Today is the final day of my 8-day Southwest/Rocky Mountain trip and I am finishing it in the Valley of the Sun in Glendale, AZ on a mild but drizzly 64-degree day for my final football stadium of 2019 and my 28th overall
I arrived in Phoenix yesterday around 4 pm on a short flight from Albuquerque. After taking in some of the Christmas festivities last night on Central Avenue (tree/skaters?) , I headed over to Willie’s Taco Joint next to Chase Field (which during Diamondback home games is impossible to get a seat at, but was more or less empty last night). Arrogant Butcher? This morning, I had breakfast at one of my favorite Phoenix eateries, The Phoenix Public Market then grabbed an Uber over to one of the must see tourist attractions in the city – The Desert Botanical Garden . Adjacent to Papago park with a backdrop of Camelback Mountain, the Botanical Garden boasts 50,000 desert plants representative of Sonoran Desert plant life located along five thematic trails. After about an hour and a half there, I hailed another Uber to get a jump on game-day traffic down I-10 W about 25 miles into Glendale and I arrived at the stadium well ahead of game time about an hour before the stadium doors opened.
The Cardinals are one of the charter members of the NFL, joining the league in 1920. Over the years they have migrated from Chicago to St. Louis and, as of 1988, their current home in this Phoenix suburb. Up until 2017, their stadium was known as University of Phoenix Stadium with State Farm purchasing the naming rights last year.
Upon my first glimpse of the stadium coming down the highway, and I knew why Chris Berman calls it the ‘Big Toaster’. It certainly looks like that or maybe a crude alien spacecraft out of some low budget 1950s sci-fi movie. From what I’ve read, this odd design was intentional to help the stadium repel the intense Arizona sunshine and be more energy efficient.
The stadium has a Retractable roof which was closed today since it had been raining on and off the past couple days. The roof is translucent, so natural light can come into the stadium
The 25 acres surrounding the stadium is called Sportsman's Park. Included within the Park is an 8-acre landscaped tailgating area called the Great Lawn. This area provides a great deal of pregame entertainment, appearances by Cardinal mascot Big Red and the Cardinals cheerleaders. Sportsman’s Park opens four hours prior to the game.
Accessibility into the stadium was very good. You can enter through one of six main entry points, and your ticket will indicate which gates are closest to your seat location. Through the gates was a large gathering of fans under a covered area watching The NFL Red Zone on the giant screen. There was some limited couch seating but most folks were standing and pounding beers. All throughout the perimeter of the gates were food trucks. As I walked around the area, it was shocking to see that the ration of gold and black Steelers jerseys outnumbered Cardinal jerseys by about 4-1.
One Steeler far stands out in my mind. He had a Duck Dynasty beard, about 9 teeth, was wearing a tattered Jack Lambert jersey from the mid ‘70s and weighed 320 pounds. I spotted him walking away from one of the food trucks holding 2 foot long corn dogs in one hand and I watched him devour both of them in a total of 4 bites and 40 seconds.
The queue to get into the stadium was very long but when they opened the doors at 12:45 sharp, the line moved very fast. Inside was clean and easy to get around and the staff was friendly and helpful. There are some pretty cool features inside the stadium. There is a huge section below the scoreboard called the ‘Red Zone’ which allows for fan meeting/congregation and field views if you don’t feel like staying in your seat, a giant Air Raid Siren that they blare after every Cardinals score and a ring of honor featuring more than 50 players names who played for the team during its more than 100-year existence. It includes the 12 Cardinals who have been enshrined into the National Football Hall of Fame. They also have one of the biggest and best team stores that I’ve seen at any NFL venue which has lots of Cardinals history and memorabilia on display.
The food options are modest and pale compared to Chase Field. Standouts were the Pulled chicken sandwich and the “4th and long” hot dog (a footlong covered in chili and cheese). They do have a ‘healthy’ dessert option which is similar to the Diamondback’s Churro Dog – It is a churro donut sundae, a waffle cone cup of vanilla ice cream, topped with a cinnamon sugar churro and covered with caramel and chocolate syrup. I was surprised that I couldn’t find any Southwestern regional food available.
The Cardinal fan base is known as the “Red Sea”. Since many of the Phoenix locals are retirees / transients from colder climates in the US, there are a lot of football fans in the Phoenix area who come to the stadium rooting for the opposing team – today being a prime example of that.
The game was a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII – which was a classic won in the final seconds with a Ben Roethlisberger pass to Santonio Holmes. The Cards team of 2019 only has Larry Fitzgerald left from that team, but they do have some good young players, in particular their rookie QB and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray. The Steelers came into the game fighting for a playoff spot despite some key injuries including not having Roethlisberger the entire season. Today’s starting QB was their 3rd string, Delvin ‘Duck’ Hodges who looked sharp and posed throughout the game completing 16 of 19 and 1 TD, but it was the Steelers defense and special teams which took care of business – returning a punt 85 yards for a TD and picking off Murray 3 times en route to a 23-17 victory.
I got the jump on the crowd and left with about 4 minutes left in the game. Instead of going to the designated ride share lot and waiting for a car with 1,000 other people, I walked to the Renaissance Hotel about ½ mile away and got an Uber almost instantly.
The area surrounding the stadium is called Westgate Entertainment District. It is a massive complex of bars, shops, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, etc. and is also where the Gila River Center (home of the NHL Arizona Coyotes) is.
This sadly ends my trips for 2019. I am headed to the airport back to NJ for a long and likely dreary winter. But – there’s only 4 more months to go until baseball season!!
Fans - B – Steeler fans outnumbered Cards fans maybe by 5-1, but I was lucky to sit in a row a very friendly and funny Cardinal fans.
Features - C - The Red Zone, The Air-Raid siren, Nothing Really notable other than that
Location - C- Although Westgate Entertainment Distyrict has plenty of great options for pre or post game - the stadium is 20 miles away from Phoenix where all the fun stuff is. Traffic on I-10 right brfore of after the game can be brutal
Food - C - About middle of the road compared to other NFL venues. None of the great Southwestern fare that you'd expect to find here.
Game - C - Closer crore than it probably should have been as the Steeler D dominated. No real memorable plays
Overall Experience - C - A nice enough stadium and a nice enough experience - but nothing exceptional