairback seat near the center of the field, the price goes way up to $25. Seems a little excessive and they protect these seats too with ropes and ushers. Concession prices are a little high, but not too bad.
If you aren't able to make it to Franklin Field for one of the five football home games per year, then head to the event that defines the stadium, the Penn Relays. Starting in 1895, this late-April event features hundreds of track-and-field races from all levels of competition. In 2010, Usain Bolt was here running for Jamaica in an exhibition. Crowds are huge for the Penn Relays and it is particularly special for high-schoolers running in such a setting.
Another couple points goes to the various plaques around the stadium denoting honors and special people. One of the newest statues is for Chuck Bednarik, a former Penn and Philadelphia Eagle great. He is a member of both the Pro and College Football Hall of Fame and is revered in the city that he played in over a span of three decades. It was great seeing him there at the stadium receiving the well-deserved honor.
Lastly, check out all of those banners hanging from the bottom of the stands on the visiting sideline. Those are all Ivy League championships and a visual on just how successful Penn football is.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Stadium & Arena Visits.
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