Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Rice Stadium 6100 Main Street Houston, TX 77005
Year Opened: 1950 Capacity: 47,000
Rice Owls – Rice Stadium
Founded in 1912 as the William M. Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art in Houston, the now Rice University is one of the premiere private universities in the southwest. The same year as their founding, the Rice Owls fielded their first-ever team on the gridiron.
They would move to the Southwest Conference in 1915 and begin the program’s longest run of sustained success in the 1930s through the 1950s under the guidance of Head Coaches Jimmy Kitts and Jess Neely. One of their earliest Head Coaches looms large across the college football landscape; John Heisman – yes, that Heisman – was the Owls head man from 1924-1927.
During the good years the Owls won six of their eight conference championships and recorded four of their seven bowl wins, including a legendary 1953 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in that year’s Cotton Bowl Classic. In 1950 the team began playing in their current home, the venerable Rice Stadium.
Looming like a concrete leviathan over the campus, Rice Stadium has been home to some important events in Houston history, including the legendary “We choose to go to the Moon” speech (which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2022) by our 35th president, John F. Kennedy. Super Bowl VIII, won by the Miami Dolphins, was also played at Rice Stadium. Truly a throwback to a different era, Rice Stadium has a lot of charm, with some challenges. Read about it below.
Food & Beverage 3
When it comes to food and drinks at Rice Stadium, I would classify the options as being somewhere between serviceable and adequate. On each side of the stadium, home and away, there is one large stand – the Burger Shack. As its name implies they sell hamburgers, hot dogs, sausage, popcorn, pretzels, nachos, and candy. They also offer up coffee, beer, and bottled soft drinks and water. Most of these items, except for the adult beverages, can be had for $5-$8.
There is also a Chick-fil-A stand, which sells their signature sandwiches and lemonade. The school also brings in a food truck for games, and it is this variety which gives it its current score.
I want to preface this score with the caveat that on my most recent visit, the weather was absolutely miserable. This greatly affected everything about the game, especially the atmosphere. There was little to no tailgating to speak of, and the home-side stands were virtually empty. In a building as large as Rice Stadium, the lack of fans is jarring.
There are some elements that do add to the overall circumstance and history at Rice Stadium. On the home team side the Owls have the names of their All-Americans ribboning the section of the stadium underneath the press box area. On the opposite side, the same is done with the team’s conference champions. There’s also a team store located on the main concourse of the home team’s side for those interested in purchasing Rice Owls paraphernalia.
One last bit of advice – if you’re sitting anywhere that’s not in the reserved section, Rice concessions will allow you to rent seat cushions for $7 apiece. If you don’t bring your own, do yourself a favor and spend the coin on these to shield yourself from the unforgiving concrete.
Rice Stadium, and Rice University as a whole, is located in my personal favorite area in all of Houston: Rice Village. The neighborhood is gorgeous and, in addition to being home of the campus, is a great area for dining and shopping; more on that shortly. First, Rice Stadium is right in the heart of Rice’s historic campus and is close to both Tudor Fieldhouse (home of the Owls men’s and women’s basketball teams) and Reckling Park (home of the school’s baseball squad). If you time your visit right, you might be able to take in another game when you see the Owls on the gridiron.
For dining I will refer everyone again to Rice Village and I have a couple of personal favorites to recommend. First is D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe, a quaint, old-world Italian restaurant offering up all your familiar favorites. Visitors can get a pizza, a panini, or some fantastic pasta among a host of other great dishes – including desserts. Next up is Hopdoddy Burger Bar, one of the best burger joints in the state. To be clear Hopdoddy is a franchise, but all are of the highest quality. Offering upscale burgers and French fries (truffle fries, anyone?) and cocktails, Hopdoddy is a great spot to hit up before or after games at Rice Stadium.
In terms of attractions, Rice Village has tons of shopping options, if that’s what you’re interested in. Or if you want to venture out beyond the neighborhood, Houston itself has some great attractions to take in. Arguably the top spot to visit is Space Center Houston – home to NASA, Space Center Houston allows visitors a peak behind the space curtain and let’s everyone feel like they’re an astronaut for a day.
The second spot to visit is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. One of the top museums in the southwest, it is home to an amazing collection of artifacts including rare gems, massive fossilized dinosaurs, Faberge eggs, Egyptology, and more. It is well worth the price of admission.
If you’re looking to stay near the stadium, the area has quite a few options that are a short drive away. These include the Westin Houston Medical Center and the Hilton Houston Plaza/Medical Center; both are less than a mile from the stadium and are relatively reasonably priced. This being Houston, the fourth-largest city in America, there are, of course, an abundance of other options to choose from based on everyone’s budget.
Again, I want to temper this rating with the addendum that the weather was miserable on the day I last visited. The announced attendance was just over 18,000, but I think you would have had to count everyone there three or four times to get that actual count in the stands.
On average Rice typically draws about 20,000 fans per game. That’s generally near the top of Conference USA, but Rice is a unique animal in the group of five. They are an academics first institution, so you’re not going to see a rabid fan base the way you will at other schools.
Rice Stadium is located in between two major highways in Houston, Interstate 69 and Loop 610. Once you exit either of these, Rice Boulevard conveniently takes you through the beautiful surrounding neighborhood to the campus and the stadium.
If you’re coming in from out of town, George Bush Intercontinental Airport is a 30-minute drive from the stadium, and William P. Hobby Airport is 22 minutes away. If you choose not to drive, which honestly if you can avoid it, I would, Houston’s mass transit options, METRO and METROrail, have stops at Rice University. If you do drive, parking is ample at the stadium and will run you $10 per car.
As always I want to put out the warning for those heading to any game in Space City; be wary of the Houston traffic. You will hit it at all times of the day, and you will be stuck for extended periods of time. Keep that in mind as you head to the stadium.
Return on Investment 4
Single-game tickets at Rice Stadium start at $25 for general admission seating. With Rice getting ready to move into the American Athletic Conference next season, which will increase the level of competition they bring into H-Town, this is going to continue to be a great bargain. When you couple the relatively inexpensive concessions and low cost for parking, college football fans will enjoy visiting this historic stadium while not having to break the bank.
The typical extras are all found at Rice games. This includes their mascot (who was sadly absent during my visit), Sammy the Owl. There are also the cheerleaders and dance team, who patrol the sidelines and perform at halftime and during breaks in the action. The star attraction though is the irreverent Marching Owl Band, aka the MOB. Known for their quirky performances, the MOB is a beloved institution at Rice.
I’ve been to Rice Stadium many a time and I have enjoyed myself quite a bit with each visit. The stadium has such history and gravitas, which are all emblematic of what college football is all about. It might not be for everyone’s tastes, especially compared to some of the similar-era football palaces that have been upgraded for modern fans, but to me, there is still a charm about it.
Coupling the relatively low costs, the soon-to-be-upgraded conference, and the history of the place, it all adds up to making Rice Stadium a bucket list visit for college football fans. Make a visit the next time you’re in Space City – I think you’ll enjoy it.
Follow Eric Moreno's Stadium Journey on Twitter at @EricMoreno6477.