Recently arriving on the national college football stage, Cincinnati has been putting on a pristine game day for decades. 38,000 of my closest friends and I descended on Nippert Stadium for the Bearcats’ sellout home stint with the Indiana Hoosiers. A Cincinnati football game day is dense with action and tailgating.
Buckle up, there’s a lot to report on in this one.
A Cincy Sellout!
Arrive Early, Leave Late
Cincinnati is going to make a fine addition to the Big 12 Conference. Coming off the first-ever Group of Five College Football Playoff berth, support for the Bearcats has never been higher. Fans are buzzing to see this team perform.
Hours prior to kickoff, thousands of fans flock to an area called “Campus Green” or “The Grid,” typically depending on what generation you are. This bustling party center is home to over 100 tailgates, concession stands, family zones, and more.
There’s no other place you want to be before the game.
Two and a half hours before kick, The Grid is also the central location for Cincinnati’s CATWALK. Just about every school has adopted a team walk by now (originally started by Auburn), but UC’s brings a different level of excitement and pageantry to the deal. The band sets up behind the crowd and plays a pregame concert.
With so many fans crowding the walkway, it makes for an exciting grand entrance.
If you’re not tailgating at The Grid, it may be because you opted for another unique experience– tailgating on the roofs of the surrounding parking garages.
Tailgating In Style
One particular tailgate I ran across during my laps around the grid really stood out. In a sea of massive RVs, luxury tents, and grandeur, this tailgate was really doing things right.
Near the outskirts of The Grid sits a converted bus and about a dozen tailgaters. The bus was originally used to shuttle bar goers from a popular joint called “Willie’s” to the Cincinnati Reds’ ballpark. The owner of the tailgate found the bus at a salvage yard and purchased it for a whopping $500. With help from his lawyer friend (also at the tailgate), the chopped the back of the bus off El Camino-style and reclassified it as an RV.
No CDC necessary to transport their tailgate-on-wheels.
Inside, you’ll find magnets with a group photo from every game the bus has been at. It recounts the date, score, and who was there, posted all around the walls of the bus. The group’s been at it for seven years and likely dozens more to come.
Nippert Stadium is one of the oldest football stadiums in the United States. It sits third-oldest in the FBS (behind Mississippi State and Georgia Tech) and seventh overall in Division-I. You can still see the original structure of the bowl is still in place:
And while I couldn’t get the exact angle:
But what the University of Cincinnati was able to do at this wonderful venue should be studied forever– they managed to capture the original construction and preserve the history of the venue while also bringing it into the 21st century with a 2015 renovation that added the new press box, suites, and surrounding buildings.
The stadium proper dates back to 1915, but the current site of Nippert Stadium has been home to Cincinnati football since 1901. Many colleges opted to relocate their original football sites as campuses expanded. But not Cincinnati– you wouldn’t know you were standing next to Nippert Stadium until you fall right into it.
The UC athletic department’s a very adaptive group. Per some of the longtime season ticket holders, they’ve changed the way game day runs to accommodate growing interesting in the team and rising attendance numbers. Be it opening more lanes to get in gates or investing in new technology to help expedite entry, it’s an intuitive group that always seems to make improvements rather than just changes.
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Cincinnati 45, Indiana 24
Cincinnati’s student section was a problem for the visiting Hoosiers all afternoon. The section was almost completely full 45 minutes before kickoff and the rest of the sellout crowd was in place not long after.
Many schools boast sellouts. Cincinnati means it.
There wasn’t an empty seat or standing lane in the entire facility.
There’s a good reason for the punctuality– Cincinnati’s marching band has one of the most unique entrances in college football. They start in a line in the concourses and, after some fanfare and introduction, they race down the stairs and sprint onto the field. It’s 90 seconds of chaos and waiting for the sousaphone player to take a tumble.
But they didn’t take a tumble and the crowd absolutely loves it.
An incessant but catchy chant rings in my head still now.
“Ooooooh! Ooooooh! Ooooooh *clap clap clap* UC!”
After every change of possession, after every score, just whenever the hell they feel like it:
“Ooooooh! Ooooooh! Ooooooh *clap clap clap* UC!”
I loved it.
As an opposing player, that chant in step with the drumline and the Bearcats rolling makes for a very daunting environment.
But as points piled on and the Bearcats’ lead grew bigger, the UC chant turned into thunderous roars of “HOO-SIER DADDY?” A terrific, tasteful yet demeaning chant that sent IU home with their tail between their legs.
Incessant is a theme with the crowd. The incessant chant, the incessant noise, the incessant support for their Bearcats and I mean that in the absolute best way. Nippert Stadium traps noise in and this place sounded like one closer to 70,000 capacity.
There weren’t many early leavers, even after Cincinnati stripped Indiana’s Conner Bazelack for a walk-in touchdown with just seconds left in the half, pushing their lead to 38-10.
Cincy closed the deal and extended their home win streak to 29 straight.
A few notes I made that didn’t fall in the narrative, but I felt important to include anyway:
- Come hungry– the concessions at Nippert Stadium are affordable! Beer prices are still outrageous, but you won’t be cutting $8.99 for a hotdog.
- Cincinnati as a football program has a ton of swagger. The sidelines are constantly energized, the players on the field all dance before kickoff, the crowd gets really into it. Never a dull moment in Nippert Stadium.
- The dance team, cheer squad, and mascots are all nationally-acclaimed units. According to my seat neighbor, all three just won national championships.
- The mascot, Lucille, actually leads the dance team in their routines. It’s an under-appreciated but unbelievable display of coordination and athleticism in a heavy and hot bearcat suit.
Cincinnati Game Day Grades
Stadium: A-. The history of Nippert Stadium is really neat and the modern architecture is tastefully done. I’m not sure it quite belongs in the Cathedrals of College Football group, but it’s up there. Note: If you’re sitting in the bottom-22 rows like I was, that’s the original bowl and there’s no room to walk. Good luck getting out to the isle without stepping on the entire isle’s toes.
Tradition: B+. The Charge Down The Stadium Steps is really fun and takes a lot of coordination and effort by the band. They might have the catchiest chant in all of football in the UC chant and the history of Nippert is alive and well. Lots of good stuff here.
Atmosphere: A. For being under 40,000, Nippert sure is a loud place. And it doesn’t wane when the Bearcats get a big lead– that crowd is a real factor.
Tailgating: A. The Grid, the parking garage roofs, the individual quality and creativity of the tailgates themselves makes this one of the best spots in the nation for it.
Fans: A. Passionate, friendly, knowledgable. My favorite part is the cleverness in the jeers thrown at the visitors without diving into hateful territory (looking at you, Backyard Brawl and Southwest Classic fans).
Check out the remainder of my 2022 Road to CFB schedule here!