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Official Review by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located just a few miles north of San Antonio's famed, tourist-friendly, historic Alamo Heights area is the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), home to the Southland Conference Cardinals. One of the oldest Catholic universities in the state, UIW began its foray into college football in 2008 with the opening of its “new” home field, Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
The stadium is named after San Antonian Tom Benson, current New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner, and his wife, who are longtime supporters of UIW. The stadium saw a significant upgrade just 2 years after it was built, doubling in size from its original 3,000-seat capacity to its current 6,000 seats in time for the football team's move up to Division I. Nestled in the heart of a tree-lined valley, Benson Stadium is a true jewel on the college athletics landscape.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
At first blush, the food and drink amenities at Benson Stadium remind you of those at a big-time high school football program, and that's not a negative thing in the slightest. All the traditional stadium favorites are available, including hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, soda, sports drinks, beer, etc. There are also a few South Texas additions, like many a fan's personal favorite, Frito pie, at both the home and visitor side concession stands.
The home team side has a few more options, though. Local favorite pizza restaurant Luciano's has a stand near the north entrance. Selling cheese and pepperoni pizza by the slice, this is a popular spot. Ice cream sundaes are also available at a stand under the home-side bleachers.
Despite the lack of variety or "wow" that you might find at a larger venue, for value, you can't beat the prices for the concessions that are offered. The pizza is available for $4 a slice; hot dogs and nachos for $3; soda, bottled water, and sports drinks can all be had for $2 - none of these are a bad bargain in the sports world.
A running theme here will be the high school-type feel that Benson stadium offers up. The band, the cheerleaders, the fans; all of it adds up to a unique "small" feel, but with big-time athletic competition. The stadium itself is beautiful, with a small-town charm kind of aesthetic, and the gorgeous red brick finish gives a look and feel of a different time. The general admission seats are aluminum bleachers, while reserved tickets get chair back seats.
One of the best parts about visiting Benson Stadium is the walk down from the parking garage, and when I say down, I mean that literally. The parking garage is at the top of a hill, so you can enjoy a walk down a tree-lined wooden staircase as the stadium slowly comes into view as you move further down. There is also a "secret" trail through the woods known as St. Brigid's Path that lets you cut down on the walk from one side of the stadium to the other. The beautiful UIW campus is always part of the backdrop, and despite being housed in a large city like San Antonio, you feel as if you are somewhere else.
The location of Benson Stadium is arguably the best feature of the facility. Located in the historic Alamo Heights neighborhood, it is within walking distance of the San Antonio Zoo, Witte Museum, DoSeum (the San Antonio Children's Museum), Kiddie Park (think amusement park for grade schoolers), Brackenridge Park and its golf course, and the San Antonio Riverwalk's Museum Reach. Barring traffic, you can be in the heart of San Antonio's tourist-friendly downtown in under 10 minutes. The historic Pearl, one of the city's newest mixed use shopping, dining, and residential hot spots is also just down the street.
Game attendees will have scores of dining, shopping, and hotel options available to them. No matter your food tastes or your interests, you are covered here. There are barbecue, Chinese, Mexican, burger, and diner fare all within a short walking or driving distance, in addition to museums, bookstores, boutiques, antique shops, etc. If you have time, make sure to take a stroll through UIW's campus; it is absolutely breathtaking.
Though relatively new to college football, the UIW Cardinals have a rabid fan base that turns out in droves for home games. Feeding off the energy of the Marching Cardinals band, which sits in the stands with the student body, the fans are passionate about their team. There is one unique group, the San Antonio Chapter of the Defenders of the Silver and Black (aka Oakland Raiders booster club); don't be surprised to see this highly vocal crowd wearing throwback Jim Plunkett jerseys or sporting Raider face paint. The Defenders definitely add to the overall ambiance of the crowd.
For pure access, it doesn't get much easier to get to a sporting event than at Benson Stadium. Located directly off I-37/Highway 281, you can get to Benson Stadium from any point in the city in roughly 30 minutes, and even less if you are staying downtown. Broadway Street, which runs nearly the length of the city's north side, is a main access point for the stadium. This drive is a bit more scenic, and gives fans a chance to get a view of a truly beautiful and unique area of the city. Broadway also fronts the UIW campus and its breathtaking architecture and well-manicured grounds.
You can exit the stadium rather easily from both entry ways and be well on your way, depending on when you leave, within 10-15 minutes. For a sporting event of any kind, ease of egress is always a welcome bonus!
For the chance to see some big time college football, the cost to attend a UIW Cardinals game at Benson Stadium offers a great bang for your buck. Single tickets start at $15, and parking in the covered parking garage can be had for $8; coupled with paying relatively little for food during the game, and a trip to see the Cardinals is quite the bargain.
Team mascots, good ones at least, can add a great deal to the fun and enjoyment of any sporting event. UIW's mascot, Red the Cardinal, is a lively addition to the team's sidelines. He can be seen tooling around the track ringing the football field on a minibike and/or firing a t-shirt cannon into the crowd.
The tailgating scene isn't quite up to par just yet, as there really aren't many areas for such festivities to take place. There also isn't a team store at the stadium where you can purchase merchandise, but there are usually some tables set up on the home side selling t-shirts.
Attending games at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium is something unlike anything else in the area. Combining many of the "bells and whistles" of big-time college football with the passion, pageantry, and fervor that has become legendary in high school football in Texas, Cardinals games are truly unique.
Member Review by pwdonaldson on Nov 19, 2015
Tucked away on the northside of San Antonio, the University of the Incarnate Word is a newcomer to the NCAA Division I scene. The UIW Cardinals joined the Southland Conference in 2013 and began a four year transition from Division II which is set to expire in the 2017-2018 sports year. While Cardinal athletics may be a relatively lesser-known DI program, they do have the support of one of the biggest names in professional football, the Benson family. As owner of the New Orleans Saints and the namesake of the NFL Hall of Fame Stadium, the Bensons stayed true to their San Antonio roots by helping to fund the new football stadium on UIW’s campus, Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.
Benson Stadium opened originally in 2008 and would soon add southside bleachers to increase the overall capacity 6,000. The stadium provides a cozy atmosphere for a small, but growing community of Cardinal supporters. Complete with a video board, a Hellas Matrix artificial surface, and the adjoining Benson Fieldhouse, the facility has the room for further growth as UIW solidifies its move to the NCAA’s highest level.
Whether you are traveling along with your favorite team on the road or looking for an under the radar sports experience in the San Antonio area, Benson Stadium offers a family friendly experience that’s minutes away from San Antonio’s Riverwalk and next door to both the San Antonio Zoo and Botanical Garden.
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