<
>

Ivan's been (nearly) everywhere, man

11/14/2013 - College Football
From sea to shining sea, our Ivan Maisel has covered a game at more than 90 FBS stadiums. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For years, my colleague Gene Wojciechowski and I had a running argument about which of us had covered a story at the most FBS schools. Finally, after years of ribbing, we added them up. Let's just say I not only won, but I covered the spread.

By my most recent count, which I made before I began to type this, I have reported a story or covered a game at 93 FBS schools. Among the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences, I have worked a story at all but two schools: Washington State and Vanderbilt. Nothing personal, Cougars and Commodores. I covered a Washington State home game earlier this season. However, the Cougars played Stanford in Seattle. Doesn't count.

I may be a jack of all conferences and a master of none, but traveling across the country to cover college football has been a blast. That's why I'm excited that this weekend, 10 of our conference reporters are stepping out of their leagues to see how other parts of the country celebrate their Saturdays. It's anthropology, with shoulder pads.

To whet their appetites, and maybe yours, what follows is a thumbnail description of some of the games I've covered and the places I've covered them. I discovered I don't remember my thumbnails as well as I used to. But with a little help from Google, I have blown the dust off my mental scrapbook and peeked inside.

ACC

Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida State

First Game I Saw: (1991) Florida State 46, Syracuse 14

Best Game I Saw: (1991) Miami 17, Florida State 16

The original Wide Right (collect them all). In the first seven weeks of that season, that team was as good as any of Bobby Bowden's powerhouse teams. Injuries, and poor kicking, did it in.

The Thing About Doak: I feel certain that it's the only $100 million-plus edifice where you can buy boiled peanuts.

Memorial Stadium, Clemson

First Game I Saw (1981) Clemson 45, Wofford 10

Best Game I Saw (1988) Florida State 24, Clemson 21

The Puntrooskie, the One and Only. Who calls a fake punt in a tie game on his own 20 with two minutes to play? Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden, that's who.

The Thing About Death Valley: There's so much to like about Clemson. The Esso Club, a gas station/bar. The Smokin' Pig's incredible barbecue is right down the road. And, of course, Howard's Rock, one of the coolest pregame rituals in the sport.

Carter-Finley Stadium, North Carolina State

First Game I Saw: I wrote a story about first-year head coach Dick Sheridan for Sports Illustrated two weeks into the 1986 season, in which the Wolfpack went from 3-8 to 8-3-1. And I remember covering a night game at Carter-Finley. And I covered a few basketball games in Reynolds Coliseum. But you got me as to when.

The Thing About Carter-Finley: I never liked that it's not smack on campus. But it does share a parking lot with the Hurricanes' arena. There's that.

BB&T Field, Wake Forest

First Game I Saw (2006): Wake Forest 21, Boston College 14

The 7-1 Demon Deacons proved themselves as viable contenders for the ACC title they would win by defeating the No. 16 Eagles. They lost the Orange Bowl to Louisville 24-13.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About BB&T: It is the smallest (capacity 31,500) stadium among the five major conferences. There's a fine line between coziness and minor league. I think BB&T Field has the goods. 

Byrd Stadium, Maryland

First Game I Saw: (2000? 2002?) Night game against Florida State. The Seminoles embarrassed the Terps the way that Bobby Bowden's best teams embarrassed every team in the ACC.

Best Game I Saw: Actually, on campus, it was in Cole Field House during the 1991 NCAA tournament. No. 15 seed Richmond upset No. 2 seed Syracuse 73-69.

The Thing About Byrd: Love the turtle statue. Who cares if Maryland copped the idea from Howard's Rock?

Alumni Stadium, Boston College

First Game I Saw: (1996) Notre Dame 48, Boston College 21

The game was secondary, and not just because of the score. This was the Eagles' first home game after the university suspended 13 players in a betting scandal.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Alumni: The Eagles' "indoor facility" is a bubble that goes over the turf in the winter. It may not keep up with the Joneses but it is one of a kind.

Carrier Dome, Syracuse

First Game I Saw: (1987) Syracuse 48, Penn State 21

Syracuse hadn't beaten JoePa since 1970. On the first play from scrimmage, Don McPherson threw an 80-yard touchdown to Rob Moore. I think the Dome levitated.

Best Game I Saw: (1998) Syracuse 66, Miami 13

In quarterback Donovan McNabb's last home game, the Orange tormented their Big East tormentors. Midway through the fourth quarter, Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni sent in a sub and gave McNabb a curtain call. I think the Dome levitated again.

The Thing About the Dome: Syracuse fans complain -- a lot -- but when they're winning, there's no tougher place to play. For 50,000 seats, it's a small building, and there's nowhere for the sound to go. And unlike in basketball, every seat is good.

Kenan Memorial Stadium, North Carolina

First Game I Saw (1981): Clemson 10, North Carolina 8

A top-10 matchup and Clemson's toughest homestretch game en route to the national championship.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Kenan: With the way the trees peek over the top of the stadium, there are few prettier settings for college football.

Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke

First Game I Saw: (1981) Clemson 38, Duke 10

I may have been there in 1981 for Clemson's 38-10 victory. I know was at Cameron Indoor Stadium for North Carolina's epic 102-100 double overtime win over Duke in 1995. That one's a keeper.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Wallace Wade: That they held the 1942 Rose Bowl there, of course!

Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech

First Game I Saw: (1999) Virginia Tech 43, Miami 10

Redshirt freshman Michael Vick. Enough said.

Best Game I Saw: (2003) Virginia Tech 35, Texas A&M 19

The Hurricane Isabel game, played on ESPN on Thursday night. I had a sideline job that night, and Isabel brought wind, rain and not much warm air. I didn't pack right. I stopped in the Blacksburg Wal-Mart. Long underwear? Nope. Leggings? Nope. So I took a deep breath, went into women's lingerie and bought some plus-size -- O.K., maybe plus-plus size -- pantyhose. My legs stayed warm. And I have to tell you, I looked damned good.

The Thing About Lane: The roasted turkey legs -- the Hokies used to be known as the Gobblers -- put Lane on the medal stand for college stadium food.

Sun Life Stadium, Miami

First Game I Saw: (1998 Orange Bowl) Nebraska 49, Tennessee 17

Peyton Manning's last college game. He was injured and a shell of himself. The Huskers' romp won them a share of the national championship.

Best Game I Saw: (2005 Orange Bowl) USC 55, Oklahoma 19

Game? No. But the Trojans gave one of the best football recitals I've ever witnessed. They led 38-10 at the half. And I met USC alum Will Ferrell on the field before the game.

The Thing About Sun Life: That's the first time I sat in an end zone press box (the one behind home plate when the Marlins played there). It remains like watching a game through the wrong end of the binoculars.

Orange Bowl (R.I.P.)

First Game I Saw: (1982 Orange Bowl) Clemson 22, Nebraska 15.

Best Game I Saw: (1994 Orange Bowl) Florida State 18, Nebraska 16

Florida State kicked a field goal to go ahead in the final seconds, only to have the Huskers get the field position to try a field goal of their own. Nebraska didn't lose another game until September 1996.

The Thing About the Orange Bowl: It was like a dowager who had lost her fortune. Good bones, once elegant, but starved to death at the end. Outdated press boxes, undersized locker rooms. I remember a sewage leak one year during an only-in-Miami rainstorm.

Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech

First Game I Saw: (1984) Georgia Tech 28, Clemson 21

The Yellow Jackets, after starting the season by beating Alabama, went to 3-0 before finishing 6-4-1. Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt led Georgia Tech in receiving, averaging 19.1 yards per catch.

Best Game I Saw: (2011) No. 6 Clemson came in with an 8-0 record and left with a 31-17 loss. At its best, Paul Johnson's option offense will make a team look foolish.

The Thing About Bobby Dodd: The Varsity is within walking distance for that pregame or postgame fast-food craving. And the view of the downtown Atlanta skyline is hard to beat.

Scott Stadium, Virginia

First Game I Saw: (1990) Georgia Tech 41, Virginia 38

The No. 1 Cavaliers played well in defeat. They haven't been No. 1 before or since.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The thing about Scott: Few stadiums are tucked into campus more neatly than Scott. It doesn't call attention to itself the way the new basketball arena does (Look at me! I'm new!). It looks as natural as a building on "the Grounds" can look with 61,500 seats. Mr. Jefferson would like it.

Pitt Stadium (R.I.P.), Pitt

First Game I Saw: (1989) Pittsburgh 30, Syracuse 23

What I remember about that game is being on deadline and running into the Syracuse locker room to see coach Dick MacPherson. The nicest man in coaching interrupted my panic by stopping me and asking about my family. He always taught me about civility and a positive attitude.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Pitt: Built on a hill with no nearby parking. The university wanted the real estate. Pitt became tenants of Heinz Field, a beautiful downtown stadium that doesn't belong to the Panthers.


Big Ten

Ohio Stadium, Ohio State

First Game I Saw: Lost to the Ages, or the Aged. I don't remember.

Best Game I Saw: (2006) Ohio State 42, Michigan 39

The fever of the No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup between archrivals spiked on Thursday. When news spread that Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler died Friday morning, the game gained perspective. It remained a riveting show of two outstanding offenses.

The Thing About the Horseshoe: Simply a great venue. Ohio State took a museum and modernized it without losing the look and feel of the days when Woody Hayes stormed the sideline. When you walk across the little bridges over the Olentangy to get to the stadium, you feel something special.

Kinnick Stadium, Iowa

First Game I Saw: (1997) Iowa 38, Illinois 10

Tavian Banks!

Best Game I Saw: (2006) Ohio State 38, Iowa 17

The No. 1 Buckeyes methodically ground down a typically sound but outmanned Hawkeyes team.

The Thing About Kinnick: Its namesake -- there's no better story than Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman winner who died in World War II. Nearly 75 years later, Iowans still tell it proudly. The statue of him portrays him in street clothes, holding books, his leather helmet at his feet. Hawkeyes rub it for good luck before entering the stadium.

Beaver Stadium, Penn State

First Game I Saw: I'm pretty sure it was Notre Dame's 34-23 victory in 1989. I say that because I distinctly remember standing outside in snow flurries waiting for the press box to open.

Best Game I Saw: (2008) Penn State 49, Michigan State 18

The last peak of Joe Paterno's immortal career. I remember the giddiness amid the snow flurries (again). Paterno, hobbled all season by a painful hip, accepted the Big Ten championship trophy in the locker room and underwent hip replacement surgery the next day.

The Thing About Beaver Stadium: It has all of the charm of an antique, and all the modernity, too. But you can buy ice cream from the campus creamery, and that goes a long way.

Memorial Stadium, Indiana

First Game I Saw: (1987) Indiana 14, Michigan 10

In which the 15th-ranked Hoosiers defeated the 20th-ranked Wolverines in miserable weather and seized control of the Big Ten race -- for one week. Indiana lost to Iowa the next week, and the Hoosiers still haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1967.

Best Game I Saw: Same

Better than the 34-3 victory by Michigan in 2006.

The Thing about Memorial Stadium: There's nothing wrong with Memorial Stadium. It's fine. But the lack of bells and whistles and the lack of, well, priority, illustrate Indiana is a basketball school.

TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota (Opened 2009)

I haven't been there. Nor did I ever see the Gophers play in the Metrodome. But I did go to Minneapolis to write a story on running backs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III in 2004. Spent a couple of days in Bierman Athletic Center, named for Bernie Bierman, the coach who led the Gophers to five undefeated seasons and three national championships (1936, 1940-41).

Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue

First Game I Saw: (1995) Notre Dame 35, Purdue 28

Actually, I think I was there before this, but I know I covered this one. The Irish had lost their opener 17-15 to unheralded Northwestern, and I went to see if Notre Dame had serious issues. It turns out that the Irish went 9-3 and Northwestern went to the Rose Bowl.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Ross-Ade: The wind is usually blowing and the conditions can be bitter. But Purdue's best teams in the past 40 years have thrown the ball. That says more about former coach Joe Tiller than it does about Ross-Ade.

Memorial Stadium, Illinois

First Game I Saw: (1994) Penn State 35, Illinois 31

The Nittany Lions' toughest scare in their undefeated season. They came back from a 21-0 first-quarter deficit and took the lead with a 14-play, 96-yard, 6:10 drive that concluded with Brian Milne's 2-yard scoring run with 57 seconds to play.

Best Game I Saw: Hard to top that one.

The Thing About Memorial Stadium: The classic columns that commemorate the university's dead in World War I are wonderful for the eyes. With the right wind, the odor of the ag school is not so terrific for the nose.

Memorial Stadium, Nebraska

First Game I Saw: (1987) Oklahoma 17, Nebraska 7

The first No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup I covered.

Best Game I Saw: (1994) Nebraska 24, Colorado 7

The No. 3 Huskers so dominated the No. 2 Buffaloes that they overtook No. 1 Penn State and stayed there for the remainder of the season, winning Tom Osborne's first national championship.

The Thing About Memorial: The inscriptions on the façade of the stadium. My favorite is, "Not the victory but the action." My other favorite about Memorial is the people. The fans are sophisticated and they respect the opposing teams, two qualities rare in college football.

Spartan Stadium, Michigan State

First Game I Saw: You got me. A long time ago.

Best Game I Saw: (2001) Michigan State 26, Michigan 24

Known as Clockgate in maize and blue regions of the state, Jeff Smoker lobbed a 2-yard pass to T.J. Duckett on the final play of the game. The controversy over whether :01 remained when Smoker spiked the ball on the previous play rages to this day. The Big Ten never said the officials got it wrong. But they changed the rule so that the home team doesn't hire the timekeeper. That's not much solace to the Wolverines.

The Thing About Spartan Stadium: East Lansing is a pretty campus. The state capitol in Lansing is a short drive away, if you have a history itch. All in all, a pretty place. I'm just not sure the sun has ever shined when I've been there. There's nothing as raw and windy as a Big Ten Saturday.

Michigan Stadium, Michigan

First Game I Saw: (1989) Notre Dame 24, Michigan 19

As if the defending national champions didn't have enough weapons, Rocket Ismail announced his arrival by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns.

Best Game I Saw (1994): Colorado 27, Michigan 26

Where I learned never to leave the press box until the game is secure. Writers on deadline will send a story early in order to make their way to the postgame interviews. That was especially important at the Big House, where the press box is opposite the locker rooms. I stayed upstairs and saw Kordell Stewart's heave to Michael Westbrook. As I raced out of the press box, I saw writers racing in, needing to correct their stories about Michigan's victory.

The Thing About the Big House: Before the recent renovation, it was surprisingly quiet for 100,000-plus people. Something about a wide sunken bowl doesn't promote the decibel level. If you're a golf fan, don't look at the cars parked on the university course, designed by Alister MacKenzie, who also created Augusta National. It will make you sick.

Ryan Field, Northwestern

First Game I Saw: (1995) Northwestern 21, Penn State 10

The pinnacle game of the miracle season. The Wildcats stunned the Nittany Lions, who had won 23 of their previous 25 games, with a physical running game and a crowd screaming for the home team. That didn't always happen at Northwestern.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Ryan Field: I love the oldness of it. But all I can tell you is dress warmly. The Hawk, as the wind off Lake Michigan is known, isn't far away.

Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin

First Game I Saw: (1993) Wisconsin 14, Ohio State 14

When is a tie a victory? When the 7-1 No. 15 Badgers, who hadn't sniffed the Rose Bowl in 30 years, tied the 8-0 No. 3 Buckeyes. Two weeks later, when Ohio State lost to Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin tied for the Big Ten title, and the Badgers got the invitation to the Rose Bowl.

Best Game I Saw: (2011) Wisconsin 48, Nebraska 17

Not so much for the game itself but for the Huskers' Big Ten debut. Badgers Nation wanted Nebraska to know it had joined a tougher league, and the intensity of the game was much higher than an Oct. 1 game would normally warrant.

The Thing About Camp Randall: It's a big party, from the brats to the rowdy and ribald students to the third-quarter Jump Around to the postgame band concert. Join in.


Big 12

Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa State

First Game I Saw: (1986) Iowa State 19, Iowa 16

I should point out this was a dual wrestling meet, and the No. 2 Cyclones ended the No. 1 Hawkeyes' two-year, 36-meet winning streak in front of 8,095 fans at a sold-out Hilton Coliseum on a February Sunday on which I'm not sure the temperature outdoors made it into double digits.

Best Game I Saw: (2002) Iowa State 36, Nebraska 14

The Cyclones, behind quarterback Seneca Wallace, routed the Huskers only one year after they played in the BCS Championship Game. Fans engulfed the stadium floor, and in their delirium someone gave head coach Dan McCarney a fat lip.

The Thing About Jack Trice: A Big 12 official once told me it gets so cold there because the only thing between the Canadian wind and the field is barbed wire.

Memorial Stadium, Kansas

First Game I Saw: (1988) Kansas 30, Kansas State 12

The 0-8 Jayhawks, under first-year coach Glen Mason, had a pulse. The 0-8 Wildcats, under last-year coach Stan Parrish, did not. That was Game No. 25 in a 30-game non-winning streak. The following year, in Week 4, Kansas State won under its new head coach, Bill Snyder.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Memorial Stadium: There are reams of lore about Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have played basketball since 1955. If there's any lore about Memorial Stadium, where the Jayhawks have played football since 1921, it hasn't stuck with me.

Snyder Family Stadium, Kansas State

First Game I Saw: OK, I know I have been to Manhattan several times, and I'm pretty sure I covered a game there. But I'm not going to make it up and tell you when. I know I went in 1988, and I know I went during Ron Prince's three-year tenure, because I attended a spring practice, and I remember thinking, this is access that Bill Snyder would never grant. But the game?

The Thing About Snyder Family Stadium: Manhattan is not far from the pasture where Knute Rockne's plane went down in 1931. There is a commemorative marker in the pasture, and it's as haunting a place as I've ever seen.

Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State

First Game I Saw: (2011) Oklahoma State 44, Oklahoma 10

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Boone Pickens Stadium: The press box is on the same level as the 39 suites and 3,500 club suites. All I can tell you is that I've been in some skeevy press box bathrooms. Oklahoma State's is the only one where I thought I was in a country club.

Memorial Stadium, Oklahoma

First Game I Saw: (1988) Oklahoma 35, Iowa State 7

My second year covering college football at The Dallas Morning News. I tried for a week to get Barry Switzer on the phone, because the Sooners played Texas in Dallas the week after Iowa State. No luck. After this rout, I asked him why he hadn't returned a call. He said, "Before Texas, I don't talk to anybody from Dallas." Not true, but a good line.

Best Game I Saw: (2007) Oklahoma 51, Miami 13

OK, the game stunk but the Sooners redshirt freshman quarterback, Sam Bradford, gave a riveting performance. In his second college game, Bradford went 19-of-25 for 205 yards -- and five touchdowns. I remember thinking, "This kid is different."

The Thing About Memorial Stadium: It's very easy to get from the press box to the field. That may not mean much to you. Try doing it when 80,000 fans are walking out of the stadium and you're swimming upstream.

Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Texas

First Game I Saw: (19??) I could make something up but I don't remember.

Best Game I Saw (2003) Texas 24, Kansas State 20

In which redshirt freshman quarterback Vince Young brought the Longhorns back in the fourth quarter. Two games later, he started. Two years later, he won a national title.

The Thing About DKR: Recent makeovers have helped make it noisier, but for years it soundest like the tamest stadium in the state.

Jones AT&T Stadium, Texas Tech

First Game I Saw: (1978) Texas Tech 22, Houston 21

Thanksgiving weekend upset of the No. 5 Cougars.

Best Game I Saw: (2008) Texas Tech 39, Texas 33

The Red Raiders dethroned the No. 1 Longhorns on Halloween night. All hail Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree.

The Thing About Jones Stadium: All I can tell you is, dress for the wind. If it's not blowing, something's wrong.

Floyd Casey Stadium, Baylor

First Game I Saw: (1991?)

Best Game I Saw: (2012) Baylor 52, Kansas State 24

The No. 1 Wildcats fall to the suddenly un-mediocre Bears minutes before No. 2 Oregon loses in overtime to Stanford, and Nov. 17 becomes a state holiday in Alabama, where the No. 4 Crimson Tide ascends the BCS standings.

The Thing About Floyd Casey: For years, Baylor football was obsolete and so was its stadium. As of next year, neither will be true. The Bears are winning, and in 2014 they move into a new on-campus stadium.

Amon G. Carter Stadium, TCU

First Game I Saw (1990?): A basketball game in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

Best Game I Saw (2007) Utah 27, TCU 20

A decent midseason Mountain West Conference game, but I went with 77-year-old legendary sportswriter Dan Jenkins, a TCU fan since age 6, to do a story about him.

The Thing About Amon Carter: The 2012 renovation took a ramshackle antique and turned it into a modern edifice. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who misses the antique.

Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia

First Game I Saw: (1988) West Virginia 51, Penn State 30

In those days, Penn State dominated eastern football. The Mountaineers had gone 1-21 with five shutouts against Joe Paterno. This game was not only an affirmation but a catharsis, and an always rowdy stadium approached delirium.

Best Game I Saw: (1993) West Virginia 17, Miami 14

The No. 9 Mountaineers remained unbeaten with the upset of the No. 4 Hurricanes in a defensive battle on a raw November day. But what I remember is standing in back of the press box as the second half began, watching No. 17 Boston College upset No. 1 Notre Dame 41-39, and thinking, in a fit of pique and self-flagellation, I covered the wrong game.

Thing About Milan Puskar: I am told that Milan Puskar isn't nearly as raucous now that the university disallows fans to leave, tailgate and re-enter the stadium. I am tempted to say too bad, but it's a good thing.


Pac-12

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

First Game I Saw: (1977) USC 49, Stanford 0

Best Game I Saw: (2005) USC 50, Fresno State 42

If you set aside the scandal that tainted Reggie Bush's career, you are left with three years of magic. He rushed for 294 yards and finished with 513 total yards, including a 50-yard touchdown run in which he slammed on the brakes at one sideline and then raced to the pylon at the other. Amazing.

The Thing About the Coliseum: Best stadium food I've ever had are Martin's Louisiana Sausages, a vendor behind the enclosed end zone. Don't tell my editors but I make up reasons to cover USC games to have the spicy 10-inch variation.

Rose Bowl

First Game I Saw: (Jan. 1, 1996) USC 41, Northwestern 32

Best Game I Saw (2005 season) Texas 41, USC 38

The magic of Vince Young, the artistry of two very good offenses, and the head-scratching decision of not having Reggie Bush on the field for fourth-and-2 at the Texas 45 with just over two minutes to play. That was the night that USC football began its slide. Texas was never the same, either.

The Thing About the Rose Bowl: There's nowhere else you'd rather be on Jan. 1. Brisk chill in the morning, warm blue-sky afternoons, and when the sun sets on the San Gabriel Mountains, your eyes roam from the field between every play.

Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State

First Game I Saw: (1988) Notre Dame 34, West Virginia 21

Best Game I Saw: (2001) Ohio State 31, Miami 24

The Buckeyes' first national title since 1968 prevented the Hurricanes from winning back-to-back titles, although in certain areas of South Florida, Ohio State's title has the taint of a bad pass interference call about it.

The Thing About Sun Devil Stadium: It's jammed between two buttes. I have never figured out where all those people park.

Arizona Stadium

First Game I Saw: (1992) Arizona 16, Washington 3

The Desert Swarm defense knocked off the unbeaten, defending national champion Huskies.

Best Game I Saw: (2007) Arizona 34, Oregon 24

Quarterback Dennis Dixon tried but couldn't play on a torn ACL, and the No. 2 Ducks lost a Heisman Trophy favorite and a shot at the BCS title in one night.

The Thing About Arizona Stadium: Bear Down, the original battle cry of former Arizona quarterback John "Button" Salmon, is written on the field.

Stanford Stadium

First Game I Ever Saw: (1977) Stanford 37, Illinois 24

Best Game I Ever Saw: (2013) Stanford 26, Oregon 20

I've gone to two Stanford Stadiums for 37 years, and I've never heard it as loud and as, well, college-football-like, as I heard it last Thursday night. It's "The Library" no longer.

The Thing About Stanford Stadium: The old Stanford Stadium seated 88,000 people and had a track around it. It was the stadium where sound disappeared. The new stadium, erected within the façade of the old in 2006, seats 50,000 in two decks with no track circling the field. Big difference.

Memorial Stadium, California

First Game I Saw: (1978) Stanford 30, Cal 10

Best Game I Saw: (1982) Cal 25, Stanford 20

Yep, The Play. I was there, in the stands, and his knee was down.

The Thing About Memorial Stadium: It's built atop a hill, and you better be in shape, because there's no parking nearby. But once you get there, if you sit high enough and can see over the rim of the stadium, the views of the Bay Area are worth the climb.

Autzen Stadium, Oregon

First Game I Saw: (1988) Oregon 17, Washington 14

Best Game I Saw: (2007) Oregon 24, USC 17

Three weeks earlier, lowly Stanford had shocked USC 24-23. But this loss confirmed that the Pete Carroll Era was on the wane. The Trojans won the league that year, but the Ducks and their new offensive coordinator, some guy from New Hampshire named Chip Kelly, announced their arrival.

The Thing About Autzen Stadium: Some stadiums seat 90,000 who sound like 60,000. Autzen Stadium seats 60,000 who sound like 90,000. The first row of seats is so close to the field the fans could hear the play called in the huddle if they could stay quiet. Which they can't.

Reser Stadium, Oregon State

First Game I Saw: (1979) Oregon State 33, Stanford 31

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Beavers went 1-10 that season, and their only victory came after trailing the Cardinal 31-7, deep in the second half.

The Thing About Reser: That's where I learned that if a kickoff returner catches the kickoff, runs into the end zone and puts his knee down, that's a safety. That's what happened with the score 31-31 after the Beavers tied the score late in the game.

Husky Stadium, Washington

First Game I Saw: (1992) Washington 29, Nebraska 14

Best Game I Saw: (1999) Washington 35, Stanford 30

Husky quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo became the first player in FBS history to pass for 300 yards (302) and run for 200 (207), despite injuring his foot on the second play from scrimmage. Remains on the short list of best individual efforts I've ever seen.

The Thing About Husky Stadium: Can't beat the view of Lake Washington. Until the remodel, which opened this year, the press box was known as the scariest in college football. It looked like it hung from a shaky roof, and I always worried that I might walk in there and not walk out.

Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah

First Game I Saw: (2004) Utah 52, BYU 21

The Utes clinched their unbeaten regular season against their archrival in a light snow. Afterward, head coach Urban Meyer tried to deflect questions that he was leaving for Florida. He didn't try that hard.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Rice-Eccles: Utah fans can look around the Pac-12, see the Olympic torch outside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and say, "What's the big deal? We have one, too."

Folsom Field, Colorado

First Game I Saw: (1989) Colorado 27, Nebraska 21

Bill McCartney and the Buffs slay their dragon. McCartney built a program from nothing, declaring Big Eight power Nebraska as Colorado's rival. And, by God, for a decade or so, the Buffs made it a rivalry. This was the breakthrough victory.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Folsom Field: It snowed for quite a while leading up to the 1991 Nebraska game, and I remember getting to the stadium early enough to see show and ice encasing the seats. The Buffs, one year after their national title, found a way to match a superior Husker team point for point.


SEC

Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama

First Game I Saw: (1966) Alabama 24, South Carolina 0

Best Game I Saw: (2011) LSU 9, Alabama 6

Not everyone's cup of tea, but for great defenses and the sheer, unrelenting tension of every snap, this one tops the list.

The Thing About Bryant-Denny: The vendors lining Paul W. Bryant Drive, the open-air press box (not unusual in the SEC), the pregame video of the Bear. Breakfast at the Rama Jama diner tucked in next to the stadium is a treat.

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn

First Game I Saw: (1989) Auburn 30, Alabama 20

Dec. 2, 1989 is the July 4, 1776 of Auburn football: The Crimson Tide's first visit to Jordan-Hare in the long rivalry. That the Tigers defeated a No. 2, 10-0 Tide made it sweeter.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Jordan-Hare: One of my favorite stadiums, because the seats rise straight up. The noise can't escape. And there's a lot of noise. Not to mention the pregame flight of the eagle, and the people, who are very nice, as long as you're not writing about Cam Newton's family.

Tiger Stadium, LSU

First Game I Saw: (1987) LSU 13, Ohio State 13

Best Game I Saw: (2007) Arkansas 50, LSU 48

The three-overtime upset that seemed to knock No. 1 LSU out of the national championship race and solidify Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt's job security. In fact, Nutt resigned three days later, and, in a year of upsets, the Tigers climbed back into the national championship game and beat Ohio State.

The Thing About Tiger Stadium: The tiger in the cage in the corner of the end zone definitely gets your attention. God forbid the visiting team wins, because Tiger Stadium has the world's smallest, least accommodating interview room for the visiting team. And in case, you wondered, the mystique of night games is real.

Kyle Field, Texas A&M

First Game I Saw: (1988) Alabama 30, Texas A&M 10

The hurricane game. Also Jackie Sherrill's last as head coach.

Best Game I Saw: (1999) Texas A&M 20, Texas 16

The game itself became secondary to the bonfire tragedy that left 12 people dead and 27 injured. In fact, the tragedy changed the tenor of the rivalry, as Texas followers expressed sorrow and support for Texas A&M.

The Thing About Kyle Field: The $450 million renovation begins this weekend. When it's done, I hope they find a way for the upper deck to sway again. That's the closest thing to a scary carnival ride that press box viewers have now that Husky Stadium has been modernized.

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Ole Miss

First Game I Saw: (2003) LSU 17, Ole Miss 14

In Eli Manning's last home game, the Rebels came within one foot of upsetting the eventual national champions. Choose your foot: either that of Jonathan Nichols, the automatic kicker who missed two field goals, or the foot of the lineman that Manning tripped over on fourth-and-10 at midfield with 1:55 to play.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Vaught-Hemingway: Those people know how to tailgate. No food tastes better, no drinks are more satisfying, and no women are prettier than on the Grove on a fall Saturday.

Razorback Stadium, Arkansas

First Game I Saw: (1998) Arkansas 34, Ole Miss 0

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Razorback: Nice Arkansas Hall of Fame/Museum adjacent to the stadium. Like most SEC stadiums, it has that ramshackle, hey-let's-add-more-seats feel to it. The additions, like tree rings, illustrate age and growth.

Davis Wade Stadium, Mississippi State

First Game I Saw: (1992) Alabama 30, Mississippi State 21

The toughest game the Crimson Tide had en route to their national championship came on a November Saturday night in Starkville. The Bulldogs rose up from a 20-3 deficit to take a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter before the Alabama defense reasserted itself.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Davis Wade: Where "More Cowbell" is always appropriate. The stadium is barely half the size of those at other SEC schools, which helps explain why Mississippi State hasn't won an SEC title since 1941.

Sanford Stadium, Georgia

First Game I Saw: (1976) Georgia 21, Alabama 0

Best Game I Saw: (2011) South Carolina 45, Georgia 42

The Gamecocks won with special teams and a lot of Marcus Lattimore (176 yards, 94 in the fourth quarter). But the game tingled from first play to last.

The Thing About Sanford: The hedges, of course. It's always about the hedges. But the bridge behind one end zone is cool, and back in the day, behind the other, was a Tightwad Hill bisected by a railroad track. And Georgia has one of the two best (with Auburn) open-air press boxes.

Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina

First Game I Saw: It was in the 1990s. I remember that ...

Best Game I Saw: (2004) Georgia 20, South Carolina 16

The Gamecocks took a 16-0 lead against the No. 3 Dawgs in the second quarter and gained only 79 yards thereafter. One of the great comebacks on the road I've ever covered.

The Thing About Williams-Brice: It has everything but a campus. Great, distinctive-looking stadium (those light towers!) with the Cockaboose Railroad outside for tailgating. I just wish it weren't at the state fairgrounds.

Ben Hill Griffin, Florida

First Game I Saw: (1986) Florida 18, Auburn 17

The day Kerwin Bell pressed himself into the Gator Family Bible by hobbling off the bench with a knee brace to lead the Gators from a 17-0, fourth-quarter deficit.

Best Game I Saw: (1993) Florida State 33, Florida 21

The No. 7 Gators had the momentum, trailing the No. 1 Seminoles 27-21, and Florida State had a third-and-10 at their own 21. It remains, 20 years later, the loudest stadium I've ever heard. And then Charlie Ward threw a swing pass to freshman Warrick Dunn, who raced down the left sideline untouched. Game over. Heisman won.

The Thing About BHG: The noise and the sweat and the Two-Bits cheer and the singing of "We Are The Boys From Old Florida" and the low-ceilinged press box. I've still never seen the peak of a punt.

Neyland Stadium, Tennessee

First Game I Saw: (1986) Alabama 56, Tennessee 28

Best Game I Saw: (2000) Florida 27, Tennessee 23

If instant replay had been in effect, Tennessee probably would have won 23-20. Instead, official Al Matthews' ruling that Jabar Gaffney had caught Jesse Palmer's 3-yard pass in the final seconds stood.

The Thing About Neyland: A gorgeous view of the Tennessee River, the checkerboard end zones, and the highest press box in the SEC until Texas A&M joined. Also home of the first "jock dorm." Gen. Robert Neyland had his players sleep in the cavernous bowels of the stadium.

Memorial Stadium, Missouri

First Game I Saw: I think it was in the 1990s ...

Best Game I Saw: (2010) Missouri 36, Oklahoma 27

The No. 18 Tigers stunned the No. 3 Sooners, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert made himself very attractive to the NFL.

The Thing About Memorial Stadium: Love that it's two hours from Kansas City and two hours from St. Louis, so it's easy to fly there, except for the part that then you have a two-hour drive.

Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky

First Game I Saw: (1981) Alabama 19, Kentucky 10

Best Game I Saw: Same

A forgettable Crimson Tide team took care of a forgettable Wildcat team. So why is it memorable? It's the only game I covered that Bear Bryant coached. And, at age 21, it was very important to me to ask the first question in the postgame interview. I'm suuuurrre it was worthy of a Pulitzer.

The Thing About Commonwealth: Kentucky is a basketball school. The Wildcats are football ne'er-do-wells. But the fans regularly fill the 67,942 seats. Props are due.


Best Of The Rest

Notre Dame Stadium

First Game I Saw: (1987) Notre Dame 37, Alabama 6

Best Game I Saw: (1993) Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24

The game that propelled the No. 2 Irish past the No. 1 Seminoles -- for a week. Also gave birth to a show called "College Football GameDay."

The Thing About Notre Dame Stadium: The history of the place is moving, from the coaches' statues placed around the outside to the fact that, save for the NBC logo on the video board, and, come to think of it, the video board, the place looks the same as it did 50, 60, 70 years ago. There's no other advertising. It's different, of course. Notre Dame added 20,000 seats nearly 20 years ago. But it appears the same.

Michie Stadium, Army

First Game I Saw: (1986) Army 33, Syracuse 28

Best Game I Saw: (1996) Army 34, Tulane 10

The Black Knights raised their record to 6-0 despite a nor'easter that drenched the fans and made the roads to and from campus perilous. Army got to 9-0 and No. 22 before finishing 10-2 and No. 25.

The Thing about Michie: On that wet, raw day, the prima donnas in the press box were so appalled by its conditions -- steamed windows that made it impossible to see, leaks, grit falling from the ceiling every time the cannons signaled an Army score -- that we wrote about it. Soon after, Army had a new press box. As for the stadium, it's just amazing to sit and think of the historic teams and players who played on the field before you.

Cotton Bowl, Dallas

First Game I Saw: (1990) Texas 14, Oklahoma 13

Best Game I Saw: (2005) Texas 45, Oklahoma 12

The Sooners had humiliated the Longhorns for the previous five years. Texas, with Vince Young, was favored, but Oklahoma seemed to have a lock on the Red River Rivalry. Not by a long shot. Not that day.

The Thing About The Cotton Bowl: The Midway of the State Fair of Texas is steps away. Grab a turkey leg and, if you're not working, a beer, before the 11 a.m. kickoff. Go see the butter-carved Elvis, as I did in 2005, or the show chickens, or the fried you-name-it (Oreo? Butter?) at the concession stand. Not to mention the 50-50 split in the stands.

Legion Field, UAB

First Game I Saw: (1969) Auburn 49, Alabama 26

Best Game I Saw: (1985) Alabama 25, Auburn 23

Even Tigers fans may agree this was one of the best Iron Bowls ever. The lead changed twice in the last 52 seconds, with the Crimson Tide's Van Tiffin, without a timeout to set up, sprinting onto the field and kicking a 52-yard field goal as time expired for the victory.

The Thing About Legion Field: Once famous nationwide, with "Football Capital of the South" painted on the façade between the upper and lower deck, Legion Field is literally a shell of its former self. The upper decks were removed because they were no longer safe. Alabama quit playing there more than a decade ago.

Bronco Stadium, Boise State

First Game I Saw: (2009) Boise State 19, Oregon 8

The LeGarrette Blount punch game. I was embedded with the Ducks and never saw the punch. Neither did Chip Kelly. And then it was on TV over and over and over and over.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Bronco: The blue turf is as cool in person as it appears on TV. And the stadium seems bigger than 37,000, at least until you realize there are only bleachers in one end zone.

Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville

First Game I Saw: (2006) Louisville 44, West Virginia 34

Best Game I Saw: Same

In a battle of Big East top-five unbeatens, the No. 5 Cardinals scored back-to-back defensive touchdowns early in the second half to knock off the No. 3 Mountaineers.

The Thing About Papa John's: It has been a perfect metaphor for the Cardinals. Relatively new, a good, competitive size with room to grow. But Louisville is a genuine star now, soon to be in the ACC. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals fans make it necessary to expand the stadium.

Gerald J. Ford Stadium, SMU

First Game I Saw: (2005) Baylor 28, SMU 23

The story was not the Mustangs' season opener but who attended -- the Tulane football team, which bivouacked to Dallas after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans several days before.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Ford: After the death penalty, SMU downsized and renovated its stadium. It's a lovely 32,000-seat stadium. All it needs is 32,000 people on Saturdays.

LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU

First Game I Saw: (1990) BYU 28, Miami 21

The Cougars not only knocked off the defending national champion, but they set quarterback Ty Detmer on the road to the Heisman Trophy.

Best Game I Saw: Same

The Thing About Edwards: That majestic view of the mountains and that white Y.