The Calgary Stampeders have been in business in the Canadian Football League since 1935. In that time they have won six Grey Cups. Five of those six championships have been won while they’ve resided in their current digs, at McMahon Stadium.
McMahon Stadium was built in 1960 in an amazingly short 100-day period by using a unique system of pre-cast concrete elements.
There have been a number of renovations and improvements over the years, growing the capacity of the facility from 22,000, all the way up to 38,000 in 1988 in anticipation of hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The total seats are now slightly lower after adding in luxury boxes on both the east and west sides, allowing for just under 36,000 fans.
As a stadium that is over 50 years old, McMahon is long in the tooth and not the most beautiful building on the planet. Nevertheless, it remains in very good shape overall and serves its residents well.
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".
The food options at the concession stands are relatively limited, but all tasty and reasonably priced. The smokie ($4.50) I had in the first quarter was quite good and the Angus beef cheeseburger with fresh sautéed onions ($6.75) was excellent. Then again, anything made of Alberta beef is usually excellent.
The typical popcorn/peanuts/chips options are about all there is on the rest of the menu at most of the stands. However, Pizza 73 is also set up if you're looking for a slice of pie during the game.
Adult beverage options are fairly typically priced, at $6.50 per beer or $7 for a Smirnoff Ice, but the selection is very limited. Unless you like Molson Canadian or Coors Light, you're going to be disappointed.
One of the best kept secrets north of the border is that CFL-style football is a better game than NFL-style football. More motion, more creativity, more scoring. As a direct consequence, going to see a CFL game is always a pleasure.
Generally speaking, there's a pretty good vibe in McMahon when the Stamps are playing. The crowd is energized, the action on the field is exciting and it's just a fun atmosphere.
Seating at McMahon is mostly good. Views from every seat in the house are clear and unobstructed and the seats themselves in the lower sections are quite comfortable for extended sits. The bleacher seats in the upper areas are less comfy, but after climbing the stairs to the 60th row on the west side or 70th row on the east, you may not care. It is a loooong climb to the very top.
My only real problem with the atmosphere at a Stampeders game is, quite literally, the atmosphere. The thin air this far above sea level means that as soon as the sun goes down, it gets chilly. Fast. And for some reason, it seems like the location of McMahon turns it into a bit of a wind tunnel, so any cool air coming in from the mountains just races through the stadium, cooling it off even faster. On anything shy of a sunny afternoon game, I've always left McMahon with a chill, which is less than awesome.
Aside from that though, it's always a good time attending a Stamps game.
My first instinct was to not say particularly good things about the neighborhood, since it is kind of away from all the "party" areas in town. McMahon is nestled up alongside the University of Calgary, which is very much a commuter campus, and the Varsity residential neighbourhood, which is quite a nice area. But on the surface of it neither of those areas really say "party central" to me.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt I was underestimating the immediate surroundings.
Directly east across Crowchild Trail from McMahon, you'll find a strip mall, the Hilltop Plaza, with several restaurants, including Big T's BBQ and Smokehouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Big T's serves up New Orleans style barbecue and blues music piped over the sound system. The fried dill pickles are outstanding.
Also in Hilltop Plaza, you'll find a Dairy Queen, Joey's Only for fish, Saigon Y2K for some good Vietnamese food, and on top of all that there are a couple take-out options as well.
A block north, you'll also find a local institution, Nick's Steakhouse and Pizza. They've won Consumer's Choice Awards for seven consecutive years and continue to produce great food every time.
The Hilltop Plaza is situated in the northwest corner of what is locally known as Motel Village, a collection of motels directly across from McMahon. Also collected within Motel Village are several more restaurants, including a Denny's, a Boston Pizza, a McDonald's, a Phil's, and a Red Lobster.
Heading west a block, you'll find the Stadium Shopping Mall and another handful of restaurants. There's Moose McGuire's Bar, which serves an excellent Crown Float, The Keg for a great steak, and the Redwater Rustic Grille for a little more upscale dining experience. Between The Keg and Redwater you'll also find a Wendy's if you're in the mood for a burger.
Within very easy walking distance from McMahon there is a place for most every palette, so there really is no need to go searching far and wide for some pre- or post-game dining. It's a little light on the bar and nightclub scene, but you'll have no trouble finding a good meal and a couple drinks.
The game I attended was an exhibition game against Calgary's mortal enemies, the Edmonton Eskimos. So although I wasn't expecting quite the same size crowd as usual (the attendance came in at just under 24,000), I was expecting the crowd to be boisterous and enthusiastic. Maybe it was the fact that it was an exhibition game, or that the Eskimos were in the lead for almost the entire game, but the crowd that night was pretty sedate compared to what I've come to expect at McMahon.
Typically, the crowd is right into the game with tons of cheering and booing, as necessary. My visit wasn't quite as noisy as usual, with the fans mostly sitting on their hands for much of the game. To their credit, though, when Calgary staged a huge comeback in the dying minutes of the game and pulled off a last-second victory, the fans got right into it and things got good and loud.
In general, you'll find thousands of people proudly wearing their Stampeders' red and white and a handful proudly wearing their Saskatchewan Roughriders green and white (Riders fans are loyal to the point that they'll wear their team's colours even when they aren't playing). They're generally all in good spirits, especially when their team is winning and they're there to have a fun time.
Parking around McMahon is not great.
The smallish lot surrounding the stadium is reserved exclusively for season ticket holders who have payed extra for the privilege. That means your remaining options involve doing some walking.
There is parking available at the Stadium Mall for $8, but it fills up very quickly, so come a couple hours early if you hope to get in there. You might also find one of the few available spots on the neighborhood streets, although most of the area is permit parking only.
One other option would be to consider parking at the Foothills Hospital, just west and south of McMahon on 16th Ave. The parkade on the north side is used almost exclusively by people visiting the university medical sciences buildings on the grounds, so by game time it is typically pretty empty. At $13 for your stay, it's also a little pricey, considering you'll still be a 10-minute walk from the game.
One other option would be to head north of the stadium a few blocks to the University campus where you'll find several parking lots and slightly better rates than the hospital, but again you should plan to do some walking.
Your best bet is to use Calgary's Light Rail Transit system. The C-Train has a station a block away to the east, alongside Motel Village, and there's a big pedestrian overpass to get you across Crowchild Trail. The train can get you around town fairly quickly and easily, although it gets pretty crowded in the post-game rush. At $2.75 for an adult fare, it's a pretty good option.
As I mentioned earlier, CFL football is a very entertaining brand of football, so you can expect a great time at the event. A fun atmosphere with lots of action around a good crowd equals a good evening (or weekend afternoon) out.
Depending on the game, prices vary somewhat. Regular price games run anywhere from $30 per seat up to $92 per seat, while premium games are a bit spendier at $40-$102 per seat.
For the thriftier fan, there's also the Safeway Family Huddle zone in the upper south east stands. For $19.99, you can purchase these passes at any local Safeway grocery store, which makes for a pretty economical option. But expect that looong climb to the top of the stands.
McMahon Stadium has a number of little extras to further enhance your game experience.
The Red and White Club in the north end of the stadium is an exclusive members-only facility featuring a buffet and full bar service and is open before, during, and after the game.
The Stampeders have two mascots: Ralph the Dog and Quick Six. Ralph has been the team mascot for decades and splits his time between visiting with the youngsters in the stands and chasing around the sidelines trying to pump the fans up. Quick Six is the team's touchdown horse. It has been a long-standing tradition at Stamps games that every time the Red and White score a touchdown, the horse takes a victory gallop along the sidelines. The latest horse with that coveted assignment is Quick Six.
The Outrider cheerleaders are on the sidelines during the game keeping the fans engaged by cheering between plays on the field. They also get out on the field itself for a couple dance routines during longer stoppages and do a great job bringing energy and exuberance to the event.
In front of the stadium you'll find a zone in the parking lot set up to allow the kids to try their luck with tossing footballs at targets, so there's something for them to keep them excited.
Souvenirs and apparel can be purchased in a number of locations around the stadium, but most particularly in the main Stamps Store on the southeast side of the building exterior. Something for every fan can be found there.
For those who still fondly recall the 1988 Winter Olympics, the Olympic Cauldron where the torch ceremony officially opened the Games is situated in the northeast corner of the stadium.
The halftime show is typically entertaining as well. On the night I was there, the world- renowned Calgary Stampede Show Band performed as a tune up prior to the Stampede itself, which hit town in July.
All in all, this is a fun event to take in, at a solid venue. There's something for most everyone and the game is sure to please any football fan.
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2138 Crowchild Trail Northwest
Calgary, AB T2M 4N5
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