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  • Michael Davis

Gerald J. Ford Stadium - SMU Mustangs


Photos by Michael Davis, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

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

SMU Mustangs website Gerald J. Ford Stadium website

Year Opened: 2000 Capacity: 32,000

 

SMU Football – Dallas Hometown Team

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, but the biggest will soon be the $100 million dollar expansion in the south endzone – a three-tiered end zone complex will be built where the grass berm is currently located.


Besides being home to the SMU Mustangs football program, Gerald J. Ford Stadium has hosted the Texas high school playoffs over the years, as well as the Armed Forces Bowl in 2011, and is now home to the First Responders Bowl in December.


Food & Beverage 4

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.


Concessions have improved thanks to the inclusion of outside vendors throughout the concourse, as well as food trucks located above the grass berm in the south end zone (under the scoreboard). 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 concessions at Gerald J. Ford Stadium do offer value pricing at certain locations, these prices being $2 sodas and $5 beers. However, while the food and beverage options at Gerald J Ford Stadium are more than enough, 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 SMU game day atmosphere starts a few hours before kickoff with a tradition called “The Boulevard,” which is considered by some as the best tailgating in the southwest. The Boulevard is just a short walk from Gerald J. Ford Stadium along Bishop Boulevard; this area is in the center of Southern Methodist University’s campus and is closed during games to become THE place to be before a Mustangs game. SMU fans, alums, and students that reserve a spot on The Boulevard set up tents, grills, food tables, drinks, and some even have their own flat screen TVs to keep track of other games around the nation.


If you don’t have a reserved spot on The Boulevard don’t worry, as SMU wants everyone to be part of The Boulevard experience. The Good Sport Patio area is set up on The Boulevard, which is free to the public and opens three hours prior to kick off – the Patio is a tent with food, drinks, a seating area with tables and chairs, and several televisions. There are also food and drinks available for purchase, with various vendors serving up options via food trucks; there is also a play area for the youngsters.


If you are on The Boulevard about an hour before kickoff, you’ll be able to hear “The Hub of SMU,” the Mustang Band. In addition, the SMU band, along with the SMU cheer and Pom squads, walk down Bishop Boulevard on their way to the stadium.


Gerald J. Ford Stadium is the basic horseshoe design with an excellent view of the field from all seats. The atmosphere inside the stadium depends on how well SMU’s football team is playing that year, and/or on who the visiting opponent is that day. The band and student sections are located on the visitor side, while the donors and alumni are seated on the home side of the field. The corner tunnel in the end zone is the entrance for both teams, but SMU comes out onto the field running through 2 cones of pyrotechnic flame, with the spirit squads lined up along the sideline.


SMU has a live mascot that runs across the playing surface, a mustang named Peruna IX. There is a spot located on the open south end of the stadium, on the hill near the scoreboard, which has an immortal memorial listing all the past Peruna mascots. There are food trucks on this end as well, and this area also seems to be the designated kids’ area, complete with inflatable games and children sliding down the hill throughout the game.

The Boulevard provides a fun and interesting atmosphere to experience SMU football, but as for the rest of the game day atmosphere, it depends if the product on the field is competitive (like other American Athletic Conference programs). Nevertheless, SMU’s game day atmosphere has great potential and could become even better if the SMU football program can establish a more consistent winning record.


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 about 11 different restaurants and 18 shops. A few of the restaurants in the station include the Dallas Grilled Cheese Company, Wulf Burger, and Urban Taco. 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 Twisted Root Beer Co, Torchy’s Tacos, Banh Shop, 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 Magnolia Hotel Dallas 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

SMU fans are football savvy; after all they are in a state that loves its football. Not having the large following of the bigger schools, Mustang fans are a tight knit group, and you can witness this with a walk through The Boulevard before the game.


SMU football games are a social event for alumni, students, and their friends. Despite what the scoreboard might show, there is always a friendly feel when it comes to fans inside Gerald J. Ford Stadium.


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 ahead and are willing to walk a short distance.

Most of the parking lots around Gerald J. Ford Stadium are reserved for season ticket 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).


SMU 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

SMU football tickets are easily available through Ticketmaster or the SMU box office. The box office sells single game tickets for $25 to $50, and depending on how the Mustangs season unveils, there could be 3rd party sellers offering the same seats well below face-value.


Gerald J. Ford Stadium has great views of the playing field, you can get by without paying for parking, and if you grab food before entering the stadium, a visit would be well worth your time and money.


Extras 3

The special item that SMU provides compared to other venues is the unique pregame setup on The Boulevard, which offers a different level of activity than just plain tailgating; WE DON’T TAILGATE, WE BOULEVARD. The editors at Southern Living recently posted a roster of the top 20 Southern schools based on the best pregame celebration, and SMU’s Boulevard made the list. From the food and drink to the style and traditions, nobody tailgates quite like the Mustangs.


SMU’s beautiful Bishop Boulevard is tailgate central for fun and entertainment; along The Boulevard fans can mingle with family and friends, bring a picnic, fire up a grill, or visit Mustang Alley vendors. Also, make sure to check out the Mustang Band, “The Hub of SMU,” one of the most entertaining bands in college football, or just take a stroll around the beautiful campus, and bask in the football history at SMU, such as with the statue of Doak Walker.


Another plus at Gerald J. Ford Stadium is that since 2009 the SMU coaching staff has chosen a deserving student-athlete to wear the number 23 to honor Jerry LeVias – LeVias was the first African-American to receive an athletic scholarship in the Southwest Conference. While at SMU, LeVias made the athletic and academic All-America teams, and in 1966 contributed to the Mustangs’ first SWC title in 18 years. He was also an All-American in 1968 and was chosen All-SWC in 1966, 1967, and 1968.


Final Thoughts

Gerald J. Ford Stadium is a great way to spend a Saturday in the fall; it is low cost/high return on investment, plus you get to see a beautiful college campus and visit a great, large city like Dallas. Pony Up! Make a trip to the Hilltop to experience a game day at SMU!


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