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Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: October 10, 2:35 PM ET
Toughest venues: Tailgating capital

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

Arrowhead Stadium
Tailgaters are always out in force before Chiefs games at Arrowhead Stadium.

No. 6. Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are .634 at home, .372 on the road over the past three decades. That plus-.262 is the NFL's greatest differential during that span.


To hear Clark Hunt tell it, some visitors are already defeated when their buses arrive hours before game time.

"Even this year," said the Chiefs' chairman and CEO, "opposing players have been quoted to that effect. Just riding into the parking lot, seeing all those fans tailgating, the tents and the barbecue pits, the smoke rising -- it sends a shiver down their spine."

Linebacker Derrick Thomas was a specialist in tingling spines. On a glorious November 1990 day at Arrowhead, he sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg a record seven times.

"It goes back to the late '80s, early '90s, when the fans learned they could have a big impact on the game," Hunt said. "I'm going to guess that most of Derrick's sacks came at home, and it was because of the noise. It's harder for offenses to function in that environment.

"Confidence is so important in sports, but particularly in pro football because the difference between the teams is very, very small. The Chiefs expect to win at home, and that mental aspect makes a huge difference."

While some frustrated fans cheered when struggling Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel left Sunday's game with a concussion, historically the fan base has been boisterously supportive.

Chiefs safety Eric Berry knows all about a deafening atmosphere; he played his college home games at Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.

"They definitely resemble each other, in terms of the way the fans stick with you through the course of the game," Berry said. "There's a lot of history and tradition in both places."

When Berry drives his black Chevy Camaro into the parking lot at Arrowhead three hours before game time, when he passes the tepees, sees fans wearing his No. 29 jersey, smells the barbecue, well, that helps get him in the mood to play.

"People are getting primed for the game," Berry said. "That gets you amped up, too. It's like, 'Let's get ready to fight through this war.' It's so packed it looks like a block party. It's really going down out there."

Arrowhead Stadium opened in 1972, but it wasn't until 17 years later that someone figured out how to create that advantage. Carl Peterson, who had worked with Dick Vermeil in Philadelphia, remembered the cavernous stadium being half-empty when the Eagles came to town. The math simply didn't add up: The capacity (76,416) made Arrowhead the fourth-largest stadium in the league, but Kansas City constituted the NFL's sixth-smallest television market.

Peterson's challenge as the Chiefs' president and general manager, as laid out by team founder Lamar Hunt, was to put people in that sea of seats. His solution: Sell Chiefs games as a party.

"We made an emphasis on tailgating," Peterson explained. "We said, 'Come and tailgate before and after the game, make it a daylong event.' We knew it would hurt us at the concession stands, but we needed to fill this monster stadium.

"We were drawing from Missouri, but also Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas, so these were college people. We promoted a college atmosphere in an NFL stadium. They'd come roaring into the stadium after three hours, wearing all red, and believe me, they were ready to play."

Arrowhead stadium
Arrowhead Stadium is more narrow than most modern NFL homes, bringing the fans and their noise closer to the field.

From 1991 to 2009, the Chiefs played before 155 consecutive sellout crowds. The Acoustical Design Group once measured the crowd noise at 116 decibels -- 10 more than a 747 jet takeoff.

"Brutal," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. "Like playing at Mile High -- except they're all against you."

Bill Polian was the Indianapolis Colts' president when the team was dominant in recent years. Over the past decade, the Colts fashioned the league's fourth-best home record playing at the RCA Dome and Lucas Oil Stadium, winning nearly three of every four games.

"In Carl's time, the Chiefs were essentially a running and defensive team," Polian said. "That's easy for the fans to get behind. They worked hard to make that atmosphere -- you can't create it artificially."

Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli understands how to build things. He was the Patriots' vice president of player personnel from 2002 to '08. There is a reality, he said, to the home-field advantage in Kansas City.

"The noise, the energy, the intensity," Pioli said. "As much as the best [opposing] players can block that out, we're all human.

"The belief is not just within the organization, but the fans, too. Because there has been success, they expect a win on Sundays. It's a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy."

Arrowhead's spectacular, sweeping lines were carefully preserved in a $375 million renovation project that was completed before the 2010 season.

"It's certainly one of the tightest buildings in the NFL, very vertical, which keeps the fans close and the noise in," Clark Hunt said. "It would be much wider if you built it today because the codes have changed.

"Over time, our fans have learned they can make a huge difference. They are the proverbial 12th man. That's just part of the culture of attending a Chiefs game."

That culture is what drew Pioli to Kansas City.

"That's the Hunt family -- they love their tradition," Pioli said. "This is the old AFL. Kansas City is the AFL."


NFL Hot Read: Toughest venues

No. 1: Scoreboard, baby | No. 2 Feel the noise | No. 3 Frozen in time

No. 4: Strong as steel | No. 5: Altitude matters | No. 6: Tailgating haven