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This Top 25 involves more than success on field
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No. 5: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama (SEC)
Never seen more people tailgating in more places than Alabama. Also, I’ve been inside no louder a stadium or seen fans more passionate. Cover model Southern Belles and overweight, pimple-faced freshman males have something in common — they all don replicas of Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat. I’ll never forget the SEC opener of the ’07 season with “Sweet Home Alabama” blaring on the sound system and 90,000-plus stomping their feet — and kickoff was still 10 minutes away! And when the video board displays inspirational words from the Bear, oh boy. It’s no wonder they’ll be expanding this stadium to more than 100,000-plus soon.
No. 4: Tiger Stadium, LSU (SEC)
Florida may have “The Swamp,” but Death Valley feels like true hell for opposing teams, as LSU fans scream and shout beyond belief. Prepare to lose your hearing here after you’ve eaten and drank more than you ever have before. The fans have plenty of time to prepare to go bonkers as Tiger Stadium mostly hosts night games, enabling the tailgating to be extended down on the Bayou unlike most other venues.
No. 3: Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame (Independent)
A timeless setting where no fancy school logo adorns the grass at midfield or the end zones — and no fancy electronic video board displays “fan cam or kiss cam.” Notre Dame is the Wrigley Field of college football, where the sport is so revered the school doesn’t boast a formal homecoming weekend because every game brings alumni back to this special place with its Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus mural, and the most notable fight song in college athletics.
No. 2: Memorial Stadium, Nebraska (Big 12)
The most loyal, respectful and knowledgeable fans in all of college football, as evidenced by the longest sellout streak in the sport, dating back to 1962. What’s more, this stadium is more than just a sea of red — it’s the most underrated venue in college football for its historical value. For example, in each of its four corners there are mottos to live by, such as “Courage; Generosity; Fairness; Honor; In these are the true awards of manly sport." Or another, just outside the stadium, “through these gates, pass the greatest fans in college football.” Indeed.
No. 1: The service academies — Army, Navy, Air Force
As great as the other 24 are, in my view there are no better settings where history, tradition and uniqueness meet an atmosphere that results in a tingle up the back of your spine or a tear in your eye then at the service academies on game day.
Brian Bahr / Getty Images
Falcon pride is on display whenever Air Force takes to the field before its home fans.
On the banks of the Hudson River, overlooking Bear Mountain and the medieval-style campus, Michie Stadium, at Army in West Point, N.Y., is absolutely breathtaking on a crisp, fall-foliage afternoon. No parade matches that of the Corps of Cadets as it winds its way through campus — itself a living history museum of America — before entering the stadium that opened in 1924, as a precision parachute team lands at midfield from the skies above, with U.S. flag and game ball in tow.
At Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., you are mesmerized as all Brigade of Midshipmen and Midshipwomen come marching onto the field, with etched reminders like “Iwo Jima” and “Desert Storm” hovering above on the facade.
In Colorado Springs, Colo., Falcon Stadium warns its playing guests of “Lack of Oxygen” as they are competing 6,621 feet above sea level. Air Force fans drop dollar bills and candy down to cadets in the tunnel before the players take the field, which is located at the base of rampart range of the spectacularly scenic Rocky Mountains.
Joe Connor is a contributor to NBCSports.com and author of the online stadium guide, “A Fan’s Guide To The Ultimate NCAA Football Travel Experience,” which is available for purchase exclusively at his Web site: www.mrsportstravel.com.