Just a mile from the downtown hotels and casinos of "The Biggest Little City In The World" is the home of one of only two FBS football schools in the state of Nevada. The University of Nevada, Reno and Mackay Stadium overlook the downtown skyscape and the Truckee Meadows from its perch.
Reno is the home to sports in Northern Nevada and Mackay Stadium is the epicenter. With no big-league franchises anywhere in Nevada, locals rely on the Wolf Pack to quench their competitive thirst. Besides Wolf Pack athletics, the Reno Aces also play nearby as the Triple-A affiliate for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Mackay Stadium opened in 1966 with a modest 7,500 seats. Perhaps because of the demand and fans' willingness to travel a good distance from other parts of the state, capacity at the stadium has climbed to its current plateau of nearly 30,000.
One of the more memorable games in recent Mackay Stadium memory happened last year over the Thanksgiving holiday. Then quarterback, Colin Kaepernick led the underdog Wolf Pack to victory over the heavily favored and BCS hopeful Boise State Broncos in dramatic fashion. The freezing temperatures would not deter the rabid fans from playing their role in the Wolf Pack's overtime win, putting Nevada's home field advantage on the national landscape.
This season, Nevada is wrapping up their stint in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) and preparing to join the Mountain West Conference (MWC) with Fresno State. They'll be rejoining rivals Boise State and UNLV within conference.
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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".
Without a doubt, Nevada has the best food and beverage of any collegiate venue I have been to. Perhaps rivaling the best professional venues.
For one, beer is sold on the premises, something not available at most collegiate venues. There are a variety of macro and micro brews available for varying prices but I went with High Sierra's red ale, served in a souvenir cup for $8. Added bonus is that your beer won't get cold in freezing temperatures.
All the stadium basics are available, albeit at a high clip. Nachos ($4.75), hot dogs ($4.25), polish dogs ($6), and pretzels ($5) can be found under the south bleachers with water ($3.50) and soda ($4).
Beyond the basics, Famous Dave's also has a booth offering 1/2 rack, 1/3 rack and full racks of ribs. They also offer a pulled chicken sandwich and a Georgia chopped pork sandwich (each for $8).Â
The sides from Famous Dave's can be had for $3 (homemade potato chips, creamy coleslaw, and potato salad). Perhaps the most intriguing and artery-clogging option is chocolate covered bacon ($4).
Mackay Stadium is placed wonderfully within the Sierra mountains, creating a beautiful backdrop from your chilly seat.
Many of the regular patrons brought blankets and gloves which seemed like overkill when I first got there but made perfect sense as the sun started to set. The breeze is an absolute killer if you're not used to it (I'm not, yikes!).
I've not come across a better atmosphere for a college football game in my region. The only issue preventing this from being a five-star atmosphere was a few too many empty seats. Mackay Stadium was probably about 80% full for this game against Louisiana Tech.
You can tell that this is a college football town, perhaps because of the lack of a professional franchise in the area. The Wolf Pack had enjoyed a home win-streak of over 10 games going into the game against LT, furthering backing the positive atmosphere score. Notably, it ended on my trip to Reno on a fantastic come from behind win by the Bulldogs for Louisiana Tech.
The only bummer about the layout is that there is a large track surrounding the playing surface that moves the seats on the sidelines back several yards from the action. Uniquely however, the track goes behind the stands at the end zones, putting those fans right on the action. Thus these sets of bleachers must be temporary ones that the grounds crew can wheel in and out.
Granted, Reno will never be Vegas, but it does have a lot to offer and it's so close to UNR and Mackay Stadium. In comparison, Sam Boyd Stadium is several miles away from the Las Vegas Strip.
Whether gambling, shows, or restaurants are your thing, you can find them just a mile away near the hotels.
Aside from the benefits (and perhaps, drawbacks) of being in Reno, the campus itself has a bit of an identity with restaurants and cafes sprinkled throughout. These, alongside the picture perfect landscape, make for a lovely time pre or post-game.
There is something to be said for fans showing up when it's so cold. Granted, they're used to the weather, but it's obvious that players are receptive to their energy and respond to the fact that they're all in this (the game) together.
These fans are engaged throughout, keeping the same level of energy from start to finish. The fans in the south end zone stomped their feet just as loud in the first quarter as in the fourth and everyone had the same response to defensive third-down situations.
Chants of N-E-V-A-D-A and "that's a Wolf Pack...FIRST DOWN" were typical responses for plays throughout.
Being from Northern California, this is the closest thing to an unadulterated college football environment. Elsewhere in the area, professional franchises take precedent and perhaps cloud the unique vibe of the college football experience. The Nevada fans provided that for me.
The University is easily accessible off of I-80 which stretches as far west as San Francisco. The Stadium is only a few blocks from the freeway exit.
Though the downtown area of Reno looks dense, it's really quite easy to get around, just be mindful of one way streets. Approaching the stadium is accessible from any side, as both street parking and parking lots are scattered along each side of Mackay Stadium.
Once inside there is plenty of room to walk around. Nevada had, without a doubt, the least crowded and best designed walkways that I have seen at any venue. No doubt, they benefit from being an outdoor venue with plenty of space to begin with.
Restroom and concession lines were easily accessible and had sparse lines. Tip: it's warm and cozy in the restrooms if you're a baby (me).
Though concession prices can be a bit high, tickets are pretty reasonable. General admission tickets start at $20 for adults and $10 for children and seniors. These prices move up for premium games however.
Parking is $20 in most lots but can be had free of charge just across the street. Therefore, if you don't plan to tailgate, street parking is very viable.
The return on investment is particularly good when you realize how unique the experience is for the region.
Traditionally, there isn't much in the way of extras Mackay Stadium. However, I find value in the setting and Reno's mountain backdrop is aesthetically breathtaking. Look one way to take in the Sierras and the other to check out the downtown skyscape of hotels.
There is a play area for kids underneath the acknowledgment of past conference championships. Luxury suites are visible above the stands on the west side of the stadium.
UNR is certainly still on the upswing of football success as they seem to be on a path to national relevance with their move to the Mountain West Conference, following Boise State. It'll be fun to see how the stadium and fans evolve moving into the future.
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1661 North Virginia Street
Reno, NV 80503
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