About the Bowl Game
The Liberty Bowl has been played since 1959. It started, appropriately enough, in Philadelphia, had a brief stint in Atlantic City where it was played on grass grown using artificial lights at a huge expense (like something out of Boardwalk Empire) and eventually moved south for good in 1965. It's the eighth-oldest currently-operating bowl, older than some of the more prominent games such as the Peach, Fiesta, and Holiday Bowls.
The affiliations have fluctuated with the college football landscape, including a stint as a berth for the CiC Trophy winners in the '80s and '90s. The SEC has long had ties to this bowl game, but this is the first season of the Big 12-SEC pairing.
About the Stadium
Ground was broken for the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1963 and the first football game was played in the fall of 1965. Over the years, the stadium has hosted a slew of failed expansion versions of professional football and soccer, teams in transit, and other offshoots of hardscrabble gridiron play: Mad Dogs, Maniax, Southmen, Showboats, Rogues. The mascots are a gambler's gallery of ne'er do-well caricatures that recall the rough wharves of the Mississippi, and it's quintessential Memphis. The stadium itself is one single level to optimize sightlines, giving it a unique shape, like the curved brim of a hat. The suites also curve with the lines of the stadium, making them feel close to the field even at the highest level. You can still open up a window to take in the sounds of the game. The stadium currently seats just over 61,000 people.
The stadium itself sits on the Mid-South Fairgrounds, about five miles east-southeast of downtown Memphis, a 15-minute drive in normal traffic. You're going to have to drive. But as bowl commutes go, it isn't bad, and there are multiple routes to choose from depending on traffic. You should give yourself three times that much on gameday, especially if you plan on leaving after 11 AM for the 1 PM kickoff. The most direct line takes you all the way down Union Avenue, past the famous Sun Studios, the UT Health Science Center, and across 240 into a quieter part of town.
Inside the Liberty Bowl
I met up with the stadium manager on a cool and sunny morning last week and got the full tour.
- The north end zone from section 123
- The Big 12 side and press box from the field
- The suites from field level
- Field level, from in front of section 117.
- Field level, from in front of section 117
- A view from the north end zone.
- This is where the assistant coaches sit. There was a UConn depth chart still taped to the wall.
- General press area. This is as close as we'd get to the action, as they would later deny our credential request.
- Barbecue nachos--take notice, Kyle Field Concessions
- You can look, but do not touch the glass
- The suites as seen from the section 121 entrance
- The jumbotron at the south end of the stadium
- A view from section 122, which is on the SEC side
- The mezzanines allow for easy movement all around the stadium
- A view from the suites
- The stadium from the intersection of South Hollywood and Central Ave
- The SEC side as seen from the north end zone
- Tiger Lane and the main entrance gates from the press box elevator lobby
- The coaches watch TV just like us
- Press box, first level
- The mezzanine under the east side stands
- Tiger Lane, the main tailgating area, stretches out in front of the stadium
- The main facade of the building facing South Hollywood
- Yes, we went to Graceland
You may have noticed the concessions. They have a local tilt, both by default and design: it's just easiest. They do some of their own cooking and also bring in chain and locally-owned vendors, from Lenny's Subs to barbecue joints. Some of the grilling is done right out in the open on the mezzanines, pumping fragrant smoke into a fantastic football atmosphere like a coat of polish on a vintage car. This stadium has seen a half a hundred bowl games and knows how to do it. You can walk the entire circuit of the mezzanine in probably 15 minutes or so searching for your concession fix of choice.
There are several on-site parking options if you've purchased tickets, as well as spillover gameday parking in the residential areas surrounding the stadium. The main tailgating area is called Tiger Lane, and it stretches in a long promenade that extends from the main stadium entrance to the RV lots beyond.
One more special feature that's new this year: if you are attending the game with small children, the guest services office near the main ticket office offers the Tag-a-Kid service, which provides a wristband for kids who may wander away from their parents to aid in their retrieval.
Enjoy the game if you're going, and travel safely. BTHO the 'neers.
Special thanks to Caroline with the Memphis CVB and the good folks at the Liberty Bowl, especially Harold and Art, for letting me visit their historic venue.