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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Evan Heffron: The 10 Most Intimidating Places to Play in American Sports

In American sports, the "home-field advantage" has always played some sort of a role in every meaningful game since the beginning of organized athletics. Deafening noise, personal taunts from 20,000 people, and D-batteries being packed into snowballs all have had their place in the history of sports. These venue and crowd related events that happen during the course of a game almost seem to gather more mystique than the games themselves. Being a huge sports fan myself, I like to believe I add to the legend of what is happening on the field in front of me when i attend a sporting event. Some athletes claim the crowds and venues don't phase them. Some openly admit they couldn't hear themselves think. Whatever the actuality of the situation is, the home-field advantage is something that connects fans with their players, and can set the stage for some of the most intense and passionate competition that modern sport has to offer.

Having said that, Standing Room Only will throw you the 10 most intimidating places to play from the past and the present, in all of the USA. Please leave your opinions/criticisms under the comment section!

Honorable mentions- Madison Square Garden, New York Knicks/New York Rangers ; Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City Cheifs; Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox; Olypmia Arena, Detroit Red Wings

10. The Pit, University of New Mexico Basketball
- This place in my mind is one of the most underrated venues anywhere in the country. The UNM Lobos call this place home and for their sake thankfully so. The way this 18,000 seat arena is arranged is intimidating because of the way it is built. The seating cascades almost directly on top of the court creating a very claustrophobic feeling for the players, hence the name "The Pit". The Pit has recorded the highest decibel mark (118) out of any college basketball venue in the country. The decibel level of 118 is just shy of the Threshold of Pain (125), so its easy to see why this is a hard place to play.
9. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees
- I went to a Yankee game for the first time this past fall, and was quickly introduced to "The Bleacher Creatures". These guys are absolutely nuts. Between the Creatures' Roll Call, The storied history of the park, and the alleged supernatural presence that once floated around in dead center field, I was extremely overwhelmed. At the time, the Yanks were in 3rd place. I couldn't even begin to imagine what postseason ball would be like inside the House that Ruth Built. Anyone who is around my age very vividly remembers 60,000 obnoxious, drunken New Yorkers chanting "Who's Your Daddy?" to the fireballer Pedro Martinez in the ALCS. Legend after legend seems to surface these days every since the move across the street. It's a shame this place is gone because it was one of a kind.
8. Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies
- Yea this place was nasty. Hell, the bathrooms were scary. Between the batteries thrown at JD Drew, snowballs flung at Jimmie Johnson, cheers aimed towards Michael Irving's serious neck injury, this place never seemed to amaze me. The fake "AstroTurf" was the career ender and ACL tearer for many, and was actually the culprit behind the cancellation of a preseason football game after the surface was deemed "unplayable". I've seemed some nasty fights up in the 700 Level which was later dubbed, "The Nest Of Death". Just like i mentioned about the drunk New Yorkers, a crazy picture comes to mind when one adds beer, South Philly, concrete, and at the time the league's only in-stadium courthouse. You get the picture. A physically painful playing surface and a loud passionate fanbase for football and baseball provided a very intimidating environment for the away team.
7. Cameron Indoor Gymnasium, Duke University Basketball -Maybe the most recognizable student section in all of college basketball, The Cameron Crazies always seemed to gain acknowledgement from the opposing team. The intensity of chants, taunts, and cheers throughout the entire course of the game shows how crazy these people are about their basketball. Not to mention, the team isn't that bad either. This place can be a house of horrors for some teams once they start to loose their composure. With the Crazies seated directly on top of the court in the first twenty rows or so the 'in your face' nature of this student section makes it unique. Thousands of college kids jumping and chanting the entire game is something that can only be rivaled by some hardcore fan groups in Europe. If you haven't watched a Duke game in a while, watch it. Just watching the crazies for a few minutes will get anyone pumped up.
6. Neyland Stadium, University of Tennesse Football
-"Old Rocky Top, you'll always be home sweet ho0ome to meEEe.."; Arguably the most recognizable fight song in all of college football can be heard on saturdays in the fall being sung by 107,000 plus. The magic of this moment is amazing, showing the unity of the UT football family. The thunderous orange and white pomp-pomp waving Volunteer Faithful having going strong since 1921, providing for one of the loudest decibel levels in the SEC. Not to mention the National Championships and SEC titles, many former SEC opponents acknowledge that Neyland was one of the wildest places they have ever played. I'll leave you with a quote from former Cal QB Nate Longshore about his trip to Neyland; "It's static noise. You can't hear anything. You go up and down the line, your wide receivers, your running backs, your tight ends, nobody can hear. Nobody."
5. The Big House/ The Horse Shoe, Michigan/Ohio State Football
-These two stadiums are almost as incredible as the rivalry that exist between the universities. They are almost virtually inseparable because of the rich history and famous players that have stepped on both fields. The mystique of the Horseshoe and the Big House have grown over the years, mainly because of the big-time games being played during the last game of the season. Michigan- Ohio State is usually always a big game regardless of each team win totals, but in recent decades the final game of the season has decided which Big 10 team would be given the ever-prestigious Rose Bowl bid. Aside from what rides on the game, each stadium produces some of the loudest student sections in the country. Just for an idea of how loud each one of these monstrous structures can get, here are the numbers for the Shoe and the House. The Big House right now can hold 106,201 people, and by 2010 it will be able to hold 108,000. Likewise, the Horseshoe in Columbus holds 102,329. Either way you look at it, the National Championships, the rivalries, the die-hard fanbases, and the school pride make both the homes of the Wolverines and Buckeyes two of the most intimidating places to play in the country.
4. Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers
-The Frozen Tundra. The Lambeau Leap. The Cheese Head. Maybe the smallest market in the NFL, the fan support during Green Bay Packers games go unrivaled in the NFL. The football history that has passed through Brett's House could take up its own big room in Canton. One usually doesn't see this undying passion among NFL fans, but in Green Bay, the city owns the team. The love for the Packers can be illustrated by the shirtless fans in subzero wind chills, the consecutive sell-out streak, and the 610,00 person waiting list for season tickets. The weather in Green Bay also is another deterrent for opposing teams. The epic "Ice Bowl" was played here against the Dallas Cowboys in record lows for the area. The Frozen Tundra will always be thought of as the last place a team wants to play on the road in December and January because of the crowd noise and infamous low temperatures.
3. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium "The Swamp", University of Florida Football
-The 91,000+ crowd at UF games is something incredible. With 100+ degree temperatures at kick off, dehydration, drunk southerners, and Tim Tebow running your ass over, it's hard to imagine any opposing player actually enjoying his 60 minute stay at The Swamp. The legend of Gatorade has passed through this field, along with National Titles and impressive win totals. Opposing teams simply don't win here. Since 1990, the Gators are 95-7 at home and that total is sure to be built on next season. One of my favorite traditions in college football happens here. At the end of the third quarter, the Florida faithful lock arms and sway from row to row singing "We Are the Boys from Old Florida". This shows the the unity of the blue clad student section and the unity as a whole of the entire Gator community. CHOMP!
2. The Boston Garden, Boston Celtics/ Boston Bruins
-I remember being a young kid watching the replays of the epic LA vs. Boston series's on ESPN and being scared because the camera focused in on a guy in the Garden who had a fake Magic Johnson hanging by a noose over the upper level. The ferocity and noise in the place seemed almost as legendary as the rich history that took place on the hardwood of the Garden. I mean come on now, If I saw a replica of myself dangling from a noose I would be shaken by the simulated death of me. The passion that flowed from the Boston faithful for decades seemed to be a constant in every championship run the Celtics made from the Garden's creation in 1928 until the destruction of the Garden. Yes, and let's not forget about the Bruins. The NHL flat out hated this place. The rink was 9 feet to small for regulation NHL size, talk about a funky place to play on the road. Also, since there was no air conditioning in the place, during Bruins games a misty fog would sprawl over the ice creating strange aura to the game. 95+ degree heat during the 1984 NBA finals, the nooses, the passion, the hate; All these elements made me respect this place tremendously.
1. Beaver Stadium, Penn State University Football
-WE ARE.....PENN STATE....WE ARE......PENN STATE....THANK YOU......YOUR WELCOME! The tradition that oozes out of Happy Valley on gameday in my opinion is unrivaled in American Sports. the 110,00o plus people on gameday make Beaver Stadium the largest in North America. The student section for Penn State has been noted by ESPN as being the loudest and most passionate around the country. Penn State's Annual "White Out" game is one of the most visually incredible things in all of American sports. To see the endless sea of white in the crowd must be a very dwarfing feeling to opposing players. The humongous confines of Beaver Stadium make this a house of horrors for opposing players. Most notably the first "white out" in a game in 2005 against heavily favorite Ohio State, OSU QB Troy Smith had repeated delay of game penalties and premature timeouts because the rest of the team could not hear his cadences and audibles. The miscues eventually gave PSU a historic 17-10 win. Overall, this place is incredible in every aspect. Its more than a football team out there in PA, its a way of life, and it most defiantly shows through on Saturdays.*

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