College football is the greatest sport in the world to watch.
The template of football provides the basics that Americans and sports fans worldwide love. Violence, teamwork, limited opportunity, and great stories. Throw in the college aspect and the dish becomes even sweeter. Pride and upsets come to mind as do allegiances to alumni. A variety of play-styles and the amateur feel to the college game also bring a sense of novelty, variety, and purity that the pro game lacks.
As Americans we can't help but be exposed to football. Many of us have attended a college or have family with connections. But a rare few of us can claim any legitimate ties to professional sports beyond a shared state of residency.
Watching college football is my favorite sports pastime, but what I really love is to experience a game live. For me, it's not just about the game -- college football is an event. From tailgating, to showing up at the stadium early to tour every corner, to the actual game, to the post-game party -- each aspect is a means to the next great piece.
I've repeatedly told my wife that my idea of retirement would be to travel the country from week to week, stopping at as many cities as possible to experience as many different venues from the NFL, MLB, and NCAA football. Chances are I'll never retire and I'll never get around to seeing a game at every stadium in the country.
But what if I could pick just four venues in which to watch a college football game? Where would I go and how would I decide?
Growing up in the upper-Midwest I've been to both Iowa City and Ames several times to watch the Hawkeyes and Cyclones play. (Full disclosure: I'm an Iowa Hawkeyes fan). As a recent transplant to Minnesota I've taken a few chances over the last few years to visit TCF Stadium to take in what the Golden Gophers have to offer. Twice I've been to the state of Florida to watch the Hawkeyes play in bowl games (Miami and Orlando).
Outside of the phenomenal game-day experience put on in Iowa City each Saturday of home games I've got some experiencing to do. In the words of the great people of Miami, Florida, "You Iowa people are crazy...I've never seen anyone tailgate like you guys." But surely Iowa fans aren't the only ones that know how to party when game time rolls around. And no doubt there are game experiences and stadiums that drop your jaws as well as any in all of college football.
So if I had to choose four places and four places only to watch a college football game outside of Iowa City, which ones would I pick? I'm glad you asked.
4. Notre Dame Stadium (Notre Dame)
Sure, the Fighting Irish haven't been relevant on a national championship scale for many years but that's not what this is about. Why do people who can't stand the Red Sox want to watch a game at Fenway? The history and beauty of the stories each stadium tells from it's past players, teams, and even gorgeous architecture -- that's what it's about. I just have to see Notre Dame Stadium to say I've been there, so my soul knows it was there.
I want to know what Rudy was all about. What did it sound like, smell like, look like to him? Throw in the fact that one of my best friends is a huge fan of the Fighting Irish and I can think of no better place to share a first-time stadium experience.
3. Neyland Stadium (Tennessee)
Over 100,000 seats? Check. What more do you need? How about some tailgating -- on boats. Sure, why not. Resting along the banks of the Tennessee River with the mountainous backdrop you may actually struggle to keep your eyes on the field and off the beautiful landscape.
Anointed as a true football "experience" by The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated, Neyland Stadium would have my hypnotized gaze affixed on the famous checkerboard endzone design for at least one Saturday. Good thing they don't have a catchy fight song. Oh, wait.
2. Autzen Stadium (Oregon)
Those crazy uniforms on that rotating five-yard-sections-of-patterned-shades-of-green. The high-octane Ducks offense might be worth the price of admission, but you know the school featured in Animal House has more to offer. Autzen has sold out every home game since 1999, proof that something truly special and fun is going on in Oregon. Not to mention, the architecture and influence of Nike make the entire campus and athletic facilities worth a look.
With 79 consecutive sellouts Autzen has been noted as one of the most intimidating stadiums to play in. Personalities such as Lee Corso and Lloyd Carr have gone as far to claim that the venue is home to the loudest stadium in the entire nation -- how fitting that they embrace their Animal House tradition at the end of each third quarter with a rendition of "Shout."
1. Death Valley (LSU)
Most of the games are played at night. Translation: Plenty of time to swim in the booze. Perhaps that is why Death Valley is widely known as the loudest place in the nation to watch a college football game. The level at which pain kicks in due to loud noise is approximately 125 decibels. Short-term exposure to 140dB with ear protection is the maximum recommended to prevent permanent damage. Keep that in mind as Death Valley has hit 132.6dB -- just shy of the sound a jet engine makes at 100 feet away.
A full day of tailgating followed by an intimidating and constant roar that leaves your ears ringing? Oh yeah, and you get to watch a game of football as well. Sign me up!
What are your favorite places to take in a college football game? What venues are on the top of your list to watch a game in the future?
Justin Mikels is a staff writer for Operation Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @long_snapper.