By JERRY MCGUIRE
The Hartford Courant
September 4, 2009
Alcohol policy: Limit of one beer sales limited to one per purchase. Everybody must show an ID. Sales stop midway through the middle of third quarter.
Camera policy: No video cameras or recording devices.
Confidential fan texting hotline: If somebody is impairing your fan experience, call 860-610-4844 or text 860-861-8100.
Parking/arrival: Lots open four hours before kickoff; and stadium gates open 90 minutes before the game. Suite and club ticket holders can enter the stadium two hours before kickoff.
Prohibited items: Umbrellas, coolers, outside food and beverage, Tthermos bottles, flasks, banners, signs or flags, horns, laser pointers, animals (except assistance animals).
Seats: When facing the field, seat No. 1 is always to your right.
Ticket sales: Main office outside Gate B. Advance ticket sales available behind Section 105, or go to uconnhuskies.com or call 800-745-3000.
Tailgating: policy: Allowed starting Starts four hours before the game and for ends two hours afterward. No tailgating during the game.
Can not tailgate once game begins.
Grills, coolers, tables etc. should be kept in front of your vehicle.
Saving parking spaces not allowed, so enter the lot with your friends.
Canopies and flags are permitted, except for those requiring supports pounded into the ground.
Oversized vehicles must park in "oversized vehicle lot."
No charcoal fires or open flames permitted.
Caterers and unauthorized sale of food or beverages not permitted.
Ball playing, Frisbee tossing not permitted.
Alcohol is permitted in parking lots, but visibly intoxicated people won't be allowed into the stadium. Kegs and drinking games not permitted.
Planning Your Day At Rentschler Field
As UConn enters its seventh year of big-time college football in a stadium befitting that status, the tailgating experience at Rentschler Field mirrors the evolving Huskies program: not quite at the level of established BCS schools, especially those at the top.
Is there one signature factor that sets Rentschler tailgating apart? Not really, other than folks attired in UConn colors, a roughly equal division of Red Sox/Yankees and Giants/Pats hats and shirts (and Hartford Whalers attire, a trend that seems to be growing by the year). But the lots can be quite a sight as game time approaches, with tents, flags and smoke wafting from grills.
Even though there aren't assigned parking spaces for regular fans, one is starting to see the same faces, trucks, tents and flags at basically the same spot game in and game out. That's a sign folks are starting to get the hang of it, the biggest of which is learning the nuances of organizing your group and timing your arrival.
Getting ThereRentschler's biggest drawback is that it's almost 30 miles from UConn's Storrs campus, a minus as far as pregame atmosphere. Driving by a massive aircraft engine plant and dying 1950s strip malls isn't quite the same as meandering by ivy-covered gothic halls of learning on the way to the big game.
But Rentschler's biggest upside is that it's easy to get to. If you don't think this is a big deal, ask the folks who take long drives on the two-lane roads in and out of State College, Pa., to watch Penn State play. Of course, many of those are driving RVs and spending several days there, an option Rentschler does not offer fans.
Located off Silver Lane in East Hartford on land donated to the state by Pratt & Whitney, the easiest way to get to Rentschler is taking I-84 to exit 58 (Roberts Street) and follow the signs and traffic cops. You'll have two options at the Roberts/Silver Lane light: left on to Silver Lane to the stadium's north gate or straight through the light, then a quick left before splitting off into the blue or red/gray lots (more on the colors later).
From Wethersfield and points southwest of the Connecticut River, take I-91 north to the Charter Oak Bridge (exit 29) to the first exit after the bridge (exit 90) and follow the signs to Silver Lane. The state police have done a good job of setting up lanes to get to the stadium on gameday. Exiting can be a drill, but we'll get to that later.
From Glastonbury and points southeast of the Connecticut River, take Route 2 to exit 5A and follow the signs to the Willow Street gate (blue passholders must go to exit 4).
ALTERNATE ROUTES: Despite the best efforts of police to manage traffic flow, exit 58 tends to get clogged as kickoff approaches. It's much more of an issue for weekday night games that overlap rush hour and alternatives to I-84 are virtually required if you want to tailgate properly (whatever you deem that to be).
But in 2009, the Huskies will play all six home games on Saturdays, with at least four starting at noon. So traffic shouldn't be an issue, barring ever-present construction, major accidents or big Hartford events clogging traffic into the city (don't laugh, ask anyone stuck in Kenny Chesney or Phish traffic in August).
Coming from Manchester and points east, the easiest alternative is to take Silver Lane, which is Spencer Street in Manchester. From I-84 westbound, take exit 59 to I-384 and get off at Exit 1 (Spencer Street), and take the right on to Silver Lane. Even those coming from west of the Connecticut River can pass exit 58 and double back to the stadium using exit 59 and the directions above.
From downtown Hartford, one alternative is to take the Founders Bridge. One can follow Route 2 to exit 4 and follow the signs to Rentschler. The other way is to get off at the first exit after the bridge (exit 3) and take East River Road to Silver Lane.
From Windsor/Bloomfield and points north, take I-91 south to I-291 east. Merge to I-384, get off at exit 1, and follow the directions from Spencer Street/Silver Lane above.
ParkingAt top-flight BCS schools, the best parking spots are assigned based on seniority and donations, and folks know the drill from decades of practice as far as when to arrive and what direction to point the vehicle when you park.
It's not as structured at Rentschler, where parking is general admission, first-come, first-served into the lots, even those reserved for longtime season ticket holders. This system works as far as getting folks into the lots quickly, but has a few drawbacks as far as setting up one's tailgate.
Officially, there are basically three parking areas at Rentschler blue (for longtime or recently generous season ticket holders with lots of priority points) and gray/red (season ticket holders without a lot of points and single-game visitors, who'll pay a $12 game-day parking fee). There are smaller lots closer to the stadium (gold, for VIPs, and orange, an alcohol-free area). But passes to those lots, like the blue, are already spoken for.
TIP: Like most anything else, you can get your hands on these passes for the right price by visiting websites such as craigslist or eBay or The Boneyard, the UConn fan message board (connecticut.scout.com).
The blue lot, which covers large patches north, east and northwest of Rentschler, is the most convenient and lively. The gray and red, south of the stadium near the old Rentschler Field runway, is slightly tougher to get in and out of, but equally lively.
Since spots aren't assigned, you are directed into your spot by attendants, who park cars in long rows of two, one behind the other. While this system helps traffic flow into the stadium, there is one huge downside: you have a 50-50 chance of your car's tailgate facing the front of another car, not the lanes that separate rows of cars. This makes setting up your tailgate a little more challenging, especially if you have lots of stuff.
If you're quick enough to size up where your car will fall in the pattern when the wheels hit the grass, you can let the car behind you pass ahead so you can have your car's tailgate facing the road (but remember, they might be thinking the same thing).
Some folks, especially those in large groups who arrive in caravans, have mastered the art of backing their cars around so the back faces the lane. The attendants aren't really fond of this practice, because it slows traffic. Nor will be your neighbors for the day who aren't part of your group. If you must flip your car around, wait a little bit until the attendants are a good distance away. Then, a quick "Hey, do you mind if I ... " to your neighbors doesn't hurt before executing the maneuver.
Another practice intended to facilitate traffic flow in the blue lots is that they fill the first section before opening the second (those with "special" passes aside) directly behind the north side stands. That means that folks who arrive after you might get a spot closer to the stadium. On the other hand, a spot in the back means a quicker exit.
TIP: There are several "unofficial" lots on Silver Lane north and east of the stadium. The best of these is the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Club across the street. A large complex of sports fields for the benefit of Pratt employees, it's an underrated place to tailgate. There's lots of room and rules, especially the much-celebrated and inconsistently enforced "no ball throwing" rule in the "official" Rentschler lots, are less stringent. Plus, getting out is much easier than leaving the official lots. The standard cost for most of these unofficial lots is $10.
TIP TWO: If you're in a large group, carpooling is a good idea, saving on the cost of parking with the side benefit of needing fewer designated drivers and making it easier to round everyone up. Take advantage of the commuter lots located along I-84 and I-91 as staging points for your crew. One such such spot is the commuter lot in Manchester off Spencer Street near I-384, where unsanctioned tailgating occurs.
Once You're ParkedThe Rentschler parking lot atmosphere is a diverse mix. With UConn's short tenure in big-time football, fans have borrowed from experiences at NFL games and other college venues. It ranges from the large groups with tents, flags and large grills and tables of food to families with young children to older fans eating quietly inside their cars.
The unofficial rules are simple: Drink, eat, be merry and get ready for the battle at hand. If you bring a grill, make sure it's propane-fired (charcoal-fired grills are a no-no). You can bring as much beer/booze as you like, as long as it's not in a keg. At Rentschler, you'll see everything from all-out grilling to folks with small coolers with beverages, sandwiches and crackers and chips and dip.
TIP: Be aware and considerate of your neighbors. Try not to invade others' personal space (not a big deal in SEC country, but remember, you're north of the Mason-Dixon line). A lot of folks like a raucous pregame atmosphere, but not everyone. If you have kids and hear or see something out of line, a way to defuse the situation is a quick "kids here!" shout-out. Most people get the point. If not, there is enough security around if you feel the need to bring in the heat.
Even loud music may get a hairy eyeball. But that comes from the same mind-set that doesn't understand why folks stand up for the kickoff or on defensive third downs. Those folks who don't like noise of any kind need to understand they're going to a football game, not a tennis match.
TIP TWO: Unlike many college stadiums, beer is sold at Rentschler, although it's not cheap. It starts at $5 and change for draft and $8-$9 for bottled beer. So if you need beer to keep functioning (we won't be judgmental here) there's no need to chug, there's plenty in the stadium. And sloppy drunk is never cool, especially if you're just settling into your seat.
TIP THREE: It's likely to be hot for UConn's two home September games, especially the opener Sept. 12 against North Carolina. The home opener traditionally is a busy time for paramedics/EMTs tending to those who have overindulged, especially college freshmen away from home for the first time. Lots of beer (and other beverages) combined with 90 degree heat is not a good mix.
When To Break Down The TailgateBy rule, no tailgating is allowed after kickoff. But jeez, it just seems wrong not be in your seat by kickoff (if not the national anthem or the Huskies coming out of the tunnel). For the noon kickoffs, 11:45 seems like the latest to start making your move. Good form is to clean your area before locking the car and heading to the game. And think green: there are receptacles for cans and bottles liberally scattered around Rentschler Field. If you can't make the effort to toss 'em out before leaving, you can leave your recyclables piled neatly near by your car. There's a good chance they'll be collected by ecologically or financially motivated good Samaritans. But if they're still there after game, give a hoot, don't pollute.
PostgameExiting Rentschler from the official lots can be more difficult than entering, especially after close games when the majority of UConn fans defy their reputation and actually stay until the end. (In fact, some choose to leave close games early to beat the traffic, which begs a question I've wanted to ask since moving here 20-plus years ago: What are you rushing to get to? This is Connecticut, not Las Vegas.).
Getting to the roads that lead off the Rentschler property can be frustrating. It's pretty much every driver for themselves (note to Rentschler poobahs: it would help if the parking lot attendants guided folks out to the main roads with the same vigor they direct them in; it would prevent some of the parking lot rage that occasionally flares).
The noon starts this year mean more of an opportunity for postgame tailgating, which is permitted for two hours after the game (officially, there's no tailgating after night games, but it's not enforced until the traffic has thinned out).
Saturday at 3:30 p.m is no time to be in a traffic jam (unless family stuff or work calls). It's a great time to relax, re-open the cooler and turn on the radio for the post-mortem or use your Blackberry or laptop to check out The Courant's coverage at courant.com/sports.
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