The question: Of those (if any) you've visited, what's your favorite road venue for a college football Saturday? I don't just mean the stadium but the whole package--the city, the burger, the rival fans, the drive, etc. Or which would you want to do first?
Ace: I'm back from Florida and have way too much nothing planned for the next couple days, so I might as well answer the question...
Between my time at school and this job, I've managed to make it to six road venues, one of which doesn't really count because it shouldn't have ever been a college football venue: Spartan Stadium (2007, '09, '13), Camp Randall ('07), Beaver Stadium ('08, '13), Notre Dame ('08, '13), Cowboys Stadium* ('12), and Ohio Stadium ('13). If you looked at that list and said I should never attend a road game again, you're quite astute, and trust me when I say I've considered it.
|Movie night, or perhaps annoying white guy tryouts.
My favorite, despite the particular game I chose to attend, is Camp Randall. Madison is a gorgeous college town with a phenomenal bar scene—we wandered around so much the night before the game that I can't give a recommendation besides "just go to Madison already"—and while I've heard less-than-complimentary things about their fans, we were treated well despite being a crew of intoxicated students with a couple guys who didn't shy away from stirring the pot. As is the case in Ann Arbor, the campus and stadium are conveniently intertwined with the town, so getting to and from the game isn't a pain like it is in, say, South Bend, where off-campus housing tends to be a very long, boring walk away from the stadium. While the drive to and from Ann Arbor isn't a short one, having Chicago as a stopgap is a major bonus; I'll deal with some extra traffic if it gives me the chance to visit a great city with no shortage of transplanted Ann Arborites and Michigan grads.
it's impossible to take a bad picture inside Camp Randall
Since I'm not the type to be offended by profanity, I love the in-game atmosphere, as well. Our seats in the visitors' section were at the top corner of the upper deck, where visitors' sections ought to be, and feeling the mass of red-adorned fans below literally shake the stadium during "Jump Around" was outrageously cool, albeit a bit unnerving. Despite our high perch, the sight lines for viewing the game were great, thanks to the steep incline of the seats. They don't play the same two songs over and over and over again, giving Camp Randall a decided edge over Beaver Stadium, and they don't play in front of 100,000 Ohio State fans, giving it a decided edge over Ohio Stadium. Even if the drive is a bit long, the tailgating and viewing experiences alone are worth the trip.
As for my least favorite, it's Spartan Stadium, since I won't pretend that Jerryworld is a legitimate answer here. East Lansing is one of the least charming college towns I've visited, parking there is a nightmare, the stadium is a shrine to concrete insipidity, and an all-too-large portion of the fans don't grasp that trash talking shenanigans are supposed to be cheeky and fun, not cruel and tragic. It's the only place I've been where a total stranger has attempted to forcefully remove me from the sidewalk—I did nothing to provoke this aside from wearing maize—and that occurred even though I was accompanied by a green-clad Spartan grad. At least I went there last year, so I'll get a respite this seas—DAMMIT, POWERS THAT BE, YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.
*The aforementioned "doesn't really count" venue, in case that wasn't painfully obvious.
After the jump: more things Delaney thinks we'd like to see less than New Jersey.
pro tip: several hours before the game they wheel cookies through the science building.
BiSB: My favorite would have to be Notre Dame Stadium. I've been to two Michigan games there ('08, '10), and had student season tickets in '08. As Ace noted, South Bend is a terrible "college town," but on game days that doesn't matter as much. The tailgating is great, the campus is beautiful, and the parking isn't terrible if you know where to go. The locals are friendly and football-knowledgeable, if hilariously biased. The stadium itself is fine, and the crowd flows much more smoothly than in the Big House (it's a similar design with fewer seats, so that makes sense). You don't get physically abused or unreasonably harassed, which is nice.
|Thugs wear chicken masks.
In fact, the crowd is so docile that they think Ann Arbor is a violent, thuggish place to watch a game. Plus, there's actually some history and whatnot, and a game in that stadium should be on every football fan's proverbial bucket list. If you can put up with the fans around you complaining about EVERY. SINGLE. CALL. the overall experience is pretty nice.
The bottom of the list is easy: Spartan Stadium by a country mile. I've attended four Michigan/MSU games in East Lansing ('05, '07, '11, '13), as well as a number of non-Michigan games in neutral attire, so I'm working from a pretty good sample. Even knowing the best parking and tailgating locations, it's just a terrible day. The stadium has exactly three urinals, and they are conveniently located in the path of the heaviest traffic. The concrete-on-concrete decor reminds one of a well-defended coastal fortification. The constant ads and pump-up videos are, well, constant, and they're STILL trying to harness the power of a movie that came out in 2006. The tailgating is pretty good, but the "atmosphere" is markedly different in maize and blue. I've been knocked on my ass many times, had a beer dumped on me, and have generally been harassed by tank-bros in a manner unbefitting polite society. I nearly turned down free tickets last year, and if offered tickets again this year I'd have to think long and hard.
My brother thought we wear blue.
Seth: I'm with BiSB in re: Notre Dame. We parked barely off campus and the walk in wasn't any different than if you approached Michigan Stadium from the south via Main. And their fans are great. They've recently added a cross street's worth of large bars and restaurants that feels too new-build to add anything more than a touch of convenience previously lacking.
There are two trips I can't separate because they're diametric but equally awesome. The first was my foray into the mass psychosis of SEC footbaw, which coincidentally happened to be the day Brian and the bloggerati were going.
|The whole thing's between the hedges.
The football stadium isn't just woven into campus like Ann Arbor; it is the very center of the school and all meandering roads converge on it. They tailgate right on campus, which is great until you see it afterwards. Parking is impossible; on advisement from my BFF-in-law, the easiest and cheapest method was to leave the car in a metered spot downtown and pay the parking ticket after. The thing is permeated with a culture of politeness: fans to each other, fans to away fans, and the school to its fans. This polity is underlaid by an understanding between all parties that giving offense can lead to discharged firearms. Multiple Georgians let it be known that this could well be the fate of mouthy Steve Spurrier next week.
If Georgia-Tennessee was SEC football at its purest, the epitome of Big Ten may just be its oddest fit: Northwestern. If not, it's certainly the most beautiful campus.
Ace isn't totally correct about MSU: there are parts of that campus that don't intersect the athletic areas—19th century brick observatories with grass and walkways and enough trees to drop a pleasing multi-hue carpet of leaves in fall. Its problem is it went from a relatively small farmer's college to one of the country's largest undergrad universities in the mid-20th Century, i.e. the architecturally worst period in human history to embark on a massive building project. Imagine if they put the football stadium at the other side of North Campus; you'd come away with nice things to say about the Huron River and no idea there's a Law Quad. Also this part of a massive campus is so far from where most students live that they tend to skip their classes over there; this is why the TripAdvisor photos of the self-styled "most beautiful campus in America" include a modernist eyesore and somebody staving in the hood of a maize and blue painted automobile.
I've traveled to some of the great universities in Europe, studied abroad at the Sorbonne, and found excuses to visit Oxford like she was a mistress. I don't have near the natural intelligence of, say, Brian, or my dad, or most of the people I went to college with, but I like to work out my brain the way annoying people on Facebook like Yoga. So when I step onto a campus like that I get a deep longing to track down the nearest professor and argue the nature of hominid evolution over a pint of flat ale.
There's this. Also part of NW'ern's charm is you can nod at Sobocop on your way to using the Welsh-Ryan Arena's bathrooms.
This is Northwestern's campus: beautiful, natural, and totally unfeigned—a cloister tucked between the woods, the lake, and Wrigleyville—and it got me good. It's unfortunately short on apparent watering holes, but when tweedy people groan about the football team's pretensions of being more than a pleasing amphitheater among academic gardens, Evanston at least demonstrates where they're coming from. John U. Bacon used Northwestern as the exempli gratia for what college football ought to be in his book Fourth and Long, which book he happened to be promoting on campus that day.
|Pro tip: you can see the game minus the rain and the wind from the windows just outside the men's room (that's what's in those towers by the way).
The stadium, which is buried in a residential area a goodly tree-lined march from campus proper, is the polar opposite of the severe, fascist horseshoe. It's small, barely taller than a big high school stadium, and cozy. As you have heard, away fans of proximal rivals tend to invade, and Michigan fans are the most invasive, so the away fan dynamic is nearly totally absent (hence the t-shirt). Rather it's like going to the world's largest Michigan Alumni Association event. People in rain-drenched maize didn't outnumber soaked people in purple, or at least not until after the ridiculous fire drill field goal and subsequent theft, but we were probably louder than they were.
As to worst, I discovered the nadir of Michigan enjoyability while braving a November rain (it's worse out of the press box Ace) in MSU's cement block among the trolls, though I have to give Michigan's coaches partial credit for that experience. Ace is dead-on about the total lack of fun in their trash-talking, but they're also, weirdly, pretty rough on their own; the conveyer belt of shit I've been giving Ace in re: Connor Cook in Draftogeddon comes directly from them. MSU football is the collegiate version of Silverdome-era Lions football. You're there to make people feel bad when you beat them, and make your quarterback feel bad when you get beat, and a trip without at least two fights is considered a dull affair.
|I can't believe I'm standing just a few feet from the very spot that Tressel cheated!
I tend to give them a pass for the crappy stadium itself, since Mark Hollis, their AD, purposefully kept it simple to keep building costs, and thus ticket prices, affordable. That's not a press release; as unlikeable as we like to make their fans out to be, Hollis is earnestly devoted to them.
Columbus on gameday is North Korea except with giants in XXXL jerseys instead of midgets in used Leave It to Beaver costumes; I've been there plenty and have yet to see something more architecturally stimulating than Twelve Oaks Mall. The city is a city, but I fail to see how it's any more charming than Grand Rapids. The oval is the only greenspace that's more thought out than a grassy patch in the middle of an onramp, and the rest is a parking lot. But then you get inside that stadium and only Yankee Stadium compares in North America for architecturally squashing the willfulness of detractors and free thinking. Between grinding down your defense and your soul with Carlos Hyde they'll hoist Jim Tressel himself on their shoulders, and you'll answer with Denard. Worst experience? Hardly. Michigan needs its antipode (and needs to beat them).
Brian: Well, yes: Notre Dame is the best place for a road game. In 2010, there was one guy who started giving us the stink-eye from a few seats away. Then seemingly the rest of the section started making fun of him and he shut up. It was amazing. It turns out it's really nice to go to a road game without the nagging possibility someone assaults you.
The biggest problem with the place is that sometimes they're just too nice and you want to yell something like "HAVE YOU ALL BEEN IN CRYOGENIC STORAGE SINCE 1948 AAAAARGH." Oh and they filled in an endzone to obscure the ol' doppelganger. Oh, and "Crazy Train." But even so it's still pretty much the best. I don't even mind their lack of jumbotrons since I'm used to Michigan's pore-o-vision, in which the replay is a tease worse than its absence.
While I'm sure that there has been some student or something who mustered up the courage to say "I hope your team loses, sir!", the rest of the experience has forcibly wiped that incident from my brain. And they've even figured out how to properly amplify a band. (You put the speakers next to it so that wherever the sound goes it arrives at the same time as the original.) Combine that with a series of soul-crushing Michigan wins and that's a recipe for general despondency that Notre Dame is being replaced by one series of even approximately equal interest three World Cups from now.
And it's only a couple hours away!
Honorable mention here goes to Kinnick, which can hold up cards with the best of 'em. This didn't seem impressive until I saw Michigan's attempt to do the same a few years ago. Iowa fans also manage to care a lot without being super mean, at least not to Michigan. Penn State is also a nice experience except for the worst-in-class stadium noise garbage. Logistically it's brilliant, especially after they finished the highway. You will be on the freeway ten minutes after reaching your car. The people are nice. There's a bit of dickishness from the NY/NJ section of the student body but overall it scores high for feeling safe. I had zero issue with my cell phone.
Both of the places I've been outside the league, Georgia and Auburn, were pretty great. Georgia has a lone trumpeter they stick in the upper deck to play the Battle Hymn of the Republic and a giant bulldog statue that looks like what happened to the Ghostbusters after the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man exploded, and exclaiming "GO DAWGS" remains terrific fun. Also, Athens is precisely Ann Arbor with a twang. Meanwhile, Auburn has an eagle they fly around the stadium. Auburn fans were unfamiliar with the idea of college football tourism, though, and we got a number of hur-hur comments about our attire when it's like... bro, I drove across most of this country just to come see this game. It's a compliment.
As for the worst, it's the obvious two: Michigan State and Ohio State. Both are incredibly nasty. There was of course the "Art Fag U" lady who turned around and screamed that slur at for about three-quarters of the Chad Henne "nails" game. After the Domata Peko fumble-type-substance in 2005, a guy who was like 60 tried to fight us because we were bitching about the call amongst ourselves. It is a clear #2 on the "are you going to get assaulted" list.
And if you're in the upper deck you should bring a parachute if you want to get out of the stadium before an hour has passed after the game. Add in the distinctive North Korean ambiance of the place—it's like the builders conferred with themselves to see if there was anything they could do to make exposed concrete uglier—and it's a decision whether to go or not despite it being only an hour away.
Ohio State is #1 because it can be scary as hell even if you're, say, a guy with cerebral palsy just walking to the game. While it doesn't have some of the drawbacks that MSU does--the stadium is gorgeous and intimidating; it was not built by monkeys on PCP--it remains a place where your best bet is to get a ticket in the student section because the students get yelled at about not being monsters a lot more than everyone else. Some of the shit you see in Columbus on gameday is just never going to happen anywhere else.
After the big two, I'll offer a demerit for Illinois, which has the same depressing architecture problem State does, an (understandably) apathetic crowd, and a completely imagined rivalry with Michigan that sees more Muck Fichigan shirts on lawyer and doctor lookin' guys than anywhere else in the country. The completely imagined rivalry thing is hilarious when Illinois undergrads become Michigan grad students and realize to their shock that Michigan barely remembers what conference Illinois is in, so they've got that going for them.