NFL Nation: 09 stadium NFC

NFC East: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


Dallas Cowboys (Cowboys Stadium, capacity 80,000)

All future NFL stadiums will be measured against this one. The Jerry Jones family traveled the world looking at famous buildings. The family brought a little bit of everything to the table, including Jerry's favorite topic: fritted glass.
AP Photo/Donna McWilliam
Cowboys Stadium is the NFL's newest venue.

The drive-up appeal is what sets this stadium apart. It's breathtakingly big and then you walk inside and see the video board. I personally think it's even more impressive at night. Lots of architectural flourishes. The biggest negative with Cowboys Stadium is there's no mass transit in Arlington, Texas. You should be able to take a train or a non-Hooters bus to the game.

Wow factor: 5 wows (out of 5)

New York Giants (Giants Stadium, capacity 80,242)

This is New York's final season at Giants Stadium before opening up a new facility in 2010. In 1976, the Giants' first home game was against the Cowboys. The stadium was considered enormous at the time, but it definitely began to show its age in recent years.

It does not have all the luxury suites that you see in newer stadiums and it's pretty basic looking. I'm not sure there's a stadium in the league where the wind swirls as much as it does inside Giants Stadium. Pretty tough place to play, but the Giants and Jets were due for a beautiful new place.

Wow factor: 2 wows

Philadelphia Eagles (Lincoln Financial Field, capacity 67,594)

It's a million times nicer than the Vet, but it certainly doesn't seem as loud. The Eagles opened the Linc in 2003 and they did a nice job of building a modern structure that still has sort of an old-school feel.

I like the fact that the stadium doesn't have 80,000 seats. In some large stadiums, those extra 13,000 seats are way too far from the action. There aren't a lot of bad seats at the Linc.

Wow factor: 4 wows

Washington Redskins (FedEx Field, capacity 91, 704)

I'm not a fan of driving out to Landover, Md., but once you're there, it's a pretty amazing spot. With 90,000 folks in the building, it can be pretty loud. The only thing that bothers me a bit is how the stadium almost feels like a NASCAR destination at times.

I prefer stadiums that put the fans on top of the action. That's not the case at FedEx. Tons of suites. I think it can be a fairly intimidating place for opponents.

Wow factor: 3 wows

NFC West: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Arizona Cardinals (University of Phoenix Stadium, capacity 63,400)
AP Photo/Paul Connors
University of Phoenix Stadium can boast having the country's first retractable grass field.

The Cardinals got it right when they finally put the scorching hot metal bleachers of Sun Devil Stadium behind them. They found a way to build a domed stadium -- essential given the desert heat -- without giving up natural grass or natural light.

America's first retractable grass field sets apart University of Phoenix Stadium. While the roof also opens, natural light shines through even when it's closed. The stadium arguably looks a bit like a giant spaceship from the outside, but Business Week magazine ranked it one of the world's 10 most impressive sports facilities.

Wow factor: 4 wows (out of 5)

St. Louis Rams (Edward Jones Dome, capacity 66,965)

The $30 million in offseason upgrades to the nearly 15-year-old facility do not change the bottom line. The place lacks distinct flavor. It's a big building with seats. Nothing about it screams St. Louis.

The Rams' lease agreement compels the stadium to remain a "top-tier" facility by 2015, meaning it must rank among the eight best in the league. Not going to happen. Two-thirds of the league has built new stadiums since the Rams' facility opened in 1995. Sorry, Ed, but this dome simply cannot measure up by NFL standards.

Wow factor: 0 wows

San Francisco 49ers (Candlestick Park, capacity 70,207)

The place is a dump by rising NFL standards, right down to the faded puke-orange seats. But the 'Stick has history on its side and there's a charm to the place, even while navigating the cramped concourses and craning to see the field from Section 19.

It helps knowing Bill Walsh, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice called Candlestick home, but there's a reason the 49ers are pushing hard to build a new stadium in Santa Clara. It's time to move on.

Wow factor: 2 wows

Seattle Seahawks (Qwest Field, capacity 67,000)

This architecturally spectacular stadium fits nicely into downtown Seattle while providing skyline views, massive concourses and no real shortcomings.

Designers achieved an outdoor feel while still protecting 70 percent of seats from rain. The NFL's first field-level luxury suites give the end zones a distinct feel and there isn't a louder stadium in the NFL (most false starts since 2005).

Wow factor: 4 wows

NFC North: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Breaking down the four Black and Blue homes as part of a larger ESPN.com project:

Chicago Bears (Soldier Field, capacity 61,500)

They won’t give any architectural awards to this structure, which was renovated lickety-split in 2002. To maintain the columns of the original stadium, the Bears squeezed in a new seating bowl that seems as if a spaceship is parked alongside Lake Michigan. The natural grass field, meanwhile, is usually ground into dirt by the end of the season.

But for a game-day experience, nothing beats a Sunday morning spent tailgating by the lake and heading over to the stadium for a noon kickoff. And when the temperatures drop and the wind picks up, Soldier Field is one of the NFL’s best home-field advantages.

Wow factor: 3 wows (out of 5)

Detroit Lions (Ford Field, capacity 65,000)

Ford Field is a beautiful downtown stadium with wide, comfortable concourses. Natural light flows in from two sides. But unfortunately for the Lions, it’s as quiet of an indoor stadium as you’ll come by in this league.

Part of that has to do with no-shows and unsold tickets. But for some reason, sound just doesn’t seem to reverberate inside. The exception is when Theo Spight, my favorite staple of Ford Field, starts singing the Lions fight song.

Wow factor: 2 wows

Green Bay Packers (Lambeau Field, capacity 72,928)
AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps
Lambeau Field is one of the NFL’s must-see stadiums.

For my money, you can’t beat Lambeau anywhere in the NFL. What a superior mix of history, atmosphere and amenities. You’ve got the Packers Hall of Fame, round-the-clock tours and the impressive atrium.

The playing surface, a mixture of grass and FieldTurf, stays in good condition throughout the year. And there’s nothing like seeing 70,000 people dressed in hunter's blaze orange jumping up and down when it's 7 degrees outside.

Wow factor: 5 wows

Minnesota Vikings (Metrodome, capacity 64,121)

Let’s be blunt: The Metrodome is a dump. (It also spawns rhyming fools.) Unless you like using troughs in the men’s bathrooms, or standing in line to walk through the concourse, or walking over 30 people to get to your middle seat, you’re not going to love the Metrodome.

You’ll also encounter obnoxious music selections and a screeching sound system. And make sure you dodge the rolled-up T-shirts fired into the crowd with an air gun. And oh, opposing players: Try not to trip over the seam in the turf where groundskeepers do their best to cover up second base. (Baseball’s Twins are playing their final season in the Metrodome this year.)

Wow factor: 0 wows

NFC South: Rating the stadiums

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
11:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Raymond James Stadium, capacity 65,857)

Opened in 1998, this stadium was considered cutting edge at the time and it’s still considered one of the best facilities in the league. The natural grass surface consistently has been rated the best, or very close to the best, in the league in surveys by the NFL Players Association.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
Raymond James Stadium is consistently voted by players as one of the best places to play.

Also known as “Ray Jay’’ by the locals, this stadium’s crown jewel is a pirate ship in the end zone that is one of the most identifying characteristics in the league. The firing of the cannons when the Bucs get inside the 20-yard line fits perfectly with the stadium’s pirate theme. The one carryover from the old days at Tampa Stadium (a.k.a. “The Big Sombrero’’) is the chant where one side of the stadium yells “Tampa’’ and the other responds with “Bay.’’

Wow factor: 4 wows (out of 5)

Carolina Panthers (Bank of America Stadium, capacity 73,504)

Ideally located in Uptown Charlotte, which is really downtown, this stadium is the hub of center city on game days. Without a lot of true stadium parking, tailgates create a festive atmosphere throughout the city streets and the traffic situation is one of the best in the league because there are countless exit routes.

Like Tampa Bay’s stadium, the natural grass field in Charlotte consistently is ranked among the best in surveys of NFL players. This stadium helped pioneer seat licensing, so fans feel like they have an ownership stake. Carolina fans sometimes get labeled as a wine-and-cheese crowd and they can be a little slow in coming back to their seats after halftime. But, when the Panthers are playing well, this stadium can be as loud as any in the league.

Wow factor: 3 wows

New Orleans Saints (Louisiana Superdome, capacity 72,003)

The oldest facility in the NFC South opened in 1975, but renovations have kept this dome up with the rest of the league. The facility was largely redone after Hurricane Katrina and the Saints recently reached a new long-term lease agreement that also will bring the 2013 Super Bowl back to New Orleans.

The atmosphere is festive on game days as the party New Orleans throws on every day of the year escalates. The tailgates here are as good as any in the league. Games are a social event in New Orleans and the dome has been sold out for every game since the Saints returned in 2006 (all of this year’s games already are sold out). Although some fans are coming off very long nights, the noise inside the Superdome can be incredibly loud when the Saints are on the field.

Wow factor: 3 wows

Atlanta Falcons (Georgia Dome, capacity 71,228)

Despite lots of renovations (FieldTurf installed in 2003, upgrades to the club seats in 2007 and new paint on the outside and new seats in 2008), the Falcons are making noise about their desire for a new stadium. They’re looking at several venues around Atlanta, but building a new stadium close to or on the existing site seems to be a strong possibility. That would be good because the location is on the fringes of downtown and the game-day atmosphere can be festive.

The Georgia Dome has played host to every event imaginable, but the Falcons are the main tenant. The team has endured some lean years, but the dome came to life last year when quarterback Matt Ryan arrived and the Falcons started winning. That might help the Falcons get a new stadium, but the last few years in the dome have the potential to be memorable.

Wow factor: 1 wow

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