Ford Field – Detroit Lions
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Ford Down the Field
The Detroit Lions have been playing home games indoors since they moved into the Pontiac Silverdome in 1975. Prior to the Silverdome, the team shared a ballpark with the city’s MLB team at Tiger Stadium. To many, the Lions and Tigers have always been linked in Motown, so it’s only appropriate that Comerica Park and Ford Field sit just across Brush Street from each other.
Ford Field is one of only two current NFL stadiums which are permanent indoor structures with no option of opening up to the elements. Beginning in 2017, only the Saints with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be part of the weather-free club with Ford Field.
The stadium seats 65,000 fans, making the venue one of the smallest in the NFL, although the facility can expand seating to 70,000 for events like the Super Bowl (hosted in 2006) or NCAA basketball Final Four (hosted in 2009). Ford Field is also the host of the annual MAC Championship football game, Michigan High School football championships, and the annual Quick Lane which has conference tie-ins with the Big Ten and ACC.
The great downtown location, and current assortment of offensive and defensive stars, has many fans in Detroit hoping that the day will come soon that the Lions may make their first ever Super Bowl appearance, as they are one of only four teams to never appear in the title game in the Super Bowl era (Texans, Jaguars and Browns are the others).
Food & Beverage 5
It is important for anyone with an upper level seat to get your food on the first level before heading to find your seat. The selection on the first level is far better than what you will find in the upper concourse.
There are a couple of options that draw on significant ethnicities in the city. You may want to try a gyro or Greek sausage from Pegasus, a classic Greektown tavern which was added to the concession menu for the 2013 season, near section 113. Another excellent choice is the kielbasa ($8) from Poletown Sausage.
Other highlights include the hot dog emporium known as Extreme Dogs, which offers up several variations of loaded hot dogs for $7.50 each. Big Boy restaurants are located in a few separate locations offering the classic Big Boy Original, a double decker burger ($6.50). Pizza comes from Hungry Howie’s for $9 a slice. Slow’s BBQ has a new location near section 133, offering their fantastic sandwiches and also Michigan craft beers. Billy Sims BBQ has a selection of sandwiches and ribs that are quite expensive but seem to have a loyal following anyway.
For 2014, there are a number of new items that are worth trying. Baked Potato Fries come piled high with bacon, cheddar and chive dip, while a Detroit Style Chili Cheese Fry Coney Dog is a foot-long hot dog topped with crispy French fries, Detroit-style Coney sauce, cheddar cheese and diced onions. Poppin’ Nachos are layered tortilla chips with cheese and deep fried jalapeños. If you want to try to stay healthy, consider Barry Sanders Fresh and Fit Meal ($7), which is a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, along with carrots, apples, juice and a limited edition Barry Sanders trading card.
Gluten-free options can be found most notably at the concession stand near section 217, where a turkey and Swiss sandwich goes for $8.
The most abundant beers available will be Budweiser, Bud Light, and Labatt ($9), but there are some selections of tasty microbrews within Ford Field. The Corner Lounge in the upper level has a good selection, including Founder’s All Day IPA, although a cup will cost you $11.50. There is also a dedicated Michigan Craft Beer concession near section 129. Those with a taste for the stronger stuff might like frozen margaritas, though at $13, they’ll do more damage to your wallet than your health. Wine is also available at select stands for $8. If you’re not looking for a beer, then be sure to stop by the Guest Services desk to sign up to be a designated driver and receive a coupon for a free pop.
A bottomless soda in a souvenir cup goes for $7, which I suppose may be considered a deal if you polish off 3 or more, but then you’ll spend most of the game making trips to the bathroom I would imagine.
After the game, head to the Bud Light Party Zone where hot dogs are $2 and beer is $5.
Overall, the selection is quite good and although prices are a bit high in some cases, you should be able to find something suitable to both your palate and your budget.
The downtown location really makes a difference in the atmosphere even before you enter the building. Like all NFL games, there is quite a bit of security to enter the stadium, so expect to get a pat down, and you may need to allow extra time to get in, especially as you get closer to kickoff. The NFL implemented a new bag policy in May 2013, so only clear plastic bags are allowed. You may want to review the full policy when deciding what to bring with you.
There’s a bit of a mall feel inside Ford Field as you walk the concourse. The mall shops are replaced by concession stands, and there’s also a very large team store for your shopping pleasure.
Ford Field offers about average leg room in its seats, most of which are blue plastic with cup holders. If you happen to be sitting in the swanky club area around midfield, you will enjoy padded seats shaded grey. Regardless, you should be fairly comfortable throughout the game.
In 2012, the team has hung banners to commemorate the fact that they won the NFL Championship in 1935, 1952, 1953, and 1957. There are also divisional championship banners on display (1957, 1983, 1991, and 1993).
In 2009, the Lions organization honored former greats by adding a Pride of the Lions display. There are twelve original names and their former numbers are up on the wall near the south luxury suites. The players are Lem Barney, Yale Lary, Charlie Sanders, Joe Schmidt, Dutch Clark, Alex Wojciechowicz, Jack Christiansen, Lou Creekmur, Dick Lane, Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, and Barry Sanders. In 2013, Jason Hanson became the first member to join the ring of honor prior to be inducting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lions fans seem to have a special affinity for Ndamukong Suh, and in many ways Ford Field has become a defensive haven. In the tradition of other great Detroit players like Lou Whitaker and Joe Dumars, Suh is greeted with loud chants of “SUUUUUUUHHH!” when he is introduced and any time he makes a tackle or sack.
Fans also take great pleasure in singing the Detroit Lions fight song after a touchdown, a joyous tune known as Gridiron Heroes, sung by Theo “Gridiron” Spight.
The only thing missing might be a regular out-of-town scoreboard; there are Red Zone updates on occasion but no other way of keeping abreast of the happenings around the league.
There are very rare occasions where you may be able to do a Tigers/Lions doubleheader, most likely if the Tigers are able to make a deep playoff push, like the 2012 World Series. Later in the season you may be able to find a doubleheader with the Detroit Red Wings, who play just a couple of miles away at Joe Louis Arena. Even if the Wings are not playing, you can visit Hockeytown on the other side of Comerica Park. This is a huge restaurant dedicated to the Wings and the sport of hockey and is worth a stop if you get downtown early before the game. It has received many accolades as being the best sports bar in Detroit. Cheli’s Chili Bar, owned by former Red Wing Chris Chelios, is a good place to get some inexpensive food amongst some hockey memorabilia. Chelios himself can often be found there and he is pretty good about interacting with sports fans.
Elwood Bar & Grill is directly across the street from Ford Field, and is packed several hours before Lions games. Old Shillelagh is also a good option, and they offer a shuttle bus from their establishment to Lions games, so it is a good way to simplify your life. They also have a decent menu. The Detroit Pub has several TVs, and a good selection of beers with tasty wings, and may be a good spot to settle in, let traffic disperse and watch the late afternoon NFL slate.
Greektown is a relatively short walk away where you can visit the Greektown Casino, or have a great meal at Pegasus Taverna, the same provider of Greek food inside Ford Field.
You can’t blame Lions fans if they seem a bit disgruntled. The team hasn’t been able to claim to be NFL Champions since 1957, and they have made no appearances in the championship game in the Super Bowl era. Sure, they’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of the great running backs of all time in Barry Sanders, and Calvin Johnson is one of the best athletic specimens ever to play the wide receiver position. But even when things are going well, there is this feeling that it’s not a matter of if things will go down hill, but when. The 2014 season might be different though, as the Lions are off to a strong start and fans were very supportive of their team from start to finish. Even when the team was down two scores late, almost everybody remained to the end and they were rewarded with a fantastic comeback win.
On game day, you’ll find many fans rocking the Honolulu blue and silver jerseys in the stands. What’s interesting is that there are almost as many future stars that never panned out jerseys (Charles Rogers, Jahvid Best, and the like) as there are jerseys for the true stars for the Lions (Barry Sanders, Chris Spielman, etc.).
Like most NFL stadiums, there will be fans who have had too much during their pre game tailgating celebrations, but in general you can expect fans to be friendly, with some good natured ribbing of fans sporting the opposing colors. It’s certainly a stadium where visiting fans can feel safe and enjoy the game.
Parking definitely can get expensive when you attend a Lions game at Ford Field. For the most part, you can expect to pay $20 for any parking within a 1/2 mile or so from the stadium. The garage directly next door will cost you $40. There is at least one lot charging $50 for parking about a block away from the stadium. If you arrive 3 hours before kickoff though you should be able to find street parking for free. Aim for Monroe Street at the corner with St Antoine, and there should be parking available. From there, it’s about a 5 block walk – well worth the cost savings.
It can get a bit congested before, and especially after the game, but for a downtown location, the traffic moves pretty well. It helps that there is access to freeways in many different directions, and overall, this really is a smart place for these stadiums to have been built. Still, plan to leave yourself at least an hour before kickoff so you can navigate the traffic. I usually park on Woodward Avenue for Detroit Tigers games, so that I can have an easy exit on to the freeway after the game, although the cost is $20.
Concourses feel a bit narrow in parts, even walking around an hour before kickoff it is a little cramped, but it’s certainly manageable and doesn’t really detract from the overall experience. During halftime it can be absolute gridlock, with lines for concessions and to a lesser extent restrooms spilling into the concourse.
One minor complaint is that some sections have only one aisle from which to enter. If you happen to be sitting in the furthest seat from the aisle, then you have to climb over 14 people to get out. If you are like the fans near me who suffered from this inconvenience, you will want to make your move during the action, ensuring that everyone behind you cannot see the game.
There are over 100 restrooms inside Ford Field, so you shouldn’t have to wait in line or walk very far. If you do encounter a line, my suggestion would be to keep walking to the next bathroom. Some are quite a bit smaller than others.
Return on Investment 4
Upper level seats in the end zone (known as the Roar Zone) cost $45 before fees, a pretty good value as there is no middle section pushing you farther away from the field. Section 315 is reserved as the family section, where no alcohol or profanity is allowed. If you are buying these Roar Zone seats, avoid sections 315-16, 320-21, 341-42, and 346-47. You may need to see a stadium map to understand, but unlike most football stadiums which are oval, Ford Field is a rectangle and the seats in those sections are not looking directly at the field, but rather straight down the sidelines. It is just a minor annoyance, but better to sit in the middle if you can. Should you want to upgrade, lower level seats are $150, while there are 6 different club levels ranging from $155 to $240.
Including parking and food, you are going to spend about $100 per person, which is a pretty good deal these days in the NFL, especially for a team that is quite fun to watch.
There aren’t a lot of unique additions here. I’ll give one extra point for the signs along the concourse for each section, which also tell you what street you are on if you were outside. This really helps people who can easily get disoriented in a large stadium. Although, the sections could use better signage once in the seats, as I saw a lot of confused fans who sat in the wrong section, and then there’s the long discussion and ticket comparison when the rightful ticket holder arrives.
One point for the very catchy fight song that is played after every touchdown.
Ford Field is a very comfortable place to see a game, and the team seems to have the young talent to keep their fans entertained for years to come. Do yourself a favor and visit Ford Field in the near future. Better yet, spend your Thanksgiving at Ford Field, an NFL tradition going back to 1934 when the Lions moved from Portsmouth, Ohio to the Motor City.
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