Saturday, September 6, 2014

Football Stadium Rankings

(Of the Ones I have Visited)

I thought I would get to 30 stadiums last year, but the Bowl trip didn't pan out so I am stuck at 29.  I thought I’d rank the stadiums based on the experience watching a game or games at them.  Amenities are factored in, but atmosphere really wins above all else.  I’ll probable mention the tailgate situation at any stadium still being used, but the tailgating situation was not a major factor in the stadium experience rankings.  

The Outright Dumps

29.  The Rubber Bowl-  Lucky for Akron football fans they no longer have to play in this place.  I hear their new stadium is nice.  Good for them.  This place was definitely the worst facility I’ve ever watched a college or professional football game in.  Nothing really good to say about it.  I went in late September 2008.  It was about as ugly a game as it was a stadium.  The Bearcats snuck out a win with some late game help from then 3rd string QB Zach Collaros and would wind up in the Orange Bowl.  We got the hell out of Akron as soon as the game was over. 

  • Tailgating:  Found a good field to tailgate in, but stadium is no longer in use.

28.  Legion Field (Birmingham, Alabama)- The stadium looks like it’s in the middle of a warzone.  Houses with windows busted out are all around it.  The stadium is old, no amenities and really doesn’t have much going for it.  I’ll say this much though.  It was a great trip.  Fun finish to Brian Kelly’s first year at UC and I thought Birmingham, Alabama was actually a lot of fun as a city.  It probably helped that we took a party bus down from Cincinnati, started drinking when the bus pulled out at 9 and then stayed out until about 4 am that evening.  Game was at noon the next day, bus left for it at about 9… we managed and got introduced to something called the Boone’s Farm Rally for the first time.  Great trip, lousy stadium.

  •   Tailgating:  Big lot right around the stadium offers fine tailgating option.

27.  Riverfront Stadium- Forgot this the first time around.  Not really a dump, but nothing good either.  I have it at 27 and that's all I have to say.

No Complaints, but pretty Meh.

26.  John C. Edwards Stadium (Marshall University)- Not much to say about this group of stadiums.  I enjoyed my experience at Marshall.  Watching a football game was fun and the atmosphere was solid.  No real complaints about the stadium, but nothing really special either. 

  • Tailgating:  Lots of big lots near the stadium.  Fairly solid tailgating going on. 

25.  Carrier Dome (Syracuse University)- Pretty much the definition of serviceable, fine place to watch a football game.  I would say it is a bonus if your stadium is not going to be great and you are a cold weather city, to have the stadium be a dome, because the tailgate was pretty chilly and the wind was noticeable.  I enjoyed my trip to the Carrier Dome.  I’d go back, but nothing glowing to say. 

  • Tailgating- We found a lot pretty close to the stadium.  It was a decent walk and it was hilly, but nothing terrible.  Pretty standard tailgates. 

24.  Yager Stadium (Miami University)- Stadium is fine for what it is.  Most of the times I have been there the Miami students are gone by halftime and the atmosphere is not great.  One big exception, was the trip I made when Roethlisberger was QB.  The place was pretty alive that day.  Pretty fun game, disaster ending for UC.  Miami was dominating most the day, yet some crazy plays put UC within a touchdown of the win in the 4th quarter and UC was going to get the ball late.  Sadly, the punt returner muffed the punt and Miami recovered.  They took a few knees and that was that.  Luckily, haven’t been too many losses like that lately. 

  •      Tailgating:  This is a huge plus for Yager Stadium.  There is a ton of tailgating right by the stadium.  There is a big open lot by Millet and a big field on the other side of Yager.  The trip to Miami is consistently a great trip for me as a Bearcat fan, because of the sheer number of UC fans you get tailgating in the lot.  Tailgating for UC home games is more fragmented because of the parking situation around Nippert, but for this game 5000 plus Bearcat fans can make the trip and party in the same general area before the game.  Bonus points, because you can go back out to the car at halftime and enjoy a beer before the second half.  Stadium and atmosphere are fine, not great, but Miami is well worth the trip for a football game because of the Tailgating.

The NFL Stadiums

23.  RCA Dome (Indianapolis)- It will become very clear that I have a bias towards college stadiums and it 100% comes down to atmosphere.  College Stadiums just feel different to me.  The experience is just better.  Amenities wise I am sure many to all of these NFL stadiums outperform the college stadiums I have ranked ahead of them.  Now, the RCA Dome was pretty Meh, but I went there for a Monday night football game the Bengals played there in 2006.  It was pretty fun, despite the Bengals losing and the crowd was great.  The stadium has now made way for Lucas Oil Stadium, which I am sure is even better.

22.  Pontiac Silver Dome (Detroit)-  Another extinct stadium.  I went to a couple UC Bowl games and a late season Lions game there.  I was really impressed with the stadium generally.  I had never watched a game in the dome so it was different.  We didn’t tailgate so I have no thought on that. 

21.  Fed Ex Field (Washington Redskins)- It’s a pretty huge NFL stadium, though I wasn’t there for an NFL game so I am sure I didn’t get the full experience.  Stadium just seemed like it tried to get too many people in there.  Lots of obstructed view seats, which luckily we didn’t have to deal with.  That said, it was a fun place to watch a football game and I’ll never forget the awesome ending (video below).

  • Tailgating- There’s plenty of it as like most NFL stadiums they did a good job building lots of lots around them. 

20.  The Orange Bowl-  Also where the Dolphins play and I attended for the actual Orange Bowl on January 1, 2009.  Nice stadium, nice amenities, nothing spectacular. 

  • Tailgating-  Great setup all around the stadium and particular fun because everything was set up for the Bowl Game on that day.  Plus can’t beat 75 and sunny in January.  

19.  Cleveland Browns Stadium-  The next three are all AFC North Stadiums and really all very similar stadiums.  Cleveland gets penalized for having the biggest asshole fan base of any place I have visited.  Had a beer dumped on me walking to the tailgate and people constantly acting like jerks.  Most of my trips as a visiting fan have been great and most the time the opposing fans are a large reason why.  I’ve been treated amazingly well traveling, but Cleveland (and another stadium in Ohio are notable exceptions to that general rule). 

  • Tailgating- plenty, just be with a group to avoid the wrath of unreasonable angry Cleveland Browns fans in QB jerseys of about 20 different QBs from the last decade. 
18.  Paul Brown Stadium-  I love going to games at Paul Brown.  This is one of the two stadiums I have been to for both College and Professional football.  There have been incredible atmospheres for both. 

17.  Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)-  I may be a little biased towards Heinz field, which is not much different from PBS or Cleveland Brown Stadium, but having attended two of the most memorable games ever there, I am rewarding it with top spot of the AFC North Stadiums (having never been to Baltimore).  Those two games, first was 2005 when the Bengals played the Steelers, essentially for a division title.  Palmer and the Bengals offense were great all game long.  Just when the Steelers looked back in it, Tab Perry returned a kickoff to the 1 yard line, dragging Steelers players like 30 yards along the way.  Such an awesome game and credit to the Steelers fans, most weren’t total jerks when we left.  It should be noted that was also a game we made the decision to attend about 4 in the morning and drove from Cincinnati immediately.  Great decision in Hindsight.

The other is still the best game I’ve ever attended in any sport:  UC vs. Pitt, 2009 for the Big East Title.  I remember everyone panicking when UC went down 21 and me repeatedly telling people that we were going to find a way to win this game.  Then when Mardy took the kickoff back for a TD before the half I started yelling it to people.  The last quarter of that game was unforgettable.  Big play after big play.  Missed PAT by UC, then a 2 point conversion on the next drive to make up for it.  Botched PAT by Pitt setting up UC’s game winning drive, which ended with this:

Solid College Stadiums

16.  The Liberty Bowl (Memphis)- It’s old and little dumpy, but it’s still a college stadium and a fun place to watch a game.  The atmosphere for the Liberty Bowl was great, maybe it would be lower if I were just there for a Memphis game.  Probably the toughest call for me on where to put it, but I really enjoyed my trip and liked the stadium so right in the middle is where it sits. 

  • Tailgating- Plenty right around the stadium and bonus points for being a city with great barbeque.  

15.  The Glass Bowl (Toledo)-  I was really impressed with this place.  Great little stadium in the heart of Toledo’s Campus.  Reminded me a little bit of Nippert.  Crowd was solid throughout and there were decent tailgating options. 

NFL Stadiums with Character

14.  Raymond James Stadium (Tampa)- I was in Tampa for a college game in 2009.  Made the drive overnight to attend a Thursday night game between UC and USF (both were ranked).  The environment was really good that night.  Raymond James Stadium reminds me of the AFC North stadiums I visited, but just seems to have a little more character (or maybe that’s just the Pirate Ship).  Like all NFL stadiums I have visited, finding tailgating spots near the stadium is not an issue.  Hell parking was pretty easy as well.  Plus the added bonus is I got to see a great football game, where sadly Tony Pike got hurt, but Zach Collaros did this:

Yeah 2009 was pretty epic. 

13.  Superdome (New Orleans)-  I just have great things to say about this place.  It’s a pretty standard Dome but there is just an electric feel to the place.  It gets loud and it benefits from being in the heart of New Orleans.  Maybe I’m biased because I was there for a Sugar Bowl which is an event in itself, but I loved this place despite the terrible result of the game. 

If You Get a Chance you Should Definitely Go

12.  Papa John Stadium (Louisville)- I’ve now seen the Bearcats play there 4 times, all four were great games and the atmosphere at all four was really good.  In the last 3 UC brought great crowds which just added to the environment.  Hell, I feel like it was pouring down rain at the last 3 and I still had a great time.  My biggest complaint about Papa John Stadium is the upper deck seating sucks.  For a stadium that does not seat a ton of people, the upper deck seats seem really far away.  Luckily, I was only in the upper deck once.  Best trip to Papa John Stadium was 2008 when the Bearcats were trying to win their first Big East Title.  They had just come off a huge win at WVU and it was pouring rain most the game.  This did not stop UC fans from traveling in force, or partying in the concourses for about 30 minutes after the game ended.  Pretty amazing memory yelling the “down the drive” cheer over and over against after the game as Bearcat fans danced and cheered in the concourse.  

  • Tailgating- Really good tailgating setup around Papa John Stadium.  We usually go to a grass lot caddy corner to the stadium.  

11.  High Point Solutions Stadium (Rutgers)-  I’ve talked about the 2009 Bearcat season a number of times in these stadium rankings, but it cannot be stressed enough… 2009 was amazing.  As a Bearcat fan who has been going to games for 25 years, 2009 was like a dream.  All season I thought about the amount of mediocre to bad UC teams I watched over the years, in front of half full crowds that were sparsely filled by games end and I couldn’t help but smile at how far the program had come.  I went to 12 of UC’s 13 games in 2009 (not making the trip out to Corvallis, Oregon).  UC started the season at High Point Solutions Stadium the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and started it off with an absolute bang.  (I linked the highlight video below).  Maybe it helped that this was a Rutgers team picked to win the league by many and they were opening a newly expanded stadium, but I thought the environment there was great (you know until UC was up by 20+).  I really liked the layout of the stadium.  It was a cool place to watch a game, and just had that great college football feel.  

  • Tailgating- Great options, right by the stadium.  We found some Bearcat fans and set up shot across the street from the stadium. 

10.  Notre Dame Stadium-  Probably lower than people think it should be.  I really enjoyed my trip to South Bend, the stadium was full of character and history.  I took a picture of the narrow wooden bench seat we had to sit on, but to me that little character just added to the feel and is not a complaint area at all.  To me, Notre Dame Stadium loses points for just the feel during the game.  I was there for Notre Dame vs. USC.  The Trojans are their biggest rivals and this was a really good game, yet I would classify the crowd as restrained to quiet for most of the evening.  Having been to several stadiums from bigger programs this shocked me.  Cool stadium, lots of character, worth seeing, but to me lacking a little bit of in game experience because of the crowd. 

9.  Memorial Stadium (Illinois)-  Pretty awful game for UC fans, but I thought a really cool stadium.  Didn’t seem like there were bad seats and the fans were very much into the game.  Additionally, it was a pleasant fan base to be around, bother prior to, during and after the game.  Sometimes it’s the slightly smaller major program stadiums that are a little underrated.  Memorial Stadium is a great example.

  • Tailgating- Everything is rural to the South Side of the stadium and there are a ton of tailgating lots.  We found a big grass lot loaded with Bearcat fans and had a great time.  Probably the biggest tailgating plots I’ve been able to use at a game.  The way they line up the cars they give you a ton of room to set up your tailgate.  Absolutely loved it. 

The Elite NFL Stadium

8.  Soldier Field (Chicago)-  First, it was a maze to find my seat, but other than that the Stadium was really awesome.  It’s the highest ranked NFL stadium on my list and just stood out when compared to the others.  I went for the Bengals v. Bears game last season to start the year.  I had 200 level 50 yard line tickets which were given to me by a random Bengals fan at a sports bar prior to the game.  Person came up to be about noon and asked if I wanted his tickets.  Once I established that he was not trying to sell them, I took them at hopped on the el train heading to Soldier Field.  The Bears fans around us were great, the stadium had a ton of character and the fans were into the game.  Big cheer for Soldier Field.  

Great College Football Stadiums

7.  Carter-Finley Stadium (NC State)-  Another game that went very poorly for UC, in a season that was just brutal for UC (really the only one since BK took over), but I really liked Carter-Finley.  I thought the fans were solid, though I may be remember the red sun dresses too fondly to be completely objective.  Had a few fans that were jerks walking to the game, but once we got there everyone was great.  Highly recommend checking this place out.

  • Tailgating- Plenty of spots and then there are the red sun dresses.  Red Sun Dresses!

6.  Ohio Stadium (Ohio State)-  It has everything except a fan base that treats opposing fans with respect.  I debated where to put Ohio Stadium for a long time.  Having to sit next to assholes or be harassed by fans is a big negative.  Having traveled extensively for games, I have been amazed at not just how pleasant opposing fans are at times, but in how they sometimes go out of their way to treat you well and make sure you enjoy your time there.  This really makes the jerk fan bases stand out.  That said, Ohio Stadium is a really cool place, it is certainly one of the loudest stadiums I have been to and for as many seats are there are I still don’t feel like my far away seats were that bad.  Lots of good, one really bad aspect, on balance it still has to rank fairly high because the intensity of watching a game there is very high.  

5.  Lane Stadium (Virginia Tech)- Really enjoyed my trip to Lane Stadium and that even takes into account that I was sitting in the middle of the student section wearing my UC gear.  The Enter Sandman entrance is truly electric.  I went in 2006, UC had a lead for a while and it was close in the 4th quarter before a couple plays went against the Cats.  Tough game, in a year which UC played 5 top 10 teams (beating one and playing well for a young team in the others all of which were on the road).  I thought this year was a huge building year towards getting UC to a level where they could win conference championships.  The fans at Lane were into the game and we were treated well. 

4.  Milan Puskar Stadium (West Virginia) – I’m betting this is a controversial choice and it is undoubtedly colored by my own experience in Morgantown.  First of all I really liked the stadium.  I thought it was a good size, the fans felt right on top of the field and the crowd was into the game from the get go.  West Virginia was in the middle of a top notch run in the Big East and UC was trying to go to their place and beat them.  UC led from the opening kickoff before blowing a 13 point lead in the last 4 minutes and the game ending up in overtime.  This set up a pretty amazing finish and Jim Kelly’s Jr.’s awesome radio call.  (at the end of the highlight film below)  The crowd was great throughout and we were treated really well by the WVU fans (more on that below).

  • Tailgating- WVU has a reputation for being one of those asshole fanbases and maybe they are.  Maybe my take on WVU’s stadium and the atmosphere watching a game there would be different if I had been treated badly.  Instead the fans treated me amazingly well.  We set up to tailgate in a reasonably small lot about a half mile from the stadium.  As soon as we set up a group of WVU fans called us over and told us to set up shop with them.  So we tailgated with a big group of WVU fans all the way up to near kickoff.  After the game we went to a bar and as soon as we walked in a group of WVU fans called us over.  They poured us beers which they would continue to top off from their pitchers the entire night.  This was despite UC winning what had to be a heartbreaking game for WVU fans.  My opinion is probably colored by how great we were treated, but lessen to all fan bases, be classy towards your visiting guests. 

The Elite College Football Stadiums

3.  Neyland Stadium (Tennessee)-  It was loud, it was large, but the seats were still good.  The Tennessee fans treated us really well and the tailgating was a great time.  When it comes to big historic stadiums, Neyland really was everything advertised.  And additionally, girls in Sundresses. 

  • Tailgating-  They do it right down in Knoxville. 

2.   Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (Oklahoma)-  I do not know if any College Football venue will ever top our trip to Norman, Oklahoma.  The stadium was great, lots of character, good views.  Boomer Sooner coming onto the field was thrilling and completely unique.  The fans were into the game, incredibly knowledgeable and most of all the best hosts imaginable.  The night before the game we repeatedly were invited to tailgates and had Oklahoma fans come up to us to talk UC football.  Walking to the tailgate people invited us to stop by.  We sat mainly with UC fans, but opposing fans at the game were wonderful.  Hell, even after the game, walking back we ended up being invited by more OU fans to have some post game drinks and food at their tailgate.  I cannot imagine a more pleasant fan base that knows football as well as the Sooners fans did.  I’ve never had a stadium experience like it.  Everything about going to a Sooners game in Norman was spectacular.  Cudos to those guys, they are the best.

  • Tailgating- I mentioned it before, but pleasant fans who will go out of their way to make sure you have a good time.  Plenty of lots and really cool tailgate vehicles.  We hung out at a tailgate with an RV with 4 tvs, with beer they brought in from Texas (beware grocery stores in Oklahoma sell you 3.2 beer).  My favorite tailgate vehicles were the school buses where the roof on the back half was chopped off and the back half was essentially a deck.  Really excellent setups.  If you get a chance go to Oklahoma for a football game. 

1.   Nippert Stadium (Cincinnati)- This is my rankings and I am the very definition of biased.  That said, I can guarantee none of the stadiums I attended were louder than a night game at Nippert Stadium.  I love Nippert and cannot wait for it to re-open.  There are no bad seats.  You are right on top of the action and the place is electric for big games.  I’ve seen so many games over the years, but it would have been impossible for me to put Nippert this high until UC football took off under Brian Kelly.  Since those days the place has more often than not been packed and the crowds have been loud and into the game.  At its best I would put the experience of watching a game at Nippert with any school in the country and because it’s my rankings I get to.  

  • Tailgating-  There are way better tailgating stadiums with better overall gameday experiences.  Once tailgating is factored into the equation, Nippert undoubtedly falls down the list.  That said, I love tailgating at Nippert.  There are plenty of smaller lots where you can set up shop.  We’ve been behind Martinos on Vine since 2009 and have combined tailgates with almost everyone around us as a result.  This would probably be harder to do in some of those big lots at other stadiums.  Additionally, UC has a great setup at the Grid for those who want to tailgate next the stadium.  You can make your gameday tailgate experience pretty great and the urban tailgate environment of Nippert is very different from other schools I have visited.  It’s uniquely Cincy and that’s alright by me.  

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