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Official Review by Cory Sims, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Charleston, SC is one of this country’s special cities, a unique melting pot of history, food, architecture and culture. The city offers dozens of special experiences, from a ferry ride to Fort Sumter, kayaking on Shem Creek in the company of dolphins, to dining on pig’s ear lettuce wraps at one of the nation’s most popular restaurants, Husk. Charleston hosts a mix of British, Caribbean, French and Jewish influences, but don’t think that means this town isn’t as Southern as sweet tea. And, if there’s one thing southerners love above all else, it’s college football.
The only college football you can see in downtown Charleston is played by the Citadel Bulldogs, in their home, Johnson Hagood Stadium. The home of the Bulldogs was built in 1948, and currently seats 21,000 fans. It’s just one block south of campus, which allows the cadets to showcase their formation marching as they move from the on-campus barracks to their section of the stadium. The cadets are led by the Citadel’s marching bagpipe band, which is infinitely cooler than the marching band you’re used to seeing at football games. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, The Citadel is a military school, and has been since its founding in 1842. In fact, the full name is The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. This explains the presence of hundreds of men in uniform around and in the stadium, plus the fact that the stadium looks like a huge castle. Read on, to learn what you can expect during an afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
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You can buy food at the stadium, but don't expect anything special. Hot dogs, chips, nachos, pretzels, and the other stadium classics are all available, and can be paired with any Coke product. Prices are lower than you would expect at a pro venue or major college stadium ($3 Coke, $4 hot dog), so if you're starving or sweating in the humid coastal air, paying for some sustenance won't hurt too bad. But, this is Charleston, one of America's great food towns, so I beg you not to waste a meal at the stadium. Within a mile of the stadium are some of Charleston's best restaurants, ones you likely won't read about in the tour guides. Just a little north is the Rutledge Cab Company (creative pub food), east is Butcher and Bee (gourmet sandwiches), and just a couple blocks from the Citadel Gates is Moe's Crosstown's famous burgers. Further south, towards Charleston's prime tourist areas, you can find fantastic seafood, American, Italian, French, anything you might want. You can buy a hot dog at any stadium in America, enjoy your time in Charleston.
With this being FCS football, I was surprised by the amount of good tailgates set up in the shadow of the stadium's parapets. Dozens of Citadel-colored tents filled the parking lots, many of them with satellite TVs broadcasting the SEC game of the moment. The weather in Charleston is almost always mild, and even if there's some rain, the clouds typically blow away before you would get too wet. For a school that just started accepting female students in 1995, there sure are a lot of women sporting the Citadel baby blue and navy, or even better, khaki skirts with little Citadel logos peppered all over. Citadel football is the best sports scene Charleston has to offer; however, you will not be fooled into believing it matches Clemson or South Carolina.
The famous Rainbow Row, battery mansions and public market of Charleston are a few miles south, but the neighborhood that hosts the Citadel still has a lot to offer. First off, no trip to Johnson Hagood Stadium would be complete without a tour of the Citadel campus. Just a block north, walk through the iron gates and over to the parade grounds, where on weekdays cadets practice marching, but at all times, you can view old military vehicles and equipment, like a Harrier jet or the periscope from a submarine. You can also walk a few blocks west for a view of the Ashley River from Brittlebank Park, and if you're lucky, you might spot a dolphin. Hampton Park, a few blocks north, has beautiful trees and flowers, and is also the original home to Citadel football.
The Citadel is a relatively small school (3,500 total students), and many alumni move away or end up serving in the military. Therefore, the Charleston alumni base is limited, but those that are in the area sure seem to come back on Saturdays. In addition, South Carolina is a college football crazed state. In fact, according to one article, more Craigslist Missed Connections originate at football games in the Palmetto state than anywhere else, including Walmart. So, all those football fanatics in the Holy City adopt the hometown Bulldogs. Although the fans show up in droves to tailgate, it seems like the majority stay outside the gates come game time. It appears to me as if the small stadium doesn't exceed 50 percent capacity.
The Citadel is just north of the main tourist center of Charleston, right off a couple major highways, so getting to the game is quick and easy. Parking can be found in a lot across the street for just ten bucks, or park a few blocks away for free and bathe in the sunshine walking up to the stadium. You'll spend more time standing for the national anthem than you will in the lines for the gates of entry, bathrooms, and concession stands.
General Admission tickets, available for $15, are pretty cheap, but I've paid the same price for tickets to major college games outside the SEC. There's no secondary ticket market for Citadel football (meaning scalpers), so you will likely have to buy them straight from the box office. It's not a lot of money, but there's dozens of more unique opportunities to be found in Charleston than FCS football.
I could go on and on about all the great things to do in Charleston away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, but this is a review of Citadel football. One cool aspect of a Citadel game is the Civil War replica cannons that are fired whenever the Bulldogs score. As you might remember from middle school history, the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter, a Union-held island in the middle of the Charleston Harbor. What you might not know is that those shots, or cannon blasts rather, were fired from Citadel cadets. In modern times, current Citadel cadets shoot blanks, and although it is quite loud, it's certainly less intimidating than the historical origins.
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1300 Rutledge Ave
Charleston, SC 29403
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