Review originally published on www.stadiumjourney.com
I do want to say at the outset that this trip was a lot of fun, and the low score should only be indicative on my experience inside the arena. My friend Chris was my tour guide for the town combo that is Champaign-Urbana, and it really was a nice little town and lovely campus. That being said, Stadium Journey is about the stadiums, so let’s begin there.
The walk was less than ideal from downtown Champaign, but certainly not unreasonable. Assembly Hall is next to Memorial Stadium, and neither would be described as picturesque, but at least the football stadium looks like it has a bit of history (translation: looks old). Assembly Hall was probably seen as futuristic when it was built in 1963, with its silver dome-like structure. It has one major drawback besides it’s unappealing look. You see, in the winter, we tend to have snow in Illinois. And you know what? The snow on that silver backdrop can create some sliding ice when the sun comes out. Well, it just so happens that we got some sun on the day that I visited. That meant they closed all, but one entrance—more on this later.
FANFARE Score: 14
F ood & Beverage: 3
There are a few interesting food options, but many of the lines are long, and slow moving. I had some candied almonds, which smelled great in the concourse and tasted great as well. I was disappointed that there were no souvenir cups available—always an inexpensive way to get something to remember your trip.
A tmosphere: 2
The inside of the arena is also unremarkable. Large slabs of concrete are the only noticeable feature. Once in your seat, there is nothing compelling or different other than a slew of retired numbers (seemingly too many numbers). I also found myself excessively bored by both the pep band and the chants of the crowd.
N eighborhood: 3
Like I said at the beginning of the entry, I did enjoy my time on this trip overall. Illinois has a beautiful campus, and I was lucky to have my friend as a very competent tour guide. I learned about the Foreign Language Building, which houses the first super-computer, and was designed to topple safely around that computer if there ever was some natural disaster. Also, I walked into Lincoln Hall and rubbed Lincoln’s nose—a tradition for students prior to taking exams—Chris used it to bestow luck upon his beloved Illini.
We went to several bars the night before and prior to the game, and I’ll make special mention of a few that I particularly liked
Mike & Molly’s—Although we arrived around 4:30pm and the bar was nearly empty, there was still a great energy to the place, and they have an amazing beer selection.
Jupiter’s—Definitely my favorite place on the trip. Good beer, amazing pizza, and plenty of pool tables. The bartender, who chose to remain nameless and only be identified by his name badge of 286, created a drink that was dubbed I-L-L. Working with a difficult color combination—blue and orange, he poured a little blue Curacao with absolut mandarin, and then gave a double squirt of lemonade and sprite, followed by a shot of orange juice. Frankly, it was ugly, but decent. It would have been especially good sitting by a pool.
F ans: 3
While the game itself against Iowa was never compelling, the crowd was only able to drum a good cheer when prompted by the scoreboard. Let me be clear, it was still an ok place to see a game, but there was nothing at all that drew me in.
A ccess: 1
So with all security personnel available to man the one entryway, we had the reassurance to have my camera bag scrutinized. According to the security personnel, it’s against NCAA rules to bring a camera with a detachable lens. I challenged that given that I had taken my camera into several arenas without issue prior to this trip. After an unnecessary five-minute debate, he generously let me take it in. Bad start. Why harass someone only to let him take it in? What’s the point in making me engage in the debate? All it accomplished was to make me uneasy and put me in a bad mood.
When the game ended, it was time to confirm my displeasure. Remember the one entryway? Well, it was now, the one exit, and 15,000 people we’re leaving at once. It took us 37 minutes to get from our seat to the door. Thirty-seven minutes for a game that lasted less than two hours. And the narrow concourses with the drab concrete did not help matters. It took me another 20 minutes or so after leaving to shake off the anxiety of being stuck in that damn building.
R eturn on Investment: 2
While the experience wasn’t expensive, I feel like the hassle of getting into and out of the arena makes this not worth the trip. I recommend the town and the university, just not the basketball experience.
E tc.: 0
There is nothing extraordinary worth mentioning about a trip to Assembly Hall.
Paul Swaney is the co-founder of Stadium Journey