Michie Stadium has long been on Stadiafile’s ‘must visit’ list. One of the most historic college football venues in the country
, it is set within the picturesque Hudson Valley, just 50 miles north of New York City. As a military academy steeped in tradition, a visit to Michie Stadium assures an authentic, unique American sport experience.
Michie Stadium, named after Dennis Michie, the Cadet who created the Army football program in 1890, was built in 1924 amidst the boom in college stadium construction (see Michigan Stadium, the Rose Bowl, Notre Dame Stadium, etc.). Army was then a powerhouse football program and Michie Stadium would become the center of the country’s bourgeoning college football culture.
The campus and the stadium sit high above the Hudson, at a strategic bend in the river which made this spot an important stronghold for the American troops during the Revolution. The main road into West Point, Route 218, becomes West Point Highway in the town of Highland Falls, where it enters the campus. Passing through Thayer Gate, to your left is Buffalo Soldier Field, a series of football fields during the week, becomes tailgate central on gamedays. An alternative – and unique – way to arrive is via the Seastreak ferry which leaves from New York City at 8 a.m. on gamedays, taking a three-hour trip up the Hudson River.
Adjacent to Michie Stadium is Lusk Reservoir, a manmade, 13-acre reservoir providing the campus drinking water. From the reservoir, the terrain rises quickly towards the surrounding hillsides, all technically part of the 16,000-acre wooded campus. The cozy, 38,000-seat stadium’s original, 3-sided structure remains intact, with the East grandstand added in 1962 and an upper deck in 1969. Unlike other larger campus stadiums, this modest expansion allows the surrounding landscape – showcasing today’s beautiful Fall foliage – to remain wonderfully visible from within the stadium.
To get the lay of the land, we were able to proceed directly to the Hoffman Press Box, having been granted press credentials by the Army Athletic Department. From up high, the view of the Cadets, Lusk Reservoir and the surrounding Hudson Valley was spectacular, but we quickly realized that the ultimate atmosphere lay down below.
Walking around Michie Stadium during a game, a few things become evident: people here are very nice and very respectful; there are no packs of loud, drunken fans – a virtual staple at college gamedays across the country – and the 4,000-strong Cadet student population is a fun-loving, yet disciplined bunch.
Cadets are ‘highly encouraged’ to attend home games and cannot leave the stadium early. I love this; the impact of this rule sustains the lively, energetic atmosphere throughout the game.
Army were taking on nearby rival Fordham at the game we attended, so there was a great atmosphere. Everyone was extremely nice, almost as if all the Cadets, whether spectators, food or ticket sellers, were consciously putting Army’s best face on. Families were everywhere, along with Fordham undergrads flirting with the Cadets, and the smell of homemade caramel corn hung heavy in the air, confirming that this place is all that is good with collegiate sport.
Halftime is special at Michie Stadium. During the game we covered every corner of the grounds, but fortunately halftime found us climbing the evocatively named Stoney Lonesome Road, which runs around the north end of the stadium, giving us a unique view of the festivities inside. An American flag the size of the entire field was unfurled, former Cadets and servicemen in the crowd were asked to stand and military hymns and battle songs were belted out by the Cadet band. It will bring a patriotic rush to the most agnostic New Yorker.
Army is not alone amongst unique venues in the Academies. Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD and Air Force’s Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, CO are similarly sized buildings, both cleverly knitted into their surrounding, with Falcon Stadium probably the most architecturally noteworthy of the three.
From a visitor’s perspective, athletics facilities appear to dominate the West Point campus. Cadets are required to take part in at least one sport each semester, be it intercollegiate, club or intramural. From the numerous football fields at Buffalo Soldier Field, to the bleachers lining the expansive plain, the sports facilities makes sense at a military academy where all the students are also undertaking a physical training. Oh, and one would bet a large percentage of cadets were star athletes in high school.
Clustered on the south side of Michie Stadium are a series of athletic buildings built over the past 20 years, forming an impressive athletic facility. Directly adjacent to the south end zone seating is the 120,000 square foot Kimsey Athletic Center, home to all the training facilities, locker rooms and coaches’ offices. The 131,000 square foot Holleder Center further up the hill houses both the 5,000-seat Christl Arena and the 2,750-seat Tate Hockey Rink, home to the Black Knight basketball and hockey teams respectively.
None of these buildings, including Michie Stadium, are of great architectural significance. Their straightforward, utilitarian construction and appearance are representative of the campus’ no-nonsense, honest character. The real stars of West Point are the beautiful setting along the Hudson River and the Cadets themselves. Michie Stadium plays a humble, supporting role, as it has been dutifully doing for the past 90-some years.