In keeping with sweet emotions love for manliness, I thought I would rank the manliest places to be on a Saturday. And by all accounts that means ranking the SEC football stadiums and atmospheres. A quick disclaimer, I am ranking the stadiums/atmospheres based on knowledge and personal experience. I’ve been to a game in every stadium except Florida and Arkansas. Those two stadiums I have walked into but never experienced a game. I’ve consulted my friend Miles Gresham since he has attended a game in every SEC stadium. For that manly achievement Miles and Gray Hardison, we salute you.
1) LSU/Death Valley – It doesn’t get much better than a night game in Baton Rouge. With the best pre-game in America and the rowdiest fans, it’s an atmosphere that is hard
to beat. Add to those two elements a full day of drinking for the Cajuns and Death Valley becomes not just intimidating but frightening. At 92,400 strong, it’s a tough place to play. Bear Bryant once said playing in death valley was like playing inside of a drum. And in one victory over Auburn in 1988, the crowd reaction registered on an LSU geological seismograph. Death Valley is a cool place to play, and the fans love making tiger bait out of the opposing fans. Two other big pluses for Tiger stadium is that they still use the double goal post and the Tiger walk with the band before the game is top notch.
Interesting fact - Unlike most football fields, where only the yard lines ending in "0" are marked, Tiger Stadium also marks the yard lines ending in "5".
2) Tennessee – My personal experience wasn’t too exciting in Knoxville. However, my one game was an 11:30 JP game during Tennessee’s horrible season last year. First of all, most people don’t get fired up when the Rebs come to town and secondly, it was the 11:30 JP game. There is no atmosphere killer like JP 11:30. I can’t discount the experts here. The sheer numbers put UT over the top. As of late it has become a little easier to win in UT, but the splitting of the T amidst 104,079 screaming fans is still a great tradition. It wouldn’t hurt for UT to cut down on the number of times Rocky Top is played, but all in all Neyland Stadium is a classic SEC stadium. In my book, the fact that the stadium sits on Philip Fulmer way is a little too much.
Two notable facts regarding Neyland Stadium are.
1) The Sporting News ranked Neyland Stadium as the nation's No.1 college football stadium in a poll in the spring of 2001.
2) Largest stadium attendance was on Sept. 18, 2004 against Florida with a record of 109,061 people. A 30-28 Volunteer win.
3) Georgia – With the coolest stadium situated in a neat town, Georgia combines good tailgating with good football. Sanford Stadium sits in a valley, thus enabling passerby’s on a bridge to see down into the stadium. It’s the 5th largest on-campus stadium in the SEC. Tailgating spreads all over campus, Athens is a great football town, and the atmosphere between the hedges is always exciting. However, Georgia can’t ever seem to capitalize on the atmosphere, thus keeping them from being an elite football program. I’ve heard Miles compare Mark Richt to David Cutciffe. I think I like the comparison more and more. I give a big thumbs up to Georgia fans. My one time in Athens, a random Georgia fan invited me into his tent to dine and then he got my e-mail address and began forwarding me all his political e-mail.
Two notable unique facts regarding Sanford Stadium are: 1) One unique attribute of Sanford Stadium is Georgia's deceased mascots (UGAs I-V, all descendants of the original white English bulldog) are actually buried or entombed within the stadium's east end zone.
2)It is also one of the few college stadiums in which the football field is oriented to face East-West as opposed to North-South. Many of UGA's opponents have found it difficult for players to see as the West Endzone is still open and the sun shines in the faces of the players, although both teams face the sun during the game.
4) Auburn – I spent two years in Auburn, Al and one was during their undefeated season which means I witnessed an extra-amped up crowd. Jordan-Hare is a great atmosphere and the circling of the eagle before the game gave even me chills. The new “hold hands and walk out of the tunnel” for one game was cool but watching it every game makes it goofy and lame. Also, this rebel fan considers the “Tiger Walk” a poor man’s grove walk, but for this decade, Jordan Hare has been a tough place to win. Their cheerleader on a microphone leading chants needs to go, but the paintings at the front of the stadium of Auburn’s all time greats is pretty neat.
5) Alabama – Bryant-Denny would probably be ranked higher if Alabama football hadn’t been struggling as of late. The stadium is the fourth largest in the SEC and is the only stadium with three jumbo trons in the country. The game day atmosphere is full of tradition and the expansion of the stadium adds to the intimidation. The pre-game video latent with winning tradition and the Famous “Roll Tide” give the stadium a nice buzz before kickoff. Bryant-Denny has had 56 consecutive sellout games since 1988. As an Ole Miss fan, I can personally attest to the difficulty of going into Tuscaloosa and coming home with a win.
6) The Swam
p – I relied on Miles for this one. I’ve only walked into Ben Hill Griffin stadium. But Miles ranked it at number six. If this poll was going during the Spurrier days, it probably would be in the top 3. Spurrier was 68-5 in the swamp. I would have thought it would be higher, especially since EA Sports NCAA football ranks it number one. However, I’ll trust my esteemed friend on this one. The gator chomp is a great cheer.
7) Ole Miss – If we were voting on atmosphere alone I would put Ole Miss in the top 5. I know I am biased, but it’s hard to beat tailgating before an Ole Miss game along with the walk through the grove. The pre-game before the showdown with eventual national champion LSU in 2003 was memorable. People were hanging in the tree during the walkthrough and the stadium was rumbling after the opening interception.
Vaught-Hemingway as a stadium is pretty poor. The two expansions don’t go together very well and it has the worst sound system in the SEC. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a complete sentence from the jumbo-tron. The bands performance of from Dixie with love is top notch, but Ole Miss needs to come up with something better than celebrity Hotty Toddy. At capacity, Vaught seats a little under 61,000.
8) Arkansas – Razorback Stadium is cool for two main reasons. The name is razorback stadium, and it has a jumbo-tron (also called the pig-screen) the size of most football fields. The Pig Suie chant has got to be the most annoying in the SEC and the razorback hats are well self-explanatory. They broke their record attendance this year for the USC game by putting 76,564 in the stadium. The big minus for Razorback stadium is that it is located in Fayetteville, AR. I promise, no one but Arkansas fans live near Fayetteville.
9) USC – big minus for USC is the off campus stadium. Located at the fairgrounds with railroads all around, it’s a poor site for a stadium. You feel like you are in the middle of some scrap yard. The Gamecock “railcars” are nothings special, and there is something about tailgating on asphault and concrete that just isn’t college football. The screech of the Gamecock during the game is extremely annoying and their mascot’s “Magic Box” entrance is too gimmicky. USC does have a great, committed and boisterous crowd though. The crowd alone saves the atmosphere, because the stadium and its location add nothing to it. My one trip to Williams-Brice stadium was memorable because I saw Ole Miss come away with a victory with Ethan Flatt at quarterback….a miracle in and of itself.
Notable facts: the playing of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey as the Gamecocks run onto the field at the start of every game, which The Sporting News called "the best entry" in college football. ** I strongly disagree.
10) Kentucky – My trip to Lexington this year was sub-par. My colleagues were a blast, but the atmosphere and the Rebels performance was poor. Just trust me when I say the campus is a basketball campus. No one even seemed to care about the Wildcats even after the victory. In this stadium, you are guaranteed to hear AC/DC blaring over the speakers a good 25-30 times.
11) Miss. St – Davis Wade is the second oldest Division 1-A college football stadium. Other than that, it’s a pretty weak stadium/atmosphere. Cowbells somehow still ring even though they were banned by the SEC. I guess no one will care until they start winning again. No doubt, the best stadium on campus is Dudy-Noble field. The baseball stadium is one of the best.
12) Vanderbilt – Show your gold. The only pre-game that welcomes the opposing t
eam by playing their fight song. Vandy has no tradition and it shows. They change their uniforms every year, and the students usually don’t even show up until halftime. The Dores are always trying to find some sort of gimmick, but it’s just a sad atmosphere. I’ve been to high school football games louder than Vanderbilt Stadium.
Don’t look now but where was Dave Neil and Dave Baker last week? Rumor has it that only Dave Rowe was around. Any word on that?