“How’s the new stadium look?” has been a popular question thrown my way in recent months. I’ll let you know when I see it.
No, I haven’t done any of the tours because, well, it’s a stadium.The field, I’m sure, is 100 yards long with two end zones and a pair of uprights. As for the bells and whistles, all the new stadiums are beautiful and, for the most part, built to satisfy the modern fan who won’t go to a three-hour football game unless it feels like a two-week spa vacation.
Curiosity got the best of me on a walk this morning. How many stadiums have I been to since covering my first NFL road game in 1991? BTW, that was for a p.m. newspaper, in which I flew home to write the stories after the game at Foxboro Stadium. That’s where the Patriots were coming off a 1-15 season, hadn’t won a Super Bowl, played in an erector-set dump called Foxboro Stadium and were coached by Dick MacPherson.
The answer: 54, including neutral sites in Canton, London and Toronto.
U.S. Bank Stadium will be No. 55 when the Vikings play their first preseason game there on Sunday.
In a 32-team league, I’ve covered 20 teams in two different home stadiums. I’ve covered two in temporary homes, so the Vikings will become the first I’ve covered in three different home stadiums.
I’ve covered two teams — Rams and Raiders — that have had two cities, and one city — Houston — that has had two teams.
I was in Atlanta in 1992 when the Georgia Dome opened and was hailed as a next-generation stadium. I was in Atlanta in 2015 when the Georgia Dome still looked good but was in the shadows of another new stadium being built to replace the alleged dump next door.
Of the 32 teams in the league right now, there’s only 14 that I’ve covered in only one home stadium. So if you wonder why NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell shows up for ground-breaking ceremonies for practice facilities it’s because The Shield is running out of candidates for new stadiums.
But this is a good thing. Pardon the Grumpy Old Men moment for someone who remembers actually packing a lunch before going to Cleveland Stadium to watch the Browns play. We didn’t notice the decrepit stadium. In fact, we kind of liked it, except for when the action on the field took place behind one of the poles holding up the second deck. Or when Brian Sipe got bounced head-first off the Indians’ dirt infield.
Except for touchdowns and really exciting plays, games were watched from the seated position because nobody in your row needed to get up every three minutes for sushi or a latte. We sat in way too small seats with way too big coats. At halftime, you ate your bag lunch. And you leaned over your food because the kids and the drunks liked to spit off the walkway above your head.
But if the team was good and it won, and Ozzie caught a pass, everyone went home happy with no mention of restroom wait times (if it was too long, you went in the sinks, people!), sound quality, internet connection or birds flying into windows.
Best stadium atmosphere: For me, it’s hard to beat Lambeau Field. But I’ll veer from the obvious and say Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Runner-up would be old RFK Stadium in Washington. Both of those venues had a college-like experience that was special.
Worst stadium atmosphere: Well, there are reasons Los Angeles sat without a team from the end of the 1994 season until this year. A lot of people didn’t give a hoot about the NFL and, in case you didn’t know, they have a few other things to distract themselves with in Los Angeles. In the early ’90s, I covered a Browns-Raiders game at the gigantic Los Angeles Coliseum. This was before they started putting tarps over thousands of empty seats to fool people into thinking there weren’t thousands of empty seats sitting under tarps. This particular game had about 20,000 disinterested Californians kind of watching the game. From the press box, you could hear the players yelling on the field. Someone in the crowd brought a giant beach ball. There were more cheers for the giant beach ball being batted about for three hours than there were cheers for the Raiders. And every single time the Raiders got a first down, the guy working the public address system blared the song “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus. Yes, kids, that’s Miley’s dad.
Loudest stadium: Authentic and/or artificial, the noise inside the cramped Metrodome was second to none in my book. Granted, the place was outdated almost as soon as it was finished. The Vikings needed a new one. The team will make a lot more money and fans will enjoy the new place. But, for me, the stadium experience is still only as good as the actual product on the field (See: Cleveland).