In 1996, a group of friends and I started a tradition: Every autumn, we’d pick at least one NFL city and make a road trip to see a game there. The plan, eventually, was to see every city and stadium in the league. For 10 years, we made slow, but steady progress.
Then, in 2006, the New England Patriots hired me. A year later, I began traveling with the team to all their games, which allowed me to cross venues off my list with the speed of a well-executed no-huddle offense.
I’m to the point where I’ve been to some cities more times than I can remember, and experienced every NFL locale no less than twice, with the exception of four that still elude me: St. Louis, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Green Bay.
I can’t say I’ve had a terrible experience anywhere I’ve been in my NFL travels, in part because I love going places and do extensive research to find cool, unique things to do there. However, there are certainly some towns I look forward to revisiting more than others.
With that in mind, as we prepare to kick off another season of NFL football this weekend, I’ve ranked my depth chart, if you will, not only to show you which are my favorites, but also to give you a sense of what there is to do in these various communities, and where, if possible, they can improve and potentially move up the list next time around.
We’ll start at the bottom, with the “third-string,” and work our way up to the “starters” at the top.
(Note: rankings take into account stadium and greater metropolitan area)
By far, the worst stadium in the NFL. The Raiders share their dilapidated facility with Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics, which means part of the year the games are played partly on dirt, where the infield resides. Antiquated is a kind way to describe it. There was talk of the Raiders sharing a home with the San Francisco 49ers, but that’s not happening. Oakland needs to build their own ballpark somewhere outside of Oakland in one of the many fine surrounding communities. In the interim, the only reason to go here is to experience the bizarre fans who constitute “The Black Hole.” Your move: stay in the San Francisco area or the slightly more affordable and vibrant San Jose community, and avoid Oakland itself as much as possible. In fact, just go there on game day.
It really pains me to put the Motor City so far down, because in Ford Field, it has one of the nicest stadiums in the entire league. The Detroit Institute of Art also houses one of the best collections on the continent (including Italian and Dutch masters). However, the city itself is really struggling in so many ways these days, and the art is potential casualty (it could go on the auction block). There’s just not much to draw a visitor here right now, sad to say. However, I was just in Detroit last month, and the locals I met seemed to possess a genuinely positive outlook. I hope fortunes turn around soon, and look forward to a time when I can bump Detroit up on my list.
A pretty forgettable stadium in an area that doesn’t offer much culturally, other than its relative proximity to Daytona Beach. Might as well take a tour of the famous race track while you’re there. It’s pretty impressive, particularly if anyone’s practicing on it. A plus: the home fans are genuinely nice to opposing teams’ fans, which isn’t the case everywhere. Also, I like the big-thinking approach of the Jaguars’ new owner, who says he’s committed to the area. But relocation my have to be taken into consideration at some point.
Average stadium, although Krispy Kreme donuts in the press box are a unique treat. Charlotte is… an okay city, I suppose, but I’d like this venue better if it rebuilt and relocated a little further south, in another Carolina city that begins with Charl: Charleston. In the meantime, I find my inspiration here at one of the country’s finest art museums, The Mint. And there are some excellent BBQ joints in the Charlotte area, including Midwood Smokehouse, that are well worth a visit.
Reliant – one of the absolute best stadiums in the NFL. However, everything in Houston’s city limits seems to be several miles away. And there’s not much of interest there, either. But I’m open to suggestions, if anyone’s got any…
A nice stadium, but nothing outstanding. Same for Cincy itself. I’m an animal lover, though not much on zoos, but Cincinnati has a pretty good one. Oh, and I’ll save you the embarrassment of asking a local – no, there is no WKRP.
Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot to do here, but this city gets a bad rap. Maybe I’ve just softened to it from having gone there once a year for the past several years. In any case, make Niagara Falls your home base (the Canadian side is nicer, so, pack your passport). It’s only about a half-hour drive north of town. Bills fans are passionate and loyal, but perhaps a permanent move to Toronto, where the Bills have played a home game each year recently, would give this franchise a lift. Until then, while you’re in Buffalo, avoid the touristy Anchor Bar and visit the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery. The many surrounding colleges give this great sports bar a youthful vibe. Plus, the food’s just better there.
The Colts play in Lucas Oil, one of the most creative, gorgeous stadiums in the NFL. If you love to eat, you’ve come to the right town. Great restaurants abound. And everything worth seeing is within walking distance. Problem is, there’s not much to see (best place to see it all, though, is at the observation deck at Monument Circle). An exception: the historic home of President Benjamin Harrison, on the north end of town, and the famous Indy 500 brickyard racetrack to the west. The folks here in Indy are making the most with what they’ve got to offer.