Firmly into the ratings season, which is a merciful way to spend the dog days of the lockout, we turn our attention to stadiums. Which are the best, the worst, etc.?
Let's start with this: After using a map to help remember all of the stadiums in which I have watched an NFL game, I counted at least 60 different venues. Ranking the best and worst wouldn't be a fair or credible attempt for a couple of reasons: 1.) My memory of some of them is stronger than it is for others. 2.) My warmest feelings are for those in which I covered the most games because those are the stadiums in which I accumulated the most memories.
Of the stadiums in which I have seen an NFL game played, and that's a list that includes every current stadium except the new one in Arizona, I've decided to put those for which I have the most current or fondest memories into categories.
Lucas Oil Stadium—They made a domed stadium look like a college basketball field house, and that's a perfect fit for Hoosiers.
Reliant Stadium—It's proof the quest to make everything in Texas bigger doesn't mean it has to be overbearing. Reliant has some feel to it.
Ford Field—Excellent work in marrying new construction with old real estate. It gets a little confusing in the bowels of the place, but the viewing area is top-notch.
Georgia Dome—I hate bag construction but this one pulled it off. It's a bright, friendly facility.
Qwest Field—Great decision: Cover the fans, not the game. Seattle is too beautiful to hide.
Texas Stadium—It was an outstanding facility until the Cowboys started to squeeze every dime they could out of it. Design gave way to the bottom line, as the stadium's pleasant flow was lost when much of its spaciousness was claimed for luxury-suites expansion.
RFK Stadium—It was built right at the start of the multi-purpose craze, and it got real old real fast. Amenities were non-existent and the locker rooms and press box were atrocious, but RFK hosted a lot of big games and once the place was converted to football only, it improved. It had panache.
Three Rivers Stadium—Empty, it was bland. Full, it teemed with personality. I can still see the ground-level seats bouncing up and down.
Lambeau Field—It defines the history of the game. If you put it in another place, it's not the same. It IS Green Bay and it must always be the place where football is played in this town because its identity is like no other stadium in the game.
Soldier Field—It does appear from the outside that a flying saucer landed inside old Soldier Field, but that's actually kind of cool and the place is starting to grow on me. The architects did a fantastic job of building a new stadium on the old stadium's restrictive footprint. Enough of the old was left to remind us of what was once there.
Memorial Stadium—I never covered a game at Memorial Stadium that I didn't feel Johnny Unitas' presence. It was a bad stadium, but it felt so good.
Notable new ones
M&T Bank Stadium—Fabulous facility in every way; love the purple seats.
Cleveland Browns Stadium—All it needs is a winning team to make it rock.
Raymond James Stadium—Distinctive looking. The pirate ship is growing on me.
Gillette Stadium—I like the way the club seating is presented and the closed end of the stadium is its true personality, but I wouldn't put this one in a class with the best new-construction facilities.
Invesco Field at Mile High—You feel like you're sitting in old Mile High Stadium, and that's the way it should be.
Is this almost over?
Candlestick Park—Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and that era of 49ers football is the only thing worthwhile about a ballpark that was built solely for baseball and had to undergo a clumsy conversion to house the 49ers.
Sun Life Stadium—You could build a golf hole behind the benches on each side of the field.
Oakland Coliseum—The newly constructed side just doesn't fit with what was left.
Mall of America Field—Vikings fans have been too supportive to have to endure this much longer.
Arrowhead Stadium—Renovation has given a great stadium new life.
Louisiana Superdome—Katrina made a stadium in decline a symbol.
Qualcomm Stadium—I love the outdoor press box. Hey, they played a Super Bowl there just eight years ago.
Ralph Wilson Stadium—Not a thing wrong with it. As good as the day it opened.
Giants Stadium—To its last breath, it was a great stadium.
Stadiums with a view
Heinz Field—It's the best in the league in this category. You look downtown and at the three rivers. It is a lovely place on a fall afternoon.
Lincoln Financial Field—The Philadelphia skyline stands watch out the north end zone.
Paul Brown Stadium—They got it right, this time. The sightlines are strong.
EverBank Field—My eyes always drifted to the St. Johns River, especially on a clear, bright December day when the sun bounced off the water while much of the rest of the league was cloaked in gray.
LP Field—I'm not sure why they didn't turn the field so it looked downtown (they probably couldn't do it), but this one has a real football feel to it. You can see out of both end zones.
Husky Stadium—The Seahawks used it briefly, but how could you ever talk about stadiums with a view and not mention this one, with its view of Lake Washington in the foreground and Mt. Rainier in the background? Wow!
Cowboys Stadium—I wonder what the old-timers would've thought about walking through a sports bar to get to the field?
New Meadowlands Stadium—Intimacy was obviously not the intent.
FedExField—All these years later, it's still enormous.
Bank of America Stadium—I like it, but it's an awfully big place for a small market.
L.A. Coliseum—The last time I covered a game there, the press box was closed because it was deemed unsafe. I'll never forget the doors on the players' locker stalls, which allowed them to literally shut the media out, and the rather frightening distance that had to be covered from the locker room exit to the buses.
Angels Stadium—Yeah, the Rams played there, too. My lasting memory is of massive high-tension wires crackling above the parking lot.
Metropolitan Stadium—As a football stadium,* *it was a bad baseball park.
Shea Stadium—I covered the last game ever played there. I remember it resembling a scene from "Escape from New York."
Kingdome—A salute to cement. I never understood how they could keep that cement roof from falling down. They couldn't.
Riverfront Stadium—I once covered a game there when a pipe in the press box burst the night before the game and the floor became a block of ice. It was a lovely location, but the ballpark didn't do it justice.
Foxboro Stadium—They built it for a ridiculously low price and it looked like it.
The Astrodome—The acoustics made you feel as though you had water in your ears.
The Silverdome—Every time I went there, I wondered why they put it there. The runway at the Pontiac airport was so short that it caused us to land so hard on one trip there that one of the players injured his back.
Old Cleveland Stadium—The press box included what I called the world's highest outhouse, until the Browns put one on the roof for the radio and TV boys. Be that as it may, my memories are vivid of big games on gray days late in the season, looking out onto Lake Erie and wondering what really happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald.