Rising above the flat terrain of Greenville, NC, there is a building that dominates the skyline. It is easily the largest structure in the city of 100,000 and is owned by one of the city's largest employers.
The employer is East Carolina University, but the building is not the Joyner Library or The Brody School of Medicine—both of which are impressive in their own right. The structure referred to is Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, home to the East Carolina Pirates football team.
Dowdy-Ficklen may not hold 100,000 people like Michigan Stadium or the Rose Bowl, but it is a beautiful structure with all the amenities college football fans want. When former University of Virginia basketball coach Terry Holland was hired as ECU's Athletics Director in 2004, he wanted ECU to have top-notch facilities.
Since then, the press box has been remodeled and more luxury boxes were added, as well as improving seating in other areas and upgrading other facilities.
Between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, more seats will be added beneath the scoreboard—giving Dowdy-Ficklen a horseshoe feel. But Dowdy-Ficklen is about more than nearly 44,000 seats—well, 50,000 once the expansion is completed.
It's about the atmosphere.
Like most campuses, the parking lots, dorms, and nearby houses become havens for tailgaters. Even the adjacent elementary school parking lot gets turned into a place to eat and drink before the game. Once people get settled into their seats, the show really begins.
On the scoreboard Jumbotron, we see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse—a fixture of North Carolina's Outer Banks.
The camera pans down to a pirate ship with purple and gold colors about to enter battle with other ships on the sea, all donning flags of that season's opponents. A foghorn blows, and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song begins while the narrator's baritone voice thunders throughout the stadium.
As the following words are being spoken, the picture on the scoreboard screen shows the ECU Pirate ship blasting its way past its foes before reaching the friendly shores of the Tar River.
"Like a ghost on the wind, he comes from the sea
And trembles the foe like a storm on the lea.
With a thunderous blast from his cannon's might,
He shivers the strong, and cripples their fight.
From East Carolina, victories are told
Of the spirit of the Pirate, and his Purple and Gold."
As the Pirates of the Caribbean theme fades out, foghorns once again bellow. Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze" then fills the stadium speakers with its signature guitar intro. Purple smoke erupts from the tunnel that leads out of the adjacent Murphy Center as the home team congregates near the tunnel's mouth.
The Pirate marching band takes their place on the field as the song's words begin.
"Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don't seem the same
Actin' funny, but I don't know why
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky..."
A cannon blast rings the air, and the band starts in with the ECU fight song as the football team, led by its head coach, run through the path created by the band and cheerleaders onto the field and toward the home sideline.
It is truly a sight to behold. The football game itself is like any other, but the atmosphere leading up to kickoff is like no other and is a must-see for any college football fan.
Other fantastic and must-see venues are Army's Michie Stadium and Navy's Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Watching the student bodies march onto the field, salute the opposing fans, and then get dismissed into their seats is truly something special to witness.
The Rose Bowl, Michigan Stadium, Beaver Stadium in State College, Penn., Ohio Stadium, and Neyland Stadium in Knoxville are also must-sees—simply to be among a crowd of more than 100,000 people there to watch a college football game.
Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium may be the most gorgeous of all Big Ten venues. With its unique facade, Camp Randall hearkens back to the days when it was originally an Army post. Today, more than 81,000 fans clamor inside to see the spectacle that is Badgers football.
There's the world-renowned marching band and the "Fifth Quarter" march after the game. Between the third and fourth quarters, the student section causes the stadium to shake by hopping up and down to House of Pain's classic '90s rap song, "Jump Around." The Big Ten's oldest stadium may be its best.
If you're talking intimidation factor, then look no further than the following venues: Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, or the Swamp; LSU's Tiger Stadium, aka Death Valley; Clemson's Memorial Stadium, also referred to as Death Valley; Virginia Tech's rowdy Lane Stadium; and Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium.
No college football life would be complete without trips to South Bend, Ind., to see a game under "Touchdown Jesus" at Notre Dame Stadium, or to see the Corps of Cadets among the "12th Man" at Texas A&M's Kyle Field.