A mostly joyful crowd streamed, and then surged, into the newly rebuilt Husky Stadium on Saturday with high expectations. After getting in, they offered glowing reviews for what many said is the nation’s most beautiful setting for college football.
“It’s awesome to be here,’’ said University of Washington sophomore Kara Bonilla, 19, who nabbed a front-row seat on the bleachers in the “Dawg Pack,” the student section in the stadium where the playing field is about 20 feet away from the closest seats.
“It memorializes the Husky spirit,” said Bonilla, who sported sparkly purple eyeliner and a dog-paw-print sticker on her left cheek, and was ecstatic that her two-hour wait for a seat paid off so well.
If students were upset about being moved to the end zone from midfield to make room for people willing to shell out more for season tickets, they hid it well behind their shouts and barks.
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Pete Lupo, a 35-year-old fan from Bellingham, was in the section next to the students.
“Everything is amazing,’’ said Lupo, who has been attending Husky games since he was 13 years old. “The way the stadium looks and feels — it’s a big difference with the track being gone.”
The removal of the running track, which used to rim the field and kept the fans dozens of yards farther away from play, was the one change everyone agreed was likely to transform the fan experience. It brought the players close enough to clearly make out their faces.
“We are so glad to be here. It’s like coming home,’’ said Tony Silvestrin, 66, of Fife Heights, whose new tickets are in the same general area as the tickets he held for almost 30 years.
“The first thing that struck me is the sound system,’’ he said as Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” filled the stadium. “It’s breathtakingly full.”
Silvestrin beamed as he looked around the stadium from his seat on the west end, and took in what remains of the view of Lake Washington, peeking out from the sides of the huge new video screen.
Stadium doors opened about an hour early to let people cruise around, and it seemed for a few hours at least that you could walk around without having to utter “excuse me” every seven steps. But by 6 p.m., an hour before game time, lines at the concession stands — which included offerings of grilled salmon, Asian noodles and the usual stadium fare — began stacking up.
Disabled fans seemed to have a harder go of it than normal, and their frustration was palpable as they waited, sometimes for more than 25 minutes, for an elevator to carry them to their seats on the stadium’s south end.
Mary Staiff of Seattle said that with only three carts to take people from the parking lot to the south entrance, it took more than an hour to take their place on line for an apparently broken elevator, and another half-hour before they were able to reach their seats on the sixth floor.
“They’ve got a lot of bugs to work out,’’ she said.
Event staff didn’t know what to make of it. They said they did an orientation last Saturday, but many seemed ill-prepared to direct the stream of patrons looking for seats, concessions and access.
And not everyone adapted quickly to the new regime. Rick Stober, whose family has held Husky tickets for 41 years, arrived around 2:30 p.m., and began adjusting to the new reality when he was directed to remote parking on campus.
Stober, 49, who drives a truck for a living, used to pay $800 for a pair of season tickets on the south side of the stadium about 20 yards up from the field at the 40-yard line. Now he pays $1,000 for two season tickets to sit near the end zone on the south side.
“We’ll see how it goes,’’ he said, trying to stay upbeat.
Overall, it was hard to beat the energy or ebullience of the crowd. People seemed prepared to love the stadium, and make the most of it.
“I’m flabbergasted,’’ said Deondroe Stewart, 28, a Seattle locksmith who was enjoying a $7.50 roast beef sandwich at the club level with a friend. “I feel I’m at the Husky Stadium that is for the junior Seahawks. It blows the lid off CenturyLink Field. It’s amazing.”
Susan Kelleher: email@example.com or 206-464-2508. On Twitter @susankelleher