On a Saturday afternoon in the middle of October, there is perhaps no better place to sit back and watch a football game than in Hanover, New Hampshire. As the home of Dartmouth College, the Upper Valley region of New England is beautiful as the fall leaves change colors along the rolling hills. The Big Green play in the Ivy League, and though the school may not have the high regard reserved for its other Ivy competitors, Dartmouth has won the most championships, with 17. Big Green football has been played at the same location for well over a century, and the current home stadium was completed in 1923. Recent renovations the last several years have improved Memorial Field, yet retained the nostalgic character that makes attending a football game here a pleasant experience.
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Upon first impression, the food options are limited, as the only concession underneath the west stands consists of hot dogs ($3), snacks and drinks. Heading deeper into the stadium, though, more choices can be found at the track level in each corner of the end zone. Cheeseburgers ($3.75), chicken tenders ($5) and sausage with peppers ($5) add some variety, and there is also a decent set of baked goods, adding to the close-knit community feel to the stadium experience. There are also three tents occupied by businesses found in Hanover: Morano Gelato, Eba's Pizza and Boloco (burritos).
Being an on-campus stadium, there is no alcohol served. Fountain drinks are supplied by Coca-Cola, and there is also a decent assortment of other beverages (coffee, cocoa and sports drinks). All of these are very cheap, costing between $1.25 and $2.25.
The setting starts with a walk to the stadium down Crosby Street, and if the leaves have turned, it is an especially nice approach. On the façade of Memorial Field, ivy covers the brick wall, and in combination with open archways, the storied venue features an equally historic entrance. Inside, most of the fans for the home team sit in the west stands, which are bleacher seats on a concrete base. There is enough leg room to make the seating adequate. Highlighting these seats is the view beyond the football field, where the various athletic buildings in the foreground, combined with the surrounding hills, make for a terrific setting. Certainly the best time to come to Dartmouth for a football visit is October, as these hills are splashed in different colors. Seating on the east side was reduced in 2006 with the building of the Floren Varsity House, and the relatively new configuration makes the stadium more intimate and pleasant-looking. Each end zone includes a small set of bleachers on the field that are rarely used.
Over the last few years, new additions include lights for the ability to host night games and a new scoreboard. The board was a gift and debuted in 2013 with a very clear and high-quality video screen. While Dartmouth has a small pep band and a small number of cheerleaders, this is one of the few places where the laid-back nature to football makes it better to just sit back, relax and enjoy the game.
Hanover is a terrific place to take a stroll, and it starts on their Main Street that is perfectly representative of a small New England town. On a Saturday, walkers and bikers fill the sidewalks, and there are plenty of places to stop in for a drink or a bite to eat. On my visit, I stopped into Molly's Restaurant & Bar, which had very good food and a nice assortment of beers. Other places worth a visit include the Salt Hill Pub and Murphy's on the Green.
Dartmouth's campus takes up much of the town, and right past Main Street is The Green, a huge lawn space that features Baker Library at the end. Dartmouth has a classic Ivy League campus full of historic buildings, and it is worth a walk around the college before heading to Memorial Field on the southeast side of campus.
With Dartmouth having a small student body and being located in a rural area, don't expect a ton of fans at the event. Most games feature Memorial Field less than half-full, and thus the stadium is on the quieter side (not a bad thing given the setting). However, there are a couple games each year that can bring crowds up to 10,000. Both Homecoming and the recently added 7 PM game typically are big events in Hanover, and Memorial Field becomes more lively. Most fans at the game take a relaxed approach, but they are still certainly into the event and cheer at all the appropriate times.
While Hanover (located in the central part of New Hampshire, right along the Connecticut River and the Vermont border) may be a distance away from most of the population in the Northeast, it is very easy to reach. A couple of highways, I-89 and I-91, cross nearby a few miles to the south. In town, parking is available, but the cost can start adding up after multiple hours. To cheaply park for the football game, the best option is to head towards the north side of campus and use the Dewey Field lot, where a shuttle bus brings fans to Memorial Field. The shuttle was not completely reliable on my visit, but the 15-minute walk is doable as an alternative.
The main downside to the stadium's age is the remarkable lack of bathrooms. Not only are there way too few to accommodate a decent size crowd, but they are quite old, with even basic amenities lacking.
Prices are kept very low, and the value for the experience at Dartmouth is excellent. With the exception of homecoming, all tickets are $10, and with concessions affordably priced, an entire family can attend at a low cost. Parking can be found for free, and even a program just costs a dollar.
Memorial Field was built in honor of students and alumni that served in World War I. Several poignant plaques can be found around the main entrance that continue to rightfully honor those from Dartmouth. These are certainly worth a few minutes of time to stop by and read.
Inside the stadium at the top of the west stands, there are several green flags flying with the year of each Big Green championship. While this is a nice honor in itself, an even better feature can be seen when getting close. On the wall below the flags, several bronzed plaques in the shape of a football display the scores of each Ivy League game during that title winning season.
Memorial Field may not be included in the conversation of historic Ivy League football stadiums, but it deserves to be. With a façade untouched since 1923, the stadium retains its original charm, yet features an improved interior that makes for a pleasant experience. However, it is the setting that makes Dartmouth football stand out, as the brilliant fall colors set the scene for a terrific place to sit back and enjoy a game.
Dartmouth College began playing football at the site of Memorial Field in 1893, when the venue was known as Alumni Oval. Thirty years later, the stadium was rebuilt, and the result was Memorial Field, dedicated to Dartmouth alumni who died in World War I. The College Green is a one-minute walk from the field, while two of Dartmouth’s other athletic venues – Leede Arena for basketball and Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park for baseball – are right next to the football field.
Since Ivy League play began in 1956, Memorial Field has seen more Ivy championships than any other venue, with Dartmouth claiming 17 titles in that time span. The last of those titles came in 1996, however, and recent years have seen Dartmouth finish near the middle of the Ivy League standings.
With just 15,600 seats, Memorial Field is the smallest football stadium in the Ivy League, and despite the program’s success, the venue lacks the historical significance of other conference venues such as Franklin Field or Harvard Stadium. On game days, there is seating on all four sides of the field. The main grandstand on the stadium’s west side is made of brick and concrete, and a series of arches line the façade, which also serves as the main entrance. The West Stand has room for about 7,100 spectators, all on concrete bleachers with no seat-backs. A three-level press box sits on top of the West Stand. The long, metal bleachers of the East Stand run the length of the field, with visiting fans usually occupying the northern side. Behind the East Stand, Floren Varsity House offers several suites overlooking the field. The Dartmouth locker room is also located in this building. Temporary metal bleachers occupy the space behind both end zones, though they are rarely used by more than a few spectators; normally, the seating along both sidelines can easily accommodate all fans.
The stadium’s scoreboard is located behind the north end zone and contains the essentials – score, down, distance – but lacks a screen for replays. In the south end zone, there is a large play area for younger fans. An eight-lane track encircles the field, which uses a FieldTurf surface.
Memorial Field is an old stadium, and while the lack of modern amenities (seat-backs, drinkholders, etc.) creates a fairly basic gameday experience, the facility is well-maintained and not in need of replacement in the near future.
9 South St
Hanover, NH 03755
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