Not many of the crazy ideas spawned by friends at sporting events are as pie-in-the-sky as the one Buffalo residents Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell hatched while in Tampa taking in the 1999 NHL All-Star Game.
What began as an attempt to determine just how many professional venues the two had visited morphed quickly into The Ultimate Sports Road Trip, a quest to visit all 121 teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball.
They officially "completed" the circuit in December 2002 with a trip to Ford Field in Detroit, but expansion, relocation and new venues have necessitated 14 additional trips in the last four years. Kulyk and Farrell have detailed their travels at http://www.thesportsroadtrip.com.
The site recently unveiled new rankings of every NFL venue, based on a formula that rates their experience from 1-10 in 10 different categories, accounting for everything from architecture and location, to concessions (taste and variety), to the friendliness of fans and stadium staff.
One ne'er-do-well usher in Detroit (you know who you are, Steven) was so belligerent that he "earned" a score of 1, plummeting Ford Field out of the top 10 all the way to no. 16 in the rankings.
"People pay huge money to see a sporting event today," Kulyk said. "We believe they deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect, but from time to time, we run into what we call the 'sphincter police;' guys who get to wear a blazer with the team crest, they come out of apartments in their parents' basement and think that they're cool."
Though they are Bills' season-ticket holders, Kulyk and Farrell remained objective enough to slot Ralph Wilson Stadium at no. 28 overall. That doesn't mean they weren't devastated as they witnessed the "Music City Miracle" on their journey to Nashville in 2000.
Farrell calls that game "probably the biggest sucker punch to the stomach I've ever had," but he nevertheless shook it off in time to catch a Predators (NHL) game that night, only to be subjected to a video replay of one of the NFL's most memorable playoff moments.
The road trippers also witnessed history in New York when Michael Strahan "sacked" Brett Favre to set a single-season NFL record and were in Seattle when T.O. whipped out his Sharpie. In November, they will be in Glendale, Ariz., to add the NFL's newest venue to the list.
"Right now, the Cardinals scored dead last," Kulyk said. "Once we visit, we're guessing Cardinals Stadium might break the top 10, but we're not making promises. We might find out that the food is terrible and the ushers are miserable people."
Even if the Cardinals hire Barney and Friends to patrol the aisles, don't expect Cardinals Stadium to unseat top-ranked Lambeau Field, which Farrell calls "the most unique sporting place in North America." With an overall score of 78.5, Lambeau easily outdistanced the swanky new digs occupied by the Steelers, Texans and Patriots.
In fact, says Kulyk, Lambeau rates with Indiana's Conseco Fieldhouse (home of the NBA's Pacers) as the best-of-the-best on their 145-stop (and counting) tour, a tour that will get a steady diet of college football this fall.
"Right after we finished, we had our 15 minutes of fame," Farrell said. "Jay Paterno, son of Joe Paterno, heard one of our interviews. He e-mailed us and said, 'Why don't you start hitting some of the college venues?,' and got us the invite to Penn State. He planted the bug into us to visit a lot of the college stadiums across the country."
With 117 teams in Division I, the Ultimate Sports Road Trip won't end anytime soon.
Without further ado, here are the rankings of top 10 NFL stadiums, with commentary from Ultimate Sports Road Trippers Farrell and Kulyk.
For the complete NFL rankings and scoring breakdown, visit http://www.thesportsroadtrip.com/nflfavorites.html
1. LAMBEAU FIELD, GREEN BAY (Overall score: 78.5)
Peter: It's the most unique sporting place in North America, really. Where else do you have such a small town that can support a pro franchise and do it well, with a season-ticket waiting list of 30 years? They were able to successfully take an older venue, modernize it, and the field still remains the way it looked.
2. HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH (73)
Andrew: I liked the Steel Town tradition. Those people really understand their football. It's really the primary team; it's a Steelers town. You couldn't have asked for a better location, on the site of the old Three Rivers Stadium. It's got that downtown synergy. The Great Hall is the best concourse in the NFL. The tailgating is superb and the overall package works, and they support the team rabidly.
3. RELIANT STADIUM, HOUSTON (72)
Peter: The retractable dome. That was a first, and it follows the tradition of the old Astrodome, the first to have a roof over the place. Also, I like how they improved on the tailigating. A modern, spectacular first-rate stadium. Some of the friendliest welcoming fans in the NFL.
4. GILLETTE STADIUM, NEW ENGLAND (71.5)
Andrew: The fact that they had such a wretched stadium for such a long time, toilets that would barely flush, it would barely serve as a college stadium. To think they would build such a great temple to football is awesome. There are signature elements that are indigenous to the area, which we always like to see. You've got the lighthouse, the arched bridge, the rock formation in the end zone is very cool. The game presentation -- with the Minutemen firing off the muskets is awesome, and the technology enhances the fan experience. Plug in the tailgate scene, and it's a very fan-friendly owner in the form of Bob Kraft. A magnificent football experience with one negative, expect to spend a lot of time in the parking lot getting out.
5. M&T BANK STADIUM, BALTIMORE (71)
Peter: What makes Baltimore so great is that it's a downtown stadium that still gives people the ability to tailgate. They probably do that better than any other downtown stadium in America. They don't forget the city's football history. Some places with a previous franchise don't mention it. In Baltimore, the main plaza has a statue of Johnny Unitas. I like that they didn't forget that when they built the new stadium.
6. LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD, PHILADELPHIA (70)
Andrew: Its technology and the architecture are absolutely splendid. The sports complex is a unique thing, where the four sports are housed in a central complex. Also, the new generation of stadiums have very wide concourses and every amenity a fan could ask for. It's a tough ticket, fans are extremely rabid, and after Oakland, I'd say it's the second-most intimidating place to visit if you're a visiting fan.
7. SOLDIER FIELD, CHICAGO (67.5)
Peter: It kind of broke the mold. Soldier Field went in a different direction. It does have an assymetrical design. I like the Grand Concourse in Chicago. It's a place to be reverent to soldiers in the American military who have come before us. Also, a lot of respect is paid to the history of the Bears. I like how they kept the columns from the old facility for the most part. If I were taking anything away from it, I would have expected more diverse concessions, a bigger team store... stuff like that. All in all, a very unique place.
8. INVESCO FIELD AT MILE HIGH, DENVER (67)
Andrew: The uniqueness of the architecture. A very futuristic place. Interestingly enough, there's not two, but three video boards. They do a lot with the technology to entertain the fans. There's a lot of variety in the concessions. The other venues in Denver -- Coors Field and the Pepsi Center -- are also gastric theme parks. It's hard to find hot dogs and nachos amidst the specialty foods. Fans are very rabid about their team.
9(t). CLEVELAND BROWNS STADIUM, CLEVELAND (63.5)
Peter: I'll always be biased toward a place where fans fought city hall and won. A great fan base, great tailgating for downtown. I also like that the building didn't forget the previous Browns history, and they kept a section for the Dawg Pound.
9(t). RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM, TAMPA BAY (63.5)
Andrew: They've given it a Disneyesque feel with the pirate ship and the little Caribbean village. There's nothing quite like it anywhere. The whole pirate theme makes it a unique football experience. They play the yo-ho music, they raise flags when the home team gets in the red zone, they shoot off the cannons for a touchdown. The weather doesn't hurt, and it's a good tailgating destination.
Bill Evans is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.