The college football stadium is a church.
On Saturday, we take our sins and failures and we confess them. We take our passions and we shout them out. There are rituals, sacrifices, superstitions. There is hatred of the unknown and love of the familiar.
The stadium is more than a structure. It is an atmosphere that the structure is a part of. Naked of people, it is eerily quiet, expectant.
Here are 50 of the greatest churches in the country. At one time or another, I hope to worship at all of them.
University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Arizona Cardinals typically play, is an architectural engineering wonder.
It utilizes the first fully retractable roof and a natural grass playing surface. When games aren't being played, the roof is removed so that the grass can receive natural sunlight.
And if you're watching a game there, it's probably the Fiesta Bowl, which easily has been the most exciting bowl atmosphere of the last three or four years. If your team is Fiesta-bound, don't miss a chance to check out this awe-inspiring place.
And as for Aloha Stadium, it has it all.
You can watch football, check out the Haka dance, relax in the Pacific sunset, and when you leave, you're in frickin' Hawaii!
Ross-Ade Stadium has housed the Purdue Boilermakers since 1924. Purdue alumni David Ross and George Ade chose the site of the stadium on a 64-acre dairy farm at the northern edge of the campus.
This stadium gets loud, especially for night games and blackouts. Purdue fans have tasted the sweet nectar of the upset, and if Danny Hope can continue scoring against the big dogs in the Big Ten, you could be hearing Boiler Up from miles away.
T. Boone Pickens threw a bajillion dollars towards a major stadium renovation and the result, as you can see, was magnificent.
Some of the modifications include three cup holders for every seat, better leg room, and a small TV set in the back of the seat in front of you that shows a loop of awesome Barry Sanders runs.
This stadium is gonna be wild for the Oklahoma State/Texas game this weekend. The place should be well-oiled for an upset, so keep an eye on your BAC.
Come see where it all began at the spectacular Yale Bowl, the third-largest stadium in Division I-AAA.
Yes, they invented the forward pass here, as well as electricity, aristocracy, the car, and outer space.
Its Neogothic design mimics the architecture of the Yale campus, but you'd have to ask a Yale graduate to explain what Neogothic means.
The horseshoe design spectacularly accommodates the intensity of the Tigers' fans, who are deeply invested in the recent success of the Tigers and make sure any opponent knows it.
The field is also notorious for the painted pile of white rocks in the shape of an "M" that seniors draw from after their last home game.
Tiger fans also do a pretty good job of yellowing out the audience, so if you're headed Faurot's way, don't go wearing any Nebraska red.
That's no mirage—the Liberty Bowl's unique sloping walls are another engineering marvel and deserve to be seen in person.
Located in Memphis, the Liberty Bowl is home to the Memphis Tigers and plays host to the Autozone Liberty Bowl game and the Southern Heritage Classic every year.
Catch an SEC-Conference USA classic or just check out the sunset over Memphis.
After enjoying a mint julep in the Grove, head over to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and marvel at the huge 48' by 84' Daktronics screen, the fourth-largest in the SEC, and the terrifically passionate SEC crowd reemerging as a force in the West.
Any view in Vaught-Hemingway is spectacular-its three overhanging boxes frame the action, but still allow the sun to catch the field in an elegant fashion I wish Bill Faulkner could have described.
Situated magnificently along the Ohio River, the steel-reinforced Heinz Field houses the Pitt Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
It affords some great views of downtown Pittsburgh in the background and was rated the second-best field in the NFL behind Lambeau.
The college crowd can enjoy it as a go-to place to digest that Primanti Brothers sandwich and other tailgating fare the students just threw down.
The atmosphere is typical Pittsburgh. Be tough, be strong, and if you're gonna win, do it with pride, and try and keep your mouth shut.
I love the architecture of the Citrus Bowl, the steep-sloping stands and white overhanging lights.
The Citrus houses the Capital One Bowl and Champs Sports Bowl, site of some of the great Big Ten/ACC and Big Ten/SEC matchups over the years. The atmosphere is always slanted heavily towards the Southern team, so expect a little down-home tailgating if you're headed the Citrus way.
It was also where they filmed "Coach," so maybe you could catch a glimpse of Craig T. Nelson lurking around doing tours.
Cal Stadium is a beautiful Bay Area fixture, and the colored zones are a really neat gimmick.
Best of all, the tickets are cheap since Berkeley students are too busy debating whether football is a brutal sport. Get in there and holler your head off, and show them sometimes the best thinking is not thinking at all.
Sun Devil stadium, which housed the Fiesta Bowl until 2006, holds some special power.
On September 21, 1996, the night the playing surface was dedicated to coach Frank Kush, the Sun Devils shut out No. 1 Nebraska, 19-0.
Between that, the unique design, and how the stadium colors mix with the Arizona sunset to make the stadium air glow orange, I'd say there's definitely something special about playing here.
Davis Wade Stadium, where the Mississippi State Bulldogs play, is the second-oldest 1-A stadium in the country.
And if that doesn't make it worth seeing, you can join in on a great MSU tradition by ringing cowbells steadily throughout big games. It's worse than a damn World Cup carcajou-fest there.
Catch the Egg Bowl, the matchup between MSU and Ole Miss, and you won't be disappointed by the intensity and the glory.
Michigan State's relaxed open-intoxicant laws allow for some great tailgating around the stadium, and there are some great traditions to go along with your visit.
Regardless of the weather, the stadium announcer will always say, "It's a beautiful day for football." You can join in on the "Go Green!", "Go White!" call-and-response chants.
And if you're still a big "300" fan, Spartan Stadium plays clips of it throughout the game to rally the crowd.
The crowd can get loud, too. In fact, Stanley Kubrick used a recording of the crowd cheering at Spartan Stadium for "Spartacus". Although maybe he was just going for verisimilitude.
There's something distinctly down-home about Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Despite seating 60,000, it's downright cozy.
And if it's late and the weather gets cold, there's bound to be a fan nearby with a little moonshine who will be glad to share.
By the time the last whistle blows, you and this stranger will be drunk old dogs belting out "Country Roads" when the Mountaineers get a Big East victory.
Catch a shake and a burger at the Varsity, then cross the street to Bobby Dodd stadium, home of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Grant Field is the oldest stadium in use in college football, dating back to 1914, so being in the audience here is being a witness to history.
Not to mention the atmosphere is electric. With views of Atlanta looming in the background, Georgia Tech posted a great win over Clemson and an upset of No. 4 Virginia Tech this year at Bobby Dodd, and the Jackets are now in charge in the ACC.
When it's all over, though, make sure you're tailgating doesn't turn your car into a Ramblin' Wreck.
Louisville's Papa John's Cardinal Stadium is the second-newest stadium in college football, so it is still developing its atmosphere.
But it's a beautiful structure in a gorgeous city, and its fan-friendliness is second to none.
Just listen to this from the Cardinals' website:
"Fans visiting PJCS also are safer in the stadium than they would be in their own homes should they encounter a medical emergency. U of L's partnership with Jewish Hospital and the Frazier Rehab Center allows the University to have three fully staffed first aid stations along with a full trauma center located in the stadium."
For an uninsured American like me, it's worth it just to buy a football ticket and visit the Louisville Stadium doctor while I'm there. That's super-service.
The original horseshoe, Harvard Stadium's distinct shape and Greek classical colonnades are immediately recognizable to the college football fanatic with a taste for history.
Despite the presumed haughtiness, Harvard fans have a good sense of humor about their football team, and of course, the campus is beautiful and a must-see if you're visiting the East.
Take a picture in front of a few pillars and say you visited Greece. Women love guys who travel to Greece.
Down in the West Texas town of El Paso is a great stadium called the Sun Bowl.
The bowl itself is great, but what I really like is the surrounding desert view that fans are treated to from inside.
Brush and cacti dot the unique landscape, and you can almost picture a coyote go streaking by under the bright stadium lights. It's a great desert western atmosphere.
Definitely worth a look if your team makes the Sun Bowl or if you're a UTEP Miners fan.
Join in with 76,000+ other Arkansas fans in a "Woo, Pig Sooie!" chant where it most belongs-at the wild Razorbacks stadium.
Arkansas fans have embraced their new coach and their gunslinger QB, and can expect to shake up the SEC West, so there's gonna be some wild games in Razorbacks Stadium soon.
And if you miss anything, check the replay on the PigScreen. Durp!
Maybe it's just the fisheye lens, but Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium looks like it stretches a long way.
Regardless, the renovations the Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium underwent has brought it quickly into the upper echelon.
The Cherokee Gothic look the stadium adopted is a solemn and appropriate homage to the state's past, and the sound system and LED screens and displays are all state-of-the-art.
Cries of "Boomer! Sooner!" will shake you down to the bone, so be ready to look like Barry Switzer and/or Jesus Christ is your personal savior.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers christened their new stadium with a win over Air Force this year, staging a big comeback in the fourth quarter.
The stadium, rather brilliantly, was designed to connect to the Metrodome, where the Twins and Vikings play, and to downtown Minneapolis, via light-rail, so opportunities for post-game celebrations and sport-hopping are provided and come with an extra element of safety.
Grab a Minnesota microbrew and bundle up. Tim Brewster is a fiendish recruiter, and the Gophers will get a defense together one of these days.
There's so much history to the Cotton Bowl, so many huge nation-changing games played here, from the Dallas Cowboys down to the Red River Rivalry and the bowl game itself, that it's a wonder it still can stand.
The bowl itself is right by the Texas fairgrounds in Dallas, so there's a ton of fun stuff to do on gameday when the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners bring their rivalry to town.
If you miss the rivalry, try the bowl game, the only guaranteed Big 12/SEC matchup in the bowl season.
Falcon Stadium lies at the base of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, CO. Needless to say, the view is exceptional.
The stadium's unbalanced design and oval shape give it a unique character, and if the pregame ceremonies include a flyover, it will bring out the diehard patriot in anybody.
Plus the stadium is so high in the air, you're bound to be half-stoned anyhow.
This experience is not to be missed if you're near the continental divide.
Also known as "The Blue" (can you guess why?), Bronco Stadium has distinguished itself as a unique outlier in the college football world.
I can't say much for the out-of-game festivities, but the fans show up passionate about the game, and the blue field is something you just have to see for yourself.
If you're the visiting team, however, don't get your hopes up. The Broncos are on a 52-game home winning streak.
They cram a lot of Gamecocks in Williams-Brice Stadium-up to 85,000 in a 2001 victory over Clemson, to be exact.
SECSports.com voted South Carolina tailgating the best in the conference, so this scene is not to be missed. Try for a ticket to the USC-Florida game-I hear there's some bad blood between the teams for some reason.
This is another stadium that promises good football and a great view in the background.
Flanked by the Wasatch Range of mountains that decorate Provo, Lavell Edwards Stadium can get pretty loud when the fans start rocking the metal bleachers and a Mountain West game is on the line.
It's amazing to see so many Mormons so excited in a place besides the Tabernacle. That alone is worth a look-see.
Kinnick Stadium is one of the most intimidating places to play for Big Ten opponents on the road. Iowans turn out in droves to root on their Hawkeyes.
When filled to its 70,000+ capacity, it becomes the fifth largest city in Iowa. Imagine a whole city of people calling for your freshman quarterback's head.
Legion Field would be worth the trip just to remember the great Iron Bowl games between Alabama and Auburn that played out until 1988, when the teams relocated.
Now the field is used by UAB and for the Southwestern Conference championship, but it's Mecca for the Bear Bryant followers who still roam the Alabama fields.
Based on the design of the Yale Bowl, the Rose Bowl is the site of the annual Big Ten beatdown by USC. Except for this year. This year it's the site of an SEC beatdown by USC.
Just kidding. The Rose Bowl has housed both USC and UCLA in its long tenure. It's a pleasant walk from downtown Pasadena and is situated within view of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Sitting in the cool California sun makes for a relaxing gameday experience, and it must be hard not to take that for granted when the poor folks in the Midwest are sitting in sleet knee-deep watching a 6-6 tie in the Purdue-Indiana game.
I admit, I love every one of Tennessee's traditions, from the team running down the "T" to singing Rocky Top every time the Vols score, and long after the game is over.
Neyland Stadium is a great sight to behold. The checkered orange endzones are classic. And Sports Illustrated ranked the stadium, the college campus, and the city of Knoxville as the best all-around football experience in the country.
Seating is tight-they don't call it "One-Cheek Stadium" for nothing, but you'll get cozy with 105,000+ and before long you'll consider them all your friends.
Unless you're an Alabama fan. In this town, there's no such thing as a friend.
Rated the No. 1 scariest place to play in the country, Lane Stadium has undergone a tremendous renovation, adding press boxes and dining facilities for the already impressive 60,000+ capacity field.
The Hokies have enjoyed an outstanding home field advantage at Lane, and you can join in on the deafening roar as the team takes the field to the strains of Metallica's "Enter Sandman".
Frank Beamer's request to replace the turf with actual sand was recently turned down. That wily old coach.
The sight of so many epic Big East and ACC battles throughout the late '90s and 2000s, Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium is a must-see in the college football world.
Watch Chief Osceola and Renegade fire up the crowd with the flaming spear and join in on the Tomahawk Chop as you root for the Seminoles to upset the Gators this November. Hey, stranger things have happened.
Camp Randall is the oldest stadium in the Big Ten, and the atmosphere on gamedays is insane.
Located right in the middle of the UW campus in Madison, the stadium is an easy walk from the bar-studded State Street, and you can bet there's plenty of foot traffic leading up to a game.
If you're headed to Camp Randall, bring something warm, preferably red, and your jumping shoes. When that fourth quarter rolls around, you don't want to be caught flatfooted.
Situated right smack dab on Boulder's campus is Folsom Field, home of the Colorado Buffaloes. It's a great place to catch a game, it'll be even better once the Buffs starting winning games like Dan Hawkins promised.
One of the best pregame traditions takes place right on the field, when the trainers pull out Ralphie the mascot and run him around the rim of the field. There's always a chance he'll get loose and gore some people.
Sorry, NFL fans: in the college game, we don't shoot blanks.
Due to safety renovations, Michigan Stadium is no longer the largest audience of people watching a football game at once. Bummer.
Its iconic, wide open symmetrical feel has also undergone a major change as luxury boxes are now under construction along the east and west sides. The boxes should help trap noise, however-Michigan's atmosphere has been criticized in the past for lacking intimidation.
Michigan Stadium, like its team, is currently under construction. Completion is slated for 2010. Check back with us then.
Autzen has the reputation of being one of the toughest places to play for visitors, especially for those traveling from far away. Duck fans get really, really loud.
It's amazing, because the stadium houses a shade under 60,000, but Michigan Stadium couldn't come within a hair of its noise level.
The crowd at Autzen was recorded at 127.2 decibels for the Ducks' win over the Trojans in 2007, enough to register physical pain.
So bring either your chords or your plugs, and leave your AP ranking at the door. If you've got something to shout about, the Ducks want YOU.
The nickname "Death Valley" came because the field is physically situated in a valley.
But there are better, spookier reasons.
Before the stands blocked it, the university cemetary overlooked the field. Imagined how that looked in the moonlight to opposing players.
Lonnie McMillian, the football coach at Presbyterian College, told sports writers in 1948 that he dreaded taking his team to face Clemson. It was like "[playing] in death valley", because it was so hard to scored or gained a victory.
Coach Frank Howard started calling it Death Valley in the 1950s, the nickname really caught on. Also, Frank Howard received Howard's Rock from a friend (S.C. Jones) who brought it from Death Valley, CA.
Catching a game is great, followed by a nice, relaxing walk through the graveyard.
I love the layout of Darrell Royal Stadium.
The overhanging bleachers that give it a lack of symmetry, the burnt orange colors forming a solid sea of 100,000+ in the audience, the sloping field behind the north goalpost, and the "Godzillatron", the largest HD screen by area in the United States are all vintage Texas-big, elegant, and totally imbalanced.
The tailgating scene at Austin is nationally recognized, and there's less ill will against competitors than you'd expect. A great gameday experience.
One of the few stadiums aligned east-west instead of north-south, Georgia's home games are said to be "Between The Hedges" because of the privet hedges that line the stadium along each side.
One thing to watch for is the doghouse where Uga, the Bulldogs adorable mascot, watches the game. The lucky guy is sitting in there on bags of ice while the rest of the audience sweats.
Georgia home games are intense and the atmosphere in Athens is always piqued when an SEC rival or the hated Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets come to town. If you're headed their way, bring dark colors; their might be a Blackout in the works.
Plans area also in the works to raise Sanford's capacity to 101,000+. Stay tuned.
What Michie Stadium lacks in capacity (just over 40,000) it makes up for in view.
The breathtaking view of Army's campus and the Hudson River Valley as the leaves change colors keeps fans returning season after season, though its team has fallen on hard times.
That this is possible means Michie Stadium will always be in the conversation for the top ten stadiums in the country.
The pure intensity of the audience cheering, singing, taunting, weeping, overcome with joy, or strewn with deep depression, will emotionally exhaust any fan, impartial or otherwise.
It's as though the audience is one big family, all raised on the same stories about the Bear. Tell the one about the goal line stand against Penn State again. Tell it.
That's Alabama football. Go to this place and worship.
There's no fooling around at Kyle Field, home of the Aggies and birthplace of "the 12th man".
The roar of the audience and the austerity of the rehearsed chants intervene destructively on behalf of the Aggies football team, giving them a home field advantage practically unparalleled elsewhere in the country.
Capacity is set at 82,000, but crowds have swelled to 88,000 plus for big games. Serious buyers only, please.
Football is how they have fun out in Nebraska, and you can tell by the towering stadium and the sea of red, crazed fans cheering on the Cornhuskers towards a return to Big 12 dominance.
Memorial Stadium holds the record for consecutive sellouts in the country with 302, and that record has continued this year. They continue to test the 80,000+ capacity. The Louisiana-Lafayette game this year set the new attendance record at 86,304.
Easily recognizable for its featureless slants in the end zone, Notre Dame Stadium is one of the most tradition-rich stadium experiences in the country.
Whether you're watching the Irish Guard during the pregame or singing the Alma Mater after the final whistle blows, it's a classic experience and it's converted plenty of non-believers in years past.
I can't say much for the loudness-it can stray into the territory of an NFL game sometimes-but Notre Dame Stadium is a hallowed place to watch a football game, and it's something to be treasured.
Auburn is great for partisans and non-partisans alike, so it is probably the best place to take in a game as a neutral observer.
There are enough traditions (the War Eagle's flight, the Tiger Walk) to get you absorbed into the culture, but the fans aren't as stark raving mad as the rest of the schools left on this list, and you won't be in personal danger if you decide to show up in a sweatshirt from your high school.
Great deep South game day atmosphere. Check it out.
Death Valley, the nickname for LSU's Tiger Stadium, is actually a perversion of the term "deaf valley", which writers were using to describe the otherwise indescribable amounts of noise coming from the audience.
During a 2007 game against the University of Florida, CBS recorded 130 decibels, the second-loudest recording in a college football game next to Husky Stadium. Bear Bryant described it as being "like inside a drum".
LSU fans are not kind to the opposition, so tread lightly. If you must wear clothes, appear in something that can pass for pajamawear. LSU fans can sniff out an opponent's sympathizer in neutral colors.
Tiger Stadium's intensity will either hook you immediately or drive you insane, at which point, becoming Tiger Bait will sound like a great idea.
If you're a Buckeye fan, there are few places better to be than the Horseshoe on gameday.
Watching Script Ohio play out in person gives you goosebumps, and the crowd goes crazy every time there's a glimmer of the "O, H!...I,O!" chant.
The stadium is packed and comfortable for OSU fans and beyond intimidating for any opponents. Dress up as Tressel, wear a necklace of buckeyes, or just punch a Clemson defensive back in the face. OSU fans accept all of them as a loving homage.
The Swamp, aka Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, is another astoundingly intimidating place to play.
The Swamp's bleachers rise quickly, and the field itself is set deep, below sea level, in a ravine. That, combined with Gainesville's humid conditions, combines to create a hot, wet, murky, unbelievably sweaty game day atmosphere that borders on religious fervor.
It's not for the faint of heart, but it is for the anthropologically curious or the criminally insane. A must-attend.
Just look at that solid white stadium.
The white-out the Lion faithful put on is insanely well-coordinated, and the student section is the loudest and rowdiest in the nation. They've been up all night partying in Paternoville and their energy never flags.
Catch a game while Paterno still roams the sidelines-he's seen more college football games play out as coach than any other man in the country. He can see more than anyone else. You've got to show up in time to catch the legend.
Plus, with Michigan's renovations, Penn State is now the most well-attended game in the country.
Just think: it's 110,000+ who couldn't care less that you can't wear white after Labor Day.