Photo Courtesy of EIU Athletics
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29
O’Brien Field 600 Lincoln Ave Charleston, IL 61920
Year Opened: 1970
Deep In the Heart of Illinois
The history of football at Eastern Illinois University dates back to when the first classes opened in the fall of 1899. It was one of the first extracurricular activities on campus; in within 45 days of the schools opening it played its first intercollegiate football game. Throughout its history, the program has seen its ups and downs but for the last 45 years, it’s been one of the more consistent brands in college football.
In 1970 O’Brien Field opened as the new home for both the football and track and field teams. Known as Lincoln Stadium at the time, the 10,000-seat facility would be later renamed in honor of Maynard O’Brien who coached both sports during his tenure at the school.
The stadium has seen a few improvements during its history that included a $2 million renovation project in 1999 that featured new offices for coaches, meeting and video rooms, and locker rooms, expanded weight room and athletic training facilities. A decade later a modern video and audio scoreboard was added to the north end zone.
The program has been one of the most successful of its kind winning 60 percent of its games since O’Brien opened and appearing in 16 NCAA FCS playoffs since 1981–tops in the state of Illinois of all college football programs. The program also boasts a national championship that was won in 1978 and was a finalist in 1980.
The school has also produced three NFL coaches: Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton, and Brian Childress and two quarterbacks in Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Food & Beverage 3
The stadium offers basic varieties of food choices at the games that include nachos, hot dogs, fries, and popcorn at the concession stands. The facility offers Pepsi products. The best options are located outside the venue at portable concession stands that are set up before each game. This area is named Vendors Row and offers County Catering, Smoky’s House BBQ, and Kettle Corn and Dirty’s.
Smoky’s House BBQ has pulled pork sandwiches and smoked Polish dogs, and they are both terrific choices. There is a Papa John’s pizza stand offering 10-inch pizzas. There is a stand offering shaved ice, or kettle corn if you are looking for something cool.
The excitement begins early with some of the better tailgating at this level of college football. There are also inflatables for the kids and a live band to add to the revelry 2-4 hours before kickoff. The Panther Walk begins with the EIU Marching Band leading the football team to the stadium from the library performing the school’s fight song and other traditional songs.
The stadium itself is rather simple and offers metal bleacher-style seats with plenty of legroom. The seating features no covering and blankets and jackets can become common in mid-October. A smaller visitors’ seating area is at the opposite end of the stadium. The ends of the stadium are open allowing for views of the surrounding area.
A bright blue track circumnavigates the football field and retired numbers of Tony Romo and Sean Peyton are also on display along with the Panthers 1978 national championship. The marching band, rather large and impressive, entertains patrons at halftime and throughout the game.
Charleston, Illinois, has a population of 21,838 and EIU has an enrollment of around 7,800. The town offers quite a few local establishments to grab a bite or drink before or after the game. Pagliai’s Pizza, Roc’s Blackfront Restaurant, Brick House Bar & Grill, Dirty’s Bar & Grill, and Smoky’s House all provide great prices and atmosphere.
A few tourist attractions include the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, part of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, which preserves the 1840s home of Abraham Lincoln. Fox Ridge State Park provides rolling hills, lush valleys, and scenic hiking trails. The Dudley-McFarland House was built in 1892 by the architect Charles D. Mitchell, a native of Charleston. A few of the museum artifacts are stored there, including period furniture, art, and fixtures.
The stadium offers seating for 10,000 and most crowds are nearly half-full but there is a lot of energy and passion from the fans to create a pleasant ambiance. The student sections cheer, the locals applaud for positive gains on the field, and everyone seems to enjoy the Panthers add another win on the season.
O’Brien Stadium is small enough that getting around is rather simple during the game. There is plenty of signage on campus to direct motorists to the venue and there is plenty of parking in the lots adjacent to the stadium.
Return on Investment 3
The price of a ticket to an EIU football game is $20 for all seating in the stadium. The price to park is $5 in the surrounding lots adjacent to the field and concession prices are reasonably priced for an inexpensive day of college football during the season.
O’Brien Field earns a point for the retired jersey numbers that hang on the stadium’s walls and the multiple banners of former Panthers who have made a name for themselves in the NFL. The list is impressive from Superbowl winning coaches to All-Pro quarterbacks.
O’Brien Field grabs a second point for Vendors Row outside the stadium that offers an array of great food from local establishments.
O’Brien Field earns a third point for the PMB that kicks things off with the Panther Walk before the game. They lead the football team, cheer team, and Pink Panthers to the game along with fans playing a list of music en route to the stadium.
O’Brien Field is a rudimentary facility that is fixed up with enough history to create a pleasant environment at the game. The crowds are large enough to provide a backdrop any football player would want during the season. The small-town setting makes it a small oasis in the state of Illinois.