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Official Review by Paul Donaldson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Upon planning your trip to Princeton Stadium, you might be surprised to learn that Princeton participated in the very first college football game in 1869 versus Rutgers. In addition to being tied to the birth of collegiate football, Princeton is also one of the earliest universities chartered in America (1746). Though undoubtedly both the American university system and college football are much different today when compared to their roots, a visit to Princeton University is about as close as you can get to what was originally intended for both the university and college football. There are few other places across the nation where a banner hanging in the campus football stadium claiming “Education through Athletics” could be taken so seriously.
Though almost everything you see at Princeton seems to be a blast from the past, Princeton Stadium is relatively new, having been constructed in 1997 with a present day capacity of 27,800. Prior to the newly constructed stadium, Princeton previously called Palmer Stadium home from 1914 until 1996.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Don't expect an overwhelming decision making process when contemplating concession options. Princeton keeps it pretty basic with hot dogs ($3.50), bratwurst ($5.25), and personal pizza ($7) as your major options. Other options include a soft pretzel ($3), popcorn ($3.50), cotton candy ($3.75), chips ($2.25), candy ($2-$2.50), and frozen yogurt ($3.75). Drink options range from bottled water ($2.75) and fountain sodas ($2.75-$4.45; Coca-Cola products) to sports drinks and hot chocolate ($2.75).
Major credit cards are accepted at the register so don't worry about having to secure enough cash ahead of time. Also, as is the case in most college venues across the nation, alcohol is not sold and is strictly prohibited so get your fix while tailgating prior to entering the stadium. My recommendation is to grab a quick bite to eat at Hoagie Haven or at a tailgate before entering the gate. Once inside the stadium, the bagged popcorn is almost enough to feed a small army, so I'd recommend that as a primary option.
Princeton Stadium is strategically placed on campus to be open and accessible throughout the week for students, faculty and staff to utilize. Campus buildings are within sight just beyond the unique wall-building which surrounds the stadium on three sides.
Seating options wrap the stadium which is double-tiered on the west, east, and north sides and single tiered in the south endzone as well as the NW and NE corners. Bleacher seating is the only option so if you're looking for higher priced tickets in hopes of chairback seating, you'll be out of luck. As is usually the case at any stadium, the east side bleachers are in direct sunlight as the sun begins to set in the west, however, the effect isn't terrible depending on timing of the game since the wall-building surrounding the stadium helps to block some of the light out. The closest seats are only about 17 feet away from the playing surface so you can expect to be relatively close to the field.
The main concourse under the stadium is very spacious but some of the aisles in the seating areas, especially on the west side, can get a little cramped. The playing surface at Princeton Stadium is FieldTurf and the large video replay scoreboard is located in the south endzone.
If you're a visiting fan, you'll likely find fellow fans gathered on the east side. Depending on the size of the home team crowd, the east side may be primarily visiting fans and in that case I recommend grabbing seats in the lower tier around the fifty yard line, if available. The same location on the west side is the perfect location for fans rooting for the Princeton Tigers or with no team allegiance.
The band and student section is located around the 5 -20 yard lines on the SW side of the stadium. If you've previously attended a game at an Ivy League school or similar elite private school, you've probably noticed that the bands at these institutions are anything but your routine college marching band. Expect a quirky, sarcastic style pre-game and half-time performance that borders more on a play than a marching band performance. The cheerleaders and mascot roam from the NW and SW corners of the stadium (no dance team). The PA/music is clear and professional.
Princeton, New Jersey is a tight-knit college community located about 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia and about 45-50 miles SW of Newark, NJ and New York, NY. If you are from similar major cities to those just mentioned, Princeton is a great place to escape from the busy city life and skyscraper dominated skylines.
If you are looking for a quick bite to eat, great sandwiches and hoagies await you at Hoagie Haven. You'll definitely get taste at a value, but if you're looking for a sit-down restaurant, look else-where considering this is a take-out only option. If available, there are a couple of benches just outside.
Another option is Triumph Brewing Company, which is a sports pub style restaurant.
If you are spending enough time in Princeton, definitely set aside a couple of hours just to walk around the amazing Princeton University campus. The architecture is absolutely stunning and at times you'll feel like you've walked upon a castle instead of a dorm building.
Palmer Square is at the heart of the downtown shopping district and is also a great option for taking a stroll. A major plus of this community is you really feel safe walking around whether during the day or at night which is another nice feature if you're escaping the big city. Not into the college town atmosphere? Philadelphia, New York City, and the Jersey shore are short train ride away.
Unlike some of the Ivy League institutions, Princeton fans are pretty good about supporting their football team, but that still doesn't mean you should expect an electric, at-capacity atmosphere. You'll likely encounter a crowd ranging from 5k to 15k. Fans are supportive but not very coordinated with regards to cheers or chants. As expected from Ivy Leaguers, they are an intelligent group which know when to cheer and, more importantly, when not to cheer.
The student section and band are pretty entertaining. You don't have to worry about any hostility as a visiting team fan (unless of course you are an Ivy League rival, and then you may get some good-natured jeers). Expect a slightly above average experience when compared to other FCS experiences.
As mentioned, Princeton is located almost right in between Philadelphia and New York. If you haven't visited one of these cities, it's the perfect opportunity to catch the game and a nice side trip as well. The NJ transit system is a great option for getting to and from Philadelphia and New York/Newark. It's not an extremely cheap option, but you'll be able to relax without the worry of a rental car. The train drops you off on Princeton's campus so there's no need for parking and the stadium is a short walk from that point. If you do decide to drive, parking is available around the stadium and town on side streets.
You'll have no problems picking up your tickets and making your way into the stadium. Gates are located all around the stadium so take your pick (NE corner is a pretty good option). Spacious and clean restrooms are available on the west, east, and north sides of the stadium.
Tickets for the 2012 season are $9, regardless of where you want to sit (though the best seats around the 50 yard line may be taken by season ticket holders). Couple affordable tickets with a huge bag of popcorn that feeds several and you've doubled your value. The atmosphere isn't exactly electric, so that will knock a few points off. Considering the price, the overall experience is definitely a value.
The history of Princeton both as an early American university and as one of the first (Rutgers) to ever play collegiate football is definitely a plus.
Princeton, NJ is a great escape from the city.
So is it worth it? It was a bucket list item for me, but don't expect to be overwhelmed. Also, don't expect to get the most out of the experience simply by showing up for the game and immediately heading out. Budget some time to walk the campus and Palmer Square and then get the most out of an additional day in either New York City or Philadelphia.
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