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  • Matt Finnigan

War Memorial Stadium – Wyoming Cowboys

Photos by Matt Finnigan, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

War Memorial Stadium E Grand Ave & N 22nd St Laramie, WY 82071

Year Opened: 1950

Capacity: 29,181


At Home on the Range

The bucking bronco evokes images of the Wild West when the United States was expanding through the Rocky Mountains during the late Nineteenth Century. The University of Wyoming’s logo is a bucking bronco (“Steamboat”) that pays homage to the state’s rich history during the United States’ westward expansion. The Steamboat logo is ubiquitous at the University of Wyoming’s Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium – and on imagery throughout the state. This stadium debuted on the Laramie campus in 1950 between two ranges of the Rocky Mountains: the Snowy Range to the west and the Laramie Range to the east.

"The War," as the Wyoming faithful call it, has received several updates since opening. None of these modifications have materially altered the War’s look or feel. The Wildcatter Stadium Club and Suites opened in 2010, providing indoor seating and luxury boxes. The University renovated the War’s playing surface in 2013 and added a new scoreboard behind the south end zone in 2016. In 2018, the McMurry High Altitude Performance Center opened just beyond the north end zone. It houses much of the football program’s infrastructure and, built in sandstone in Romanesque Revival style like many campus buildings, sets the backdrop to action at that end of the field.

The War can also make several other claims. Sitting at 7,220 feet above sea level, the War is the highest NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision stadium in the country. It is the largest sports venue in the State of Wyoming and the state’s only college football venue. The War seats 29,181 loud and fervent fans, providing an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams and an enjoyable experience for nonpartisan college football fans looking to see a game in a picturesque location.

Food & Beverage 3

The food at the War is generally good. A cup of Wyoming’s famous Chugwater Chili can be purchased for $5 at several concession stands throughout the War, as well as from a food truck on ground level in the stadium’s southeast corner. The made-to-order jackalope taco (a ground beef taco in a large, soft tortilla) sells for $9.75, while a burrito, nachos, and taco salad go for $11.75 apiece. Not into western or southwestern-themed food? The War also has a sushi and steak concession stand selling freshly made California rolls ($8), veggie rolls ($7), and shrimp tempura ($11). The hot dog ($4) is fine, too, but the bratwurst ($5) is cold and inedible. Individual pepperoni and cheese pan pizzas from Pizza Hut sell for $7.

The War sells Pepsi products, with 20-ounce bottles and fountain soda going for $4, while souvenir soda mugs are $6 apiece with $3 refills. Bottled water and Gatorade also sell for $4 for a 20-ounce bottle. Red Bull products are available for $5 a can, providing jolts of energy for fans battling the aftereffects of a late night, the rigors of aging, or both.

A surprisingly large variety of beer and hard seltzer is available at the War. Beer stands are available throughout the stadium, selling craft beer on tap for $8 and domestic beer on tap for $7. Cowboy State Brewing, launched in 2017 by Wyoming natives to provide the University of Wyoming’s concession stands with craft beer, sells its flagship beer, CSB Gold, throughout the stadium. The Kona Brewing Company’s Big Wave Golden Ale and several Breckenridge Brewing beers are offered. The familiar cavalcade of brews can be found, as well: Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Michelob Ultra, and Busch Light.

Atmosphere 4

Wyoming is the least populated state in the U.S., with approximately 577,000 residents. Despite that fact, the Cowboys’ fanbase has a passion that far exceeds its numbers. Fans come from all parts of Wyoming to cheer on the state’s highest profile team. Though the Cowboys do not sell out every home game, they enjoy a loyal following that gets loud at the right times and can intimidate visiting teams.

The War has opposing grandstands on its east and west sides, with room beyond each end zone for fans to stand at field level. The Cowboys have a robust tailgating scene, and the Pepsi Pregame Zone serves as a covered, climate-controlled pregame alternative in the indoor practice facility just to the War’s northeast. The area just outside the entrance to the High Altitude Performance Center is worth a pregame visit. Fans can cheer on the players from a close distance as they take the field before the start of each half or pose for photos with Wyoming’s live mascots.

The Wyoming Athletics Department has designated midfield, lower-level seats as the student section. More schools should reserve premium seating for the students. Doing so creates a better atmosphere, although it does displace high-paying donors. The War does not have any obstructed seating and there is not a bad seat on either side.

Neighborhood 4

The War sits at the University of Wyoming campus’s southeast corner, along Laramie’s Grand Avenue. With a student enrollment of approximately 10,000, the entire campus is within walking distance of the War. The Cowboy football team’s original home, Prexy’s Pasture, now serves as UW’s quad, ringed by academic buildings. Prexy’s Pasture is a main thoroughfare for students as they travel through campus between classes (though some less hearty alums report finding indoor routes through buildings around the pasture that enabled them to escape Laramie’s cold winter weather). Another campus highlight: a life-sized, copper statue of a Tyrannosaurus rex that has greeted visitors to UW’s Geological Museum for more than 50 years. Former UW professor Samuel “Doc” Knight spent 4,000 hours building the campus icon.

Downtown Laramie is an easy, five-minute drive west from the War. This historic neighborhood has shops, bars, and restaurants in buildings, some of which operate in buildings far older than anyone reading this review. The Buckhorn Bar and Parlor is one such example. It has been a stalwart in Downtown Laramie since 1900, with a bullet hole still in place after an agitated patron fired shots in the bar (“I Survived the Buckhorn” t-shirts, with an image of a bullet hole in a mirror, sell for $21). Around the corner on the same block, Elmer Lovejoy’s fronts the Union Pacific rail yard and serves quality bar and southwestern food.

Closer to campus and east of the War, Grand Avenue has several chain hotels and the amount of fast-food and fast-casual restaurants as one would expect so close to one of I-80’s off-ramps.

Fans 3

Even in the 2021 season, during which the Cowboys went 6-6 (and congruently, 3-3 at home), large crowds still came to the War. The semiannual Border War game with Colorado State routinely sells out and is always charged, as the schools are only an hour’s drive apart along U.S. Highway 287.

Access 3

There are two, primary routes to the War for those coming from outside Laramie: from the east on Interstate 80 or from the west on Interstate 80. Parking can be purchased ahead of time for two lots adjacent to the War and fans should do that because of a paucity of signage directing fans where to park without passes. Although signs around the War note that parking information can be found at 1670 on the AM radio dial, there is nothing broadcast on that frequency. Fans can park for free on some of the streets around the War and in some campus lots and those areas provide better options for those who did not prepurchase a parking pass.

Ticket takers and security lines move quickly with friendly staff. Once inside, the War has plenty of room to move around. Both the east and west grandstands have seating in the lower deck or in the upper deck. Circular ramps connect the lower levels with the upper and, although the ramps are steep, motorized carts shuttle fans who do not want to walk. The War’s upper reaches provide nice views of the surrounding mountains.

Concession stands are placed primarily under each grandstand (on the lower level) or behind each grandstand (on the upper level). Because the War is an older stadium, fans cannot view the field while waiting in line for most concessions, but lines move quickly. The bar area underneath the large scoreboard on the stadium’s south side is a very pleasant place to get a drink and watch the game from ground level.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets for Wyoming football are as good a deal as a fan will find. Single-game tickets in 2021 ranged in starting price from $29 to $49, for the Cowboys’ “Border War” rivalry game with Colorado State. Season tickets in 2021 sold starting at $159 per seat, with the most expensive being $235 a seat. Wyoming even offers a child’s season ticket (ages 3-12) for $89. With free parking on the streets contiguous to the War, the experience is a solid bargain.

Extras 4

The War receives a point for maintaining its vital role as a memorial dedicated to the men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. The War opened in 1950 but in the interim, the university has not forgotten the stadium’s purpose. The university in 2017 relocated its existing Veterans Memorial Plaza to a location between the War and the indoor practice facility. The “World War II Soldier’s Cross” statue and a 20th Century Wyoming Veteran’s Memorial commemorate the Wyomingites who served the United States in the military and merits a visit.

Another point is awarded for the university’s recognition at the War of one of a sad but important moment in Wyoming football history, the Black 14. In October 1969, fourteen African American football players asked head coach Lloyd Eaton to meet with them. The players sought Eaton’s permission to wear black armbands during the team’s upcoming home game against Brigham Young University, protesting the policy (rescinded in 1978) that prohibited African Americans from serving as priests in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Eaton had a team policy that prevented players from participating in demonstrations and dismissed all 14 players from the team at the end of that meeting. In 2019, marking the 50-year anniversary, eight of the 11 living players returned to Laramie and were honored on campus. A marker on the War’s east façade memorializes the important story of the Black 14 – even though the saga likely represents the program’s lowest moment. The marker is placed near the ticket windows and keeps alive a critical part of the Cowboys’ history.

The Cowboy-themed public art in and around the War earns a third point. This is a great and unexpected aspect of attending a game at the War. The bronze “Breakin’ Through” statue on 22nd Street, southeast of the War, depicts a female rider and her horse busting through a sandstone wall. Horse and rider measure almost 16 feet tall and almost eight feet wide, while the wall stands approximately 20 feet high. A statue of a cowboy aboard Steamboat, the horse whose silhouette has served as UW’s logo since the early 20th Century, stands north of the War and a smaller version stands between the High Altitude Training Center and the north end zone; players touch it entering and exiting the field, and fans do the same as they walk by.

Finally, and perhaps most enjoyably, UW’s equine mascots collect a fourth point. Cowboy Joe V, a Shetland pony, is the Cowboys’ live mascot. A team of student handlers tends to Cowboy Joe and runs through the end zone with him after each UW score. During pregame, Cowboy Joe and the handlers greet fans on the small lawn outside the High Altitude Training Center along with a horse named “War Paint” and his rider, who lead the Cowboys onto the field at the start of each half.

Final Thoughts

Wyoming has created a fun game day experience that summons imagery of the state’s western heritage with a historically tough brand of football. With Cowboy Joe and War Paint pacing the sidelines, UW has successfully given life to the iconic Steamboat logo that appears on the players’ helmets and on the War’s field.

Follow Matt Finnigan’s stadium journeys on Twitter @mattfinniganco.

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