Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Blaik Field at Michie Stadium 700 Mills Rd West Point, NY 10996
Year Opened: 1924
The Greatest Gameday in America
Virtually every sports fan has a bucket list of venues they would like to visit. Chances are there are some legendary names on these lists, such as Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, St. Andrews or Wimbledon. Some venues that should be on any sports fan’s bucket list lie further off the beaten path. In quaint West Point, New York, a town of only 6,763 people, is a venue that should be on any sports fan’s short list of places to go as you explore the planet.
The people who work at Sports Illustrated agree, and they have been to a few places. In 1999 the magazine published a list of their top twenty sports venues of the 20th Century. In third place, behind only the old Yankee Stadium and Augusta National Golf Course, is Blaik Field at Michie Stadium, a small football stadium that seats only 38,000 people, and lacks many modern amenities present in other stadia around the world. In 2007 Sports Illustrated ranked their top college venues for all sports, and again Michie Stadium made the cut, coming in seventh place on this list. How does Michie Stadium find itself in such heady company?
Simply put, this is the greatest game day experience in America.
Watching an Army football game at Michie Stadium is more than just a game. It is part history lesson, part sporting event, part Fourth of July.
Michie Stadium was named after Dennis Michie, class of 1892, who organized, coached, and managed the first football team at West Point in 1890. He was killed in action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Yes, that is how far back Army football goes, it predates the Spanish-American War. The 2015 season will mark the 125th year that football has been played at West Point.
In 1999 the field was named after Earl “Red” Blaik, who coached Army to 3 consecutive national titles from 1944-46. Blaik Field at Michie Stadium celebrated its 100th season in 2014. Only 15 FBS stadiums in the nation, and only six east of the Mississippi, are older than Michie Stadium.
Food & Beverage 3
Concessions at Michie Stadium do not stray very far from the basics. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the concessions is that every stand in the stadium is staffed by cadets, who work the stands to raise money for their various extracurricular groups
Virtually every concession stand at Michie Stadium has the same menu, featuring hot dogs, nachos, and various snacks such as pretzels, popcorn, cotton candy, and cracker jacks. Coca-Cola products are featured at Michie Stadium, and can be purchased in popular souvenir mugs which feature free refills throughout the game.
Fans looking for a little variety can find unique items at temporary stands located in the southeast entry plaza, where cheesesteaks, pizza, and sausage sandwiches can be purchased. Concessions stands tucked in behind the north end zone feature chicken nuggets, pulled pork sandwiches, French fries, and onion rings.
Overall, the quality of the food at Michie Stadium is good, and the prices are comparable to other venues in the area.
The gameday atmosphere here at the Army academy takes a back seat to no other venue in the nation.
It all starts six hours before kickoff, when the parking lots open for fans. Many fans do indeed arrive as early as six a.m. to set up their tailgates and begin the day’s festivities. While the tailgating scene at West Point is an active one, the experience is not the party atmosphere that you may experience at other schools in the country. This is a military base, after all.
Many fans arrive early to watch the Cadet Review on “The Plain.” A full-dress cadet parade takes place three hours before every home game, weather permitting. Other fans opt to explore areas of the campus such as Fort Putnam, one of a series of forts and redoubts which date all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
Another pregame option for Army football fans is Black Knights Alley, a fan fest which runs along Mills Road between Michie Stadium and Lusk Reservoir. Black Knights Alley features live music, an inflatable park, food and beer tents, the Army Football Tailgate Show, and other vendors. It’s a popular gathering spot for fans before the game, and watching the Army band and football team enter the stadium through a gauntlet of cadets is a highlight of the festivities.
Things really get going about a half hour before kickoff. If visiting Michie Stadium for the first time, you will definitely want to be in your seat to witness the pregame show the Army puts on. To begin, the Cadet Regiment marches onto the field. Over 1,000 cadets take the field in formation to accompany the Cadet Glee Club and Army Band in the playing of the national anthem.
The highlight for many fans comes next, as several Cadet Paratroopers jump from a helicopter, delivering the game ball and flags to Michie Stadium. Once the parachuters arrive, the Army football team takes the field, accompanied by the Army Rabble Rousers, mascots, American flag, and the week’s unit flag. Every week the team honors a different unit by wearing their patch on the game jerseys. As the team takes the field, they head over to the cadet seating section, where the team and fans salute each other before the game begins.
The energy level does not wane throughout the game, thanks in large part to the efforts of the cadets who pack the east stands dressed in fatigues. The sight of 4,000 cadets standing throughout the game is a sight to behold. Every score by the Army team sets off a celebration, which includes the firing of the cannon located on the far shore of Lusk Reservoir, and the cheerleading squad taking the field to do push-ups. The greater the score of the game, the more push-ups the squad must perform.
The town of West Point is a small, quaint town of under 7,000 residents. Located about an hour’s drive north of New York City, the town of West Point is dominated by the Military Academy. Fans traveling from out of town will find no shortage of places to stay in the towns surrounding the Academy.
Beyond the Military Academy, the Hudson Valley area surrounding West Point is a favorite spot in the fall to take in some incredible foliage. Bear Mountain State Park is a destination for hiking and other outdoor activities, and tours of the West Point campus are popular with sports fans and history buffs alike.
Fans at Army football games are a mix of cadets, families, veterans, and football fans. Visiting fans travel from across the country to take in an Army football game, and it’s not unusual to find yourself sitting among families of cadets featuring generations of army vets from all over the country.
Even if there was not a single civilian football fan in attendance, Michie Stadium would still rate well in this category due solely to the outstanding presence of the student body. The cadets, over 4,000 strong, pack the east stands and bring constant noise and energy to the stadium. The cadets stand throughout the game, taking a break only at halftime. The cadet section is so entertaining that at times it is easy to be so distracted as to forget all about the action taking place on the field.
With West Point’s rural location and necessary security measures, expect entering the Academy to take a little extra time. All things considered, the security measures in place can hardly be considered intrusive.
Parking lots are scattered throughout the campus, some of which are located some distance from Michie Stadium. Lots are color coded, with different roads providing access to the different colored lots. Detailed directions can be found here. Numerous shuttles roam the campus taking fans from their respective lots to Michie Stadium.
With the West Point campus located only 50 miles from New York City, there are no shortage of methods to arrive at the Army Academy. If driving, the campus is near I-87 and the Palisades Parkway. Bus service is available from the New York City Port Authority to the West Point Visitors Center, and rail service is available from Grand Central Station to Garrison, NY, right across the Hudson River from the campus. For fans looking for a unique method of transportation to an Army football game, ferries depart from greater New York to the West Point campus every game day.
The seating area at Michie Stadium consists entirely of bleacher seating without backs. Seat cushions and chairbacks are available for rental. While walking around the stadium it is clear to see that it was expanded in a piecemeal fashion, as the different sections do not flow seamlessly. There are concourses underneath the stands in parts of the stadium, but to get around one must navigate a walkway located at the front of the seating bowl. If sitting in the first few rows, expect your view to be blocked by a steady stream of pedestrians. Opt for seats a little higher up for a better view.
There are many concession stands and restrooms located throughout the stadium, and dare I say that lines move with military precision throughout the game, even at halftime. Still, many fans try and avoid these areas during these peak times.
Unfortunately, getting back to your vehicle after the game can be most problematic. There are marked areas around the stadium at which fans can take shuttle buses back to their respective parking lots. With the limited roads around the stadium and the crush of fans all trying to get out simultaneously, the system bogs down easily. With the age of Michie Stadium and the organized nature of the Army, one might think the system would work more smoothly. With only a few ways off the base, departing your parking lot may also take a little while. Be sure to give yourself enough time to leave West Point after the game.
Return on Investment 4
Army football utilizes variable pricing for their home games, with prices ranging from $35 to $50 for upper level or corner seats. Lower level seats range in price from $45 to $55. Parking in the various lots around campus costs $15 when purchased in advance, and $20 on game day. Purchasing in advance increases your odds of parking in a lot closer to Michie Stadium.
Few, if any, sports venues in the country can match the history and pageantry that go along with a football game at West Point. First time visitors to Michie Stadium should be sure to set aside enough time to tour some of the campus, and to be sure to be inside the stadium in time to catch the pregame festivities. Visiting this area during the fall when the leaves are changing color makes for a most breathtaking view, and it’s no wonder that the area is a popular destination this time of year.
From the pregame paratroopers dropping from the sky to deliver the game ball to the finale, where both teams gather in front of their respective fan bases to sing their fight songs, an Army football game is full of traditions that just cannot be found elsewhere. It is truly a special place in the world of college football.
“There is nothing like being at Michie Stadium on the banks of the Hudson River with the leaves changing during the third weekend in October. The scenery is incredible. And how about the inspiration drawn from being at such a historic landmark? You see the statues of MacArthur, Patton and Eisenhower. Then on game day morning, you have the pleasure of witnessing the Cadet Parade. And how about when the cadets sing ‘On Brave Old Army Team’? That is an unbelievable moment.”
–Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN.com
“West Point is all about chills, goosebumps and sentimentality. When you enter one of the Academy’s four gates, be prepared for a battle of the senses that is sure to be fought on several emotional levels. Army is power and strength, patriotism and pride, sad memories and hope-presented in a pastoral masterpiece.”
–The Sporting News
It’s almost surreal how the two disparate worlds of the military and typical college life intersect here at Michie Stadium. Take away the military fatigues and the historic surroundings, and those cadets dancing in the Black Knights Alley could be just another group of 18-22 year old students at State U. That group of cadets cheering on a young boy trying to reach the summit of the inflatable rock wall are just trying to enjoy a day of harmless distractions away from the responsibilities of the classroom. The difference here is that these young men and women have signed up to defend our nation and are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. Win or lose, one is sure to leave Michie Stadium with a renewed sense of pride and confidence in the future of America.
“I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player.”
–Gen. George C. Marshall
Follow Paul Baker’s Stadium Journeys on Twitter @PuckmanRI.