Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Rice-Eccles Stadium 451 South 1400 East Salt Lake City, UT 84112
Year Opened: 1998 Capacity: 45,807
The Fuss About the MUSS
Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah is one that Goldilocks might call “just right.” It is in that sweet spot between not too big and not too small – big enough that it doesn’t feel like a high school game, but small enough that getting in and out isn’t a chore, like at Michigan or Nebraska.
More importantly, it is in a Power 5 conference. There are lots of mid-size stadiums around the country, but most are in the MAC, Sun Belt, or the like – not so with Utah. So when you visit RES, you can be assured of a high-power matchup with quality teams such as Pac-12 powers like Oregon or USC.
Food & Beverage 3
At RES, you will find all of the standard fare at pretty reasonable prices; most items range from $4 to $7, including chicken tenders, burgers, Philly and BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, and fries. For those with a sweet tooth, RES offers ice cream and churros. A full menu of stadium fare can be found in the online fan guide, which has a listing of which selections are available at which concession stands, so bring your smartphone with you and you’ll be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. Beverages at RES include Coke products and water – no alcohol is permitted in the stadium, legally anyway, probably because the stadium is on campus. One nice thing about RES though is that they let you bring bottled water from home, limited to one factory-sealed container of one liter or less per person. This is actually becoming more common in stadiums across the country, especially in the south, due to health concerns related to overheating and dehydration.
Simply put, RES is a great place to watch a football game, and there is plenty of excitement both inside and outside the stadium, including the Ute Walk and Olympic Cauldron Park. Fans who arrive at least 2 ½ hours early can watch the marching band lead the team down 500 South to the stadium, accompanied by the Spirit Team, a group of cheerleaders who hand out t-shirts and other souvenirs to their adoring fans during the walk. Olympic Cauldron Park is located directly south of the stadium, and houses the 2002 Olympic museum, in addition to the cauldron used in those games. There is concern about the future of the park, however, given the school’s plans to expand the stadium at some point. Nevertheless, RES provides a fun atmosphere in a beautiful setting, and Utah is a program that has been on the rise even before the school joined the Pac-12, thanks in part to former coach Urban Meyer. Kyle Whittingham has done a phenomenal job since taking the reins, and has managed to keep Utah competitive in a much tougher league.
The scenery around RES is stunning, especially in the daytime, when the mountains are at their most majestic (and most visible). The stadium is also located on campus, so there are a number of fraternity and sorority houses near the stadium, which is a fabulous plus on game days and adds to the atmosphere. As you walk to the stadium, you can’t help but soak up the excitement from these students as they gear up for the contest. In addition, there are plenty of great restaurants and bars near the stadium. Big Ed’s is probably the most popular – about four or five blocks from the stadium; it is the classic college dive bar with fabulous, cheap food, including breakfast items. The Gawd Awful should be at the top of your list. This delectable dish is a mess of hash browns loaded with chili, cheese, and onions, all topped with a fried egg.
Knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the fans are a big factor in making this a great college football venue, especially the student section. Monikered the MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section), they are loud, proud, and geared up with bright red shirts and banners a-flying. Founded in 2002, the MUSS is the university’s student fan club for football and other sports, and you actually have to register to join. In 2004, the MUSS was named one of the top five student sections in the country by ESPN, and the current group is not far from capturing that honor again. Outside the student section, the fans are not quite so riled up, but equally knowledgeable, and are not at all shy about screaming wildly (or booing mournfully) as the occasion requires. This is precisely why Utah broke five football attendance records during the 2014 season alone.
Since it is on campus, RES is difficult to get to, as many of the nearby roads are closed off, or dead-end at other campus buildings, and many of the parking lots are restricted to students and faculty. Traffic after the game is also pretty intense, and it could take you a while to get away. You may be better off parking further away and walking in so you can avoid some of it. Pedestrian traffic inside the stadium is much easier to manage; the concourse is wider than most and there are plenty of entrances. Given the relatively smaller crowd compared to some venues, bathrooms are easy to get to, and lines inside the stadium are not overly long, since there are multiple refreshment carts and concession stands scattered around inside.
Return on Investment 4
If you buy directly from the school, tickets will run upwards of $50 or more, depending on the game. Third party vendors are not much better, since many of the games are marquee match-ups. However, parking is only $10, and food is not overly expensive, so that makes up for the ticket price. All in all, visiting RES is definitely a worthwhile experience for the money given the great atmosphere and all of the extras.
The first extra point goes for Rice-Eccles Stadium being nestled in the Rockies; not many stadiums can make this claim and provide such a glorious backdrop. Another point for hosting the Olympics, and having the park to prove it – this will give your trip a nice bit of historical significance.
A third point for the giant U on the mountain, which is certainly worth capturing on film. As an added bonus, when Utah wins the U is lit up in red, so even if you don’t love the Utes you just might want to root for them anyway, because it is an awesome sight to behold.
Finally, the absolute, completely best thing about seeing a game at RES is that they let you go on the field after the game! How cool is that? It is a totally awesome experience, and definitely makes the trip worthwhile, so it gets two points. And I don’t mean only when they beat BYU or a top 10 team – you can do that after every game. It is an absolute blast, and a definite must; take a selfie on the logo or throw a ball around with your kids or your buddy on a real field. Going out onto the field is certainly a rarity in the world of college football today, and should be on any fan’s bucket list.
Visiting RES is well worth the trip, given the historic significance, the wonderful fan base, the vibrant atmosphere, the mountain scenery, and the opportunity to experience things like going on the field at the end of the game. This stadium will NOT disappoint.