This week marks not only the Fourth of July holiday, but also the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg. After toying with numerous ways to put a sports spin on this occasion, I decided to honor the line from the Gettysburg Address "This hallowed ground" by paying tribute to the eight stadiums and two arenas that I consider to be the most hallowed in American sports.
There are a few criteria for this list. First off, every stadium is American (sorry, Maple Leaf Gardens and Montreal Forum) and every venue on this list is extant (sorry, Tiger Stadium and MSG III). None of the venues listed have been disgraced by a corporate name, nor do any "cookie-cutter" baseball/football venues appear on this list.
And since this is about the American pastime, though basketball and football venues are included, nearly half of the venues are baseball parks. After all, Abner Doubleday fought at Gettysburg.
Here are two arenas, two college football venues, and an NFL venue that, while historic, didn't quite make the cut.
- Joe Louis Arena: Let’s be honest: in terms of red, white and blue sports, the NHL lags far behind the other Big Four sports. But if you have to choose, this, or its red-brick predecessor the Detroit Olympia, are as good as any. Hockeytown’s NHL club has won 11 Stanley Cups, seven in the Olympia and four at Joe Louis. Also remarkable is that the Wings have won 16 division crowns at Joe Louis, or roughly a division crown every other year they played in the facility.
- Michigan Stadium: Let’s be honest about one thing here: the Big Ten has many of the great college football venues in the United States. One of these is the “Big House," which has continually been expanded so that it hasn’t held less than 100,000 fans in nearly forty years.
- Soldier Field: Ostensibly, Soldier Field is the oldest venue in the NFL: it was built in 1924 and the Chicago Bears have been playing there since 1971. The Bears played in Soldier Field during the Ditka years, when they won their two most recent NFC championships. It also hosted the Chicago College All-Star Game, an annual matchup between an NFL team and the NCAA’s best, for nearly fifty years. It also hosted an Army-Navy Game and several famous Notre Dame home games. Soldier Field drops out of the top 10, however, because it lost most of its structural integrity during its 2002 renovation.
- TD Garden: There is an argument to be made that TD Garden is the successor stadium to Boston Garden, which sat next door and was home to the Boston Celtics’ first 16 championship teams and the Boston Bruins’ first five Stanley Cups. The Bruins and Celtics are beginning to give the New Garden some history of its own, but it isn’t there yet. Also, TD Garden ditched the parquet floor and added air conditioning.
- Yale Bowl: The Elis’ home turf is the largest in the Ivy League and among the largest in the FCS. What is more important is that it was the first perfect ellipse stadium, which inspired more well-known stadiums such as the Rose Bowl.
Tenants: Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels (fmr.)
Hard to believe it, but Dodger Stadium is the third-oldest stadium in the MLB, and one of the older stadiums in the Big Four as a whole. It’s not only one of the only futurist/Doo Wop/Googie stadiums in existence, it’s one of the few that wasn’t a multipurpose cookie-cutter stadium (if you’re not familiar with this style of architecture, compare Dodger Stadium to what Disneyland’s Tomorrowland looked like until recently).
Dodger Stadium is not only one of the oldest stadiums in the MLB, but also the largest, one of the things that has contributed to the Dodgers drawing more fans than any other team in sports history. It has also witnessed a number of historic events: eight World Series (four won by the Dodgers) and 10 no-hitters have been thrown at Dodger Stadium.
The Ohio State band writing "Ohio" at Ohio Stadium
Tenants: Ohio State Buckeyes football
In many ways, Ohio Stadium is like Michigan Stadium: both seat over 100,000, both are over 85 years old, each witness one-half of the biggest rivalry in the Big Ten, one that decides which of the storied franchises goes to Pasadena and which doesn’t (Michigan and Ohio State have combined for 34 Rose Bowl Game appearances, more than the rest of the Big Ten combined).
However, a few things set Ohio Stadium apart from Michigan Stadium. Ohio Stadium is several years older. It has retained more of its historic fabric over the years, one of the reasons it’s NRHP-listed and Michigan Stadium isn’t. And from the 1920s to the early 2000s, the stadium had a running track, the track that Jesse Owens ran on before he went to Berlin to win four golds at the 1936 Olympics.
Tenants: USC Trojans footbal, UCLA Bruins football (fmr.), Los Angeles Rams (fmr.), Los Angeles Raiders (fmr.), Los Angeles Dodgers (fmr.), 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics
Name a field sport, and chances are the Coliseum’s hosted it. Its hosted two Super Bowls, 23 Pro Bowls and two NFL teams. It’s hosted a World Series, and when the Dodgers played here, it hosted some of the highest-attended baseball games ever.
But baseball, soccer and the NFL aren’t the two main reasons why its a 90-year-old, National Register of Historic Places-listed stadium. One of them is that it’s the home field of the USC Trojans, who have won 23 Rose Bowls, 38 Pac-10 championships and 11 national titles while at the Coliseum.
It also served as UCLA’s home ground for a number of decades, and games between USC and UCLA in the Coliseum (one of the fiercest rivalries in college football) usually featuring the Trojans in red uniforms and the Bruins in blue.
The other reason is that the L.A. Coliseum is the only stadium in the world to twice host the ceremonies and track and field competitions of the Olympic Games.
Built: 1923 and 2009
Tenants: New York Yankees, New York football Giants (fmr.), New York University Violets football
I’m going to cheat a little here. Since the 2009 Yankee Stadium is built to be almost exactly the same as the 1923-73 Yankee Stadium, I’m including the history of Old Yankee Stadium, at least before the 1974-76 renovation, here. Even if I didn’t, the Yankees’ status as the flagship MLB franchise has rendered New Yankee Stadium hallowed ground in pretty short order.
The old and new parks have combined to host almost 7,000 home games. Since playing in their eponymous stadium, the Yankees have won 38 pennants and 27 Worlds Series, the first 20 coming in the pre-1974 stadium and the last coming in the new park. Yankee Stadium has been the site of a great many home-run related milestones, such as Babe Ruth’s 60th, Roger Maris’ 61st, and both Mickey Mantle and A-Rod's 500th.
Less well-known than the massive successes of Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle and Mo in the stadium are Yankee Stadium’s history as a pro and college football venue. Yankee Stadium traditionally hosted the Notre Dame-Army rivalry, including one of the “Greatest Games Ever Played” in 1946. Another one of the “Greatest Games Ever Played” was an NFL championship featuring the host Giants and the Baltimore Colts.
Snow falling on Lambeau
Tenants: Green Bay Packers
Believe it or not, Lambeau is not only one of the oldest NFL stadiums still in use, it was the first stadium built specifically for an NFL Team. Prior to that, NFL teams played in MLB ballparks like the Polo Grounds or college football venues like the L.A. Coliseum.
Lambeau is the third-longest occupied stadium among the Big Four (Wrigley Field and Fenway Park). It’s hardly had an empty seat in its 56-year history, with Wisconsinites often waiting decades for season tickets.
And it goes without saying that the Packers have been quite successful in Lambeau: since 1957, they have won four Super Bowls, eight NFL/NFC titles, and 16 Black and Blue Division crowns. No wonder it’s Titletown, USA.
St. John's plays Villanova in the Big East Tournament
Built: 1968 (previous incarnations 1879, 1890, 1925)
Tenants: New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New York Liberty, Big East Basketball, NIT Tournament
As with its citymate Yankee Stadium, MSG is on an incarnation that is not its first, although the current one is not as stylish as the present Yankee Stadium, and had the unfortunate distinction of being built on top of the beloved Penn Station (which is nowhere near the actual Madison Square).
MSG is the oldest venue in both the NHL and the NBA (this counting Oracle Arena as being rebuilt in 1997), and has hosted more total events than nearly any other similarly-sized arena in the United States. While playing at the Garden, the Rangers won their most recent Stanley Cup. Both it and the old MSG have a history of big boxing events; the current MSG hosted two of the Ali-Frazier fights.
However, what really sets MSG apart is its history as a college basketball venue. It’s hosted the Big East Tournament for the last 30 years, during which the Big East became one of the most important college basketball conferences in the nation. It’s also been the lone home of the finals of the NIT Tournament. And to top it all off, it’s the current home of the NBA Draft.
Tenants: Penn Quakers basketball, Big 5 Basketball rivalry
When the “Cathedral of Basketball” was built, most basketball and hockey arenas were small, wooden affairs. The then-10,000 steel-and-concrete affair broke that mold.
The Palestra has hosted 52 NCAA tournament games and is among the venues that hosted the most regular-season NCAA basketball games in American history. Most of these have been Penn Quakers games, but the Palestra is also the traditional host of the Philadelphia Big 5 games between Penn, Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple and La Salle. It has been the primary Big 5 venue since the rivalry was the biggest college basketball rivalry in the nation.
Tenants: Rose Bowl Game, UCLA Bruins football, LA Galaxy (fmr.), FIFA World Cup, Caltech Beavers football (fmr.)
Sure, the Rose Bowl Game has hosted the Bruins, the Galaxy, five Super Bowls, and the soccer finals of an Olympics and World Cups for both sexes (the only stadium with such a distinction). But that’s not why this NRHP-listed perfect ellipse that seats nearly 100,000 is on this list.
No, it’s the eponymous bowl game that the stadium has for more than four score and seven years that vaunts the Rose Bowl higher. Each New Year’s afternoon, one gets treated to the traditional matchup of Pac-12 (nee PCC) and Big Ten teams matching up in a bowl that’s been played in this stadium almost a decade longer than any other bowl.
Tenants: Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears (fmr.), Chicago Whales (fmr.)
Wrigley Field will turn 100 years old next season. Since 1916, it has hosted Chicago’s national league franchise. It’s had ivy in the outfield for 76 seasons, an appropriate number considering the patriotic nature of this list. By contrast, it’s only had lights for 25 years (Wrigley was the last MLB park lit).
The one blemish on Wrigley is the Cubs’ futility in the stadium: though the North Siders have played in five World Series since moving into Wrigley, they’ve lost ‘em all. The more successful franchise, surprisingly, is the Cubs’ tenants the Bears, who played there for 365 games (once the NFL record in one building) and won eight NFC championships in the stadium.
As Nick Offerman once said, this park is powered solely by tradition.
Tenants: Boston Red Sox, Boston Patriots (fmr.)
Fenway Park is the oldest Big Four sports venue still in use, and was NRHP-listed as part of its 100th birthday celebration. By World War II, it boasted the Green Monster as well as one of only two extant manual scoreboards (Wrigley Field as the other), as well as funky field dimensions courtesy of an asymetrical block.
It is the only MLB park that has had a streak of 500 consecutive sellouts, which it achieved earlier this millennium. After supposedly being cursed by the Big Bambino, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007, their first win since 1918 when the Red Sox won four World Series in their first seven seasons at Fenway.