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Rice-Eccles is 'the place' for Utes

Site of constant change and an Olympic legacy

From football, baseball and basketball to soccer, hockey and motor sports, millions of spectators are drawn annually to Utah's sporting events. However, casual observers may not have attended home games for Utah's many sports teams. The Deseret Morning News will be running an ongoing series of reports looking at many of the state's major sporting events, summarizing the spectator experience as to venue, atmosphere and cost.

Welcome to Rice-Eccles Stadium, home of the University of Utah football team and site of constant change.

Thanks to a $50 million expansion several years ago and a Ute football team looking to make outright conference championships an annual expectation rather than a once-in-a-generation experience, fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium say "This is the place" when it comes to local college football.

Head coach Urban Meyer's recent makeover of the team mirrors what has happened at the Utes' home — it's just that the changes have a lengthier history.

Ute Stadium was built in 1927 on the same east-bench location that Rice-Eccles now sits, overlooking Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake and offering an up-close view of the Wasatch Front. The stadium was renovated and renamed in 1972, when Robert L. Rice donated $1 million for AstroTurf, improved lighting and the old east-side Scholarship Box. Later, the south end zone section was added in 1982.

The George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation initiated the massive 1997 remodeling effort, with its $10 million gift followed by university funds, athletics department bonding and contributions from the Salt Lake Olympic Committee to total $50 million.

Removing everything but the south-end section, the 10-month project ended in time for the 1998 season, providing the 2002 Winter Olympics a massive venue for its opening and closing ceremonies as well as the U. with a spectacular concrete-steel-and-glass edifice that has become a collegiate-football gem.

The additions and amendments didn't stop there. Larry H. and Gail Miller donated $1.6 million for the massive video-display scoreboard in 2003. And even the playing surface has gone through its own evolution — from AstroTurf to Sports Grass (1995-1999) to natural grass (2000-2001) to the near-natural FieldTurf in place since 2002.

TEAM: University of Utah football team, the 2003 Mountain West Conference champion and preseason pick to successfully defend its crown.

WEB SITE:www.utahutes.com

VENUE: Rice-Eccles Stadium, 451 S. 1400 East. Seating capacity of 45,017. A stadium-specific Web Site can be found at www.stadium.utah.edu.

In addition to the U. football team, the stadium is also used for motor sports, the Utah Blitzz soccer games, Utah state high school football playoffs, other sporting events and large-venue concerts. Rice-Eccles was also site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. The Games' legacy continues, as the stadium also plays host to the Olympic Cauldron Park, the Hoberman Arch and an accompanying visitors center.

SCHEDULE: Remaining games: Saturday vs. North Carolina; Saturday, Oct. 23, vs. UNLV; Saturday, Nov. 6, vs. Colorado State; and Saturday, Nov. 20, vs. BYU.

Previous home games were Sept. 2 vs. Texas A&M and Sept. 25 vs. Air Force.

ADMISSION: Single-game tickets range from $14 to $37 each. Season tickets range from $71 to $209, with Crimson Club donor costs — from $75 to $2,000 — tacked on to the higher-end areas and press-box areas.

Order tickets by phone at 581-UTIX or online at ww.utahtickets.com. A spiffy online feature is a point-of-view stadium chart — click on a seating area and get an idea of what you're view might be like.

ARRIVING: Utah experiences the usual challenges with most on-campus stadiums and arenas — you've got to go a ways off the freeways and highways to get to campus, with the increased traffic tying up feeder streets and campus drives.

Foothill Boulevard is the primary route if you're coming on from I-80 or the eastside I-215. From I-15 and the downtown area, you'll make your way up 400 South and 500 South.

The U.'s Crimson Club offers parking privileges to members to a number of the main neighboring lots, but the general public can find free lots not too far away — but it may require a bit of a hike.

To avoid the long lines of arriving and departing traffic and the sometimes maze-like navigating around campus parking lots, consider taking the University spur of TRAX, which connects with the main backbone line running from Sandy to downtown. Increased frequency, additional train cars and the Stadium station at the base of the main Rice-Eccles parking lot make this service a plus.

FAMILIAR FOODSTUFF: From the stadium concessions stands — hot dog, $2.50; hamburger, available from commercial vendors; peanuts, $3; popcorn, $2-$2.50; pretzel, $2.50; nachos, $3; soft drink, $2.50-$3; beer, not available; bottled water, $2.50. Other concessions items available include barbecue sandwich, bratwurst, polish dog, pizza, ice cream, candy.

EXPANDED MENU: From outside commercial vendors, offerings include smoothies, Mexican food and desserts, kettle corn, snowcones, chicken or beef bowls, corn dogs, burgers and Greek fare.

SOUVENIRS:T-shirts, $12-$24; replica jerseys, $40-$50; sweat shirts, $37-44; caps, $16-20; football, $16; miniball, $5; pennant, $8; program, $3.


E-mail: taylor@desnews.com