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Ryan Field

Evanston, IL

Home of the Northwestern Wildcats

3.4

3.1

Ryan Field (map it)
1501 Central St
Evanston, IL 60201


Northwestern Wildcats website

Ryan Field website

Year Opened: 1926

Capacity: 49,256

There are no tickets available at this time.

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Northwestern Football at Ryan Field

Built in 1926, Northwestern University’s Ryan Field is the oldest football stadium in the Chicago area that does not have a flying saucer on top of it. A 1996 renovation added a few upgrades, but the look and feel are largely unchanged from the early days of college football – falling somewhere between historic and decrepit in terms of character.

Northwestern was a founding member of the Big Ten in 1896, and when the University of Chicago dropped its football program in 1939, Northwestern became the Chicago area’s only Big Ten team – a title it currently lords over the University of Illinois.

Though generally successful in the early years, the football program fell into a steep decline in the postwar era. Between 1949 and 1994, the Wildcats earned no bowl appearances and only a handful of winning seasons; during a particularly bad stretch in the late 1970s, they eked out a total of three victories over six years.

Then a surprise turnaround in 1995 ended with a conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, catching the entire region by surprise. Despite being the smallest program in the Big Ten, the Wildcats have mostly remained competitive since then, with more bowl appearances in the last 15 years than the preceding five decades combined.

Ryan Field doesn’t have a lot to offer beyond great views of the field and a friendly, hospitable atmosphere, but that’s enough for a pleasant day of college football.

3.4

What is FANFARE?

The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Atmosphere
  • Neighborhood
  • Fans
  • Access
  • Return on Investment
  • Extras

Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".

Food & Beverage    4

The best food is at the south end of the stadium, where a long row of grills awaits. Burgers and hot dogs ($4), brats ($6), and chicken ($7) are better here, as are the tasty desserts (funnel cakes are a favorite, $7/$8).

The star attraction is Real Urban Barbecue, with brisket and pulled pork sandwiches ($9), mac 'n cheese ($4), and variations on the noble tater tot ($5/$9). However, this area is absolutely crushed at halftime - I wouldn't want to walk through there, let alone fight through a line, so stop here early.

A runner up is the open-air grill in the outer concourse on the west side of the stadium, just inside Gate N - still crowded, but nowhere near as bad. In addition to the usual suspects, there's a black bean veggie burger with chips ($6).

The main concession stands are okay (hot dogs $3.50, Polish sausages $4.50, snacks like soft pretzels $4.50) but the quality is a step down from the aforementioned grills. Note that stands in the outer concourse have the same options and shorter lines than ones in the inner concourse. There is decent hot cocoa ($3.50 at stands, $5 from vendors) if you need a quick warm-up. Soda and bottled water are $4, and no alcohol is sold.

If you just need some quick food in your stomach, grab a hot dog ($4) from one of the Mustard's Last Stand carts outside on Central before you head in.

Bring cash - a few concession stands accept credit cards, but not all, and if there are any ATMs inside the stadium, they're not easy to find.

Atmosphere    3

This is a refreshingly simple game experience. Some areas feel so close to the game that it's exhilarating. Views of the field are excellent throughout, with the sole exception of the obstructed view seats at the top of the lower-level west stands. Even the upper deck offers a terrific perspective of the game and a lovely view beyond the stadium, with the white dome of the historic Ba'hai Temple peeking above the tree line.

Conversely, this isn't one of the more intense game experiences around, either. It's pretty laid back, and the stadium production doesn't do much to accentuate it.

The video screen blends well with its surroundings and the quality is sharp. The camera operator doesn't always seem to know what to do between plays, but there are some charmingly nerdy videos during breaks in the action. The public address system is kind of ridiculous, relying on one speaker on a pole above the north end zone, though at least it's audible throughout the seating area.

Neighborhood    4

Ryan Field is a 20 to 30 minute walk from Northwestern University's lakeside campus in Evanston. While lovely in the autumn, there isn't much to do in the immediate area other than a visit to Mustard's Last Stand (1613 Central St.), a classic hot dog shack just west of the stadium. The closest bar/restaurant is Bluestone (1932 Central St.), which is nice but not really sports-oriented, and it gets crowded quickly.

Downtown Evanston is about 30 minutes away by foot (or three stops on the CTA Purple Line) and full of great places to eat and drink. It's well worth planning to spend the evening there.

Among places to drink, Tommy Nevin's Pub (1450 Sherman Ave.) is the chief game day bar, Bat 17 (1709 Benson Ave.) has good sandwiches, and Firehouse Grill (750 Chicago Ave.) will keep kids entertained with vintage fire department memorabilia. All three are close to the CTA Purple Line.

Lou Malnati's (1850 Sherman Ave.) will have games on and serves hot, filling deep dish pizza. For cheap eats, Edzo's Burger Shop (1571 Sherman Ave.) is tops, though there are good noodle and pasta places around too, such as Dave's Italian Kitchen (1635 Chicago Ave.). Evanston excels in fine dining, notably the Nepalese restaurant Mt. Everest (630 Church St.), live jazz spot Pete Miller's Seafood & Prime Steak (1557 Sherman Ave.), and the Michelin-recognized Found Kitchen and Social House (1631 Chicago Ave.).

Fans    3

Northwestern fans are sometimes outnumbered in their own stadium, especially when the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, or Wisconsin are in town. While it's not fair to pin that on lack of student enthusiasm - some of their rivals have more than double the enrollment that Northwestern does - it can be hard to get swept up in the emotion of a split crowd, and the visiting fans set the tone as much as the home fans do.

Rival fans are most heavily concentrated in the east stands, but they appear to feel welcome throughout the stadium. The only area that's completely set aside for home fans is the southeast corner, where a tightly packed student section and the student band are situated.

The term "Midwestern hospitality" comes to mind as you watch Northwestern fans during the game. It's not in their nature to try to intimidate or shout over opposing fans - the rules of good hospitality dictate that visitors be made to feel welcome, be allowed to chant and yell as they please, etc. But Northwestern fans are capable of making plenty of noise when it's called for, and they take their colors seriously - there's a lot of royal purple and black in the crowd. They tend to be realistic about their team's prospects and appreciate when visitors show an interest.

Access    4

The CTA Purple Line and Metra Union Pacific North Line have stations on Central Ave. in Evanston, a short walk east and west (respectively) of the stadium. Fans can transfer to the CTA Red Line at Howard for connections to Chicago, and the Union Pacific-North line runs between downtown Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin. On game days, the PACE suburban bus system runs a Ryan Field Express from the Northwest Transportation Center in Schaumburg.

Getting to the stadium on the CTA is easy, but getting away takes some patience. Central is a sleepy little station near the end of the Purple Line. It does all right before games, but it's an unholy disaster afterward. Imagine your grandparents trying to make a PowerPoint presentation in a hurry, using information being shouted at them, with a small, greasy tablet computer, at gunpoint; and you should have an impression of how Central and the Purple Line cope with postgame crowds.

Much better, if weather permits, to follow the march of fans south toward downtown Evanston - a pleasant half-hour walk - and dine or drink there before heading home. (Both the CTA and Metra have stops in downtown Evanston as well.)

The parking lots adjacent to the stadium and the golf course next to the CTA station are open to Northwestern season ticket holders only. Somehow, visiting fans still manage to tailgate in there, presumably with a borrowed pass. If you arrive early, you may be able to find parking on the streets around the stadium, but traps abound - keep a very close eye out for signs with parking restrictions. Leaving after the game will be tough, as narrow Central Ave gets backed up.

There are some small pay lots near the intersection of Central & Green Bay Road (usually $20) and pay garages in downtown Evanston with free shuttles to the stadium; the one at Clark & Maple, near the Century Theaters, is probably the biggest and easiest to find. Alternately, there are free lots on campus, primarily along Sheridan Road, southeast of the stadium.

Tailgating is welcome in the campus lots, and there are free shuttles. If you're walking from one of the remote lots, you'll see students offering pedicab rides. Figure about $5 from the CTA station or $10 from one of the closer campus lots.

Inside the stadium, the small and grimy restrooms show the stadium's age. There are pockets of port-a-potties in a few corners of the stadium to help deal with the crowds. The upper-level restrooms are a lot less crowded.

There is seating for disabled fans in the east and west stands and elevators in the west stands (it's a very long walk to the upper deck). The corridors of the stadium are narrow and difficult to traverse, so plan your entrance gate in advance, and definitely do not try to traverse the south end zone food court. Disabled parking for single games on the west side of the stadium is first come, first served.

Return on Investment    3

On average, tickets range from $35 in the end zones to $50 for reserved seats in the east or west stands. All but the back rows of the west stands provide great views of the field. I'd avoid the south end zone, which is crowded and seems to attract most annoying fans. The upper deck is a good value as long as you don't mind the long walk up there.

Extras    3

One bonus point for the student band. Northwestern may have the smallest enrollment of any school in their conference, but the size and quality of the band would do any of their rivals proud, even if some of the halftime themes ("A Tribute to Disney Musicals") aren't really designed to pump up the crowd.

A second bonus point for purple harmony. Northwestern seems to have convinced most of the sponsors to allow their ads to be rendered in purple and white, avoiding the usual clash between corporate logos and everything else. It's all about the purple and white and black at Ryan Field. On the whole, the game production is pitched to the character of their fans. Playing a lolcat video during a break in the action seemed to epitomize that - Northwestern fans are a smart, fun-loving bunch but they aren't screaming meatheads and the stadium isn't trying to coerce them into it.

Another bonus point for beautiful Evanston and the historic character of the stadium. It's well behind the times in some respects (and simply outdated in others), but Ryan Field wears its history with a quiet, understated charm. It's not hard at all to imagine classic college football of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s being played here. And even if the game is unmemorable, Evanston is a great place to spend the day.

Paul, For the most part I agree with your comments. The fact is, the stadium infrastructure needs

Paul,

For the most part I agree with your comments. The fact is, the stadium infrastructure needs a serious refit. I think some of your scores and comments were generous (e.g. "nostalgic" instead of "old"). :-)

The one score that I think was a point lower than it should have been was Fans. Given that NU has by far the smallest enrollment of any of the Big Ten schools (8,200 versus 20,000 for the next smallest school - Iowa), a good number of students and alums show up for the game. It may not be the size of the student/alum sections at other Big Ten stadiums, but there is a lot of enthusiasm. I was in the Band during the Dark Times - the fan interest just wasn't there. The Marching Band was a bigger draw than the team back then. Today's fan support and involvement is orders of magnitude better. So I think NU deserves a 4 for fans, but I understand your position and scoring explanation.

I do think that as the team gets even better and the stadium is rearchitected, the fans will get more numerous. We will earn a lot of fives.

One other thing - there is free beer a couple of hours before the game at Wildcat Alley. That might make some people a little happier about the food. :-)

Thank you for covering Ryan Field. All of us Wildcat fans appreciate it when people remember that we're a successful Big Ten school. And we're getting better - both academically and athletically. (NU faculty just got another Nobel Prize and the Athletics continue to grow!)

Go Cats!

BJ

PS: A factoid about my time at NU - I was a varsity athlete in Fencing (Sabre). At the time I was there, we were one of the few (and might have been the only) men's sport with a winning record. We even beat Ohio State.

BJ Mitchell
Former NUMB Spirit Leader

NUMBSpiritLeader@gmail.com
NUSpiritLeader@twitter.com

www.northwesternmix.com

by NUMBSpiritLeader | Nov 06, 2010 05:15 AM

Update on the Ryan Field Review and My Reply

An update - I received a survey from the NU Athletic Department concerning possible renovations to Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena. In the comments section I pointed the NU Administration to the review that was done by Paul, as well as my reply (above). The survey indicates that a major renovation is in the works and NU is thinking about rebuilding Ryan Field as a modern stadium with plenty of luxury. Ditto for Welsh-Ryan Arena. Stay tuned - there might be the need for a fresh review in a year or three.

by NUMBSpiritLeader | Mar 25, 2011 01:09 PM

RE: Update on the Ryan Field Review and My Reply

Thanks for the update- can't wait to hear more about the plans!

by paul | Mar 25, 2011 11:06 PM

For some reason...

This for some reason is one of my favorite places to see a game. There is a unique and cozy atmosphere about it. It certainly needs an upgrade to compete with the other big ten stadiums.

by Daniel Armstrong | Dec 02, 2012 08:27 AM

History could be improved

The original review is now dated on a couple of fronts: there is a new, HD scoreboard/replay board a the north end zone. The update a few years ago added a handful of premium seats in a few places. The track that used to surround the field is long gone also. I agree with fellow NU alum BJ that comparing NU's small student body to massive OSU (who had open enrollment for decades--apply and you are in!) is a non-starter comparison.
Several suggestions for the NU Athletics staff, including solid AD Jim Phillips:
1. Continue partnering with the NU Alumni Association for away tailgates. These are great and should be offered at every home game. Develop a dedicated, upscale space with indoor/outdoor space for the game--perhaps on the east side of Ryan Field or as part of a re-develop of Welsh-Ryan so it could be used beyond basketball. It could be similar to the N Room at W-R, but should be on the ground. Could also be used with parents of prospective student-athletes.
2. More theater seating in a must. The 46,000 seats are rarely needed and with better seating more people may well attend every game-not just the "big games." This might be modeled on TCF stadium at Minnesota where chairs are for all season-ticket holders.
3. There should be a variety of levels of seating options with the new seats: outdoor club and box seats as well as standard theater seats between the 20-yard lines. Alums and friends of NU should be the primary target of this experience. Many people want to have a more complete experience without tailgating. This would be in association with dedicated, indoor lounge space similar to the DQ Club at TCF.
4. Some indoor club seating offering should be a no-brainer for alumns, friends, and more. Again, look to TCF and Camp Randall on how to do this right with the models of the Varsity and Buckingham Clubs at Wisconsin. This should be offered on the east and west sides. Suites are too elitist and pricey and do not foster community, but club seating is more affordable and the experience is shared.

What is clear is that models of how to improve the fan experience are available elsewhere in the Big Ten. Michigan has worked diligently to improve its experience with a venerable stadium and so has Wisconsin. Minnesota had the benefit of new construction, but much can be gained. The upshot is that the NU fan experience could be significantly improved and with it more interest in every game, not 1-2 a season.

by MattMcC63 | Oct 04, 2015 12:09 PM

Joe Pa

I know Joe Paterno is a little out of favor these days, but I remember attending a game at Ryan Field back in 2001 when he tied Bear Bryant's record for most wins, so that is what I will always remember when I think about Northwestern football.

by Aaron S. Terry | Nov 24, 2015 02:33 PM

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Crowd Reviews

Purple Ryan

Total Score: 3.00

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 2

Since 1926, the Northwestern Wildcats have played their home football at Ryan Field. It's easy to forget at times that this is a school with great football tradition. The Wildcats won their first Big Ten championship in 1903, and won three Big Ten championships in a six year period from 1995-2000. Today, a trip to Ryan Field makes for a great road trip for any fan in the area. The proximity to Chicago, the availability of tickets, and the ability to turn an away game into a home field experience all seem to draw the fans of the opposition.

My visit in 2005

Total Score: 2.57

  • Food & Beverage: 2
  • Atmosphere 2
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 2
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 2

Let me up front and say that my visit was in 2005, the last year that Randy Walker was coach. While he had a decent program, and was a guy I liked a lot, the team was not as good as it has been under Pat Fitzgerald.

The hot dogs were not very good and came in the same sandwich baggies as they do now. Paul may have liked it, I felt my bun was a bit soggy.

The atmosphere was good for the fans who showed up. I remember the students being into the game hard core, but they only had around 1,500 students at the game. The alumni where there in small numbers but were not loud at all.

To be fair, Northwestern has a such a small student and alumni base compared to the other Big Ten schools that it is a bit hard to compare to the other conference schools. One thing I did really enjoy was the friendliness of the fans. So many of them invited us to there tailgates and offered us food despite us being from Penn State. Their fans are the same when they are on the road as well, like when I went to the NW game vs Miami OH, the first game after Coach Walker's death. They gave me food, shirts and bloody mary mix there as well. One of my favorite fan bases, but there just isn't a large number of them.

The concourses for the stadium are very tight and the bathrooms are well, usable.

The return on Investment for Big Ten football, on the outskirts of Chicago is great. I just wish it was at a packed stadium with a nutty fan base.

Not much in the way of extras, but if you go, make sure you try some real Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

Mediocrity all around

Total Score: 2.57

  • Food & Beverage: 2
  • Atmosphere 2
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 2

As Pat Fitzgerald continues to work his magic an the team gets more and more competitive, hopefully the fans will come out and support the team...on the game I went too, NWU was blowing out Eastern Illinois, and the enthusiasm wasn't there. Tailgating was a bit of a joke, and the food inside was substandard for such a respected institution. You are close to the lake, so maybe a walk or drive down there after the game will salvage your fall afternoon. The Marching Band takes it seriously and while a bit smaller then other Big 10 bands, is still great.

get out of Ryan Field

Total Score: 2.71

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 2
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 4
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 1

There is no place to park in Evanston period much less on the day of a game. The stadium offers nothing in terms of extras and has just the basics. I also wish they would get some real teams in there for non-conference games. The scoreboard, seats, and concourses are awful. The team has really improved over the past 15 years, these guys deserve better and will need better to make the next step. There are high school stadiums all over the country better than this place

Northwestern Wildcat Football at Ryan Field

Total Score: 3.14

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 4
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 2

Built in 1926, Northwestern University’s Ryan Field is the oldest football stadium in the Chicago area that does not have a flying saucer on top of it. A 1996 renovation added a few upgrades, but for most fans, the look and feel are largely unchanged from the early days of college football – falling somewhere between historic and decrepit in terms of character.

Northwestern was a founding member of the Big Ten in 1896, and when the University of Chicago dropped its football program in 1939, Northwestern became the Chicago area’s only Big Ten team – a title it currently lords over the University of Illinois.

Though generally successful in the early years, the football program fell into a steep decline in the postwar era. Between 1949 and 1994, the Wildcats earned no bowl appearances and only a handful of winning seasons; during a particularly bad stretch in the late 1970s, they eked out a total of three victories over six years.

Then a surprise turnaround in 1995 ended with a conference title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, catching the entire region by surprise. Despite being the smallest program in the Big Ten, the Wildcats have mostly remained competitive since then, with more bowl appearances in the last 15 years than the preceding five decades combined.

Ryan Field doesn’t have a lot to offer beyond great views of the field and a friendly, hospitable atmosphere, but that’s enough for a pleasant day of college football.

Ryan Field!

Total Score: 3.00

  • Food & Beverage: 2
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 3

Ryan Field is tucked away in Evanston, Il and is home to the Northwestern Wildcats AKA "Chicago's Big 10 team" as they like to be called.

The Field itself has years of history to it, even if Northwestern isnt always considered in the upper echelon of the Big 10. We werent able to park right outside the stadium but did find street parking about a mile away. We did the walk with a few hundred NW fans (and even some visiting MSU ones) and found an AWESOME breakfast spot called Prairie Joe's which I would recommend to anyone making the trip.

Seeing how it was on campus, Beer was not sold but everyone made sure to indulge right up until the moment their ticket was scanned.

This was my first trip to Big 10 country and I left impressed with what I saw and ready to visit the rest of stadiums in the conference!

Average but fun

Total Score: 3.14

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 4
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 3

it was my first college game so did not know what to expect.....(no booze was expected but i could of done with a beer)

fans were great in which is quite a hard stadium to get loud due to the open layout of the stands. food was half decent the Braatwurst was tasty. tickets were cheap and it was easy to get to although took a while on the L Train. Evanston is a nice area as well for a pre drink or food.

Struggling for stature

Total Score: 3.00

  • Food & Beverage: 3
  • Atmosphere 3
  • Neighborhood: 3
  • Fans: 3
  • Access: 3
  • RoI: 3
  • Extras: 3

A surprisingly small stadium, given its location near Chicago and the fact it competes in the Big 10, where most of the stadiums seem to be at least twice the size. Also, you will definitely see a lot of visiting fans from fellow Big 10 schools if you attend a game here, so the number of purple-clad fans will seem even smaller.

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Local Food & Drink

Bluestone  (map it!)

1932 Central St

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 424-0420

http://www.bluestone-evanston.com/

Tommy Nevin's Irish Pub  (map it!)

1454 Sherman Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 869-0450

http://www.tommynevins.com/

Bat 17  (map it!)

1709 Benson Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 733-7117

http://www.bat17evanston.com/

Firehouse Grill  (map it!)

750 Chicago Ave

Evanston, IL 60202

(847) 733-1911

http://www.firehousegrill.net/

Lou Malnati’s  (map it!)

1850 Sherman Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 328-5400

http://www.loumalnatis.com/

Edzo’s Burger Shop  (map it!)

1571 Sherman Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 864-3396

http://edzos.com/

Dave’s Italian Kitchen  (map it!)

1635 Chicago Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 864-6000

http://www.davesik.com/

Mt. Everest  (map it!)

630 Church St

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 491-1069

http://www.mteverestrestaurant.com/

Pete Miller’s Seafood & Prime Steak  (map it!)

1557 Sherman Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 328-0399

http://www.petemillers.com/

Found Kitchen and Social House  (map it!)

1631 Chicago Ave

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 868-8945

http://www.foundkitchen.com/

Mustard's Last Stand  (map it!)

1613 Central St

Evanston, IL 60201

(847) 864-2700

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