Every fall Saturday, millions of people come together in small cities with names like Norman, Tuscaloosa and Ann Arbor to celebrate a uniquely American tradition. We call it college football.
Yes, this even happens in Berkeley and the counterculture hub might provide the best setting in the country.
In Berkeley, participants aren’t just offered the chance to absorb a historic campus and indulge in some of the world’s finest cuisine; they get to enjoy the action from a truly breathtaking vantage point.
And when fans pour into Memorial Stadium Saturday to kick off the 2012 Cal football season (vs. Nevada), they’ll be treated to an experience that’s even better in the wake of a $321 million overhaul.
Let’s be honest, everything you loved about the old Memorial Stadium (views of the Bay, Tightwad Hill) was accompanied with a major tradeoff (splinters in your butt cheeks, the chance the stadium could split into two).
But now, the kinks are fixed and the treasures are preserved, too.
The classic façade, modeled after the Roman Coliseum, looks as majestic as ever now that it’s been stripped of previous coatings and stained in a new off-white-to-grey tone.
The most drastic change on the outside is the 1½ acres of public-gathering space found in the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Plaza, which also serves as the roof of the Simpson Center for Student Athlete High Performance. With the additional open space, fans will no longer feel like they’re running with the bulls in Pamplona when they’re exiting a game with more than 60,000 people.
Once inside and seated, you’ll hardly believe that everything other than the outer wall and the eastern seating bowl was completely gutted and replaced. The field is four feet lower, so fans in the first eight rows can actually see over the wall of brutes on the sideline.
Be prepared for an upgrade in comfort, too. The club level seats now come with backs and the splintering wood was replaced with aluminum benches throughout the stadium.
The most significant altercations can be found in the concourse, which almost doubled in width. The offices that used to clog up traffic were moved to the Simpson Center, so fans will no longer miss large chunks of the game fighting to get to restrooms and concession stands.
With 365 urinals and toilets, male fans won’t be subjected to the dreaded trough, either, while females won’t need to cross their legs waiting in line for 20 minutes.
But the best addition is probably the upgraded kitchen that gives fans a variety of new, freshly cooked menu options, like hummus, dim sum and sriracha chicken, capturing a slice of Berkeley’s foodie spirit. And while fans are waiting, they can watch the action on 125 screens and hear every hit on the stadium’s new broadcast system.
The most important change isn’t recognizable, though. The stadium was also seismically retrofitted to separate into four different free-moving structures if there’s a rupture on the Hayward Fault. David Friedman, one of the project’s engineers, said college football’s crown jewel is now “perfectly safe.”
The only thing left to upgrade now is the product on the field. No one expects Cal to go to the Rose Bowl this year, but fans deserve a team that’s good enough to break their hearts at some point. Not everything is meant to change after all.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.