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Official Review by Eric Taylor, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Tennessee State University is more than just an FCS school on the Northern edge of downtown Nashville. As a historically black college, TSU was a breeding ground for some of the greatest and most recognizable athletes due to the segregated South of the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Schools like Alabama and other SEC powers shied away from recruiting African-American players in that day and time.
Players as recent as Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Richard Dent were products of the Tiger system under then head coach John Merritt. Many Middle Tennesseans will tell anyone that will listen that there has never been -- prior to or since his time as head coach -- a more colorful, entertaining, or more masterful public relations guru as Merritt in the state of Tennessee. The exception would be former Tennessee Vols basketball coach, Ray Mears. At any rate, it’s safe to say that it will be a long, long time before we come across another character like Merritt with the bland robot personalities walking the sidelines today.
Heck, if we wanted to get crazy, we could go on and on all day about a lady that could run pretty fast and decided to become a Tigerbelle under another Tennessee coaching legend, Ed Temple. While at TSU, she traveled to Rome, Italy and won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics, but who hasn’t done that, right? She was a lady that went by the name Wilma Rudolph.
That’s the history on the team. See below to get the scoop on where they play a majority of their home games on Saturdays in the fall.
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 entire west end of Nissan Stadium is closed off. The only concessions available are inside the East concourse, but that seems appropriate for the size of the crowd in attendance. The good news is this is an NFL stadium, but the concessions are at OVC prices. That's not to say they are giving the food away, but you aren't spending $25 for a hot dog and a soda.
• Jumbo hot dog -- $4
• Regular soda -- $3
• Bottomless souvenir soda -- $9
• Soda in a souvenir mug (with bottom) -- $7
• Pretzel -- $5
• Cracker Jacks -- $7 (I didn't see the size of the box, but it may be in the "candy" family)
• Candy -- $4
The selection is standard, but there is an option for Bojangles' if you're into food from a chain at a football game. You will pay $10 for a chicken tenders and fries combo. That does not include your drink.
To truly understand how good this atmosphere could be, you have to see TSU play at what locals and TSU alumni over age 35 call "The Hole." Hale Stadium was the home to the Tigers before moving their home games to where the Titans played eight Sundays a year in 1999.
A review on Hale Stadium will be on the horizon. After TSU renovated The Hole in 2012, the team began playing some of its home games there again, giving the Tigers a decided home-field advantage. I write all that to say this -- TSU has a great alumni base and they will attend games faithfully. The problem is that a decent FCS crowd of 6,412 becomes a scattered mumbles and grumblings in a cavernous NFL stadium, compared to 6,412 fans inside a 10,000-seat capacity facility. If you want to do the easy math, on an overcast day with intermittent showers, The Hole is roughly 60 percent full, while at Nissan Stadium, it's roughly 10 percent full. In other words, playing at Nissan Stadium is, for all intents and purposes, an absolute atmosphere killer.
With that being said, TSU's Aristocrat of Bands gives the Atmosphere score a one-star boost. The pomp and circumstance -- from entrance into the stadium to the halftime show as well as the in-game tunes -- gives this group of musicians a rock star presence, which makes it clear why many fans talk about halftime then discuss plays made in the game.
Nissan Stadium sits in downtown Nashville, nestled on the east bank of the Cumberland River. It's within walking distance of famed 2nd Avenue and Broadway. Many people park downtown and walk across the river on Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge to the game.
TSU has arguably -- this actually may not even be debatable -- the most loyal alumni base in the state of Tennessee outside of Knoxville. This is the most underrated and under-covered school to have such history, tradition, and fan-support that is unmatched in the Middle Tennessee area.
When talking about access to the stadium, it really can't get any better. Being so close to downtown, you can choose to park downtown and walk across the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge or park along the east side of the Cumberland River. The parking lots are accessible, but are mostly for those with passes. In other words, if you are able and willing to walk a little ways, you can get to the stadium with no trouble.
You can expect to pay anywhere between $15 and $20 for parking if you want to be within the reasonable walk mentioned above.
Although TSU is an FCS team, they play in an NFL stadium. Restrooms are easily accessible. There's not much else to say, except if you need to go, you can go.
Ticket prices were as high as $42 at Ticketmaster for the game I attended. Yes, that's at the 50-yard line, but that's $42 for an FCS game. As mentioned in the "Access" section, you may have to pay anywhere from $15 to $20 to park. Again, for an FCS game, the cost to attend the game is already at $60 for one person, and we aren't even in the stadium yet. The concession prices are not cheap, but that's not unlike any other event that offers concessions.
I give two stars because you get the creature comforts of an NFL stadium and easy access of an NFL town, as opposed to an OVC (Ohio Valley Conference) college town. Then again, the whole purpose of going to a college game is to soak up the college football atmosphere -- especially in the South. The vast majority of the college atmosphere is lost in a run-of-the-mill NFL stadium like Nissan Stadium.
The most disappointing aspect of TSU playing where the Titans play is it's the home of the Titans and the NFL. It's not -- no matter how much Nissan Stadium tries to tell you otherwise -- the home of the TSU Tigers. There is very little dedicated to TSU once inside the stadium, other than a small piece of signage, graphics on the ribbon boards, and the highlight packages on the humongous HD screens. The field is decorated with Tennessee Titans logos at midfield and the end zones with zero mention of TSU or the OVC. The only thing college about the football game is the players on the field and the band in the stands. Nothing around them says, "This is college football."
The staff is, however, unbelievably friendly and helpful.
I don't know how many bonus points I'm allowed to give, but the TSU Aristocrat of Bands deserves 1.4 million points. They provided the soundtrack for the entire day I visited. The halftime show was unbelievable. I hear there was a football game somewhere in the proximity the band was playing. Did I tell you how great the Aristocrat of Bands is? Well, they are awesome. And great.
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