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Official Review by Jim Flannery, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since the University of Calgary came into being in the 1960s, the Dinos football program has been one of the most consistent performers in Canada.
The Dinos have been to the Vanier Cup eight times and won Canada’s university championship game on four occasions. They’ve won the Canada West division 11 times.
The program has also sent more than 60 players to the CFL as well as one to the NFL (Defensive Lineman Dan Federkeil played three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, winning a Super Bowl along the way).
Needless to say, if you go to watch the U of C football team, you’re going to be watching a group of guys who expect to win.
Throughout their history, the Dinos have made their home at McMahon Stadium, on the south end of the university campus. McMahon is also shared with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders, who have had plenty of U of C alumni in their ranks.
McMahon is over 50 years old now and is starting to show its age in some respects. But as a facility housing a Canadian Interuniversity Sports football program, it is more than adequate for the task.
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 typically priced but relatively limited. The smokie ($4.50) and french fries ($3.75) we had prior to the game were tepid, at best, which was a little disappointing. The freshly grilled Angus beef cheeseburger with fresh sautéed onions ($6.75) is always very good, however.
The typical popcorn/peanuts/chips options are about all there is on the rest of the menu.
Adult beverage options are also fairly typically priced, at $6.50 per beer or $7 for a Smirnoff Ice and your beer choices are limited to either Molson Canadian or Coors Light.
While the items presented on this menu are exactly the same fare available at Stampeders games, I think a little more thought put towards modifying the menu to appeal to a university crowd might encourage more students to come out.
The good news, as with any Canadian football game, is that the game itself is superior to the American version. The nature of the game lends itself to more creative play-calling and more scoring, so you'll likely be entertained.
The not-so-good news is that university football north of the border is not the huge phenomenon that it is in the States. In fact, the U of C only opens half of McMahon when the Dinos are playing because half the stadium is more than enough stands for the 2,000-5,000 fans they'll typically get.
As a result, getting a strong, fired-up atmosphere in the stands is challenging. Having the crowd spread out around the lower seating section just doesn't create the same raucous energy that one might get if that same crowd were tucked in tight in a facility that only holds 5,000 people. The net result is a subdued, laid-back atmosphere more typical of a baseball game than a football game.
On the upside, you have nothing but great seats to choose from when you go looking for a spot to watch the game. It's all rush seating at Dinos games and the comfy spots in the first 40 rows all have an excellent view of the field.
One of the real challenges to the atmosphere at McMahon is Calgary's thin, northern air. As the weather turns cold in the fall (or even in some breezy evenings), McMahon can be downright frigid to sit in. Again on the upside, though, the Dinos only make use of the east stands which keep the audience in the sun for as long as possible during day games, helping to protect the fans from any cold weather.
McMahon is located well away from the traditional party venues in Calgary, so on first blush it might seem like the neighborhood might not be so great for pre- or post-game fun. However, look a little closer and you'll see that there are plenty of options at your disposal.
Directly east across Crowchild Trail from McMahon is a strip mall called the Hilltop Plaza with several restaurants. Big T's BBQ and Smokehouse is one of my favorite restaurants in Calgary. Big T's serves up New Orleans style barbecue and blues music is piped over the sound system. Come for the brisket; stay for the fried dill pickles.
Also in Hilltop Plaza you'll find a Dairy Queen, a Joey's Only, Saigon Y2K for Vietnamese food and there are a couple take-out options as well.
A block north of the Hilltop Plaza, you'll find a local institution, Nick's Steakhouse and Pizza. Nick's has won Consumer's Choice Awards for seven consecutive years and the bar is always lively.
The Hilltop Plaza is in the northwest corner of what is locally known as Motel Village, a collection of motels directly across from McMahon. Several more restaurants can be found among the motels, including a Denny's, a Boston Pizza, a McDonald's, a Phil's, and a Red Lobster.
Heading west a block from the stadium, you'll find the Stadium Shopping Mall and even more restaurants. Moose McGuire's Bar is a popular option for local residents and university students alike. The Keg and the Redwater Rustic Grille will both provide you with more upscale dining experience. Between The Keg and Redwater you'll also find a Wendy's if you have a craving for a Baconater.
Since the crowd at a Dinos game is typically only a couple thousand, there should be plenty of room at any of the many options available locally.
The crowd at a Dinos game is typically a blend of students and alumni, with a smattering of fans from the visiting school as well. The crowd tends to be very good natured, and being a fairly small group, it seems like there are lots of people who know everyone else.
Cheers come up at the right times, so the people there are definitely engaged in the game. Indeed, with as small a crowd as is in attendance, you can count on it that these are Dinos fans to the core.
So, while there isn't a lot of wild and crazy football fan antics in the stands, it is quite pleasant.
Parking around McMahon for Dinos games is excellent.
At Stampeders games the lot surrounding the stadium is reserved exclusively for season ticket holders. But the University of Calgary allows free parking at the venue for Dinos games and there is more than enough space there for the number of people.
No need to go looking elsewhere for other parking options as is the case for the Stamps.
Your other option is 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.
The University of Calgary Dinos are ranked No. 2 in the nation at the time of this 2012 review, so you're going to see some quality football if you take in a game.
Tickets at the door are $12 per person for adults, $8 for youths and seniors. And if you're a U of C student, you get into any and every regular season game for every sport on campus for free. Free! Children under 6 are also free admission.
You really can't do better than that price with that quality of entertainment.
McMahon Stadium and the Dinos have a couple little extra touches to make the experience a little more interesting.
The Olympic Cauldron is on display in the northeast corner of the stadium. The opening and closing ceremonies of the 1988 Olympics were held at McMahon and anyone wanting to relive the memories of those days is welcome to check it out.
Rex, the Dinos mascot spends most of the game in the stands amusing the kids.
Music at the game I attended was courtesy of a DJ located down by the Dinos' bench and kept things bumping in between plays.
Dinos football is a great and inexpensive way to spend an evening. You'll get a great game in a great seat. And more people in the seats can't help but make it a better experience for everyone.
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