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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Most fans who are familiar with the history of football in South Carolina focus on Clemson and South Carolina. Interestingly enough, Furman University actually fielded a football program before either of those schools. Furman has played intercollegiate football since 1889, and they have established quite their own history of success. The Paladins own 12 Southern Conference championships, three national championship game appearances and a national title in 1-AA (FCS) in 1988. The school also counts former Bengals and Buccaneers head coach Sam Wyche and NFL running backs Stanford Jennings and Jerome Felton among its alumni.
The Paladins' first full-time home was Manly Field, which the team began to use in 1919. In 1936, the team moved to Greenville's Sirrine Stadium. The current on-campus facility, Paladin Stadium, became Furman's football home during the 1981 football season. The facility is not the newest or most flashy around, but it provides a comfortable and scenic place to watch a game.
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 concession offerings at Paladin Stadium are consistent with those at many stadiums at this level. The "main course" options include hot dogs ($3), jumbo hot dogs ($4) and bratwursts ($4). Nachos and warm pretzels ($4) are also available. Roasted peanuts ($4) and South Carolina staple boiled peanuts ($5) can also be purchased at any of the fixed stands. If all you need is a snack, cotton candy ($4), popcorn ($3), candy ($2) and chips ($2) will satisfy your cravings.
Pepsi serves as Furman's bottler, and they provide the beverages for the stadium. Small fountain drinks ($3), souvenir fountain drinks ($4) and bottled water ($3) serve to quench fans' thirst.
It should be noted that, despite the concession prices seeming a bit higher than some might prefer, the purchases do go toward a good cause. Signs hang at each stand indicating that funds are raised for local and national groups, including St. Jude Children's Hospital.
The natural beauty of Furman's campus makes an appearance in Paladin Stadium, and the view is wonderful from every seat in the facility. The surrounding mountains, lines of trees and green spaces of the campus are all visible, with the mountain views more prominent the higher your seat. The hill behind the end zone is lined with patterned shrubbery, with some of the tailgating areas located just behind that end zone.
The teams' locker rooms are also located (for now) in a building at the top of the aforementioned hill behind the end zone, affording Furman the chance to run down the hill to the field in a similar fashion to Clemson's Memorial Stadium. A series of flags spelling out "F-U-R-M-A-N" lines the middle of the field as the team enters the recently-installed synthetic surface.
The team is also led onto the field by an armored knight (the school's mascot is the Paladin) atop a horse. The knight and horse watch the game from the open end zone, providing the increasingly-rare living mascot. The knight also occasionally leads the horse along the sidelines after a score by the home team.
The open end zone is also home to the stadium's lone scoreboard. The scoreboard contains the school's logo, along with a video board that displays game action, commercials and promotions for other events on the Furman campus. The video board also served as an impromptu scoreboard on the day I attended, as the scorekeeping functions of the board were non-functional, due to an equipment failure. When properly operating, the scoreboard portion contains all of the requisite game information. The PA announcer also did a great job on this day of keeping the crowd informed of the score, down and distance.
The university's band and cheerleaders are located near the end zone through which the teams enter. The band is somewhat small, but very talented. They are also audible from any seat in the stadium, despite their location.
The face of the stadium will considerably change with the addition of the Pearce-Horton Football Complex. This building will serve as the "nerve center" of Furman football, and will help to further modernize Paladin Stadium.
As we have mentioned in our visits to other Furman facilities, Furman's campus is in a somewhat secluded area off US Highway 276 between Greenville and Travelers Rest. Most of the restaurants near the area are chain fare in Travelers Rest (approximately five miles north) or in the Cherrydale shopping area off Pleasantburg Drive at the intersection with US 276 (approximately three miles south).
There are a number of options with any fare you may desire just a few minutes away in downtown Greenville, but there is a more preferable option. Furman offers a beautiful campus, with plenty of places to walk, ride bikes, kick a soccer ball or anything else that may interest you. The campus also has an iconic bell tower, surrounded by a beautiful lake area, walking and biking trails and a garden area. This is a great place to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the scenery.
The day I attended a Furman game was dreary and cool, with occasional light rain. With that said, the announced attendance was less than half of the stadium's capacity. Those in attendance were certainly proudly supporting their Paladins when the opportunity to do so arose, however. The fans at Paladin Stadium are welcoming, smart and supportive. Many fans take the opportunity to go down to the field and mill around congratulating players after the game, which is an unusual feature for college football at any level.
With all of the changes going on around Paladin Stadium and a renewed focus toward the product on the field, the hope is that many more purple-clad fans will fill the seats. This facility certainly deserves more trips through the turnstiles.
The easiest way to access Paladin Stadium is to take US Highway 276 to the main campus entrance and follow the signs to the public parking areas. Until the completion of the new football center, there are guides around campus to lead you to the easiest place to park your car. The construction may make your walk a bit longer, but with the appearance of the campus, this is not a concern. Parking is also free, which is nice.
For fans making the trip to Furman by air, Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) is the closest airport to the campus. The airport is approximately 20-25 minutes from the stadium. US Highways 29 and 276 travel near the campus, with South Carolina Interstates 85 and 385 approximately 10-15 minutes away.
Once inside the stadium, the concourse is wide and offers plenty of room to move. The concourse winds beneath the seating bowl at times, so you may miss out on the game action for a few minutes. The short concession lines and available space will limit your time away from the field, however. The restrooms are plentiful and reasonably-kept, also offering no real concern with lines.
Ticket prices vary by game at Furman, and your return on investment will likely depend on which game you attend. Most "regular" games at Furman are $20 for adults and $10 for children (through age 12). Some special games (including Homecoming) are priced at $25 for adults and the same $10 for children. The school uses an online ticket vendor which adds convenience fees, so it is strongly recommended to buy the tickets through the university, if at all possible.
If you attend one of the standard Paladin games, your ticket ($20), hot dog ($3), soda ($3) and program ($5) will total just over $30. A family of four with two children can attend these games for slightly over $100, if everyone buys a program. This is not optimal pricing, but is certainly acceptable for the level of football you will witness at Paladin Stadium.
We outlined Furman football's history at the beginning of this piece, and the university pays tribute to that history in a prominent way. The existing locker room building features mentions of all of the school's conference championship, their national championship appearances and their national title. The lettering is clearly visible from all of the seats, and provides a nice piece of visual interest in the end zone without a scoreboard.
The grassy area to the side of the home bleachers is a play area for kids, sponsored by chicken chain Zaxby's. Similar to Furman's rival, Wofford's Gibbs Stadium, kids slide down the hill on cardboard pieces, throw footballs and work off their excess energy. This is a popular destination for children throughout the game.
Fans wanting Furman gear do not have to drive through the campus to get to the university's bookstore. The university operates the Paladin Fan Store on the main home concourse. The store sells everything from shirts to foam fingers to decals, and all of the items are appropriately priced. Paladin purple wigs can also be purchased at the store, which is certainly a unique option.
Local radio legend Dan Scott can be heard on the play-by-play call throughout the game. Fans bringing their radios to the game can tune in to 105.9 FM in the stadium and hear the description of what they see on the field. I saw several radios tuned to 105.9 as I walked around the stadium, which is a nice touch, as listening along on the radio is quickly becoming a lost art.
Southern hospitality is alive and well in Greenville, and it is certainly noticeable on Furman's campus. The gameday staff is polite and helpful, from the gate check to the concession workers and everywhere in between. Fans are greeted with a smile and a warm conversation at every turn.
Those fans expecting an experience similar to Clemson or South Carolina will not find this at Furman, but this is certainly not a bad thing. The environment is smaller, but this allows for a more personal experience. Fans can be found tailgating all over campus, whether in impromptu settings or the more organized offerings, and this helps exemplify one's vision of southern football in the fall. If you know what to expect when heading to a Furman game -- nice people, an up-and-coming football program and a comfortable environment -- you are sure to enjoy a football Saturday in this little corner of the Palmetto State.
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