BYU Football: Report on the Game Day Experience at UConn


Aug 29, 2014; East Hartford, CT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill (4) reacts after a touchdown by wide receiver Mitch Mathews (10) against the Connecticut Huskies during the second quarter at Rentschler Field. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

I’m fortunate enough to be able to travel to a BYU away game each season with my dad.  In the past, we have traveled to Dallas, Tallahassee, Oxford, South Bend, and Madison.  This year the obvious choice was to head to Austin to see the Cougars play the Longhorns.  A couple months ago, I was talking to my dad about the trip and floated the idea of going to Hartford to see BYU face off against UConn.  Although the stadium is less impressive, the city isn’t as attractive, and the opponent was far inferior,  I served an LDS mission in New Jersey and this would give me an opportunity to return to the Garden State for the first time since I returned home over five years ago.

I made the trip out early Friday morning and Twitter was buzzing with UConn fans talking the usual trash about Mormons, older players, and white guys playing for BYU.  We spent some time in Hartford and New Haven before heading to the game and did not see any UConn gear before arriving at the stadium.  In fact, most people that we talked to didn’t even realize UConn was playing that night.  Even with Bob Diaco bringing in a new era and mindset, the attitude of indifference still reigns with the locals.  While driving around, we were listening to sports radio and UConn football was buried behind the Patriots, Yankees, and other national college football stories.

Rentschler Field is located in East Hartford, not on the Huskies’ campus.  As we made it to the stadium, I was impressed with the tailgating set up.  At the stadium, everyone is forced to park in the same grass fields and charged $15 to do so.  It was even more of a mess to drive around than game day in Provo.  The biggest advantage, though, was that the parking lots became one big tailgating party.  While BYU has announced new rules and updates to its tailgating policy, UConn provides a venue and an atmosphere more conducive to fans coming together.  I liked that part.

I’m one who likes to mix it up with the locals from time to time at away games, but no one even acknowledged BYU fans.  While we walked past the groups and groups of people tailgating, not one person said a word to us.  It was kind of disappointing.

The game day experience inside “The Rent” leaves a bit to be desired.  The food options at the stadium were almost as bad as they are in Provo and the lines do not move quickly.  The fans, especially the students, are late arriving and not a loud bunch.  The UConn players enter the stadium for warm ups through the student section, but there were no students there to greet them.  It was a cool idea with poor execution.

The stadium has one large HD screen in one end zone, and a scoreboard in the other, but it was difficult for me to keep track of the down and distance, game time, and play clock.  Whoever was operating the board needed some practice as well.  At one point, according to the scoreboard, BYU was facing a 3 & 35.

I was jealous of the amount of Nike that I saw at the stadium.  I believe BYU is lucky to have a partnership with Nike, but it was obvious at the stadium that Connecticut is a Nike school.  There were Nike Swooshes on the walls, on the video boards, and on the fans.  I paid close attention, but I did not see an Under Armour, Adidas, or Hurley UConn shirt or hat, there was only Nike.

On most of the trips I have taken, BYU’s contingent makes itself known with chants of “BYU” and the fight song being sung, but at this game, BYU fans took over.  Though outnumbered for most of the game, the BYU fans were so loud that I was often confused at what had happened on the field because the cheers for the visiting team were louder than those for the home team.  In the fourth quarter when the game was in hand, the student section vanished and most of the UConn fans had made their way to the exits.  When the game was final and the teams had finished with handshakes, the Cougars came over to meet their contingent and sing the fight song.  This was cool for me as a fan; it must have been sweet for the team, as well.

The biggest difference I noticed between this game and a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium was that the party and experience had become bigger than the game itself.  While I hope BYU does continue making strides towards a better game day experience, I hope it never gets to the point where the party is better than the game.  I would rather have fans in the seats from the opening kick till the end than be known for a great tailgating scene.

As a side note, when I was in New Jersey, I was able to visit with former Cougar, Vai Sikahema.  I knew him when I was a missionary and it was great to check in with him.  While we chatted, I got the feeling that he still loves BYU, but as he has matured and gone through life, he’s determined his priorities are with family, not with school.  He cares about helping Polynesian players who need his help more than he cares about cheering for BYU.  My experience with him is that he is one of the great trash talkers I’ve ever met and still talks trash to the Utes.

The game was a great experience.  BYU dominated in the first half and showed the things I wanted to see:  the defense didn’t allow many points, offense moved the ball well, and there is still room to improve.  Let’s hope they can take those same things to Texas.