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  • Matt Colville

Hancock Whitney Stadium - Lending Tree Bowl


Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Hancock Whitney Stadium 500 Stadium Dr Mobile, AL 36608

Lending Tree Bowl website Hancock Whitney Stadium website

Year Opened: 2020 Capacity: 25,450

 

Bowling in Mobile

Now entering its 24th year in 2022, the Lending Tree Bowl is proving that you don't have to have a Power 5 school to be an action-packed, history-making bowl game. The game currently matches up a member of the Sun Belt Conference versus a member of the MAC. Originally known as the Mobile Alabama Bowl during its first two seasons, the name has undergone numerous changes in sponsorship, including being named the GMAC (2000-10), GoDaddy (2011-15), and Dollar General Bowls (2016-18), with the current edition, is the fourth year that the Charlotte-based Lending Tree takes over as the official sponsor.


For the first 21 years, the bowl game was played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Downtown Mobile. The old stadium is best known as the home of the South Alabama Jaguars and the Senior Bowl. The stadium opened in 1950 but was slowly deteriorating, and is located in a not-so-safe area of Mobile. When Hancock Whitney Stadium opened on the South Alabama campus in 2020, the bowl game was moved.


The 2022 game welcomed the newest member of the Sun Belt Conference, Southern Miss, taking on their old rival from C-USA, Rice. This game was a thriller with Southern Miss Running Back Frank Gore Jr.'s 329 rushing yards ending up being a record for most yards ever in a bowl game.


Food & Beverage 4

There is no shortage of concession stands here, with ten permanent stands throughout the facility. The usual fare of hamburgers ($5), corn dogs ($4), hot dogs ($3), nachos ($3), pretzels ($3), and popcorn ($2) can be found, but they also sell chicken sandwiches ($7), Conecuh Sausage ($6), and pork nachos ($6).


They also have a chicken tenders and fries combo ($7) and a Philly cheesesteak combo ($8). Coke is the soft drink provider with 32 oz. drinks in a souvenir cup ($4) or a 20 oz. Dasani bottled water ($3). There are a few specialties stands throughout the facility, as well as a taco stand, a Sonny's BBQ stand, and a Foosackly’s chicken finger stand.


If you’re lucky enough to have a club-level ticket in the Hargrove Club, there is a full-service buffet-style platter up there and a bar that sells a more extensive collection of alcoholic drinks, along with an executive chef who cooks all the food. The Hargrove Club is located on the west side of the stadium under the press box.


There are also several beer stands located throughout the stadium which sells 16 oz. Michelob Ultra and White Claw ($7), Bud Light, Miller, and Coors ($6). The concessions here sell mixed drinks as well, and you can also get beer from the permanent concession stands.


Atmosphere 3

After over 20 years the Lending Tree Bowl has become one of the more exciting mid-major bowl games of the bowl season. The Lending Tree Bowl has also become a huge revenue draw for the city of Mobile and rivals the Senior Bowl in terms of being the biggest sporting event in the city every year. The game is more of an event, with week-long festivities all over the city leading up to the game.


Both teams will also be active in the community throughout the week taking part in community events. The day before the game they have a giant pep rally and street party downtown. Since its inception this has been one of the first bowls played during the Bowl season, usually a week before Christmas day, and the bowl is usually on the day that kickstarts the holiday bowl season. The Christmas spirit is also on full display here – set up in the south end zone Santa Claus takes pictures and lets kids sit on his lap; there was constantly a long line of kids and parents waiting to meet Santa.

Hancock Whitney Stadium just finished its third year of operations and is already proving to be a better facility than Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which is located closer to downtown. The new stadium is a lot smaller but with the way the seating is, it makes for excellent sightlines anywhere in the stadium. The stadium is much smaller than the old stadium and is built on two levels, with the first level located below ground level and the concourse at street level.


The field faces north and south, with the south end zone featuring a giant video board, which is the second largest in the state after Auburn. Club-level seating is located in the Hargrove Club right under the press box, and there are also some chairbacks and loge seating up there. There is also usually a team store open in the south end zone (during South Alabama games) but it was not open for the Lending Tree Bowl – instead, there were various merch tents set up selling t-shirts and Bowl game memorabilia. The concourse is wide, spacious, and clean, and because of the many points of sales on the concourse the lines never back up. In addition, the sideline has a sleek LED ribbon screen that wraps around the stadium.


Neighborhood 3

As Alabama’s third largest city, Mobile has plenty to offer and remains a great town known for its southern charm and hospitality. Mobile remains a very underrated city with plenty to do, and you can find plenty of attractions around the city without dealing with the crowds like you would in say, New Orleans.


The college is mostly located in a residential area away from all the attractions, but there are a few chain restaurants in the area. To experience Mobile at its best I recommend taking the 15-minute drive east to downtown where all the attractions and nightlife are located; if you take Government Street or Dauphin Street into downtown pay attention to the many historic buildings located on this stretch. Mobile is a very historic city, and this is shown by its many beautiful antebellum houses and buildings that date back to the 1800s.


Dauphin Street looks just like Bourbon Street except with fewer tourists; in fact, the whole downtown area retains that French Quarter feel as well. Some of the bars and restaurants I recommend include Alchemy Tavern, Hayley’s Bar, FIVE Mobile, Loda Biergarten, The Haberdasher, and Dumbwaiter, which are all good bars located on Dauphin Street. Or, if you are looking for seafood, Wintzell’s Oyster House and Chuck’s Fish have you covered. If you are looking for a nice sit-down restaurant try Dauphin’s, located on the 34th floor of Mobile’s tallest building.


For attractions in Mobile, the main tourist attraction is the USS Alabama battleship. The ship is a World War II-era ship that fought in the war and is located under the I-10 causeway when coming out from the tunnel. The ship is available for touring and I highly recommend visiting. The teams playing in the bowl every year usually take a trip to the USS Alabama during bowl week.


Other things to do in Mobile include Fort Conde, a replica of an old 1700s-era fort, which is a cool place to visit if you are interested in history. For kids and families, the Exploreum and IMAX Theatre are nearby as well. Also, if you want to make a beach trip, the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange are about an hour away. If staying in the area you will find numerous hotels along Airport Rd and Old Shell Road, as well as several high-rise hotels located in downtown Mobile, to stay in as well.


Fans 4

For the 2022 game Southern Miss matched up against Rice, and it brought a packed house to Hancock Whitney Stadium. The announced attendance was 20,512, which makes it the highest-attended bowl game since the game was moved here, and it also ranks as the second most attended game in this stadium's history. The Sun Belt tie-in helps the bowl game, with most of the schools located within a couple hours’ drive of Mobile. Southern Miss fans usually travel well for bowl games and the Lending Tree Bowl was no exception, with the school located only about 100 miles northwest of Mobile.


Before the game, they have an alumni tent for both schools on the south side of the stadium, and this area was overrun with Southern Miss fans. Many of these Sun Belt schools may be small, but they have dedicated and passionate fan bases that support their schools, and it shows during their bowl appearances.


Access 2

The one drawback to the Lending Tree Bowl being moved is just getting to the South Alabama campus – unfortunately, there is no easy way to get here. USA is located in northwest Mobile, far away from I-10 to the south and I-65 to the east. The college is located in a residential area at the corner of Old Shell Road and University Blvd, and no matter which direction you are coming from you will encounter numerous red lights on the way to campus.


I-10 is located about 10 miles south, while I-65 is about 5 miles to the east, and these are the main roads you would come in on if coming to the bowl game. The fastest way to get to campus is by taking I-65 to Spring Hill Blvd, then going about 5 miles to the stadium. Once on campus the stadium is located towards the backside and can be kind of confusing to find if you are not familiar with the campus.


The best way to get to the stadium is to take the main front entrance next to the baseball stadium, travel all the way north until you hit the roundabout, then take the left and the stadium is in front of you. There were scattered lots around the stadium charging $10 to park, but I found some free lots closer to the baseball stadium that was not charging, even though you still had to walk the same distance.


Once inside the stadium, you should have no problem getting around – the concourses are wide, open, and very clean, with so many points of sale you should not expect lines to back up at the concessions stands.


Return on Investment 4

Tickets to the Lending Tree Bowl are relatively easy to come by with end zone tickets and upper deck tickets selling for $15; the first-level bleacher seats sell for $45, while chairback seats along the west side sell for $65, and Hargrove Club tickets sell for $125. However, it is possible to move around to some of the lower-level seats after you enter, as they were not checking. I consider this a good return on investment – don't let the small bowl matchup in a small market fool you, as this is a very well-attended bowl game and as I will mention in extras you are definitely in for an exciting game in Mobile.


Extras 5

One extra for the Lending Tree Bowl playing host to some of the most exciting college football matchups; notable games include the 1999 and 2000 games in which TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for over 200 yards and 5 touchdowns in the two games, with the 2000 game solidifying him as a first-round pick in the NFL. Also, the 2003 game in which Miami (OH) QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 350 yards and four touchdowns, and the 2014 game in which Toledo RB Kareem Hunt rushed for five touchdowns.


But perhaps the most legendary bowl game of all time occurred in Mobile in 2001 when Marshall and East Carolina set the record for highest scoring bowl game of all time; Marshall, behind QB Byron Leftwich's 576 yards, also battled back from a 38-8 deficit at halftime to win 64-61 in two overtimes. This game is often regarded as one of the greatest bowl games of all time.


Another extra for the stadium becoming the home of the Senior Bowl, college football's premier all-star game. Every year a week before the Super Bowl, coaches and execs from all 32 NFL teams converge in Mobile for the week-long event scouting future NFL players. The Senior Bowl has been played in Mobile every year since 1950, with the game moving to Hancock Whitney Stadium starting with the 2021 game. A who's who list of multiple Hall of Famers who has played in the Senior Bowl over the years.


Another extra for Santa Claus making an appearance at the game – Santa was a big hit with lots of kids waiting in line to get pictures with the backdrop of the field. This was a unique idea; never before have I seen Santa at a sporting event during the Christmas season.


Finally, of course, no event in Mobile would be complete without an appearance by the Azalea Trail Maids. The official ambassadors for the city, the Trail Maids are an area group of 50 high school seniors; the Maids wear bright poofy dresses designed to resemble azalea flowers, representing the southern charm and hospitality of Mobile – the Maids appear at almost every big event or Mardi Gras parade in the city. Before the game the Trail Maids line up at mid-field for a special presentation before the national anthem and flyover; this is something unique only to the City of Mobile.

Mobile is also the birthplace of Mardi Gras, and it would only be fitting for the Lending Tree Bowl to have a Mardi Gras parade as part of its week-long festivities. Both teams, along with numerous floats, line the streets of downtown Mobile – technically you can say this is the unofficial start of Mardi Gras season every year.


Final Thoughts

The Lending Tree Bowl may not be the first bowl game most people think of when it comes to bowl season, but thanks in part to some historic matchups and fans that travel well, the Lending Tree Bowl has become one of the more action-packed bowl games every year. The game has become a staple for the City of Mobile and the Gulf Coast region, and hopefully will be played for many years to come.

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