A full-color photo taken from the top of the Plaza Level in the Southwest Corner of the building showed many of the 45,988 fans who poured into San Diego Stadium to see the first-ever event held there. The picture taken by Al Sund on August 20, 1967, graced the cover of the San Diego Union newspaper the following day. George Story introduced his article like this, “The big, bright San Diego Stadium yesterday swung open its door to its owners – the people of San Diego.”
37 years later, on March 11, 2004, patrons attended the first ever event at Petco Park. Setting an NCAA record that still stands, 40,106 fans watched two hometown heroes lead SDSU to a 4-0 victory over the University of Houston. Scott Shoemaker from Granite Hills High School pitched the stadium’s first career shutout and complete game, allowing only four hits and striking out 14 in the process. Poway’s Rielly Embrey hit the first home run in Petco Park history
These are the only occasions in San Diego history that a stadium originally built with a capacity of more than 20,000 seats has opened.
Exactly 55 years to the day from when it christened its first stadium, America’s Finest City welcomes its third.
In the making since November of 2018, SDSU’s Snapdragon Stadium opens its doors this Saturday. Parking lots will begin letting cars in at 1 pm, the gates will allow people in beginning at 3 pm, and the scrimmage is set to start at 5 pm.
Here are five storylines to watch about the event.
A Victory Lap for Measure G Proponents
From the moment San Diego State University decided to flex its political muscle to seek access to the Mission Valley site for an expansion campus, fans, alumni, and other allies utilizing the power of social media engaged in a loosely-coordinated campaign to present the virtues of SDSU’s ballot measure. In calling out many in the local media, who explicitly or implicitly backed Soccer City, the competing vision of the land, or arguing with Soccer City’s social media champions, this group placed their faith in the university and played an invaluable role in the successful campaign. Snapdragon Stadium would not be opening without these Aztec Warriors.
464,229 people voted on November 6, 2018. Measure G needed 232,115 to pass. It exceeded that number by only 20,724 votes or 4.5% of the total cast. Poetically, about that number of tickets was passed out for Saturday’s scrimmage.
During the campaign, Soccer City’s best selling point was that public institutions in San Diego are too broken to work together, so giving the Mission Valley site to SDSU was paramount to letting the land sit vacant. Attacking the integrity and wherewithal of an institution that has been part of the community since 1897 naturally invoked a lot of anger and resentment from Aztec alumni and fans. Snapdragon’s soft-opening is the first public opportunity for the veterans of Measure G to effectively say, “we told you so.”
With tailgating starting at 1 pm, the party will start well before kickoff. Maybe someone can ask Seattle Sounders fans for the specs of the Landon Donavan piñata they famously made before a match in 2014.
Who is playing where on the offensive line?
The most important aspect of Saturday’s scrimmage is where it is happening. This is a test run for Snapdragon’s systems in preparation for September 3rd. The football team also has a lot to figure out before they turn their attention to preparing for Arizona. Chief among them is an offensive line that is still in flux only a few days before August 24th, the date SDSU’s practice centers on game planning for the opener.
Last week, Brandon Crenshaw-Dickson (BCD), the returning starter at right tackle was moved to left tackle. Following practice, head coach Brady Hoke was cryptic about the move and did not commit to it being permanent. There are a couple of ways to read the situation.
One way to see it is that the staff believes competition is the best way for a player to improve. Over the first few practices, Jonathan Harrison was not providing enough of it to spur redshirt freshman Zavier Leonard to grow. In this light, moving BCD to LT was a way to provide an incentive for Leonard to continue working. Leonard was singled out multiple times during last Saturday’s scrimmage. Coaches are typically hardest on the young players they are depending on the most. The move would also give BCD experience at LT if Leonard got hurt.
Another way to look at it is to take it at face value. Originally, the staff did not want BCD to have to change positions because he is still a relatively new starter, but the players counted upon to protect Braxton Burmeister’s blind side have not stepped up enough. BCD’s maturity coupled with the growth and talent of Josh Simmons to start at RT allowed them to make this change late in the process.
How the staff lines up their starters on Saturday will be a good indication of which way to understand the latest moves.
However SDSU chooses to line up their offensive line, they will be depending on young players who have rarely, if ever, played in front of crowds larger than ten thousand people. The team needs the fans’ help on Saturday to be loud enough to simulate a real game. During scrimmages at the old stadium, most sat in the shaded areas at the top of the Plaza Level in placid enjoyment of the practice. Saturday people will want to get acquainted with their actual seats and the excitement of the day should bring energy to the festivities.
Within two hours of their posting, every ticket to the scrimmage was taken by SDSU students. With classes beginning on August 22nd, the practice is a perfect part of SDSU’s Welcome Week. After taking in the contest, the students will be headed to the SDSU Block Party which runs from 9 pm to 1 am that same night. These festivities coupled with the intimacy and newness of the venue should make for a better atmosphere for the fans and players.
Who gets into the rotation
Injuries are a risk every time a player steps onto the field. SDSU has already lost expected starter TJ Sullivan, so do not expect to see many of the regulars for too long on Saturday unless they are working at a new position. In their place will be Aztecs lower on the depth chart. The scrimmage will give them a chance to impress the coaching staff.
Production during games is what matters most at SDSU. The scrimmage is the closest the team will come to the regular season. It presents an opportunity for playmakers to separate themselves from their teammates. In addition to the offensive line, here are a few people who could help themselves with a good performance on Saturday.
CB Noah Tumblin: The staff frequently matches him up with Brionne Penny, who is great at coming down with 50/50 balls. If Tumblin can get an interception in these situations, the staff might see him as a complete corner.
LB Vai Kaho: Kaho shines as a disrupting linebacker, but too often, is overaggressive and runs himself out of plays. A few TFLs could go a long way towards showing his growth as a tackler.
S Jatavious MaGee: With the injury to Kyron White, MaGee has a shot to earn time as the backup Aztec. Another solid scrimmage could make all the difference.
DE Dylan Taylor: Dylan Taylor is a walk-on who could impact the team in 2022. He looks to be in amazing shape and had a sack during last Saturday’s scrimmage. Another great outing could get him into the defensive line rotation.
QB Liu Aumavae: Aumavae looks to be ahead in the competition for the third QB. The third-team O-Line has not always been solid when he plays, but he has handled that pressure well. Could a good scrimmage start his momentum to move up the depth chart even more?
QB Will Haskell: Haskell is the most popular player on the Aztecs. His skill set shines most during game action when his athleticism can take over. Saturday will be the biggest stage of his young career.
RB Kenan Christon: Jaylen Armstead hardly played last Saturday. The few snaps he had suggested he is not injured. His absence indicates that either the sophomore RB has fallen off the depth chart or the staff was resting him because he is likely to be Chance Bell’s backup. Behind Armstead, Cam Davis got the first carries last Saturday, but it was Christon, who carried the ball most. Christon has not excelled to date with the Aztecs’ bread and butter, the inside zone, so showing he can run between the tackles should help him earn more opportunity.
Testing out the kicking game
During the offseason, special teams coordinator Doug Deakin said the kickers will not know how the ball travels inside the stadium until they actually kick there. The old stadium ran from east to west. Snapdragon points north and south. How the ball flies inside SDSU’s new home is something Deakin and the specialists will be testing on Saturday.
Both of the Aztecs’ practice fields run in the same direction as Snapdragon so the kickers might have a head start getting accustomed to their surroundings. With the importance SDSU puts on the kicking game, finding out which is the best way to go in overtime or to start a game is one of the subtle details fans can look out for.
The competition for kicking duties is also ongoing. The pressure the fans add should help the staff find out who will earn the duties on September 3rd.