Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57
Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium 2531 N State St Jackson, MS 39216
Year Opened: 1950
This is SWAC
The Jackson State Tigers football program is one of the more prestigious HBCUs in the country. Since joining the SWAC in 1958 the Tigers have won 18 SWAC Championships, 3 HBCU National Championships, and sent over 90 players to the NFL including 16 Pro Bowlers and six College Football Hall of Famers. During the 1960s and 1970s the program gained exposure on a national level. The JSU program produced four players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame during that time period, when some of the best black football players in the south, names like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice, were attending HBCUs. In fact only 13 other schools have more players enshrined in Canton than Jackson State – Walter Payton, Lem Barney, Robert Brazile and Jackie Slater are the four players from JSU who are currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Tigers play off-campus at Historic Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, which opened in 1950 just north of downtown Jackson. The Vet, as it’s known by locals, is perhaps the Mecca of College Football in the State of Mississippi. The historic structure has played host to some of the greatest college football games in the state, and even the South for that matter. With a capacity of 60,000 seats, the Vet remained the largest stadium in the state until 2014, and because of its large capacity, over 100 neutral site college football games have been played here during its 70+ year history. The stadium served as the neutral site for all of Mississippi’s Big 3 teams, and at one time in the 1970s Ole Miss and Mississippi State played more games here than in Oxford or Starkville. The Tigers began playing here in 1970.
Though there is a lot of history at The Vet, in the past 20-30 years the stadium has fallen on hard times. The large concrete structure hasn’t received many renovations over the years and thus is quite too large for a school the size of JSU. Because of its location on the property of the Ole Miss Med School, there has been talk about knocking the stadium down to expand the Med School and build a smaller stadium on JSU’s campus.
However, that all changed in 2020 thanks to the hiring of Head Coach Deion Sanders. Coach Prime has completely changed the face of the SWAC and the way people look at HBCUs. Coach Prime has also brought prestige and fan support back to Jackson. Now on Saturdays Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium is packed out once again, something this stadium hasn’t seen in over 30 years. The rebuilding at Jackson State would reach the ultimate pinnacle in October 2022, when the stadium was selected to host College Game Day – it was the first time the popular College Football pregame show made a trip to an HBCU home football game, and was only the third time the show has broadcast from the state of Mississippi.
Food & Beverage 3
The Vet has 16 permanent concession stands scattered throughout the concourse. In years past rarely was every stand open during games, and each stand that was open would only sell the basics. However, the increase in exposure has also brought better concessions. In 2021 JSU partnered with Sodexo Magic, an F&B company co-owned by Magic Johnson, to revamp the concessions from the basic fare they had in the past.
There are stands on both sides of the concourses now with every kind of food imaginable, as each stand has a unique menu centered on a particular theme. It’s almost a carnival atmosphere on the concourse with vendors in tents selling items, and concessions stands on both sides of concourse. You’ll find a pretzel stand on the east side that sells pretzel dogs and bites, while the Not Just a Burger stand sells burgers and fries ($15), a fish plate ($16), a chicken plate ($13), or gumbo ($16). The Smokin’ 7 stand sells ribs and fries ($19), pulled pork nachos ($14), wings and fries ($14), or egg rolls ($14), and there is also a wings only stand where you can order 10, 20, or 50 pieces. they even had a guy cooking up the wings behind the counter adding his different sauces.
It can be kind of confusing, because each stand doesn’t sell the basics in addition. For instance the only place to get a hot dog would be the Taste of Detroit stand on the north concourse, which sells a broad mix of items such as Philly cheese steak ($15), a hamburger and fries ($14), a popcorn chicken combo ($11), or a hot dog and fries ($11). Alternatively if you want popcorn you have to walk around until you find the two stands that sell it, which happen to be on the far west side and the far east sides of the concourse, but it is cool because you can get unique items you wouldn’t normally find at a sporting event, like fried gizzards and green tomatoes, which you can get as Sha’s Kitchen stand. Coca-Cola is the soft drink provider at The Vet, and there are several pop-up bars set up on the concourse selling alcohol – they sell four different kinds of 16oz beers (Modelo, Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, and Yuengling), ranging from $8-$10 each.
When The Vet is full this place rivals SEC schools when it comes to atmosphere – in 2022 The Vet is packed out for almost every game, and coming to Jackson for a JSU game is as close to big time college football as you can get. You’ll also get A-list celebrity sightings, as Snoop Dogg and The Rock have all been spotted at The Vet for games. You’ll also see former football players in attendance, as Coach Prime has been known to bring in some of his former teammates and friends like Troy Aikman and Michael Strahan. All this in front of a sold out crowd of people, and even more people in the parking lot tailgating, while the greatest band in college football plays so loud you can’t even hear, and 4 and 5 star recruits play on the field. You will think you are at a power 5 conference game or an NFL game, but this is SWAC.
The first thing you’ll notice when arriving at a game here is a ton of people tailgating. The Vet sits in a massive parking lot that holds over 80,000 cars, and all throughout the parking lot you’ll see a sea of grills and tents. Jackson is nicknamed the City with Soul, and with a nickname like that you’re bound to find somebody to let you come get a bite to eat. And of course, as this is the South, you’ll find people cooking and grilling all kinds of food, from southern fried foods to BBQ and many different seafoods, the people at Jackson State know how to tailgate.
Tailgating at JSU, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
When Jackson State purchased the stadium from the city in 2013 they added the huge words across the top of the stadium that said Home of the JSU Tigers, but other than that you would have a hard time telling who the main tenant of the stadium is. But you will notice just how large Mississippi Veterans Stadium actually is – the large horseshoe-shaped structure is open on the southeast end zone so you can see inside the giant stadium from the parking lot. I’d imagine The Vet to be a pretty intimidating place for visiting teams to play in, as it is by far the largest stadium in the SWAC.
There are 12 gates for entry, with the two main entrances on the east and west sides. As you approach the gates the first thing you’ll hear from the grandstands is the JSU marching band, the Sonic Boom of the South. Probably the most famous marching band in all of college football, the Sonic Boom of the South has to be seen to be believed. The band will play a broad range of music genres, all while dancing and moving in unison, which is quite a sight to see. During pregame they will rarely play music over the loudspeakers because the band will play continuously while the teams warmup. A JSU game is also one football game where people don’t go to the concessions during halftime, as the Sonic Boom of the South puts on probably the best halftime show in all of college football; if you come to a JSU game if nothing else you have to stay for the halftime show.
The Vet is a large concrete structure, typical of stadiums of that time period and shaped like a horseshoe bowl built inside of a hill – the stadium is one big bowl with over 60 rows of metal bleacher seating. The Vet sits sunken into the hill, so you enter from the concourse and walk up and down the bowl depending on which level you are sitting in. Once in the stadium you really get a sense of the feel of the history and aura that surrounds The Vet; the place has remained virtually unchanged from what it looked like 50 years ago. The only additions the stadium has received over the years are the addition of the fieldhouse and videoboard in the southeast endzone and 10,000 additional seats added in 1981. Other than that there are no special suites, club levels, nor the amenities found at other stadiums. In this case it works as there is a real old school gritty feel here, and during the 2022 season with attendance at an all-time high again, combined with the Sonic Boom of the South playing, I almost felt like I was transported back to the 1970s with Walter Payton going to run out of the tunnel.
Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium is located north of downtown Jackson, and about 4 miles away from the JSU campus. The Vet is located directly across the street from the University of Mississippi Medical School in the popular Fondren District. This is the nightlife area for Jackson, and you will find numerous bars and restaurants on this stretch of street. Fondren Public is my favorite, with shuffleboard, cornhole, beer pong and all kinds of games and craft beer – I definitely recommend checking this place out. Another one of my favorites is Brent’s Drug, which is an old soda fountain diner from the 1950s. But in the back down some stairs is a hidden bar called the Apothecary, which is an old speakeasy from the prohibition days. Other popular places and restaurants include a bowling alley called Highball Lanes, Capri Theatre, Pig & Pint, Walker’s Drive In, Saltine’s Oyster Bar, Barrelhouse Bar, Rooster’s, and Sal & Mookies.
The Vet is also located about three miles from downtown Jackson, and there are plenty of attractions downtown from the current Mississippi state capitol to the old capitol, both of which are open to the public. You also have the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the Mississippi Art Museum, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which is located on Lakeland Drive. One bar worth checking out downtown is Underground 119, an underground blues club with excellent live blue music. Or, Hal & Mal’s is another famous spot known for its live music, in addition to the Tavern on George Street, a hole-in-the-wall pub.
You are also in the capital and largest city in Mississippi, so you should be able to find plenty to do for all ages. There is plenty of shopping on Lakeland Drive about a mile from the stadium, and if you are into the outdoors you have LaFleur’s Bluff State Park and Natchez Trace Parkway, as well as plenty of boating activities on the Ross Barnett Reservoir, a large lake in the center of Jackson.
JSU has always had a pretty dedicated and supportive fan base. In past years they would still get 20,000 fans for any given game, in which they would most always lead the SWAC in attendance. Unfortunately The Vet is so large that the stadium was still half empty during games. You’ll still find the dedicated fans who have been coming here with their families for generations, by the way – they can remember watching Walter Payton run the ball here and then coming back 50 years later with their grandkids to watch Coach Prime. In years past you would see fans who would only come to watch the bands, so they would leave after the halftime show. Not so now; Coach Prime has JSU fan support at an all-time high, and fans are into the game from start to finish now. When the Sonic Boom of the South plays the fans will dance and sing to the songs that the band is playing and chanting. The electricity on gamedays that Coach Prime has brought is pretty cool, and something the SWAC has never seen before.
JSU also has heated rivalries with other SWAC schools, with each game given its own name and special theme. For instance JSU’s game with Southern is called the Boom Box Classic, while its game against Alcorn State is called the Soul Bowl, so whenever these games are played expect lots of visiting fans.
The Tigers also set record numbers in attendance during the 2021 season – the Tigers averaged 42,000 per game for the season, which led the FCS in attendance. JSU also packed 58,000 fans for the game against Alcorn State, which ranks second in program history. In 2022 they average even more fans than they ever have.
Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium is located north of downtown Jackson. If coming from out of town I-55 will be your best bet as it travels right through downtown, and as you roll through on I-55 you’ll get fabulous views of state capitol to the left. The Vet is right off the interstate; just take Exit 98A onto Woodrow Wilson Ave, then travel past two giant hospitals and the Ole Miss Medical School, and the stadium is right there in the Fondren District.
The stadium is located in a huge parking lot, but more than likely this lot will be full with people tailgating as well as hundreds of RVs. This lot will start filling up on Friday and will be full by early Saturday morning, or if you can snag a spot on the stadium grounds you will be paying $20 to park. Unfortunately street parking may be your best option as there isn’t any public parking nearby. Many people park on the median on Woodrow Wilson Avenue to the south. Murrah High School also has parking on their school grounds, or you could park on campus at Belhaven University and make a long walk to the stadium.
Once inside the stadium getting around could be an issue – there are 16 separate entrances, but with the increased attendance and fan support the lines in the stadium back up substantially. It can take over 30 minutes to get into the stadium once you arrive. Once on the concourse it isn’t much better, as there is no traffic flow and tons of people, not to mention the long concession lines. If you try to walk around the concourse before the game it will take a while, and you will be shoulder to shoulder with people (you enter the venue at mid-level and then have to walk up or down a steep set of stairs). The whole stadium is very large so there is plenty of room to move around once you get to the grandstand, however, and you can sit wherever you want except in six specific sections (three on each side), which are reserved for season ticket holders and sell out well before the season starts.
Return on Investment 4
You can expect to pay more for tickets here than you are used to paying at FCS schools, but coming to a Jackson State game is unlike most FCS games. General admission tickets will go for $30, and the majority of the stadium is GA, as the entire upper deck and all the lower level, except 6 sections, are considered general admission. The good thing is you can sit wherever you want too, that is if you can get a seat. The stadium usually opens two hours before game time and people start filling up at the stadium. It is not uncommon to find the entire lower level already filled over an hour before game time. Also you better get your tickets ahead of time, as JSU has been known to sell out most of their games ahead of time.
Don’t let the fact that this is an FCS football game fool you, because this is a top-level experience on the same level as attending an SEC game. From the countless celebrities and rappers in attendance to the greatest band in all of college football, this is a premiere experience in one of the South’s most historic venues.
One extra for the signing of Deion Sanders to be the 21st Head Coach in program history. Though the Tigers have always brought a nice crowd to The Vet, it was nothing like the crowds that turned out during the 2021 season, thanks in part to the publicity that Coach Prime brought to the program. With ESPN broadcasting games from inside The Vet, and film crews filming reality shows on campus about the program, Jackson hasn’t experienced this level of publicity for college football since the days when Egg Bowls were played here. Coach Prime coming to JSU also bought along with it lots of D1 transfers from other schools and big time commits, including flipping the number 1 commit in the country for 2022 from Florida State – it cannot be said enough how much Deion Sanders changed the entire Jackson State program and HBCUs in general.
Another extra just for all the historic college football games these hallowed grounds have seen. As mentioned from the 1950s to the early 1990s The Vet was the neutral site home for all the Big 3 Mississippi colleges. Mississippi State and Ole Miss played in over 80 games here over the years, including every Egg Bowl from 1973-1990. During the early days the place was also nicknamed the ‘House that Archie Built’, as Archie Manning set numerous records here while playing for Ole Miss from 1968-1970, and held a 9-1 record as a starter in games played in Jackson. During those days it was not uncommon for The Vet to host a Saturday doubleheader of games between different schools. Some of the more notable games include a 1977 game in which an unranked Ole Miss team gave eventual national champion #3 ranked Notre Dame its only loss of the season, and a game in 1980 when an unranked Mississippi State team beat a Bear Bryant coached #1 ranked Alabama team, or the 1983 Egg Bowl when a 40 mph gust of wind magically appeared and blew the football away as Mississippi State was about to kick the game winning field goal.
Southern Miss also played in ten games at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, including a notable game in 1988 in which a young sophomore named Brett Favre led the Golden Eagles to an upset win over Mississippi State.
The stadium has also been the site of several NFL preseason games, most recently a 2006 game when Peyton Manning returned to the place his dad made famous almost 40 years earlier, leading the Colts to a victory over a Drew Brees-led Saints team. The Saints also held training camp at Millsaps College across the street for three years (2006-08), and would hold occasional scrimmages at The Vet as well.
The Vet also serves as a neutral site home for Jackson area high schools, and is used almost every Friday in the fall for high school football. From 1992-2013 and in 2020 the stadium hosted the MHSAA high school football state championship, playing host to a wide selection of future NFL stars while they were still in high school; South Panola has won the most state championships at the stadium with 10.
Another extra for the Sonic Boom of the South, the greatest band in college football. The band was formed at Jackson State in the 1940s, and adopted its nickname of Sonic Boom of the South in 1971. The band is a cool experience and if you are a college football fan, the band has to be seen to be believed – once again if you come to a football game at The Vet, you have to stay through the halftime show.
Sonic Boom of the South, Photo by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
There is so much college football history in this city. Now, thanks to Deion Sanders the City of Jackson is getting the recognition it deserves as a major college football town in the South. From names like Archie Manning to Walter Payton, and now Coach Prime has added another chapter to Jackson’s storied football history. I highly recommend a visit to a Jackson State game to all college football fans.