UNLV Rebels versus San Jose Spartans, 10/29/16, 7:30pm
Final Score: Rebels 24 – Spartans 30, Attendance: 15,733
Weather: Beautiful – 65; Ticket Price: $15 Scalper – Face $20; Parking $20
“An oldie but a goody” by Tree
Spartan Stadium is a mid-sized stadium seating about 30,000. It seems to be built into the hills of San Jose, much like its larger brethren stadiums at Stanford and Cal. That, however, is where the similarities end. This stadium really needs a facelift. It felt like I was transported back to the ‘50’s with the very old wooden bleacher steps. There were some updates. There was a serviceable video scoreboard and the sound system was very strong. The sight lines for the stadium were good and I think even the upper deck seats would give a great view of the field. I went to the game with my brother, one of his sons, and an old family friend, Bill. With a little more planning, we could have bought a family four pack with lower level seats, including seatbacks, and two bobbleheads for $70. Unfortunately, their system said it the tickets were no longer available. I think it was because I was trying to order them on the morning of game day and not because it was sold out. It was pretty disappointing because the bobble heads of SJS coaching legends Bill Walsh and Dick Vermeil would have looked sweet in my man cave. We planned on buying our tickets at the gate, but I was approached by a scalper looking to unload some tickets at $15 each. Bill and Carl were a bit dubious of the transaction, but I knew it would save us about $25. The tickets certainly looked legit even if our salesman did not. I took a small gamble and bought the tickets. They worked fine and were general admission. Officially, that means end zones and the upper deck, but the stadium was at best a quarter filled. We ended up at the 50 yard line about 20 rows up on the visitors’ side. Truth be told, my guess is that we could have sat just anywhere and no one would have hassled us.
My disappointment did not end with the botched family pack. I was unable to procure any SJS paraphernalia. When my brother went to get drink, I asked him to see if that had any souvenir cups. He came back empty on the cup and with an embarrassingly small pretzel. He said the concessions were subpar. His report on the restrooms was not any more positive. Bill added that was a negative on the hats and t-shirts as well. The only caveat that I will add is that I did not do any searching for myself. It’s not that I question the competence of Bill and Carl, but their dedication to the search might have been a bit less robust than mine.
So those were the negatives of Spartan Stadium. There are certainly some positives. The band sounded great even if it was on the small side. They were also active the entire game, providing a ton of enthusiasm for an otherwise mellow student fan base. To be honest, it was very difficult to figure where and if there were actually any students there. I mean they seemed to be nonexistent. There were a couple of traditions. The hand sign for the Spartans is the okay sign tilted slightly so the three extended fingers look like the top of a Spartan helmet. It is a bit of a stretch, but as hand signs go actually not that bad. We even saw a couple of students(?) flash it to some of the louder UNLV fans as they left the stadium. As for cheers, I was told that fans sing the last verse of the school song after every touchdown. I think I may have heard a murmur of it after one score, but I wouldn’t say it resonated throughout the stadium. San Jose State sports marketing department is doing their part to fill the stadium. When I went online, I saw all kinds of special promos, some of which were fairly run of the mill, and others that were unique like a microbrewery tour combined with tickets to the game. In game promos included a free taco from a local vendor if the Spartans scored more than 24 points, which they did. They also had a classic fan participation race where three young female fans in hotdog costumes raced around a small course on the field to win some free sausages. I don’t know if it was intentional to only have young women run for the sausage. (Insert your own non-PC joke here – somanystadiums will resist the temptation). I do recall that my eight year old nephew loved the bit. In fact, I would say he had a great time in general. The highlight being when the four of us made it, dancing away, on the jumbotron.
The one thing I will say about Spartan folks is that they were all very friendly. There wasn’t anyone that we came across that wasn’t gracious and cheerful. In that regard, they put the stuffy and uptight Stanford fans to shame. There are two first come, first served cash lots to tailgate at, one right in front of the stadium ($35) and one across the street ($20). We could see the $20 lot had tailgaters so we just parked there. We did the visitors tailgate, subs and a six pack. I did walk around and talk to some of the Spartan faithful. In general, they all seemed to recognize that they didn’t have a top tier program. They also recognized that there isn’t anything much better than watching some good football on a beautiful autumn evening. I think it is important to recognize that even the lower level FBS programs still have incredible athletes. They are well represented in NFL such as Spartan alumnus, QB Jeff Garcia.
I flew into San Francisco airport and spent the night at my brother’s house up in Santa Rosa. It put me about two hours away from San Jose. If you stay in the heart of S.F., you are about an hour away from San Jose. Not too inconvenient, but not exactly a hop, skip and a jump either. Alternatively, you could fly into the San Jose airport and be right there. The hotels are also a lot cheaper in San Jose and we got one given that it was a night game. Getting to the stadium is fairly straightforward and there was some limited signage from the freeway. I don’t know that we came in the back way, but it wasn’t the most picturesque area of San Jose. I wouldn’t say it has the classic college feel. Bill thought that San Jose was more of a commuter school so that may explain the lack of ambiance and the limited student presence. Regardless, getting in and out of the parking lot was stress free.
Both the Rebels and the Spartans were coming in with losing records, each only sporting two wins a piece. The hope was that this would result in a competitive game and that’s exactly what it did. The Spartans drove down on their opening drive with a nice mix of runs and passes before the drive stalled. They kicked an early field goal to take the lead. UNLV came right back, when their tailback ripped of a 75 yard touchdown run to take a 7 – 3 lead. The rest of the first half was pretty much all Spartans where they were effective at throwing the ball, scoring on both long bombs and shorter passes. They drove the up the score to 24 – 3, and I thought I was about to see my 5th blowout game in a row. UNLV pulled their starting QB and put in the back up in hopes of sparking the offense. It worked to a degree, as they managed to kick a field goal late in the second quarter. The Spartans, however, answered with a nifty two minute drive to expand their lead to 27 – 10 at halftime.
The second half was much more of a field position game, with the opposing punters putting on kicking clinic. Midway through the third quarter, San Jose State kicked another field goal. With a 30 -10 score and having fulfilled my half game requirement, I looked at Bill and said I was ready to bail. My brother returned shortly thereafter with a sad representation of nachos and I said we could whenever he wanted. He was surprised, saying what if UNLV comes back? To which I said, “okay I will give UNLV one more chance, but they have to score on this drive.” The Rebels then promptly drove 80 yards in two minutes to score a touchdown. The other development was that their defense started blitzing the Spartan QB on nearly every play and it was shutting down the Spartan passing attack. San Jose then tried to run more to eat up the clock, but the running game wasn’t up to the task. UNLV managed to generate a long drive in the 4th quarter, scoring another touchdown. The score was now 30 – 24 but the Spartans had the ball with only five minutes left. The Rebel defense, along with some excellent clock management by the coaching staff, did force a Spartan punt. The San Jose State punter launched a beauty, pinning the Rebels within their own ten yard line with less than two minutes left. The Rebels weren’t done though, managing to move to into Spartan territory with only 30 seconds left. However, the Spartan defense made the big play when the UNLV QB overthrew an open receiver and into the arms of a San Jose defensive back. It was the only turnover of the game. The win secured, the ever present Spartan band cranked up the fight song. It was a great ending to an entertaining game. As Bill noted, when you are that close to the field, you can really see and feel some of the hits during the game.
I was surprised how many UNLV fans made the trip up for the game. There were a number of them tailgating. What was even more surprising was how many of the UNLV fans, most likely parents of the players, stayed in their crappy corner end zone seats instead of fanning out across the stands. No one would have stopped them. Congrats to the well behaved Rebel fans on both fronts.
I met the unofficial “Italian Old-timers Club” tailgating and they were kind enough to share some time and wine with me. I had an excellent glass from Guglielmo winery which happened to be owned by Gene, one of the “old timers”. An excellent red set me up nicely for my walk into the stadium. Gratze to my fellow Paisans.
The other item of interest was a half time game where the San Jose special Olympians flag football players staged a quick half time game. It was fun to watch them play with such spirit and enthusiasm. One cat on the team was crazy quick and very fast. I get the feeling he could have suited up and covered some of the booming punts we saw that night as well as anybody on the field.
The game was televised and we did feel the TV time outs. They seemed more noticeable with the smaller crowd and the game stretched to over three and half hours.
So, I don’t want to oversell Spartan stadium. It is very old and there’s a fair bit not to like. But the combination of the fan friendliness, ease of getting to the site and getting tickets really gives it a certain kind of charm. I wouldn’t put it on a must see list, but I can see how you could fit it into a nice long weekend. Here’s I could see how it would work. I would come when the Spartan’s play on a Saturday night and fly into S.F. either Thursday night or Friday morning, do all the touristy stuff Friday and Saturday. Come into San Jose late that afternoon; grab some vino or brews, and kick back in the stadium to unwind. Look, I love San Francisco but there’s no denying that it is very crowded and it can be stressful getting around all the sites. By Saturday night, I would probably be tighter than a drum. Chilling with Sparty would be just the way to end the party.