Heinz Field – Pittsburgh Panthers
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The Panther Pit in the Pitt
The University of Pittsburgh has a long and storied history, as it fielded its first team in 1889. Over the years it has won four national championships. For a majority of its history, it competed as an independent, but was a member of the Big East Conference from 1991-2012, before joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013. Several famous coaches have led Pitt, including legends Pop Warner and Johnny Majors. Among the top players who have worn the Pitt blue and gold are Larry Fitzgerald, Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Mark May, Bill Fralic, Mike Ditka and Hugh Green. Nearly 300 Pitt football alums have gone on to the NFL, with eight being selected to the NFL Hall of Fame. Over the years, the University of Pittsburgh has called five stadiums home to its football program. These include Exposition Park, Forbes Field, Pitt Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium and since 2001, their present home at Heinz Field. Now to some quick Heinz Field facts: The stadium opened in August of 2001, with seating for nearly 65,000 fans. This includes 56,000 “regular seats,” 7,300 club seats and 1,544 seats within its 129 suites. Unlike many of its northern counterparts, Heinz Field has a natural turf field, albeit with an extensive underground heating system to keep the playing surface from freezing during the brutal Pittsburgh winters.
Three outstanding features of Heinz Field are 1) the FedEx Great Hall, a shrine to Pittsburgh’s long and successful history in football 2) the huge video board (27 feet high and 96 feet wide) in the south end zone and 3) the Heinz Ketchup bottles atop the scoreboard. If filled with ketchup, these bottles would hold more than one million ounces of the condiment each. They dip and “pour’ whenever the home team reaches the red zone.
Food & Beverage 5
You will not experience long waits at the concession stands in Heinz Field, as there are nearly 50 locations well placed throughout the facility. You definitely want to check out Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh icon legendary for its sourdough bread sandwich, loaded with meat, cole slaw and French fries. Prices at Primanti’s are $8.25 for its signature sandwich, $6.00 for fries, $8.00 for a 32-ounce beer, $5.00 for sodas (Pepsi products) and $4.00 for a bottled water. Other eateries of note are Quaker Steak and Lube (wings) and Benkowitz (fish sandwiches). Pittsburgh is a city of ethnically diverse neighborhoods, and the very broad food offerings reflect this. Pitt memorabilia is available at one of the many Pittsburgh Sideline stores dotting the facility.
Even though Heinz Field is more than seven miles from the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, the University does its best to create an on-campus feel for Panthers games. They offer an extensive set of pregame activities beginning three hours prior to the kickoff. These include the Panthers Pregame Party at Stage AE for the adults; a Family Tailgate tailored more to families with small children, and the Panther Prowl, a pregame parade featuring the arrival of the Pitt football team, the Pitt band and cheer/dance teams. Two hours prior to the game, the Pitt band puts on a concert outside the stadium in a pep rally atmosphere, which ends with the playing of the alma mater. The University is saluted for its part in Heinz Field’s history with a statue featuring the Pitt Panther and a paved depiction of the University’s famous Cathedral of Learning outside of Gate A.
Once inside, it is evident that the Steelers are the primary tenants in the building, as the color scheme is decidedly black and gold. However the FedEx Grand Hall does have a section set aside to celebrate the University’s football heritage, especially the Tony Dorsett/ Dan Marino eras. As you enter the seating bowl area, there is a very generic feeling to the area surrounding the field. A Heinz Field logo marks the 50-yard line, and the end zones simply say Pittsburgh, as this works for both the Panthers and the Steelers, who often play on the same field the next day.
As much as I feel that off-campus stadiums lose the atmosphere of an on-campus facility, the University of Pittsburgh has done an admirable job of recreating that feel.
Heinz Field is located across the Allegheny River from downtown Pittsburgh in a neighborhood called the North Shore. Thanks to being the host neighborhood for the city’s two most popular sports franchises, the area is one of the hottest in Pittsburgh for development. It has excellent access to the downtown business district via numerous bridges spanning the river, and two light rail stations have been built in recent years. In addition to being the hub for sports in the Steel City, the North Shore is also home to the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Science Center. The North Shore has also set aside a large piece of greenway fronting the river in the form of the North Shore Riverfront Park. The park features docking facilities, hike/bike trails and other recreational activities. Since Three Rivers Stadium was also in the North Shore neighborhood, there is a long tradition of great restaurants and sports bars in the area. These include the Clark Bar and Grill, Legends of the North Shore, Peppi’s and the Riverview Café.
Some unique Pitt traditions occur during Panther games. Whenever the home team scores at Heinz, the Clipper boat fleet docked outside sounds its horns in celebration. Between the third and fourth quarters, a Pitt version of the song “Sweet Caroline” is sung with great gusto by the fans and after a Pitt win, the upper section of the Cathedral of Learning tower on campus is bathed in gold victory lights. The typical attendance at Panthers games is usually in the 49,000 range; as opposed to the sellouts the Steelers have enjoyed every game since 1972. Pitt does tend to sell out both the West Virginia and Notre Dame games. Pittsburgh sports fans thrive on long-time rivalries, and Pitt’s move to the Atlantic Coast Conference has meant the loss of some of these cherished games. Pitt fans are loyal and loud, but compared to the fans that show up at the same stadium on Sundays, they simply can’t compete.
Heinz Field is located on the North Shore across the river from downtown Pittsburgh. Although not quite as impossible to find as it is for Steelers games, locating a parking space at a Pitt game can be like the Field’s namesake product…Sloooowww. Honestly, the easiest way to reach Heinz Field is to park across the river in downtown Pittsburgh or to take the Port Authority LRT (Light Rail Transit) public transportation system. The rail system has numerous stations throughout the area. You then take the train to either the Allegheny station adjacent to Heinz Field. It is free and a lot less hassle to take this route to the stadium. One other unique, but often frigid, option is to take a ride up Pittsburgh’s famed three rivers from the Station Square retail complex on the Gateway Clipper and dock right at the stadium. Pittsburgh Water limo offers a less costly, shorter ride from downtown Pittsburgh to the stadium. Lodging suggestions that are within walking distance of Heinz Field include the Wyndham at Point Park and the Courtyard Marriott in the Cultural District.
Another thing you need to be aware of is the need to arrive at Heinz Field early, due to security measures in force at the stadium. Even though Heinz Field is an NCAA facility for the day, the same security precautions as the NFL are in place. Fans are discouraged from bringing any types of bags to the games. What you do bring to the game must be in a clear plastic bag no larger than specific dimensions. Go to NFL.com for the exact list of what may or may not be brought into the stadium. For those who are smart and travel bag-free, the stadium gates at The Southwest Rotunda and FedEx Grand Hall are considered Express Entry Points and the lines move much faster.
Once inside Heinz Field, you will find a number of elevators and escalators available to get you to even the highest seats in the stadium.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets can vary greatly, depending on the opponent. A Notre Dame or West Virginia game is considered a premium game, and can have a face value of $48 or much higher on the resale market. The ACC affiliation is still relatively new, and the tickets are more reasonable at $36. Getting to the game can range from free (the light rail train or walking over the pedestrian bridge from downtown) to a $24 roundtrip on the Gateway Clipper shuttle boats. Parking in the downtown area runs $10, which is your best parking option, as most North Shore parking lots are reserved for season ticket holders. Concession prices run a bit high, but considering the quality and variety of cuisine available is well worth the price.
Heinz Field is known for the enforcement of PRIDE, an acronym for Positive Heinz Field Experience, Respect for Each Other, Integrity, Dignified Behavior and Excellence On and Off the Field. Pitt has some fierce rivalries, but PRIDE keeps things under control.
I have to give Primanti Brothers an extra point all its own, as it is a Pittsburgh legend.
The setting of Heinz Field is almost as impressive as nearby PNC Park in providing the downtown Pittsburgh skyline as a backdrop to the game itself.
Pittsburgh as a city has come a long way from being a sooty steel factory town and has reinvented itself as a cultural, educational and recreational center. I highly suggest making a three-day weekend out of a Pittsburgh trip, as it has so much to offer visitors.
Food and Drink Recommendations
SpringHill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore
223 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Hyatt Place Pittsburgh-North Shore
260 N Shore Dr
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
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