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Official Review by Michael Spatz, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since joining the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 1970, Morgan State University, a historically black university (HBCU), has had its troubles staying relevant both in the division and in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly called Division I-AA. After winning the MEAC Championship in 1971, the Bears have hit a dry spell, which included 23 straight seasons with a losing record (1980-2002). Still, the school that was the collegiate home of four Pro Football Hall of Famers carries a respectable following when the Bears are home at Hughes Stadium.
With a capacity of 10,001, Hughes Stadium, nicknamed the Den, has been the home of Morgan State football since 1937. Renovations have kept the stadium in good condition, the last renovation being in 2001. Deep inside the northeastern side of Baltimore, what the Morgan State University football experience lacks in neighborhood and perhaps investment, it does partially make back in atmosphere.
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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".
Nothing really stands out in terms of the food at Hughes Stadium. Most of it is the typical stadium food and what you would expect. The concession stands are on either side of the stadium behind the seating areas. The problem is that the seating areas, on either sideline, aren't connected to each other, so deciding to go from one end to the other end could turn out to be quite an adventure. Both concession stands are across from each other, next to the restrooms. If you're coming from the south end, the concession stands are closer to Gate 11. If you're coming from the north end, they're closest to Gate 3. The beverages are Pepsi products, but all in all, save your appetite and eat before or after the game somewhere in the city. The variety in the city is hard to beat, and you're likely to get more bang for your buck.
Though it has strong roots, Morgan State University is far from a football hotbed right now, even in the FCS. With that said, the city of Baltimore has a strong football following, shown by the support of the 2012 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. So what do you get at Hughes Stadium? A good atmosphere outside of the stadium, but a weaker one inside.
The 10,001 seats are split between two bleachers; one on either sideline. The southern bleachers, closer to the parking garage and the southern ticket booth, are filled with general admission seats, reserved seating and the Morgan State University band. The northern bleachers are closer to East Cold Spring Lane and the northern ticket booth, and are 100 percent general admission. The reserved seating on the southern bleachers are the seats that are parallel to the middle of the field - between each 40 yard line.
There is a scoreboard on the eastern side of the stadium, though it is not very large and seems to only show a live feed of the game. Around the field is a large track which makes it so that even the closest fans are quite far from the actual field. The fans themselves are relatively loud, being egged on by a good PA announcer who shows a lot of enthusiasm for Morgan State scores and first downs. Still, a surprising number of fans never actually went into the stadium on the day I visited, instead electing to congregate outside of the gates and peek inside from there. From a fan's standpoint, it's great to be able to watch the game live through some gates or on top of a hill and not have to pay any admission. From a home-field environment standpoint, however, this really handicaps any chance that Hughes Stadium has of being a tough place in which to play.
The Morgan State campus rests around northern Baltimore, a city that's always buzzing, both on the weekdays and the weekends. Luckily, the campus and Hughes Stadium are close enough to the main city that most of the big attractions are less than five miles away, though it might take you a while to get there, depending on the city traffic. The Baltimore Museum of Art is a great attraction that is also free. Even if you don't think of yourself as the artistic type, walking around the museum, which has both inside and outside attractions, can be mesmerizing at times. This is a great place to go whether you're with your family, with a friend or even just by yourself. If you're looking for a place to stay, the closest hotel is America's Best Value Inn on Frankford Avenue, a little less than five miles southeast of Hughes Stadium.
Unlike Camden Yards or M&T Bank Stadium, Hughes Stadium isn't in the main, business part of the city; it's a bit on the outskirts, which could turn some people off. The Morgan State campus looks great, however, and the area around Hughes Stadium isn't much at all to worry about.
Morgan State Bears supporters will come out on game days and hang out on campus, but there's a big difference between being at the game and being into the game. Many Bears fans are unfortunately the former. The head count is there for Morgan State fans, but the passion isn't there. At the game I attended, Morgan State led their conference opponents throughout the game and ended up winning by over ten points, but without looking at the scoreboard, you likely would have barely known the result. There's the occasional cheering for a Bears first down or touchdown, but mostly just after being egged on by the PA announcer.
On the bright side, there's no way to be confused about where you are. Morgan State supporters proudly wear their orange and blue shirts and sweatshirts, the two main school colors. It's clear that most of the fans have a tie to the school; either having graduated from Morgan State or currently enrolled as a student there. That's not necessarily a bad thing; in many of the big college basketball and football venues around the country, the student section can show passion and energy that can't be reproduced in any professional setting. This, however, is not one of those cases.
Along with the positives of having a campus in a big city, there are the negatives, as well, and those negatives mainly come within this category. Traffic will be a pain no matter what, since you'll be driving through Baltimore, the 26th-most populated city in America. If it's your first time driving in Baltimore, it might take some getting used to; traffic is slow, most stop lights don't allow right hand turns on red and many lanes will become 'turn-only' lanes without much of a warning. Once there, though, parking is manageable.
To get to the campus from the north, follow I-95 South to the Baltimore Beltway. You will then get on I-965 towards Towson before taking the 30A exit, named Perring Parkway/MD-41S. If you're coming from the south (Washington, DC, for instance), the best route would be the DC-295N ramp, which turns into MD-295N. Hughes Stadium isn't the easiest nor the hardest stadium to find; it just takes some good sign reading once you're near and on the campus.
General admission tickets are $20, and can be purchased via Ticketmaster or the Morgan State University box office. It is $30 for a reserved seating ticket, $15 for a senior citizen ticket and $10 for a student ticket for anyone with a valid university ID; Morgan State students get in for free. For the homecoming game, the general admission tickets bump up to $30. This seems to be on par with other teams in the MEAC, so in that sense, the Bears experience is competitive. With the inclusion of the Morgan State band, the price seems reasonable; even though the closest seats are still a bit far away because of the large track around the field, it's still much better than what $20 or $30 might get you at M&T Bank Stadium or Byrd Stadium, home of the Maryland Terrapins.
One point goes to the strong tradition of which the Bears were a part between 1929 and 1959. Under the coaching of Eddie Hurt, Morgan State went 173-54, winning 14 CIAA championships. The Bears have never come close to that kind of success again since then, but Hurt's legacy at Morgan State has been recognized nationwide with several honors, such as being inducted in the Morgan State Hall of Fame (1972) and HBCU Hall of Fame (1978), as well as being the coach for the US Olympic Track Team in 1964. At Morgan State, Hurt was also a basketball coach and a track coach. From 1929-1947, Hurt was all three at the same time for Morgan State University.
If you're someone who believes that watching football is great no matter where it is or at what level, Hughes Stadium on the campus of Morgan State University is certainly an option for Saturday afternoon football in the city of Baltimore. If you're looking for the extra perks that make many college football venues exciting, though, such as a strong fan base and a loud atmosphere, you unfortunately won't be getting that in Morgan State. The Hughes Stadium experience is passable, though not very memorable.
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