Call it a job perk, but one of my favorite things about what I do is the opportunity to experience a lot of different sports venues and game day experiences. It never gets old taking in all the different sights, sounds and traditions. I’ve been fortunate to take in a lot of different places over the years and I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite venues to watch a college football game.
Now, before we begin, a few things. It goes without saying that this is a subjective list. I mean, this is just my opinion. Also keep in mind that I am coming at this from a guy who is a neutral observer at these game so my experience is almost certainly different than someone in a stadium with a rooting interest. I get that you may hate Neyland Stadium because your ears bleed when you hear Rocky Top played 10,000 times per quarter; or maybe some jack leg fan annoyed you an entire game at Carter-Finley Stadium and you told your wife “We are never coming back to this godforsaken place” as you left the stadium. In fact, feel free to share some of your stories, good and bad, in the comments section.
I’m not going to go Lindy’s on you and rank stadiums. These aren’t in any special order. These are just a few of the stadiums and experiences that I enjoy the most. Sound good? Awesome. Let’s get started.
We have to start in state with my two favorite stadiums, Williams-Brice and Death Valley. I cover about six games a year at Clemson and six games a year at USC so of course I am going to have them high on my list. I get that USC fans think Death Valley is a cow pasture, and Clemson fans think Williams-Brice is a parking lot, but the fact of the matter is both fans have venues they have every right to be proud of. Am I biased? Probably, but Williams-Brice Stadium and Death Valley are my two favorite places to watch college football and I have been to a lot of places.
Death Valley, Clemson
What I like about the venue:
Death Valley is the quintessential Southern college football stadium. It’s location in the heart of campus and the views of campus that you get from inside the stadium give it that perfect college feel. A lot of stadiums don’t have this. What is my favorite thing? Easy. I love the Tigers pregame. Their buildup to kick off is phenomenal. It’s just outstanding. By the time they are lined up for the kickoff you are ready to run through a wall. Those people that make fun of them riding the bus and rubbing the rock are just haters. It’s cool and it’s exciting and it fires up everyone in the stadium.
Oh, and they let fans leave the stadium and come back in later. The fact you can “recharge” at halftime is a huge home field advantage.
Williams-Brice Stadium, USC
South Carolina has really stepped up its game over the past decade. Steve Spurrier coming in and winning games is a big part of that, of course, but there’s more to it than that. Upgrades in and around the stadium have vastly improved the game day experience. The school addressed the concrete jungle motif and turned the area around the stadium into a much more natural and fan friendly landscape. The “Beast Board” inside was a game changer for the fans. And, after struggling for years trying to find some sort of in game tradition, (Remember when they tried to play “Carolina Girls” before the 4th quarter? What a disaster that was. Who sat in a meeting and said “Nothing fires up the fans like 1980’s shag music!” ), they landed on a gold mine by taking Sandstorm and making it their own. When Marcus Lattimore committed to the Gamecocks he mentioned how he couldn’t wait be a part of a game with the fans screaming and dancing to that 2000 techno hit. It is one of those songs that, like Rocky Top, drives the opposing fans and players crazy, but is beloved by the home crowd. To me, this has replaced “2001” as the coolest part of the USC game day experience.
LOUDEST STADIUM I’VE EVER BEEN TO:
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, AKA “The Swamp”
I love covering games in Florida. Not only do you get to see the largest collection of jean shorts in the Southeast, but you also get to experience a game day atmosphere that is head rattling. The press box there is open air so you can hear the crowd the entire game. They make A LOT of noise every time the opposing offense runs a play. Not just 3rd down, every down. Not just during the 4th quarter, all game long. It’s impressive. In 2006 I was on the sideline at the end of the USC-UF game when Ryan Succop’s 48 yard game winning field goal attempt was blocked by Jarvis Moss . The win kept Florida unbeaten and helped them win the national title that year. The moment that kick was blocked was the loudest I’ve ever experienced in a stadium. It was incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like that before or since. It is stupefying how much louder things are on the field than in the stands. I may have partial hearing loss after that, but it was totally worth it.
COOLEST PREGAME TRADITION
Tie: Jordan Hare Stadium, Auburn and Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida State
Auburn game day is a pretty invigorating experience. Their fans aren’t quite as loony as Alabama fans but they are every bit as passionate. When “Auburn Spirit” circles the stadium, I am half impressed and half wondering if he is going to fly straight into the press box and land on my head. As you can tell from the video below, he gets really close. He actually has dinged the press box window before, but still managed to make a safe landing.
Then you have Florida State. Look, I know it’s 2016, and I know that some people may think the Seminole mascot and Osceola and Renegade are offensive, but damn, it sure is cool watching them perform pregame before an ACC showdown. Full disclosure: I like the tomahawk chop, too. It is awe-inspiring when they are chanting it during games. The F.S.U. pregame gives me chills.
MOST OFF THE CHAIN FANS AT A STADIUM
Death Valley, LSU
This is pretty much a no brainer, right? Was there any doubt it was going to be LSU. These people are on a whole other level. I was covering a game there several years ago and it started pouring rain. Usually when this happens people run for shelter or their rush to get their rain gear on. Not at LSU. These swamp people started cheering and hooting and hollering like money was falling from the sky. Meanwhile, the guy over the PA is saying, “Chance of rain. Never.” It was something else.
I’ve heard lots of stories about LSU fans. I guess we all have. An Auburn fan told me he was at Death Valley once, sitting a few rows from the very top of the stadium. During the pregame an LSU fan snatched his hat and threw it over the top of the wall and out of the stadium. When he turned around the LSU fan looked him dead in the eye and said ‘You’re next.” The Auburn fan said he sat down and didn’t get up or make a sound for the rest of the game. Silenced. Of course, opposing players have tons of stories about chicken bones and bare bottoms being directed at their bus coming to the stadium. They are a rowdy crew at LSU.
It’s also worth noting, they are a pretty hospitable crew, too. For all of the crazy stories, I’ve heard twice as many about being invited into a tailgate for some road kill, err, I mean gumbo, and cold beverages. Last year when the floods washed out the USC-LSU game in Columbia the Tiger fans made the Gamecocks feel at home when the game was moved to Baton Rouge. Passionate and compassionate. That’s LSU fans.
Sanford Stadium, Georgia
I love Athens and I love Sanford Stadium. Georgia does a first class job with their game day presentation and that stadium would win any beauty pageant that I was judging. There fans are a bit over the top, but it’s a small price to pay. I love the location, the hedges, Uga sitting on top of bags of ice in his doghouse. All of it. I don’t know how any recruit could say no to playing there after experiencing that stadium on a visit. I’m not a Georgia, fan, but I think might be in love.
MOST UNDERRATED STADIUM EXPERIENCE
Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech
This place is right up there with The Swamp in terms of sustained noise during a game. The campus and stadium are gorgeous and both have that military feel. Blacksburg is a great place to watch a college football game and probably should be on your bucket list of stadiums to visit. It’s a sneaky good place to visit and home to some great fans.
Okay, so there are a few of my favorites. What say you? Take to the comments section to share stories about your favorite places to take in a college football game.