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Official Review by Andrei Ojeda, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Since 1978, the Holiday Bowl has been played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Along with the Holiday Bowl, "The Q" is also the host to the Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego State football and, of course, the San Diego Chargers (at least for now).
The Holiday Bowl usually features a Pac-12 team against a Big 10 or at large team. Though not part of the BCS playoff, the Holiday Bowl has produced one National Champion in 1984 long before the current playoff system, when BYU knocked off Michigan.
The Holiday Bowl has hosted plenty of exciting matchups along with some big name schools. Some prominent names, such as Jim McMahon, Barry Sanders and Steve Young made appearances at the Holiday Bowl en route to NFL stardom. It may be arguably the most attractive non-BCS Bowl game due to the fact that not only has it hosted many attractive non-BCS matchups, its warm location in San Diego has been a fan favorite winter destination.
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 dining options, though nothing over the top have improved. Adding to the dining options are food trucks located inside the south plaza as well as the pregame fanzone in the parking lot, serving sliders, tortas, carne asada fries, as well as sweet treats including boba and churro sundaes.
Permanent stands inside The Q offer your standard stadium fare, ranging from hot dogs to hot links ($8), Chuckies Famous Breaded Tenderloin ($10, $12 with waffle fries). Street Tacos offers three street tacos or waffle fries ($13) burrito ($15), each coming with the options of pollo asado (marinated chicken) or al pastor (marinated pork). Oggi's pizza offers pizza slices, pepperoni or cheese ($8), and wings (5 for $7). Pulled pork or beef brisket sandwiches with kettle chips are also available for $13. Crispy Chicken and Fries offers chicken tenders and country chicken sandwiches, both with waffle fries ($13), as well as poutine country waffle fries ($13) and garlic waffle fries ($10).
Sodas options sold are Pepsi products, adult beverages range from domestic beer, Coors, Miller and Bud Light ($5 for a 12 oz. can) to more premium options like Kettle One Vodka, Tanqueray Gin and Captain Morgan Rum ($16).
The Holiday Bowl, typically played at night, had a 4PM kickoff this year. Though still warm at kickoff it can get a bit chilly throughout the evening so it's always a good idea to bring some warm clothing.
If you can, you will want to arrive to your seats at least 30 minutes before kickoff. Along with both bands performing their pregame routine, The Big Flag makes its grand appearance. A Holiday Bowl tradition, this U.S. flag covers all 100 yards of the field, with 250 military personnel holding her up. Prior to the national anthem, members of the Navy Leap Frogs parachute their way to the field while proudly waving the Red White and Blue.
As you look at the field, one could get the impression the Holiday Bowl does not pretend this is a major bowl game. The end zones, painted in both school's colors, do not display the school's names and logos, instead, displaying SAN DIEGO, utilizing the Chargers wordmark. Parts of the field, particularly around midfield and the end zones, show the wear and tear of hosting a season's worth of pro and college football.
All this however does not prevent such a festive atmosphere, which starts early with the annual Holiday Bowl parade along the harbor all the way to the pregame tailgates. For many of these snowbird fans, the chance to spend a day or two and follow their favorite teams to San Diego's warm and sunny climate in late December is reason enough to be excited.
After both school's bands have performed their halftime shows, local spirit squads and high school bands perform a rousing routine to the delight of the fans, with the dance routines accompanied by both modern day pop and contemporary music as fans also dance along. Fireworks are also on display during the show, adding to the festive atmosphere.
During each score, the red and black cannon, used during San Diego State home games for each Aztec score, fires blanks for both teams from the southwest corner of the end zone.
There isn't much surrounding Qualcomm Stadium aside from a sprawling parking lot and Mission Valley. However, there are some viable options not far from The Q as you head west. Fashion Valley Mall, about a 10 minute drive from The Q as well as a few trolley stops away offers a good variety of fast food and other dining options for those who want to dine nearby before the game.
Of course, what's a trip to San Diego without visiting Sea World? Sea World is also a short drive west from The Q, easily accessible from I-8 or you can take Friars Rd straight to Sea World Dr.
If you're looking to stay nearby The Q, Hotel Circle Drive is conveniently located between Sea World and The Q with several economy to mid-luxury hotels.
With this year's matchup featuring the Washington State Cougars and the Minnesota Golden Gophers, both schools brought a pretty good sized contingent. Though the Washington State fans would outnumber the Minnesota fans, most likely due to its west coast proximity to San Diego, Golden Gopher fans who did show up were a raucous bunch, not to be outdone by the good folks from The Palouse. Without a doubt, the chance for snowbird fans to follow their teams to the warmth of sunny San Diego certainly added to their excitement.
Though our snowbird visitors were very happy to be in the warmth of sunny San Diego, the lack of any prolonged success from either school didn't exactly help fill the stands to its full capacity. For a matchup of two small market schools, a turnout of over 48,000 was good nonetheless.
Qualcomm is located at the intersection of I-8 and I-15, as well as being very close to I-805. Though parking is plentiful, unless you plan to do some pregame tailgate, the best way to go is the SDMTS Trolley. The trolley serves much of San Diego all the way to downtown and The Gaslamp and its stadium location is practically right in front of the Q's main entrance gates. A day pass along with a Compass TAP Card is $7 and is good to all locations serviced by SDMTS. This is a good way to explore the city before or after the game.
If you plan to throw a pregame tailgate, arrive as early as possible. Parking gates open 4 hours prior to kickoff. Though much fuss has been made about the traffic and parking here during Chargers games, there was plenty of parking available even 3 hours prior to kickoff, most likely due to the 4 PM kickoff time and the game taking place on a Tuesday. It's still a good idea to arrive early if you plan to drive.
Once inside the stadium, the access isn't exactly the greatest and can be confusing for the first time visitor. Keep in mind that when you do enter the stadium, you will be entering through the plaza level. If you have field level seats in the corner end zones, you can access them directly from the plaza level. However, if your field level seats are behind the sidelines, you will be walking down a long tunnel with four sets of stairs into a narrow walkway before going up another set of stairs to your seats (Who would have thought access to what's supposed to be the best seats in the house would require such an effort?) The entrance to these tunnels do not provide the greatest directions so, again, if you must, do ask around for directions.
For fans with seats anywhere above the plaza level, direct escalators to the loge, club and view levels are provided throughout the plaza for fans who want an easier way to access their seats rather than negotiating with the long spiral ramps. It was rather odd that security guards were located at the bottom of the view level escalators checking tickets for seats in the stadium's highest and most distant viewing areas.
Access to club level seating is located behind the sidelines above the plaza level seats, and are accessible from the north or south plaza. If you are seated in the end zone loge seats, though on the same level as the club level, they have a separate entrance and can be accessed through the west or east plaza ramps or escalators. Again, the seating structure can be confusing so do make sure you enter through the proper area. If you must, constantly bombard the staff for directions, (Assuming you ACTUALLY do find sufficient staff) I strongly advise you do so.
When you take into account that a good portion of these fans travelled a great distance, travel costs, lodging, sightseeing and other miscellaneous expenses, ticket prices, ranging from $45 to $145 are pretty reasonable. San Diego offers a good variety of entertainment and tourist options. Chances are great that the winter weather even in December will provide a warm enough climate that you will want to kick back and catch some rays at nearby Mission Beach.
If you're looking for the types of amenities and added fanfare that most modern day venues offer, you will find yourself very disappointed. The Q will be entering its 50th year come 2017. Its age shows throughout various spots. The video boards on each end may have looked high tech, "LIKE," in the 80s, but they're well past being antiquated.
There are some interesting touches that do pay homage to the teams that have called The Q home, as well as a statue for whom at one time the stadium was named after, Jack Murphy. Jack Murphy's statue is located along the south entrance gates in front of the trolley turnstiles, making for a great central meeting area for fans.
Along the south plaza are several busts of local figures, including Ray Kroc, the one-time owner of the San Diego Padres as well as the Golden Arches. A home plate plaque with the Padres Swinging Friar logo pays tribute to their hometown MLB team. The Q was the home of the Padres from 1969-2003.
If you walk past Section 55 in the plaza, you may notice that 55 is marked using the Chargers wordmark, paying tribute to Junior Seau.
With the recent measures for a new football stadium having been voted down, expect The Q to continue to host The Holiday Bowl for years to come. While The Q shows its age and its days as home of the Chargers all but numbered, it is still an adequate, if uninspiring place to watch a football game. There is plenty of history to be absorbed at The Q. Now in its 50th year, opened in 1967 as San Diego Stadium and later named Jack Murphy Stadium after the late local columnist, though it is referred to as The Q by locals and national media, over the years and to this day it is still affectionately referred to by many other locals as The Murph.
The Q, or The Murph, in addition to hosting both the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls, has hosted three Super Bowls and two World Series as it was also home to the San Diego Padres from 1969-2003. Though it's highly doubtful the Holiday Bowl will be hosting a BCS matchup anytime in the near future, it is one of the more attractive non-major bowl games. More often than not, the matchups will involve schools that were just short of winning a conference title and close to that most-coveted major bowl appearance.
Plus, with your school likely going through some bone-chilling winter temperatures, why would you want to turn down an opportunity to travel to San Diego?
Need any other tips getting around your Stadium Journey's in SoCal? There's plenty to explore from L.A. to San Diego. San Diego and L.A are a short two hour drive through I-5 (pending traffic) or approximately a three hour ride by rail.
Hit me up anytime at Andrei.email@example.com for any other tips, and of course, follow me on Twitter and Instagram @good_drei.
Here's a video of my journey from L.A. to San Diego via Amtrak along with the sights and sounds of The Holiday Bowl.
Member Review by JasonBartel on Jan 10, 2014
Since 1978, the Holiday Bowl has been played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and traditionally features a Pac-12/Big 12 matchup. It’s not the only bowl game played in the stadium every year though. The Poinsettia Bowl also calls ‘The Q’ home, along with the San Diego Chargers and the San Diego State Aztecs. The Padres also played here until 2004 before moving to Petco Park.
I have been to two Holiday Bowls now. I was there in 2009 when the Nebraska Cornhuskers destroyed the Arizona Wildcats, and again in 2013 when Arizona State fell to Texas Tech. The games have been fun, and the fans from the schools all travel very well. But the stadium itself is very lackluster.
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