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Official Review by James Staley, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The most well-known song from Marty Robbins’ country album “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” is the Grammy-winning “El Paso.” Written in 1959, the song lives on in college football. A pepped up version of it plays every time UTEP scores a touchdown — the school adopted that rendition as its fight song in the early 1980s.
Fittingly, the Miners’ home stadium, the Sun Bowl, makes you feel like you're watching football in the Old West. Peeking over several sections of the large concrete bowl, which seats nearly 52,000, are rocky desert mountains. Through the back of the mostly utilitarian stadium, just past the south end zone, is a view of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. You almost expect a tumbleweed to blow across the turf before kickoff.
Knowledgeable college football fans probably know the Sun Bowl as the home of a historic, but not-ready-for-primetime bowl game. The team that plays the most at the Sun Bowl, the Miners, usually produces losing seasons. But the venue has hosted legendary musical acts such as the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd. Champion boxer Oscar De La Hoya has also fought here. All in all, El Paso is a nice place to see a college football game.
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Walking the concourse beneath the seats at the Sun Bowl is disappointing if you are hungry. The concession stands offer the minimum of what you would expect. But keep going. As you approach the Larry K. Durham Center, the hub of UTEP athletics near the Sun Bowl's north end zone, you encounter what resembles a mini state fair-style food court. It offers national-chain pizza slices, kettle corn, turkey legs and some Mexican food. The deluxe nachos weren't worth the $7.50 price because of the cheese sauce and lack of southwestern spice. Burritos seemed to be popular. The Sun Bowl does not sell alcohol.
As you would expect from a venue called the Sun Bowl, the weather is usually comfortable for most of the football season. Aesthetically, the Sun Bowl is nothing special. It's your average college football stadium, though larger than most other mid-level FBS schools. But how many other stadiums can boast a view of another country?
Compared to stadiums at similar schools, the Sun Bowl has more history. First, the obvious aspect: the annual postseason game. The Sun Bowl is one of the nation's oldest and longest tenured bowls. The only games older are part of the BCS system - and not all of them are older, as the Sun Bowl was 35 at the time of the inaugural Fiesta Bowl.
UTEP has a load of proud athletics history, but most of it didn't come on the football field. The Miners won a culturally significant national title in men's basketball in 1966 when Don Haskins led a team with five black starters over a Kentucky team with an all-white lineup. Since then, UTEP has won multiple track and field national championships. Bob Beamon, a UTEP alum, held the long jump world record for decades.
If you're not familiar with El Paso and the UTEP campus, you might think that there's not much to do before or after catching a game at the Sun Bowl. The stadium rests in a natural bowl in a hilly part of town, immediately surrounded by campus, so you can't really see much nearby. If you come in from Interstate 10, especially from the east, you might be reluctant to look around because the Mexican border is close enough that you can see into a somewhat dilapidated neighborhood.
But don't let any of that fool you. If you're willing to walk a bit, there is plenty to do in El Paso's Cincinnati Entertainment District. There are bars, dance clubs and restaurants all around. One relatively new place that has drawn some attention lately is Star City Kitchen and Bar. It's open from 11 a.m. Tuesdays to midnight Sundays, and has a wide variety of food, all affordable. If you're looking for some local flavor a little bit away from the action, check out Jaxon's Restaurant & Brewery. The brewery is onsite. For about $15, you can get a Blackened Asadero & Green Chile burger and a Borderland Lager.
Exactly what you expect, and nothing you don't when it comes to the fans. Miner fans are knowledgeable and boisterous enough to react correctly to the game's circumstance. The Sun Bowl is huge for a mid-level program, so it rarely sales out. Occasionally the Miners land games against big-time programs. To open the 2012 season, UTEP played host to then-No. 4 ranked Oklahoma. The Sun Bowl didn't sell out then. To be fair, Miner fans often travel well to nearby Las Cruces, N.M. and Albuquerque when the Miners play New Mexico State and the University of Mexico.
Compared to most stadiums its size around the country, the Sun Bowl is a breeze to get in and out of. It's located right off a major interstate and free parking can be found nearby. The walk is relatively short, but can be steep in some areas with plenty of steps. And that type of access doesn't require you to arrive an hour before the game. Once you get into the Sun Bowl, restrooms are plentiful. You don't have to worry about missing significant parts of the game.
General admission tickets to Miner games are $15. Parking is free, and a concession stand meal can be had for about $5. Everything seemed about right, price wise. UTEP plays in Conference USA, known as one of college football's more shoot-out friendly leagues, so the games are often entertaining. You probably won't have much reason to go to the Sun Bowl for a regular season game unless you are a fan of UTEP or the road team, but you should be satisfied by the experience even if you're not wowed.
The history of the bowl games played in this venue is worth an extra point, as is the fabulous view across the border into Mexico.
Member Review by caltexan on Aug 27, 2013
What a different environment. Sun Bowl Staduim is very unique. And the food is fantastic!
2603 N Mesa
El Paso, TX 79902
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