San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium has more than just the NFL's Chargers generating excitement for the local fans. Built in 1965, the stadium also acts as home to the San Diego State University (SDSU) Aztecs. While the stadium sits five miles from campus, it has been the home of the Aztecs since 1967.
The stadium was built after local sportswriter Jack Murphy rallied the locals for their support to build a stadium. A $27 million bond was passed to cover the cost of the stadium and construction began in 1965. It was originally known as San Diego Stadium and later as Jack Murphy Stadium after the gentleman who got the stadium efforts started. Over the years, it has carried nicknames such as "The Murph" and "The Q."
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".
Being an NFL stadium, there are multiple food options throughout the concourse, however many of the items of Charger-themed and far from extraordinary.
The most traditional item seems to be the "Charger Dog" for $5.50. If you add the word "Super" to the front of it and you'll add an extra $1. A "2 point conversion" is two Charger Dogs for $9. Other more common items include a Bratwurst ($7.50), Polish Dog ($6.75), Chili for your 'dog ($3), Nacho Grande ($6), Souvenir Chargers popcorn ($10), Peanuts ($5.50), Pistachios ($6.50), Pretzels ($5.50), Candy ($4), Cracker Jacks ($6), and Ice Cream ($6). Slices of pizza can be had for $6.75 and you can add a few pieces of pepperoni for an extra $1. Some of the stands are cash-only, so be prepared.
Some of the more unique stands include the "Flip-Side Grill," where you can get a hamburger, gardenburger, or chicken tenders ($8.50), Fries ($6), or a combo that includes one $8.50 item with fries for $11.
For those craving Mexican fare, "Tortilla Junction" offers Old Town Nachos (Carne Asada or Pollo for $12), a Walking Taco ($8), sides of Guacamole ($3), Margaritas ($11), or Corona/Pacifico beer ($8).
Another Chargers-inspired item is the "High Boltage Grill," which includes SoCal Grilled Cheese ($5), Cheeseburger ($9.50), Bleu Bolt Burger ($12), and a Foot Long Hot Dog ($10).
The only part of the concessions that had any semblance of SDSU was a small sign hanging in one of the stands. There is an Aztec Meal Deal that includes a Hot Dog, Soft Drink, and Chips for $6.
Extra points here for the "Gluten-Free Zone," where the more health conscious fans can find something. Cookies, Kettle Chips, Candy, and Hot Dogs are available here for $3-$6.
For the thirsty in the warm San Diego weather, there is bottled water for an extremely steep price of $5, Soda at $5.50 (souvenir cup adds $1.25), and all-you-can-drink soda for $11. Coffee/Hot Chocolate is ($5), but unless it was an 8 AM game, I can't imagine ever needing either of those items at a game.
Premium Draft Beers are $9 or $10, depending on the brand. The ever-growing popularity of Aluminum cans are also offered at $10. Beers available include Budweiser, Bud Light, Golden Wheat, Bud Light Lime, Stella Artois, Shock Top, and Longhammer IPA, Dos Equis, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Sierra Nevada, Coors Light, and Miller Genuine Draft. If wine is more up your alley, it can be had for $8.50
Lastly for those driving home, try the non-alcoholic beer for $5.50.
The atmosphere was not nearly as elevated as some of the other college venues I've visited. I attribute this mostly to being an off-campus stadium and it is more challenging for the masses of students to get to the game.
Perhaps it was a reflection of the opponent, but the stands were very empty in many places, creating large gaping holes of blue seats. This may have led to a lack of chants being started.
If a fan wants to experience the most "atmosphere," I would recommend attending the "Warrior Walk," occurring about 2 hours before the game. The players are dropped off near Gate 4 and walk to the stadium. A rather exhilarating experience as all fans line up and cheer as the team passes by! Once the team has passed, head over to lot F-1 and witness the "Aztec Village." Here you'll find music, food, beverages, games, and appearances by the notable members of SDSU. Don't wait too long to visit as this experience ends 30 minutes prior to kickoff.
Another great time to be in your seat would be for the introduction of the Aztec Warrior and the team. Just before the start of the game, the players emerged from an inflatable helmet to the sounds of "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses. I assume that this is a regular occurrence at the games as there was a banner at the back of the end zone that read the very name of the song.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the tailgating, I should also point out that no one was monitoring the parking, and people were free to find their own spots. While this was a positive for us because we arrived early, it quickly turned frustrating because throughout the remaining few hours, cars kept going up and down the aisles and trying to squeeze into the remaining spots. This turned rather inconvenient as we constantly had to interrupt our games and conversations to rearrange ourselves to let cars through.
From any direction, you'll drive through some beautiful scenery, but unfortunately there isn't a robust neighborhood surrounding the stadium.
If you're looking for a bite before or after the game, there are a variety of offerings nearby. Some of the less exciting places include the Oki Ton Japanese Bistro, McDonald's, IHOP, Sunny's Deli, Subway, Mission Taco Mexican Food, KATI Thai cuisine, and Chiba Japanese.
If you're looking for more of an experience, I have a few other suggestions. First, is Oggi's Pizza and Brewing Company, located off the Fenton Parkway (west of the stadium). Oggi's is the official pizza of the Chargers, but offers much, much more. Fish tacos, specialty chicken meals, pasta, and of course eight or more brews that can't be found anywhere else.
Island's Restaurant is a chain that you'll find sprinkled throughout Southern California. They offer approximately 15 different burgers, a variety of taco options, and some beach-inspired appetizers.
From the east off Mission San Diego Road is MacGregor's Grill & Ale House. Open until 2 AM, this establishment has all sorts of typical saloon games to keep you going after the game. You'll find an elaborate menu that includes breakfast from 11 AM to 1 PM.
If you have a few extra dollars in your pocket, you may want to try Bully's East. Open until midnight, they specialize in prime rib, fresh seafood, steaks, ribs, and sandwiches.
I enjoyed speaking with many members of the fanbase during my visit. All seemed friendly and they were extremely cordial to the visiting fans.
Many of the fans were wearing the red and black Aztec jerseys. I was curious if many of these jerseys were part of some sort of recent giveaway because they lacked the quality you typically come to expect in a college football jersey. Every fan wearing a jersey seems to be sporting one of two players: #8 Brian Sipe or #28 Marshall Faulk.
Unfortunately, as spread out as they were, the fans were never able to really establish a roaring presence or start a chant of any sort during the contest. On the other hand, being that this game was against a lower caliber opponent and there were many big games televised on the same day, I was impressed by how many people did make it out to Qualcomm.
More to their credit, they did cheer enthusiastically at all appropriate times and even kept their intensity up when their team jumped to a 28-0 lead in the first half.
Many of the fans were taking time out to get a photo with the team mascot, an Aztec Warrior. This is one mascot that does not wear a full body costume, which is not something you see too often in collegiate athletics these days. Whoever plays the part of the Aztec Warrior needs to be fairly athletic as he is not provided with much more than a shield and sword to cover his body.
Qualcomm Stadium is located about 5 miles northeast of downtown San Diego. It is easily accessible from the 15 and I-8, but it is Southern California, so always allot yourself some extra time for traffic.
The restrooms were clean, but definitely showed signs of age. The quantity and location of them was a positive and they were very functional for this game and this crowd.
As for the parking, you can expect a $10 fee with plenty of spots available to choose from. The spaces are a reasonable size and there seems to be significant room for all of your tailgating fun. I didn't have an issue with any of the portable toilet lines, so kudos to the Aztecs for providing an appropriate amount for their tailgating crowd. On site, receptacles for hot coals, trash and recycling were all provided. As California has a recycling refund, you'll find many scavengers roaming around in hopes of grabbing empty bottles or cans.
Another option for fans is San Diego Trolley station, which is accessible via the Green Line and Special Events line from the 12th and Imperial Transit Center (http://www.sdmts.com/trolley/trolley.asp).
As for the stadium itself, there are a variety of escalators to get you to the upper sections, but I'd recommend giving your legs an exercise and trekking up the ramps of the giant cement cylinders. Be careful however, these could make you dizzy by the time you get to the top level. The concourse could be considered a bit small if a more capacity crowd was on hand for the game and it would be tough to view the game while grabbing your concessions. If you are concerned about missing the action, there are some televisions peppered throughout, but most are the older versions with poor image quality.
Lastly, if you do have field box tickets, it may be a little confusing to get to your seats. You cannot access them by walking around the lowest level of the permanent seating. You need to go to the main concourse and find a tunnel-like stairway down that will allow you to get to the lowest level and back up another small stairway to finally find your seats.
Going through the ticket prices, a visit to see the Aztecs could turn out to be one affordable afternoon. The most expensive tickets in the club level cost $31.00. The lower sideline runs at $26.00 with both the endzone and loge level going for $16.00. If you don't mind sitting in the upper, levels, tickets can be had for $11.00. Show up with some friends to split the $10.00 parking and the afternoon could cost you less than $20.00.
Certainly, the food prices are a bit steep, but keep in mind that you can also cook your own food in the parking lot.
You get to see a division I football program in a NFL stadium at a rather affordable price. There are few better entertainment values in San Diego on a Saturday afternoon.
I was happy to find that with the sparse crowd, I was able to access almost anywhere in the stadium. I could get to the lower levels and walk along the carpeted club concourse. During a Chargers game, the average fan certainly couldn't get a chance to view or walk through the club level, so I enjoyed this opportunity to see a rather exclusive portion of Qualcomm.
If you make the hike to the upper concourse, you can get some really great views of the
surrounding area. The nearby hills, the train station , and even the parking lot while the sun is setting has a certain mystique to it. Located in San Diego, the fans in attendance are almost guaranteed clear blue skies and temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold.
After every Aztec touchdown, the fans are certain to get some fireworks. They are rather loud, so make sure you prepare yourself after every SDSU score.
While it's not located by the stadium, if you have the opportunity, be sure to visit the SDSU campus. It's located on a mesa that is affectionately referred to as "Montezuma's Mesa." From it, you'll find some beautiful views of Mission Valley.
While it is one of the older professional stadiums in the game today, it does have some rich history and accolades to it. Each year, it hosts two college football bowl games (Holiday Bowl & Poinsettia Bowl) and 3 Super Bowls are now under its belt (XXII, XXXII, & XXXVII)
Beyond football, it was home to the San Diego Padres until 2003, when the team moved to Petco Park. Notable MLB events such as the All-Star game (1996) and World Series (1984 & 1998) have also drawn large crowds to the stadium. In fact, it is the only stadium to host the Super Bowl and World Series in the same year (1998).
As I've mentioned several times throughout this review, I really didn't feel as if San Diego State University had an identity playing at Qualcomm Stadium. The fans were so spread out throughout the venue that you never really noticed a sea of black or red. Walking through the concourse didn't lead me to believe that SDSU even played here. While there was a red helmet in the middle of the field, the end zones still seemed more representative of the Chargers than the Aztecs. Aside from the large banners covering the seats beyond the goalposts and the "Wall of Fame" immediately beyond the endzone, you might not even know that you were at an SDSU game.
The Aztecs should look up to the Minnesota Golden Gophers as something to aspire to. The Gophers previously played in the multi-purpose Metrodome and had little identity sharing a stadium with the Twins and Vikings. They then built a much more intimate stadium on campus dedicated entirely to them, with great results.
Follow Drew's travels through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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