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.
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.