NFL Stadium #2: Levi’s Stadium

Monday morning I decided to get a little exercise, as I’ve been eating a tad unhealthy while traveling. I threw on my tennis shoes and walked around San Francisco stopping at Pier 39 to look at the Bay before passing through Fisherman’s Wharf, Little Italy, and Chinatown. I saw a bunch of Vikings fans taking in the city as I made my way around town.

After exploring a bit of the city, I went back to my sister Alex’s apartment and got ready for the evening’s game. I purchased the cheapest ticket I could find on StubHub and was sad to see waiting hadn’t panned out. Sometimes you win buying last minute, sometimes you lose. I did have a small birthday credit, so hooray tiny victory! Getting down to Santa Clara was a mini-mystery to me and I used Google Maps to find the fastest route via public transportation. I found that taking the Bart to Fremont and catching the 251 bus was the quickest. That worked for me, and I headed out with three and a half hours until kickoff. The map said it would take about one hour and 45 minutes, but I wanted wiggle room and time to explore the tailgate scene and whatnot.

The trip on the Bart seemed quick, but I ran into a minor issue when trying to catch the bus- they don’t give change. I had a twenty and the fare was $2 with the transfer ticket. There was a change machine at the Fremont Station that converts tens and twenties to fives, but even then it’s an issue. Luckily a gentleman had five ones and was good enough to trade me. “Crisis” averted and now I know- small bills are my friend when using public transit. I packed onto the bus with other fans opting for the shuttle to the game. The fans that sat next to me were super friendly and I talked to them about the team, fan base, and new stadium. After a twenty-minute bus ride, we were dropped off about half a mile from Levi’s Stadium. You can’t miss it, it’s huge. One of the fans made sure to point to the Hilton across the street to tell me that after the game I would catch the bus over on that side of the road.
I walked over to the stadium with a couple that were season ticket holders. They were so kind, I was a little sad to part ways with them, but I wanted to see how Niners fans tailgate. Well this shouldn’t shock you, they tailgate pretty classily. No joke, I saw a group of fans drinking wine out of real wine glasses. I wasn’t in Oakland anymore! The scene seemed a little tame, but I figured since it was a Monday most people were coming from work. I’m guessing it’s more elaborate on Sundays. There were also a good amount of Minnesota fans holding court. Many of them had opted for more of the costume route to show their team support, whereas 49ers fans tended to stick with team jerseys and polos. Last year in NYC someone told me that my Ohio State jersey looked like a SF jersey. I told him no way and he was crazy, but after seeing all their jerseys close up, I can definitely see the similarity. Sorry guy! What I did find most surprising during my short tailgate observance were many fans “fraternizing with the enemy.” Guess everyone was in high spirits for the start of the season!

After walking around the lot, I entered the gate to a red carpet party the team had dubbed the Faithful Mile. There was a live concert, booths, and a giant #Kickoff2015 sign for fans to take pictures with. I walked through looking for the right bridge to take over to the actual stadium. There were different bridges for different ticket levels. I crossed over the bridge and entered through Gate A with my mouth agape because this stadium was freakin’ majestic. The gigantic, clear video boards, the array of concessions (vegan dogs and wine!), the suites, the amenities! I was blown away both figuratively and a bit literally- ladies the wind is out of control. Wear a hat or pull your hair up in a ponytail. Looking back at all my pictures, I look like a hot mess!

I needed to meet my stadium witness for this game, Joanne to validate that I was in the stadium before the start of the game. Since she was on the field working, we tried coordinating a meeting place in the stands near field level. The lower bowl sections behind the home team bench are ticket holder and suite only, so I explained my situation to the usher. Thank goodness he believed my story and let me through to meet her!  Joanne brought me down on the field and we talked briefly about the Guinness World Record I’m attempting and she told me that the DeBartolo family (ownership) was from Youngstown and is still active with the Ronald McDonald House there. I don’t think there’s anything I love more than an Ohio connection! We made meeting plans for after the game and Joanne told me to hang out on the field until they kicked us off.

For most of the pre-game, I hung on the 49ers side with some fans that were going gaga for Steve Young and Jerry Rice. They’re cool and all, but I saw Phil Dawson and got pumped- Browns fan in the Bay people! I’m kidding; I was excited to see those guys in person too. Steve played to the crowd throwing a couple passes and took countless pictures with the fans swarming him. I headed over to the Vikings’ end and watched them warm up a bit and even scored a picture with the notoriously buff referee, Ed Hochuli before stadium staff started shuffling us off the field and to our seats.

I scored an awesome standing room spot for the team introductions and stayed there to watch the first quarter. This was my first time seeing the Niners and I learned that the fan base calls themselves “The Faithful” and it’s an honor to pull the foghorn at the beginning of the game. That honor went to the late Stuart Scott’s brother and son Monday night. By this time the stadium was almost full and the fans were loud. As the team drove down the field thanks to some sweet running by former Buckeye Carlos Hyde, I learned the First Down chant “Ahh ooo, ahh oo, ahh oo” a la the movie 300. They actually kept it up the entire game too!

After an exciting, but scoreless first quarter, I wanted to explore the stadium a little more and see different vantage points. I didn’t make it into the concourse very far before seeing the phone charging station. Maybe I’m a bit too trusting, but I left my phone to charge and parked myself in the standing room behind the north end zone. This game was too exciting to guard my phone. I have an old phone that isn’t that great, so I figured it was fine. Aside from the home team side, there is standing room all around the main concourse and I couldn’t find a bad vantage point. Great ticket option if you ask me! After watching El Guapo run for six I made my way around (stopping periodically to watch the game) to the south end zone and up to the 300 level concourse to check out the Pepsi Party Deck right in time for halftime.

Trying to walk around the concourse during halftime was the only bad call I made that night (well in the stadium at least). It was packed! I pushed my way through the crowds and decided to watch the third quarter from my actual seat in section 415. It was high up, but the view wasn’t bad at all. Honestly, I prefer being a little higher during football games because you can see the plays develop a little better. The game was still a little tight which kept the crowd in it and the stands were relatively full even up where I was sitting. After the third quarter, I went back to the 300 level to scope out the Bud Light Party Deck that housed the stadium DJ and the mascot, Sourdough Sam. It was windy and despite being dressed for fall in long sleeves and jeans, I was cold! I was feeling lazy, so caught the elevator and talked briefly to a team employee about what I was missing in my stadium exploration. He mentioned the museum, but the elevator employee informed me it closed before kickoff… guess I’ll just have to come back. Twist my arm, San Francisco!

I walked from the north end zone to the south end zone passing by the suite entrance. Whoaa, so that’s how the Bay elite watch football, in total luxury. It was beautiful and I silently made some new life goals before walking to the concession stand and inquiring about the vegan hot dogs (do as the locals do I guess!). He advised against it, saying they were better when ordered early in the game. Not a vegan myself, I took his advice and opted for hot chocolate to warm me up and walked over to the standing room to catch another Hyde touchdown. It’s like he knew I was there and was putting on a show! The hot chocolate warmed me up and I watched the rest of the game with a group of SF fans.

After the game, I headed down into the bowl to try and take some final score selfies for the good people at Guinness and ran into a father/son wearing Browns jerseys. What are the odds? I gave them high fives and asked why they were in town. They told me they’re trying to see all the NFL stadiums (two a year) and were crossing Levi’s Stadium off their list. That’s my favorite part of traveling to stadiums alone, all the people I come across. I met over 15 people over the course of the night and heard so many great NFL stories!

With my post game selfie checked off, I met up with Joanne at the family services gate and got my witness log book signed and we took a picture together holding it up! I thanked her for her help and was on my way. It was 10:30ish and I thought for sure I would miss the buses back, but when I arrived at the Hilton I saw there was a long line of people waiting to board. I passed the time talking to a Mexican family on holiday. By the time we got on the bus they weren’t charging and shuttled us back to the station where I caught the Bart. It was a very long ride home as the train I took in didn’t have evening service. As I stood waiting for the last Bart train to SF in Oakland I contemplated- was this worth the hassle? I paid $14 round trip, so yes, yes it was. Three hours to get back, though long, saved me a lot in parking costs and navigating unfamiliar freeways.

Levi’s Stadium exceeded my expectations and even dazzled me a bit! The competitive game also helped keep the atmosphere going until the very end, which enhances a venue experience. Minus the small inconvenience of travel, there was no downside to my visit. I can’t wait to come back to see the Browns in the Super Bowl. Stop laughing!

Remember I am raising money for the Ronald McDonald House in Central Ohio. Please donate by clicking here.

Special thank you to Joanne for her time and assistance during my visit!


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