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Official Review by Nathan Deal, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
That was a very cheesy pun. Please forgive me for that. People who don’t need to be forgiven, however, but rather thanked, are the group of students at the University of South Alabama who started a campaign recently to bring college football to the school.
It was a successful campaign. In 2009, the South Alabama Jaguars took the field for the first time, and right off the bat, the program was a success. The Jaguars won their first 19 games ever before losing at NC State early in the 2011 season. Despite the loss, the program made even larger strides in 2011, playing a far tougher schedule than they did their first two seasons and still achieving a 6-4 record.
Before the 2012 season, South Alabama was introduced to big-time college football, joining the FBS as a member of the Sun Belt conference. The team isn’t faring too well in their first year of major college football, but it won’t be too long before the Jaguars flip the script and become a major player in the conference, challenging the likes of Troy, Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, UL-Monroe and UL-Lafeyette.
Their current on-field issues haven’t stopped them from bringing in fans to their historic stadium. Ladd-Peebles Stadium has a rich history of football, most notably playing host to the Senior Bowl and also hosting the GoDaddy.com Bowl (formerly the GMAC Bowl). The Senior Bowl has hosted many of the greatest college football players of all-time, including the likes of Tim Tebow and other legends. The GMAC Bowl has seen their fair share of history, too. The 2001 GMAC Bowl saw Marshall storm back from a 38-8 deficit against East Carolina to win 64-61 in what was, at the time, the greatest comeback in bowl history.
However, there’s a brand new attraction at this venue now: The South Alabama Jaguars, who hope to make some history of their own.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
I've said it before in my reviews: stadium food is stadium food is stadium food. It's a decently-priced, average concession stand experience. The food isn't great, but it's pretty good. I've never been to a college football stadium with a "food" category that rated over three stars. You'll get the same thing just about anywhere.
The stadium definitely takes pride in its history. There aren't many places you can turn in this stadium without seeing the words "Senior Bowl." This stadium does an excellent job of creating a historical feel, which is something that can't be said for the other venues of the Sun Belt. South Alabama already has one of the best home-field advantages in the conference.
The surrounding area is similar to what one would refer to as a "hood." However, this isn't like the area surrounding UAB's Legion Field, an area known for danger. Despite the poor quality of the surroundings of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, this isn't really a dangerous neighborhood. I never really had a sense of any kind of trouble while walking through the neighborhood.
However, the stadium is in a less-populated area of Mobile, so there aren't really any restaurants or stores near the stadium. The more urban area of the city has a lot to offer as far as restaurants, museums, and stores go, however.
USA fans are far more loyal and numerous than one would think. The first game the program played back in 2009 was almost a sell-out. The crowd for the game I went to was impressive as well.
A big factor for me was that the weather was awful, and there were still plenty of tailgaters and cheering fans. The weather was just atrocious. Anyone in Mobile got battered with rain that day. Despite this, the parking lot was full of tailgaters, the student section was absolutely packed and the home stands were mostly full as well. The fans stayed for a majority of the game, until the team had pretty much been eliminated from the game with about five minutes to go. The fans in attendance cheered through the rain. The student section was raucous.
As I stated earlier, South Alabama already has one of the best home-field advantages in the Sun Belt.
One has to go off the beaten path and through a neighborhood to reach the stadium and surrounding area, so that drops this rating a few notches. However, there are plenty of places to park, both at the stadium and in areas near it. I'd recommend arriving early to get a better parking space.
You get what you pay for here. The price of admission is worth seeing some Sun Belt action, as USA takes on teams such as Troy, Florida International and North Texas. The tickets are accurately priced.
The history the Senior Bowl and GoDaddy.com Bowl both bring to the facility are worthy of an extra point.
USA has a historic stadium, a young team, an energized fanbase and some great coaching. Needless to say, they're well on their way to big things in the Sun Belt.
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