I’m hitting the road to cover the Cats’ SEC away games! As part of my adventure, I will rate each venue on atmosphere, food, crowd…you name it, I’ll rate it. I’ve come up with 20 criteria, each of which I will judge on a scale of 1 to 5 for a possible high score of 100. **Updated** Here are my previous reviews: Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum; Auburn Arena. Next up: Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum.
Seating capacity: 15,383
Nothing out of the ordinary, save their signature item, which I’ll touch upon later. Yet another sighting of Dippin’ Dots, the Ice Cream of the Future, this time in the actual hands of a customer. You know what they say about Alabamans: always one step ahead of everyone. The price of a jumbo hot dog? $4.50, fifty cents more expensive than Auburn and a whopping dollar fifty more expensive than Rupp. Who knew pork product price gouging existed in the SEC?
Aside from a Kentucky loss, nothing upsets me more than bad popcorn. To be fair, I was only able to sample one form of Coleman’s popcorn, that came in a plastic footlong bag entitled “A Heap of Popcorn.” That should have been my first clue that this was not the freshest kernel in the cornfield. The popcorn was stale and tasted like the plastic bag it came in, and after making what I’m sure was a ridiculously disgusted face, I saw a little kid walking to her seat with a proper paper bag of popcorn. If I were a lesser person, I would have stolen it from her. Instead, I dunked the heap of popcrap into the trash like Nerlens Noel after one bite.
Signature food: 5
What Coleman lacked in popcorn, they made up for in Dreamland BBQ. For those of you not in the know, Tuscaloosa’s Dreamland BBQ is famous in the area for it’s delicious ribs and BBQ awesomeness. Coleman Coliseum wisely offers Dreamland BBQ nachos for $8.50. After having Dreamland’s BBQ chicken for dinner, I bet it’s totally worth it.
I was spoiled after Auburn’s top-notch toilets. Alabama’s bathrooms weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. At least they had paper towel dispensers.
During Anthony Grant’s first few seasons, Coleman Coliseum underwent some much needed renovations, including a fancy new center-hung scoreboard with four large jumbotrons on either side and ribbon boards for ads on the top and bottom. In addition, they had the ever-so-useful players’ scoreboard on the back wall of the arena. Like Vandy and Auburn, they know how to use their scoreboard right, with multiple video features, kiss cam, dance cam, kids cam, etc. throughout the game. More on that later.
PA System/announcer/music: 4
The music at Coleman was an odd mix of teeny bopper tunes (Beiber, Selena Gomez, etc.) during the pregame and Jock Jams and relatively recent hip-hop/pop during the game. Like at Auburn, the crowd REALLY like LMFAO’s “Party Rock,” which I’m starting to think speaks more about the state of Alabama than anything. Interestingly, the national anthem was performed by four violinists. Or at least I think it was the national anthem…some of them really took some liberties with that last verse.
Fun stuff: 5
As I mentioned, Alabama uses it scoreboard to the max, with various “cams,” shuffle games, and trivia contests. Best of all, they had video features of the players that ranged from them dancing (hilarious) to answering questions about what they like more, Twitter or Facebook. I really wish Kentucky would do something like this so we could get to know the players a little better. The “Kiss Cam” is by far my favorite scoreboard feature due to the awesome awkwardness it can result in. One guy was so happy to get the Kiss Cam on him and his date that he stood up and gave her a movie style smooch and dip, whereas another guy went in for a kiss only to be met with a girl’s cheek. Brutally rebuffed!
Pep band: 3
For some reason, the pep band was sitting in the upper level and not next to the court, but they were fine. Sadly, no cool covers to report.
Halftime show: 3
Former UK AD C.M. Newton received an award honoring his time as Alabama’s head coach (1968-1980). The crowd gave him a nice round of applause and spent the rest of the half dancing awkwardly to bad pop music.
It was T-shirt Night at Coleman Coliseum, with the first 10,000 fans in the door receiving a free “Built by Bama” red t-shirt. The other 5,000 fans there had plenty of opportunities to get their swag on too, as the cheerleaders handed out t-shirts three more times throughout the game, once with the somewhat terrifying t-shirt cannon. I don’t think the student section will have to worry about doing laundry the rest of the semester.
Ticket price: 4
Single-game tickets range from $14 (non-conference) to $20 (conference) for adults and $8/$10 for kids. Also, the students get in free. Not bad when you can come away from it all with four free t-shirts.
Coleman Coliseum isn’t shiny and new like Auburn, but it does have charm. It looks like an old-school gym they’ve dressed up a bit with some fancy exterior lighting, which I’m sure was supposed to be red, but is actually pink, giving it a “fancy breast cancer awareness ball” vibe.
That old-school vibe continues on the inside, which is showing its years despite recent renovations. In 2005, the arena underwent a $24 million renovation and in 2009, they added the new scoreboard and connected the arena with the practice facility and added a new locker room, weight room, training room and team lounge. The arena itself is known for its striped barrel ceiling (the stripes being acoustic tiles) and cozy atmosphere. It’s clear they’ve tried to update the concourses as well with new signage and graphics, but the space still feels old. Regardless, it can get VERY LOUD and serves its purpose at a school where football will always matter most.
There is only one main concourse that loops around the upper level, which can make traffic flow difficult before the game, at halftime, and at the end. At the court level, there are a series of tunnels connecting leading to the outside that I almost got lost in trying to find the bathroom.
The only usher I really interacted with was the sweet old man who opened and closed the barrier from the court to the stands. He was very nice, but by halftime, gave up on opening and closing the gate in favor of sitting in his chair and letting the youngins do it for themselves. I don’t blame him.
Press area/meal: 5
The press area wasn’t anything special, although I did enjoy the raised platform for coaches and players to address the media from. I guess this would be the section in which I could rant about the arena’s wifi problems, but the tech staff was very nice and quickly hooked everyone up with ethernet cords. Plus, it’s hard to be mad when they give you free Dreamland BBQ for dinner. Ribs, BBQ chicken, slaw, beans, banana pudding, sweet tea, and all the Coke products you could fit in your bag were free to the media. It was so good that I’m not even ashamed of taking a picture of it.
Student Section: 4
The Alabama student section was split up into two groups behind either end zone. The PA announcer hilariously had to remind them to put on their free t-shirts before the game so “we can look good on ESPN.” The notorious “Fat Head Guy” has clearly inspired his fellow students in the cheering department, and has a reserved spot right behind the basket. Meeting him was my one priority during the game, especially after I saw that he had not one, but two fat heads, one of him holding a fat head and another with a flat top for Nerlens Noel. He was super nice about letting me take his picture, something he is clearly used to by now. There was a guy sitting next to him who also made a fat head of his face, but it came off as a bit desperate. Other fat heads in the section included Betty White, Will Smith, and various Alabama players. There were also people dressed up as penguins, a banana, and a robot. I’m not sure why, but hey, good job, good effort.
BBN Effect: 2.5
I’d say the Kentucky contingent accounted for 5% of the total crowd. Despite not having much to cheer about in the second half, they did get a loud “Go Big Blue” chant going near the end of the game, which Alabama fans got revenge for with the deafening “ALA” “BAMA” and “Ramma Jamma” cheers once the game was pretty much over.
GBB chant count: 1
I went to a small school, but I like to think myself a connoisseur of college campuses, having spent time on several, including UK’s. Alabama’s campus is in a different league. The first things you see when you go down University Drive (the main strip) are the football stadium and the fraternity
houses mansions, which also happen to among the largest buildings on campus. Fraternity Row is right across from the Stadium, which must make it quite the scene on a Saturday gameday. In fact, wherever you go on campus, you’re reminded of football, from the massive Bryant-Denny peeking out from behind a building to the jerseys hanging up in almost every eating and drinking establishment. There is even a museum dedicated to Bear Bryant and Alabama’s football history, which includes a replica of Bryant’s office that looks like it came straight off the “Mad Men” set. Sadly, there was no mention of Bryant’s time at Kentucky, making the “what if”s ring even more hollow.
“The Strip” lies between the University and downtown, and has a dozen bars and restaurants, along with several houndstooth-laden shops. I spent some time in “The Houdstooth,” one of the more popular bars, and chatted with Olivia the bartender, who told me what it’s like to be one of four bartenders when the bar hits its capacity of 800 during a game. Needless to say, Olivia may look like a sweet Southern gal, but don’t even think about messing with her on a Saturday in October. Whereas Auburn was lovely and quaint, Tuscaloosa was big and beautiful. Hard to compare the two, but if I had to choose between the two for a football game, I’d definitely choose Tuscaloosa.
Overall atmosphere: 5
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I pulled into Tuscaloosa. While the basketball game was an utter disappointment, my experience definitely left me a bit in awe. The campus, as covered in history and tradition as the brick walls are in ivy, is grand, as is the importance placed on having a good time. While the University of Alabama is surely a wonderful academic institution (I hear the law school is especially nice), from the minute you arrive, you are engulfed in football and frivolity. I don’t know when the football team will play there again, but when they do, I will be there. Olivia says that even if your team loses by 50, the fans are still nice enough to buy you a round at The Houndstooth.
Total score: 76.75/100
Auburn Arena: 84/100
Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium: 71.5/100