Mark Story

A few of my favorite places

I had a birthday last week. It got me thinking about how much of my life has been spent in (mostly college) sports stadiums and arenas.

If one added up all the hours I've logged in football stadiums, basketball arenas and auto racing tracks, you might just have one year of elapsed time out of my life.

All of which led me to pondering this: In which sports venues has my time been best spent?

College basketball arenas

My three favorites (and, yes, my list is very provincial):

3. Rupp Arena. As a building, Rupp is really just a big barn without much flavor. Those bleacher seats and the steep incline of the upper deck are not user friendly.

Still, I love the high-pitch squeals that fill Rupp each March during Kentucky's boys' high school basketball tournament.

For a big University of Kentucky game — when the place is packed and 24,000 are revved — the sound gets so loud your ears hurt and you literally feel the floor shake.

Hard to beat those nights.

2. University of Dayton Arena. I'd been there before, but I was enchanted with this gem of a gym during the first two rounds of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

At 13,445 capacity, it is the perfect size — not too big, not too small — for college basketball.

Better yet, with (what appeared to be) irregular aisles winding through the arena seats, it's just quirky enough to have character.

1. Freedom Hall. We always have a special place for the sports venue of our youth. For me, that's the Hall.

It's the arena where my parents took me to my first Kentucky boys' high school basketball state tournament in 1971. It's where I used to go see Louie Dampier, Dan Issel and the Kentucky Colonels of the old ABA in the 1970s.

The sideline seats — where even the fans in the upper deck feel like they are right on top of the floor — are among the best in any basketball arena (the end-zone seats, not so desirable).

If construction schedules hold, the coming basketball season will be the last for the University of Louisville in The Hall.

I'm going to miss it.

A disappointment for me:

The Dean Dome. I've seen only one game in North Carolina's Dean E. Smith Center, so maybe that's not a fair basis for judgment, but it was a far more antiseptic arena than I was expecting for one of college sports' blue-blood programs.

Three places where I haven't seen a game but still want to:

3. Pauley Pavilion at UCLA.

2. Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke

1. Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas.

College football stadiums

My three favorites:

3. Neyland Stadium. Tennessee's cavernous old football edifice (first stage built in 1921) feels as ancient as the Roman Colosseum. Still, I never fail to feel a little awed by the sheer magnitude (capacity 102,037) of the place.

(Neyland never felt larger than the night my colleague Chip Cosby and I got locked in after a Tennessee-Kentucky game and went wandering around the guts of the stadium looking for someone to let us out).

2. Sanford Stadium. I admire how Georgia's football facility is tucked nicely into the fabric of the (very pretty) campus. I enjoy the West end zone, where there is a bridge above the stadium that allows pedestrians to pass back and forth throughout games.

And those hedges do give the place a unique flavor.

1. Bryant-Denny Stadium. I had never been to a football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., until last fall. It was love at first sight.

The Bryant-Denny experience combines past and present. To enter the facility, you pass over The Walk, which features stones for each Alabama national and SEC championship team. There are statues for revered Crimson Tide football figures like Bear Bryant and Wallace Wade.

Inside, the best giant video screens in the SEC play a recorded (I think) pre-game pep talk from The Bear himself, then have each Alabama starter introduce himself to the home crowd.

My disappointment:

The Swamp. I've seen only the Gators play Kentucky in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, so maybe that's not a fair basis for judgment, but there's nothing memorable about this stadium.

The heat and humidity don't help.

Three places where I haven't seen a game but still want to:

3. Notre Dame Stadium.

2. Ohio Stadium (The Horseshoe) in Columbus.

1. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for USC.

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