Red Zone Fans

The Red Zone is returning to Arizona Stadium and no stuffed mascot is safe.
Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

The deadline for renewing 2013 Arizona Wildcats football season tickets is Wed. May 1 so it’s time to put your money down.

Where will you be sitting?

My friends and I are moving to a new section but returning to an old home. The “Red Zone” is back and it’s great news for fans who love to get crazy for the Cats.

I’m not a real writer but I play one on TV. Well, not TV, but in the press box at the occasional UA baseball game. During football season, however, I get back to my roots, buying tickets and rubbing sweaty elbows with the rest of the Arizona Stadium crowd.

This fall, I’m very happy to report my tickets will be in the new Red Zone.

If you can recall the days before Arizona Stadium expansion and monstrous video boards, there was a set of old metal bleachers behind the south end zone. The UA athletic department marketed these seats as the “Red Zone,” a general admission section for “spirited” fans who wore jerseys and costumes and ridiculous hats and spent the whole game standing and yelling. The section had sponsors and there were giveaways such as t-shirts and hand towels, just like in the ZonaZoo.

Basically, the Red Zone was the student section for non-students.

But the old bleachers had to be torn out after the 2010 season to put up the video board. The Red Zone went away, forcing its former residents to find new seats and – horror of horrors – actually sit in them.

The wheels of change began turning back in the Red Zone’s favor during the 2012 season as the student section was noticeably emptier than previous years, especially at the end of games. The Arizona band was moved three sections to the north midway through the season to fill in some of gaps in the wide-angle TV shots. Everyone had an opinion on what to do with the ZonaZoo. Shrink it? Move it? End the Cold War with it?

Red Zone Facepaint Guy

Welcome home, Facepaint Guy.
Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

The solution for 2013 was keep the band in section 7 and open up sections 9 and 10 to the public. Section 9 was designated as general admission and the Red Zone was reborn.

I’m not going to pretend it’ll be exactly the same. A big draw of general admission is the chance to control your seating destiny. Get there early enough and you could be in the front row, with the game in your face and a solid chance of getting that face on TV.

The new Red Zone is only about a third as wide as the old one, which stretched from sideline to sideline in the south end. There will still be plenty of room in the new section but a lot less fieldfront property.

Not that I’m complaining. When you lose something you’re far more willing to compromise to get it back. To keep it, We The People of the Red Zone have to make the most of this second chance. Fill the section, stay the whole game and get loud.

And behave ourselves. No more embarrassing YouTube videos of interactions with fans of the visiting team. Play nice and encourage the powers that be to keep the section around. Play nice and rowdy and make a case for the Zone to be expanded.

This isn’t about trying to be students or competing with the ZonaZoo. The dream is for there to be no discernible boundary between the two groups, an ocean of rabid students next to a sea of maniacal not-quite-grownups.

One Wildcat Universe passionately cheering for the home team.

I’m very curious to see what effect the completed north end zone project will have on the UA game day atmosphere as a whole. The construction was given as one excuse for the large chunks of empty seats throughout Arizona Stadium. Will attendance for Rich Rodriguez’s second season return to at least the peak of the Mike Stoops era?

The other change I’m excited to see – or hear, if not feel – is noise, and lots of it. With the enclosed north end the sound isn’t going to escape.

“I have to imagine the decibel level’s going to go up some,” UA athletic director Greg Byrne said at the spring football scrimmage. “How much, we’ll see the first game once we get the bodies in there.”

The players are looking forward to the extra fan volume as well. B.J. Denker, the frontrunner to start at quarterback this fall, said, “(The enclosed stadium is) going to make us louder. Our fans are already loud as it is but that’s going to make it harder (for the other team) to play offense here.

“It’s going to make (Arizona Stadium) look like an elite Division I program’s facility. It’s going to be exciting.”

Byrne talked about other changes associated with the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, including links to Arizona’s past.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the John ‘Button’ Salmon bust,” Byrne said. “I think most likely we’re going to put that outside of Lowell-Stevens.”

Arizona Stadium will also be equipped with mechanized collapsible goal posts. Byrne said, “When we beat the Devils to go to Pasadena we’ll just push the button and the goal posts will fall down. Gotta prepare for success.”

(I wonder if the wall will also collapse.)

I was happy to hear there are no plans to change the infamous visitors’ locker rooms, or the single-file stairs visiting players have to climb to get to the field.

“That’s one of the nicest (locker rooms) as it is in the Pac-12,” Byrne said. “I think it’s ranked 12th out of 12. Can’t do much better than that, right?”

Wildcat home games will look very different in 2013 and people who haven’t been to the stadium in a couple years won’t even recognize the place. The hope is many fans get comfortable in the new sections and Arizona Football moves from a fall pastime to six or seven must-see events every year.

I, for one, am happy to be moving to new seats and can’t wait to stand on them.

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Scott Terrell has been a UA football season ticket holder since moving back to Tucson a decade ago. Follow his fan-based musings on Twitter and Facebook.