Atmosphere: The Greatest Settings in Sports
The following 10 game day locations serve up the best atmosphere in their sport. All of these matchups or events are guaranteed to take place annually, and with a few exceptions, are played on someone's "home field." This list makes up the "must see" experiences for any sports fan looking tour the world for the best that each league has to offer.
NCAA Basketball: UNC @ Duke (Cameron Indoor Stadium)
The painfully intimate, crowded, blaring atmosphere inside Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium makes for a difficult trip for any visiting team. But when the Tar Heels visit, the frenzy is at its most intense. The "Tobacco Road Rivalry" has been played since 1920, with UNC holding a 130-99 advantage. These two programs have taken turns winning the past two national titles, so it's a guarantee this game features the NCAA's best.
Auto Racing: Daytona 500
The "Great American Race" has been run every year since 1959 and is considered the most prestigious title on NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Daytona International Speedway holds a capacity of 168,000, but the warmth of central Florida attracts hundreds of thousands more racing fans to the event every February.
NFL: Bears @ Packers (Lambeau Field)
Once every year in Green Bay you can see the league's most old school team play the league's most old school rivalry from the league's most storied home field. Chicago leads the all-time series (which started in 1921) 91-82-6, but Green Bay boasts a superior number of all-time NFL championships with twelve to Chicago's nine.
MLB: Yankees @ Red Sox (Fenway Park)
Quite possibly the most well documented and highly discussed rivalry in all of sports, the ongoing series between Boston and New York is as American as apple pie, fireworks, and even baseball itself. Up until 2009, it could have been debatable which home stadium provided a better setting for this matchup. However, with the Yankees opening their new self-titled stadium devoid of any heart or soul, Fenway is by far the better choice. Both of these teams can be easy to respect but hard to love, so it's the perfect experience for fans and passive spectators alike.
NCAA Football: Florida vs. Georgia
Played in Jacksonville nearly every year since 1915, it's fair to say that no rivalry in college football carries such an equal amount of intensity between players and fans alike. Fans spend most of the week in Jacksonville, creating the most well known tailgating scene in the sport, referred to as "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party."
Georgia leads the all time series 46-39-2, but Florida has owned the game recently, winning 17 of the last 20 meetings. Gator and Dawg fans both will recognize unforgettable moments in the rivalry's history, such as Lindsay Scott's game winning touchdown catch in 1980, Florida's record setting 52 points in the 1995 game (highest ever by a visiting team in Athens), and the complete abandonment of sportsmanship by both schools in 2007 and 2008. After Georgia head coach Mark Richt directed a full-team, on field celebration in his team's 42-30 win in 2007, Florida coach Urban Meyer responded the next season by running up the score and calling two timeouts to rub salt in Georgia's wound in the last minute of a 49-10 Gator win.
NBA: Lakers @ Celtics (TD Garden)
No other pair of teams in the NBA can come close to the achievements set by these two franchises. The two are natural rivals, partly because they are the most decorated in NBA history with Boston claiming 17 championships to the Lakers' 15. The series was fueled even further in the 1980s with the development of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson's individual rivalry. As of 2010, the Lakers and Celtics have met in the NBA finals an astonishing 12 times. For any NBA fan, seeing these two storied programs battle under 17 championship banners in the Garden ceiling would be an unforgettable experience.
Football: Liverpool @ Manchester United (Old Trafford)
At Old Trafford, Mancunians are blessed to witness the world's most popular sports team participate in the world's most popular sport. Add a visit from the club's most bitter rival Liverpool FC, and the atmosphere is unparalleled. Manchester United lead the all time series 69-50-60, but it is Liverpool who lay claim to the largest margin of victory, a 7-1 beating of United in 1985. For any sports fan, witnessing this match in what is known as the "Theater of Dreams" would be a truly surreal 90 minutes.
NHL: Maple Leafs @ Canadiens (Molson Centre)
What else needs to be said? It's a hockey game between Canada's two original teams, played on the home ice of hockey's most successful franchise (24 championships to Montreal's credit). Grab a Molson, find a seat in the massive 21,000-seat Centre Bell, and take in the heart of everything Canadian from these two franchises that have won a combined 37 Stanley Cups.
Tennis: Wimbledon Men's Final
The grass courts. The all-white player dress code. The officials clad in suits and dresses. The absence of stadium lights. Nothing in sports says "tradition" like Wimbledon. The All England Club just outside of London has hosted the most prestigious event in Tennis for an astonishing 133 years. Not only is it one of the most difficult tickets to aquire for any event on the planet, but the men's championship match gave us quite possibly the greatest single "game" in sports of the past decade when Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in the English sunset in 2008.
Golf: Sunday at the Masters
Started in 1934, the tournament with the most coveted trophy in golf (a green jacket) is played every spring at the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, GA. On what is considered the most picturesque grounds in sports, many dramatic moments have unfolded in the Masters final round. Legendary players such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Tiger Woods have built their rich legacies by winning multiple titles at Augusta. On the tournament's last day, the gallery around the 18th green is guaranteed to be in a frenzy as the last pairing of golfers approaches to make history again.