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  • Writer's pictureMichael Davis

Gerald J. Ford Stadium – First Responder Bowl

Photos by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Gerald J. Ford Stadium 5800 Ownby Dr University Park, TX 75205

Year Opened: 2000

Capacity: 32,000


Servpro First Responder Bowl

The Servpro First Responder Bowl is an annual college bowl game honoring first responders. Originally, known as the Heart of Dallas Bowl, the name changed in 2018 to First Responder, to reflect the bowl theme of honoring first responders. The first 9 bowl games were played at the historic Cotton Bowl, before moving to its current site at SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium in 2019.

Gerald J. Ford Stadium is a 32,000-seat horseshoe-shaped venue located on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas, Texas. The current stadium is located on the same site as SMU’s original football facility, Ownby Stadium.

Gerald J. Ford Stadium opened to a sellout crowd on September 2, 2000 and is very basic when it comes to its architectural structure. However, the facility does have 24 luxury suites and 600 club level seats located inside a 3-story press box. The field itself sits below ground, and the Collegiate-Georgian style architecture of the stadium blends in well with the campus and surrounding neighborhood. The facility is named after the businessman Gerald J. Ford who is a 1966 alumnus of SMU, after he donated $20 million to the school.

Gerald J. Ford Stadium has seen several upgrades since its inaugural season, including a 32×45-foot Daktronics video board added in 2009, the 233-seat Hall of Champions Club, and seven other suites for use as indoor or outdoor seating, which have been a great addition to Ford Stadium.

Food & Beverage 3

The main concessions offer basic stadium fare with average prices. Nachos have the highest cost on the menu at $8, while a hot dog is $7. Sausage on a stick or a large popcorn cost $6 each, and peanuts cost $5.

The outside vendors include local restaurants such as Taco Diner, Dunkin Donuts, Rudy’s BBQ, and Barley House – Barley House provides pizza for $10, while Rudy’s serves Texas BBQ in the form of a chopped beef sandwich at $8, with sides of potato salad or barbecue beans for an extra $4. The Taco Diner concessions stand offers street tacos (chicken or beef) for $8, while nachos range from the loaded variety at $10 down to the smaller version for $6. And if you’re looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, there is also the Paciugo Gelato Café.

Gerald J. Ford Stadium serves Coca-Cola products – a large serving of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite, or PowerAde costs $6, while Dasani bottled water is $4. The facility also offers a small variety of alcoholic beverages: Bud, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra cost $8, while Shock Top, Ziegenbock, Dos Equis, and Shiner Bock will cost a little more at $10. The best value as far as the beer selection is Lone Star Beer for $5, while Copa Di Vino Chardonnay is available for $10.

The food and beverage options at Gerald J Ford Stadium are more than enough for a bite to eat, but the neighborhood around the venue provides better options, so the stadium fare should be used as a small snack and not as a meal.

Atmosphere 3

The college bowl game atmosphere varies all over the bowl season landscape, and the atmosphere at the First Responder Bowl varies depending on the team selections – those team’s fan bases will provide the atmosphere for the game. In years that at least one of the selected teams was local, fan attendance improved the atmosphere. However, in the years that only non-local teams participated, only about 18,000 fans attended each game.

The intro for each participating school is shown on the videoboard before each team enters the field thru the only tunnel in the stadium. The fans that attend the First Responder Bowl are very good, as they have traveled to see their team play away from their home stadium, and the bands and spirit squads give a home feeling for the fans. Also, throughout the game first responders are recognized for their service.

First Responder Recognition on Scoreboard, Photo by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey

Neighborhood 4

Gerald J. Ford Stadium is on the beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University – the campus itself is 243 acres with an enrollment of about 11,000 students. The neighborhood surrounding the campus is called University Park, located just north of downtown Dallas off I-75. Within a short walk is Mockingbird Station, a development of shops, dining, and apartment complexes that were built around the Mockingbird DART light rail stop. Mockingbird Station has different restaurants and shops; a couple of restaurants in the station include Urban Taco and Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. The complex also includes the Angelika Film Center, which provides an 8-screen theater (complete with stadium seating) devoted to independent and specialty films.

If you can’t find a restaurant to your liking at Mockingbird Station, just walk a few blocks down SMU Boulevard and you’ll find Ozona Grill and Bar, Torchy’s Tacos, and Barley House. Barley House is a good place if you plan to partake in alcoholic beverages, with its large list of beers on tap from breweries around the state. Of course, the DART light rail can easily get you to plenty of other pregame or postgame activities, with downtown Dallas being just a short commute south.

There is plenty of lodging around the SMU campus, with downtown Dallas being a short distance away and accessible via the DART light rail. However, if you want to stay in the area, The Beeman on North Central Expressway is only a short walk from campus and the light rail, near SMU Boulevard and across the highway from the main local attraction, the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Besides the library there is the Meadows Museum, just off the boulevard on SMU’s campus, and well worth your time to visit.

The public transit and location near Dallas also provide plenty of tourist attractions, and a wide range of restaurants and lodging for any fan attending a game at SMU.

Fans 3

College football bowl fans vary throughout the country, depending on the participating school or the importance of the bowl to the national championship scenario. For the First Responder Bowl, the fact is that most of the fans are from outside the Dallas area, so expectations should be lower.

However, the First Responder Bowl committee has been great about selecting at least one team each year that is close enough to Dallas to help bring in fans – selections such as North Texas (2-time participant), Texas Tech, Houston, Oklahoma State, La Tech, and popular Army have ensured that an average of 35,597 fans have attended the bowl game each year. The game being moved from the larger Cotton Bowl Stadium will keep attendance under 30k, but 20-25k is a great turn out.

Access 4

Gerald J. Ford Stadium is located on the south side of SMU’s campus, off the Mockingbird Lane exit on I-75. Southern Methodist University is in University Park, just north of downtown Dallas, making the campus accessible by public transportation, yet it doesn’t provide the most ideal parking situation for sporting events. However, it does provide cheap or free parking if you plan and are willing to walk a short distance.

Most of the parking lots around Gerald J. Ford Stadium are reserved for prepaid parking holders; parking for others is available at DART’s Mockingbird Station or at adjoining parking lots, which offer a shuttle or are a short walk from the stadium. The campus is accessible by public transportation, with the DART light rail being the best option to avoid the Dallas traffic and having to find parking (Mockingbird Station is a rail stop on the red, orange, and blue lines).

The stadium has a clear bag policy, which means the only bags allowed inside the stadium must be made of clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC, and must not exceed 12 x 6 x 12 inches. Popular examples include one-gallon freezer bags (Ziploc type) or a hand-sized clutch with or without a handle or strap. All bags except the ones listed in the clear bag policy are prohibited inside the facility.

Return on Investment 4

The easy access and parking, combined with a college bowl game during the holidays, is a perfect investment. Ticket prices for the First Responder Bowl are reasonable compared to any of the college bowl games with tickets ranging from $25 to $125 – the ticket prices here are less expensive compared to the larger bowl games and on par with other bowl games, and the concessions are reasonable. Overall, the ROI is above average when all things are considered.

Extras 3

Dallas has many things to do while visiting for the bowl game – the SMU campus provides a beautiful setting for college football fans, and the stadium is perfect for this type of bowl game with great sightlines.

Thank You First Responders, Photo by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey

Final Thoughts

Dallas is a great destination for football fans; there are plenty of things to do throughout the year, and a visit to the First Responder Bowl is a wonderful reason to make a trip to Texas.

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