Score: Owls 55 Aggies 14; Attendance: 12,253
Weather: 75 and Sunny, Price: $13 Gate, Parking $15
“Off to a Good Start – sort of” by Tree
FAU stadium sat on the edge of campus and was practically new (built 2011). The Owls are still trying to find a corporation to secure naming rights for the stadium, after a potential deal with the private prison firm the GEO Group fell through amidst public backlash. Too bad, “Owlcatraz” had a nice ring to it (credit to FAU play-by-play announcer Ken LaVicka). Nonetheless, it was a very impressive venue. All the seats had seat backs and in general, there was not a bad seat in the house. We ended up buying our tickets at the gate for $13 for end zone seats. New Mexico State was one of the worst teams in the country so even at $13, the price felt a little steep. It is a common problem at most smaller DI schools. I thought we might be able to find a scalper looking to dump some tickets but we had no such luck. Once inside, I found that while there were plenty of seats available in the stadium, there was not an opportunity to move around at least not on the home side of the field. This is primarily because of the deck section on the home field side. It is an area outside of the sun where drinks are sold. The area is cordoned off and manned by ushers at all times so wandering in is not allowed. I was hoping to check it out, but my $13 ticket wasn’t getting me anywhere. It may be worth the upgrade. On the plus side, the stadium has a big video screen visible from the opposite end zone so we did not miss any plays. There is a statue of the team founder, Howard Schnellenberger, on site.
The concessions were lackluster without any noteworthy products. It was surprising that they did not have a souvenir cup given that it was a FAU dedicated facility. They did sell beer. The restrooms were adequate. The band seemed a little small but the young man singing the national anthem was very good. I did not identify any discernible traditions during the game. We did do a lot of hooting whenever the Owls score, but it didn’t seem to be a stadium wide cheer. The most active fans were the kids running around the end zone trying to catch the extra points as they soared into the stands. When that was not going on, they were running to the top of the stands to mug in front of the scoreboard camera man. He was more than happy to oblige them and there were numerous shots of the smiling hoard on the jumbotron. The other memorable fan was a woman wearing a FAU tube top and not much else. It was easily the most revealing outfit I have ever seen at a football game but, oddly enough, it did not seem out of place in sunny Florida.
The FAU stadium is in Boca Raton, FL and was fairly easy to get to. The route to parking was well marked and easy to find. There are multiple lots to park on at campus, but none of them are free. It was fifteen dollars for a lot that was fairly far away from the stadium and the lots that had good tailgating. At least they ran shuttles to the stadium. There was a robust tailgating scene in front of the stadium, but it looked to be mainly student / university run.
New Mexico State came into the game with only one win and that was a close one with FCS foe, Abilene Christian. I had the misfortune of seeing UCLA roll over NM State earlier in the season so I knew this was very likely to be another rout. Indeed, the Owls beat the Aggies like a red headed step child. The Owls scored first and the student body automatically started chanting “We want Bama”. It was hilarious and I loved it. On the ensuing kickoff, the Aggie returner fumbled the kick forward over the goal line, retrieved the ball outside of the end zone and then was tackled in the end zone for a safety. It was one of the oddest plays I had ever seen. An offside penalty by the Owls nullified the safety, but only delayed the inevitable. Two series later, the Owls blocked an Aggie punt and recovered it in the end zone. A couple of touchdowns later and it was 28-0. Aggie managed to score right before the half, but it was clear they were overmatched and under-enthused. The Owls rolled in the second half but we listened to most of it on the radio, as my Dad and I raced down to FIU to catch them get pummeled by Marshall.
Both the head coach, Brian Wright, and the president of the university were identified as “interim”. Wright had just come into the job as his predecessor was either fired or resigned. It was still unclear what exactly had occurred at the time of this writing. But allegations of drug use within the program were prominent. With a new stadium and a relatively small fan base, the FAU football program felt similarly undefined. It was clear the university was struggling to get fans in the seats. The halftime show included a large youth dance/baton drill team. Undoubtedly, having all the mom and dad’s attending was helping to meet NCAA required average attendance of 15,000. Supposedly, FAU is trying to replicate the very enjoyable fan set up at UCF by building a similar multi-use venue. Dropping the $15 cash charge for tailgating would be a great start.
In general, the experience was pretty good, but it could be improved over time as the traditions grow. I cannot be too hard on FAU, the program only started in 2011. It is a friendly venue to catch a game in late fall if you do not have anything else to do. It is not at the point where it is a must see stadium.