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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Yale University was the most successful college football team in the formative years of the sport, winning 27 national championships between 1872 and 1909, as well as two of the first three Heisman Trophies in history. The team played at Yale Field, a 33,000 seat venue that eventually proved to be inadequate for the popular team’s needs. Charles A. Ferry, class of 1871, designed a new stadium for the university that would seat over 70,000 fans. Today it remains the largest university-owned stadium in FCS.
Formally known as the Class of 1954 Field at Yale Bowl, the Yale Bowl has hosted National Football League games, international soccer friendlies, concerts and countless other events in its over 100 years of use. Its unique design inspired imitators across the nation, including the Rose Bowl and Michigan Stadium. The Yale Bowl was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
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Concessions at the Yale Bowl do not stray very far from the basics. There are five concession stands scattered around the outer concourse. The menus at these stands offer all the standard stadium fare, with hot dogs ($4), nachos ($4), and assorted snacks such as popcorn ($4), peanuts ($3), pretzels ($3) and candy ($3) sold. Bottles of Coca-Cola products ($3) are available here. There is a grill adjacent to one stand which sells burgers ($5) and sausage sandwiches ($7). Fans looking for alternatives will gravitate towards the one stand selling wraps ($5). While the weather is still fairly warm early in the season there is an ice cream truck selling their wares, which is very popular with the children in attendance.
There are several tents scattered throughout the grounds selling a variety of Yale merchandise.
The biggest obstacle to the atmosphere at the Yale Bowl is the sheer size of the facility itself. Even a crowd of 20,000 only fills up a third of the Yale Bowl. Any noise made by a Bulldog crowd is swallowed up in the enormity of the stadium.
From the moment you arrive at the Yale Bowl, the game day is pretty much what you would expect at an Ivy League institution. The tailgating scene, while active, is pretty laid-back. The student body turns out in good numbers, and is active, but again, their effect on the atmosphere is negligible if you are sitting in other parts of the stadium. The Yale Precision Marching Band is entertaining, and worth staying in your seat to watch during halftime.
The Yale Bowl is not located on the downtown Yale campus, but about a mile and a half to the west. There is not a whole lot to do in the immediate vicinity of Yale's athletic complex, with Yale Field and the Connecticut Tennis Center (home to the WTA's Connecticut Open event) comprising the bulk of the neighborhood. Many fans will explore the Yale campus and downtown New Haven while visiting the area, as the two are intertwined. The Yale campus is noted for its unique architecture, and New Haven is developing a reputation as a foodie hotspot, with excellent bars and restaurants located throughout the downtown.
A couple of spots in particular may be of interest to visiting fans. Just blocks from the old campus is Louis' Lunch, which claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger. New Haven is also home to a unique brand of brick oven pizza, called apizza by locals. Local legends Frank Pepe's and Sally's Apizza, located just over a block apart on Wooster Street, are world famous for this pizza style. Many locals tout a third location, Modern Apizza, located only a half mile from campus.
Fans looking for lodging during their visit to New Haven will find no shortage of choices around the Yale campus. A detailed list of hotels can be found here.
Yale averages over 15,000 fans per game at the Yale Bowl. This figure puts them among the leaders nationally in the FCS for attendance. While most FCS schools would sell their young for this kind of fan support, the fact is that Yale football attendance has been in a steady decline for quite some time. Before the Ivy League left college football's top division, Yale averaged over 20,000 fans per game, and over 40,000 fans packed the Yale Bowl during the program's glory years.
The Yale Bowl is easy to find for visiting football fans. Simply take exit 44 off of Interstate 95, and follow the signs to the stadium. The folks around the Yale Bowl have a system down pat, and you should get to one of the many lots surrounding the stadium with little to no delay. The lots immediately adjacent to the Yale Bowl are reserved for those who have paid handsomely for the privilege, and these lots offer, among other perks, access during the game. All of the parking lots surrounding the Yale Bowl are just a short walk from the game.
Once you pass through the gates and enter the Yale Bowl, you may be surprised by your surroundings. While most football stadiums around the country look like giant spaceships dropped down in the middle of an open area, the Yale Bowl couldn't be more unassuming. When the Yale Bowl was built over 100 years ago, its builders dug a giant hole in the ground, and used the excavated dirt to build up a large berm around the hole. The seating bowl was simply built into this berm. It was a revolutionary design at the time, and influenced the design of later stadia such as the Rose Bowl and Michigan Stadium.
There is a wide paved concourse that surrounds the stadium, and this is where you will find the concession stands and buildings that house the restrooms. These restrooms are quite dated, but are more than large enough to accommodate even the largest Yale crowd. Lines will form at the concession stands at halftime, so plan accordingly.
Fans will enter the seating bowl through one of 30 long portals. These portals will deposit fans onto a walkway halfway up the seating bowl. This walkway circles the entire field, as does a walkway that runs along the top of the seating bowl.
The entire seating area consists of wooden bleachers with backs. A frequent complaint heard about the seating here is that many of the bleachers at the Yale Bowl are cracked, with peeling paint. The university is working on this problem, as many sections of bleachers have been restored with new paint. Several other sections are currently blocked off as the work progresses around the bowl.
Ivy League football on the whole is very affordable, and an afternoon at the Yale Bowl is no different. Tickets to a Bulldog game cost $15 for reserved seats (between the 40-yard lines on either sideline), or $10 for general admission seating elsewhere in the stadium. Parking in the many lots that surround the Yale Bowl costs only five dollars. While the Ivy League no longer plays at the top level of college football, the level of play here is very good, and an absolute bargain when compared to other games nationwide.
Extra points are awarded for the sense of history here at the Yale Bowl. While Yale football is far from the national power it was during the first half of the 20th century, the football played here continues to be of a high level. To this day, Yale ranks second all-time in wins in college football history, trailing only the University of Michigan. Be sure to check out Jensen Plaza by the main entrance, where the names of every letterman in Yale football history has their name engraved in the bricks. Traditions abound at the Yale Bowl, from the many Ivy League championship banners that surround the field to Handsome Dan, the first live mascot in college sports.
If you plan to visit Yale for the latest incarnation of "The Game," the annual matchup between Yale and Harvard, expect much, much more from the Yale Bowl. Played annually since 1875, the Harvard-Yale rivalry is one of the most storied in the nation, and attracts over 50,000 fans when the game is held in New Haven. The accompanying tailgating scene and competition between the student bodies alone are worth the price of admission.
Going to the Yale Bowl is a bit like taking a trip back in time. From the student athletes competing on the field below (with the emphasis on student, not athlete), to the competing marching bands, to the traditions a century in the making, make a trip to this simple bowl in New Haven a bucket list item for any serious college football fan.
Follow Paul Baker's stadium journeys on Twitter @puckmanri.
Member Review by shamus170 on Oct 06, 2013
Since opening in 1914, this simple old bowl has seen a lot in its lifetime. Concerts, New York Giants football, NASL soccer, and of course, Yale football. The prestigious university has been playing the sport since the late 1800s, and for quite awhile, they were a powerhouse. With names like Walter Camp and Amos Alonzo Stagg, the Elis dominated football in the early days of the sport. Even after the formation of the Ivy League in 1954, Yale would take home 14 championships. At a university full of historic buildings, Yale Bowl fits right in. The first ever bowl-shaped stadium (an inspiration for the Rose Bowl and Michigan Stadium) is unique in many regards, and it is hard to find a venue like it. While historic and impactful, Yale Bowl is a very uncomfortable place to watch a game, thanks to the tight, crumbling wooden bleachers. Despite a recent renovation, most seats have fallen into disrepair, and a refurbishing would help. Regardless, a Yale football game is a worthy experience in a historic venue.
237 Wooster St
New Haven, CT 06511
157 Wooster St
New Haven, CT 06511
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