Photos by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Williams-Brice Stadium 1125 George Rogers Blvd Columbia, SC 29201
Year Opened: 1934 Capacity: 80,250
Home of the Sandstorm
In Columbia, South Carolina, the world comes to a screeching halt on Saturdays in the fall. The beating heart of the city is the University of South Carolina, and no program captures local attention quite like Gamecocks football. Saturday in Columbia is sacred. All roads point to Williams-Brice Stadium on home game Saturdays, and if you’re headed in any other direction, you’re missing the party.
Built as part of the Works Progress Administration projects in 1934, the stadium was originally the 17,600-seat Columbia Municipal Stadium. The stadium was soon after renamed Carolina Stadium, a name it would hold until 1972. The stadium underwent multiple expansions over the years, but its most significant expansion increased capacity to 54,000 in 1972. This expansion was funded by the estate of the late Martha Williams-Brice, and the stadium was officially renamed in her honor. Today the stadium officially holds 80,250, but often gets crowds up to 85,000 for big games. In recent years, the Gamecock athletics program has become one of the richer and more successful athletics programs in the country, and the facilities, including Williams-Brice, have received near-constant upgrades.
What was once a great game day experience in a sea of ugly warehouses and cement facade has transformed into upscale apartments and beautiful tailgate grounds.
Food & Beverage 4
Never known for its outstanding food options, Williams-Brice added a variety of more unique options for the 2015 season to upgrade the experience. Status quo for SEC stadiums is that there are no liquor sales at the games, and it’s the same in Williams-Brice. However, for both food and beverage, your obvious choice should be to partake in the revelry going on outside the stadium in the Fairgrounds tailgate or the redone Farmer’s Market tailgate. You’ll find more alcoholic beverages and classic tailgate food than you could ever hope for within easy walking distance.
Bojangles’ has a strong southern presence throughout the stadium, offering Cajun sandwiches for $5 and seven-piece chicken supreme meals for $7. Marcos Pizza has taken over the largest stand in the concourse, and offers a wide variety of pizza by the slice up to a full pie. Carolina Shrimp & Grits offers distinctly southern food options, while other options include Black Bean Company, Thai Kingdom and Carolina Kernels Popcorn. Standard concession stands offer hot dogs ($3.50), brats ($4.75), nachos ($3.75) and popcorn ($3 for 32-ounce bag or $10 for bottomless) are some of the other staples. The closest item to an iconic purchase is a bag of boiled peanuts for $5. If you’ve never enjoyed boiled peanuts before, by all means, enjoy!
Coke products are available from $3 for a 16-ounce to $12 for a bottomless souvenir cup. Overall, the prices are hard to beat for a major sporting event. No alcohol is sold in the stadium.
If you haven’t engaged in the wonderful tailgate food outside the stadium, grab one of the southern options inside the stadium and get ready to take in the sights and sounds of Gamecock football.
Over the years, the Gamecock football experience has evolved from some great on-field traditions to one of college football’s unique overall experiences. A more winning tradition, great athletics leadership and more money in the program has seen upgrades on everything from tailgate areas to stadium aesthetics to unbelievable pageantry. Start the day with a tailgate — and oh, what a tailgate. Gamecocks fans surround the stadium for miles in every direction grilling food, enjoying cocktails and partying in general. Tailgate sites vary from business parking lots to the massive fairgrounds to the upscale greenery of the old farmers market where the team walks through on their way to the game acknowledging their loyal fans.
The farmer’s market is part of a massive upgrade in facilities that has gradually occurred over the last decade. These upgrades have included a massive indoor practice facility and turning the area immediately outside the stadium gates from black asphalt to brick lined paths filled with greenery and even a statue of Gamecock great George Rogers. Nothing around the stadium is more famous than the Cockaboose Railroad, where Gamecock fans revel in full-size train cars with full kitchens, living rooms and big screen TVs. Once inside the stadium, you’ll see a blend of the new and old. Seating and newly-painted ramps give way to concourses that are probably due for their own upgrade. But when you get your views of the field, any concourse worries quickly fade away. From the massive video board over the student section to the white stadium lights curving in over the upper deck, Williams-Brice has big time college football written all over it.
About 15 minutes from kickoff, the Mighty Sound Of The Southeast will take the field in the form of the Carolina Band and begin a gradual build-up to what’s been called one of the grandest entrances in all of college football. Once the alma mater is played and the crowd holds up a hand in toast to Carolina, the celebrity will lead the Gamecock chant that signals that it’s time to have your cameras or video recorders ready. The “Welcome to Williams-Brice” video will blare through the speakers and the stadium will be rocking from that moment through kickoff. Joe Morrison’s tradition of 2001 will rise to a crescendo as the team takes the field. Fireworks will shoot from the scoreboard, Cocky will emerge from a box in the middle of the field and the team will charge through the smoke behind the Gamecock banners. Finally, the white towels will waive to the playing of Sandstorm right up until the moment the ball is kicked.
The momentum never lets up from there, as Cocky and the Gamecock band lead the ever raucous fans in chants for the entire game. 2001 brings back the goosebumps between the third and fourth quarters, making a South Carolina game an event from even before it starts until the team toasts with the student section postgame to the Alma Mater again.
While there really aren’t any bad seats to be had here, I’d recommend finding your way somewhere nearer the student section in the north stands for maximum volume. If you’re more interested in sitting and taking in everything from a more relaxed position, the south end of the stadium may be slightly better…although standing is going to be something you’ll have to do from time to time, no matter where your seats are.
Once upon a time, neighborhood was the big downside for a game at Williams-Brice. As an off-campus stadium, the surrounding area was once an old warehouse district. But gradually over the last decade, the university has evolved the area into a Gamecock tailgating oasis. On game day, you’re most likely going to be grabbing some grub amongst the mass of tailgaters. But if that’s not an option, downtown is a relatively short drive away, and there are plenty of options to be had there. The Hunter Gatherer on Main Street is known for craft beer and truly unique food options that change constantly. While there are no TVs here, the food and drink will more than make up for it. Across campus in the area known as 5 Points, Yesterdays is a Columbia staple famous for it’s delicious food and wooden man in a bath tub over the entrance. During later hours 5 Points floods with college kids, so it may or may not be the best option depending on your tastes. But the area known as the Vista is slightly more adult-oriented, and is full of bars and restaurants, as well.
Downtown Columbia is also home to some relatively decent sightseeing. One of the best things to take in is the campus of South Carolina and its beautiful horseshoe area. Take a stroll here to enjoy peace and quiet to contrast with the wall of volume at the game. The Columbia Museum of Art is also worth a stop, if you find the time. Not far to the south of the stadium is Congaree National Park. Here you should plan at least half a day to take in a scenic hike.
Hotels are abundant in downtown Columbia. The Courtyard Columbia Downtown at USC tends to be where the visiting teams stay when in town and is centrally located between nightlife and the stadium. The Hilton Columbia Center is in the heart of the Vista area and closer to nightlife, if that better suits your needs.
Gamecock fans arrive early for tailgate and stay late to continue the party. Known as one of the more loyal fan bases in college football for sticking with their team through years of poor play, “Wait until next year” has become the motto for ever-believing fans. For a stadium of just over capacity of 80,000, Gamecock fans typical attendance numbers are impressive. In 2015, the Gamecocks’ average attendance tallied over 78,000, and over 80,000 the prior year. The program is a mainstay in the top 20 for NCAA attendance numbers, a testament to the loyalty of their fans.
Gamecock fans don’t just show up for the game, but they engage. Whether it be screaming at the top of their lungs during 2001, waving their white towels during Sandstorm or chanting Gamecocks after each score, Gamecock fans support their team with both numbers and noise. In 2014, Georgia running back Todd Gurley said in a postgame interview, “This place is unbelievable, man. It’s one of the craziest environments I’ve ever been in. Once you give the fans something to be excited about, it’s hard to shut them up.” After a 2016 matchup, Missouri tailback Damarea Crockett said, “That’s probably the rowdiest student section I’ve seen. That’s the rowdiest stadium I’ve been in. It was a great atmosphere. It was way louder (than LSU and Florida) on the field. That’s the first game I couldn’t hear anything Drew was saying, and I was right behind him.” Or to put it simply, as former coach Joe Morrison was fond of referring to the upper deck stands, “If it ain’t swayin’, we ain’t playin’.”
To have a good game day experience at a Gamecocks football game, you have to plan to enjoy the tailgate…..and why wouldn’t you? If you take the alternative and try to arrive late, you’ll be stuck in traffic with the thousands of latecomers. If you don’t want to battle the traffic yourself, there is a shuttle service from campus. But lines for this service are long, and expect to wait a long time for the shuttle after the game. Public transit is otherwise non-existent, as the traffic around the stadium extends out in every direction.
Most fans drive to the games and battle the traffic. Parking extends from the stadium in all directions, with prices ranging from $10 to $40 and above. The Fairgrounds spots will run you $40, but give you ideal tailgate access near the stadium. You’ll need to arrive early, though, because these spots fill up fast. If you’re willing to walk a bit further, you can find good spots in all directions for $20 or so. Anything less than that will probably be a considerable walk or in someone’s yard. Because there are so many lots, be mindful of where you park and make sure to check to see how late the lot will be open.
In 2016, the SEC instituted a clear bag policy at all of its stadiums, meaning just about any bags, including purses, going in need to be clear bags that can be purchased at university locations in advance. While understandable, this has caused considerably more congestion at gates around the stadium as the policy takes hold. You’ll want to be approaching the stadium at least 25 to 30 minutes in advance if you want to take in all of the pregame atmosphere without any challenge.
Once through security, access around the stadium is considerably easier. Except for halftime, lines at concessions and for restrooms tend to be about par for the course for large football stadiums. If you make a trip during halftime, though, expect considerable wait times. The restrooms are definitely one of the downsides of the stadium, as many still have trough-style toilets and are in need of an update. Access to seating areas is generally pretty easy, just be mindful of your gate. Since there is no access through the student section and moving from one sideline to the other can be challenging, it’s strongly recommended that you access a gate on the side of the stadium where your seat is.
Return on Investment 5
A game at Williams-Brice ranks among the top of college football experiences in terms of fan support and overall pageantry, so it’s more than worth the visit for any fan. Tickets for a game will run you somewhere between $45 and $90, depending on the opponent. This is pretty standard for most high-profile SEC schools, and the show is well worth the price of admission. Food is quite affordable compared to many other large venue events, which is a nice add. But regardless, high level sports venues are always worth attending at almost any cost within the realm of reason. And Williams-Brice qualifies as one of these venues.
The Gamecocks do pageantry right, with an abundance of unique traditions. Sandstorm, waving white towels, 2001, tailgating Cockabooses, the Gamecock Walk and boiled peanuts are just a few of the many, many reasons to take in a game at Williams-Brice. Spend the extra money to go to either the Georgia or Clemson game for a wild rivalry experience, but the atmosphere will meet expectations for any game on the schedule.
This is a venue that you don’t want to miss. The experience is unique, memorable and full of tradition. It embodies everything that makes college football great.