In 18 years covering the league, I've reported from 43 different NFL stadiums. Here are my top 10 favorites:
1. Lambeau Field, Green Bay: While the recently renovated Lambeau blends a sense of the stadium's history with the creature comforts and amenities the modern fan has come to expect, the Lambeau I most fondly recall is the older version, with all its green-painted corrugated tin and the time-capsule feeling you got once you were inside. There is no other experience in the NFL quite like watching a big game at Lambeau during the cold of a Wisconsin winter. The Packers' 1996 NFC title-game win over Carolina is my quintessential freeze-framed memory of the most beloved venue in pro football.
2. Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas: Maybe it's the way those eerie shadows are cast on the edges of the field from that giant hole in the roof. Maybe it's those big, thick, white sideline stripes that always instantly told you Dallas was playing. Or maybe it's just the accumulated weight of so many familiar memories from a stadium that has hosted more big games than any other for decades. Texas Stadium makes my list because everything about it says NFL, in a big, overstated Texas sort of way. I actually took one of those paid tours of the stadium in the summer of '83, while in college and on my way to California on vacation. What stands out most, though, is Thanksgiving Day '98, covering a Vikings-Cowboys game that featured rookie receiver Randy Moss dominating Dallas with three long touchdown catches.
3. Old Soldier Field, Chicago: Before Chicago built that space ship-looking structure in its place and called it New Soldier Field, I always found the Bears home ballpark so ugly it was almost beautiful. It had a basic, straightforward feel to it, much like the hard-working Midwestern-bred Bears fans who jammed it for games. Soldier Field was an amenity-free zone, and even its press box was a cramped, out-dated relic from a bygone era. The football memories it spawned were many and rich in historical significance. I covered bigger games there, but I'll never forget a Halloween-night game in '94, when the Packers and Bears played in monsoon conditions as a furious fall storm rolled into Chicago's lakefront.
4. Mile High Stadium, Denver: It was the noise -- the endless, foot-stomping din of fans standing and banging on those metal bleachers at the venerable erector set called Mile High -- I can still hear. When I covered a Sunday afternoon Broncos game there, it routinely took until Tuesday for the cacophony to recede from memory. But there was magic in that old wobbly stadium, and the Broncos seemingly always had it on their side. The combination of Mile High's inhospitality to visitors, John Elway's well-chronicled comeback skills, and the ability of Denver fans to will their team to victory in almost any situation was a tough act to beat throughout the '80s and '90s.
5. Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City: The sea of red that assembles for a Chiefs home game is a visual treat, and the loyalty the noisy Kansas City fans show their team always impresses me. I've been at Arrowhead on some bitterly disappointing days for the home team -- divisional-round playoff losses in '95, '97 and 2003, in which K.C. held the AFC's No. 1 postseason seed all three times -- and I've never seen Chiefs fans turn against the local team. The stadium was way ahead of its time when it opened in the early '70s and remains a great place to watch a game, with an intimacy and big-game atmosphere unmatched by many newer venues.
6. Municipal Stadium, Cleveland: To be sure, it was cavernous, spider-infested and a bit of a dump to boot. You could unquestionably feel the history of the Browns when you covered a game at old Cleveland Stadium. I saw both baseball and football games there before they tore it down, and there was no comparison. On Sundays, with the Browns fans in full throat, the place had an intensity almost unmatched in the NFL. I covered the stadium's final playoff game, a New England-Cleveland first-round matchup on New Year's Day '95, as Bill Belichick's Browns bested Bill Parcells' Patriots. Both the old Browns, and the stadium, were about to close up shop, but I was lucky to catch their last moment together in the sun.
7. RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.: The Redskins have really never been the same since they deserted rickety old RFK for Landover, Md., and the soul-less FedEx Field. I'm glad I got a chance to cover a Bucs-Redskins game at the old place in '94, so I could see the building that generated so many glorious moments for Washington and its fans. There was nothing upscale about it, but RFK had atmosphere galore, and the Redskins absolutely owned their home field during the George Allen and Joe Gibbs' coaching eras. Much like Mile High in Denver, when the Redskins were on their way to another victory, Washington fans could make whole sections of bleachers jump, sway and bounce to their happy rhythm.
8. QWEST Field, Seattle: It's the only "new'' stadium on my list, and if you've been there, you know why. The vistas of downtown Seattle from within the stadium are great, and the ballpark has unique touches that differentiate it from the league's many other new venues. The triangle-shaped section of stands beyond the north end zone is the obvious leader in that clubhouse, but QWEST has so many qualities that make it the best of the newer-generation. Covering an early season Rams-Seahawks game there in '03 gave me a first-hand feel for the incredible game-altering noise Seattle fans generate on their team's behalf.
9. Candlestick Park, San Francisco: I can't keep up with the latest corporate name the park has been given, so it'll forever be Candlestick to me. There's nothing pretty about it, and it's a baseball stadium used for football out of necessity. But it's got tenure in my book, and covering games there meant watching a lot of great 49ers teams during their hey day. I think of that Cowboys-49ers NFC title game in January '95, when week-long rains turned Candlestick's field into muck and mire. The Steve Young-led 49ers beat Dallas to go to the Super Bowl, and I recall the groundskeepers had to lay plywood along the edges of the field, far out of bounds, in order for folks to even navigate the post-game walk to the locker rooms.
10. Metrodome, Minneapolis: What's this multi-purpose mistake doing on my list? Fair question. Yes, it's sterile, plastic and devoid of character and charm. But for the four years I covered the Vikings as a beat guy, it was home sweet dome on game days. Minnesota went to the playoffs all four of those seasons ('96-99), and there was no louder, more homefield advantage laden venue in the NFL in '98, the year the Vikings went on that magic carpet ride of a 15-1 regular season. I don't miss covering games at the Metrodome, mind you, but I do hold a certain soft spot in my heart for the place where I spent so many NFL Sundays.