In my fifteen years as an NFL Executive I had the opportunity to visit every stadium in the NFL, and several that no longer stand (Kingdome, Bronco Stadium and the Old Sombrero in Tampa), with the exception of the Jets/Giants stadium which opened this pre-season. The Cowboys stadium has a 90,000 seat capacity, with a big screen hung above the field stretching from the twenty to the twenty – the largest digital display screen in the world. A state of the art facility with open entrances and is extremely fan friendly is the trend of the future. Despite the stadium, the fan base in each city remains the same.
My first trip to Lambeau Field was one, if not the best experience of my NFL life. With the remodel complete, some say it is more impressive than the Pro Football Hall of Fame, located in Canton, Ohio. I couldn’t wait to see it. As the team buses pulled into the residential area where this famous stadium is nestled, Packer fans where tailgating in every yard. With the Packer Backers wearing their jerseys and donning the green and gold for as far as you could see like the yellow/green brick road. Packer flags flew high, and the smell of Brats and cheese curd aromas filled the air. Of course the grill masters wore their diamond shaped cheese head hats. We were greeted with waves and smiles, people shouting good luck, with thumbs up. My first thought was they were softening us up. After we defeated them in a close game, my second thought was oh no we have to drive out of here, and I was not the only one thinking it. As we pulled on to the street named after former head coach Mike Holmgren and down the long stretch of homes, the Packer fans aligned the streets and were clapping, and waving as we made our way through traffic. A true sense of sportsmanship was unveiled, which buried a wonderful image in my brain forever.
My first trip to the Black Hole in Alameda, California – where Raider Nation resides – is a crazy and insane environment. On my first pre-season scouting assignment for the Carolina Panthers, I was encouraged to ride from the hotel to the game with three other scouts, as one scout told me “Tony just ride with us, there is no need for all our cars to get damaged”. As I chuckled ok, I looked on the faces of these veteran scouts and they were serious. Wearing our logo gear from our respective teams, we pulled into the stadium parking lot. Several fans wearing the traditional grab of spiked shoulder pads, silver painted faces and black attire as if they were headed to a funeral. While driving through the mob of the criminally insane, we were welcomed with empty fifths, beer and wine bottles thrown in the path of our moving vehicle. They were obviously trying to pop our tires, as we continued our journey to the press gate; we were pelted with bottles from behind. That was the last time I went to The Black Hole.
My experience in 2003, the run to the Super Bowl with the Carolina Panthers was a trip I will never forget. After defeating the Dallas Cowboys at home, we moved onto the NFC Divisional Playoff game in St. Louis, where The Greatest Show on Turf resided. After two overtimes, deafening ears because of 70, 000 wild and crazy fans cheering on their team, Steve Smith caught a pass, split the safeties and raced to the end zone. They say Seattle is the loudest stadium in the NFL because of the Paul Allen acoustical roof top, I beg to differ. St. Louis when rocking with Rams fans by far is the loudest. As the Greatest Show on Turf faded into the sunset, we moved on to the NFC Championship Game, hosted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
During the week leading up to the contest of the two powerhouse NFC teams, all I heard was that Philadelphia fans were the worst, off their rocker and downright rude. I know folks from there and have friends that live there. Keep in mind there are good people where ever you go. But when it comes to their Eagles, the unruliness flows from all that reside in the City of Brotherly Love. I missed the first bus to the stadium, and rode on the second with a few coaches, players and personnel. As the ten cycle motorcade weaved its way through the city (on the freeway and off to the side streets), we saw a little bit of everything. As we approached the newly built stadium, it looked like a war zone. Tailgaters had all day to prepare and party for this night game. The temperature was in the high 20’s. The parking lot was aligned with hundreds of large steel garbage cans, with flames about three feet jetting out of the tops. We were greeted with pumping fists, yelling, and touting with a ton of choice words – even a few nuns walking beside the bus started pumping their fist as well! But as we turned into the stadiums secure lot, a family of four steered us down. The father with a beer in hand and wife next to him, were accompanied by their two boys. While dressed in warm clothing and gloves, these kids didn’t need to be out in that weather. Just as I was feeling sorry for them, the father flipped us the bird high and proud. The mother followed and yes these two little boys no older than seven were flying the bird as well. CRAZY! Only if I had a camera, that shot would have been priceless.
Donovan McNabb, you think you will be greeted with cheers – hell no! The Eagles during your tenure treated their fans to many NFC Championship games, and a Super Bowl appearance. That is long forgotten. Besides, you’re wearing the colors of the divisional rival. You’re a future Hall of Fame quarterback that might get a clap or two, but don’t count on it.
Remember you’re in the city of brotherly love.