LITTLE ROCK — Capacity at Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa, you can’t tell the difference from the pressbox. Loud is loud and whether it’s Tiger Stadium or Bryant-Denny, a full house dwarfs the population of every city in Arkansas except Little Rock.
Recently used to rank the 14 football stadiums in the SEC, crowd noise, attendance and the like are impersonal.
Paid to visit 13 SEC stadiums in the past 11 years, this list of top five venues is based on memorable non-football moments — good and bad. And, the total package winner is … Jordan-Hare at Auburn.
Every other year, I’m in my seat in time to see the majestic golden eagle mascot descend from the second deck and circle the stadium before joining his handler at midfield. Neither a tiger in a cage nor a dog on a leash measure up to Nova (War Eagle VII).
Auburn did not win on its mascot alone.
More than once, traveling the two miles from the university’s airport that handles only non-commercial traffic has been an adventure.
One year the rental car employee was nonchalant with the news that somebody had absconded with our 15-passenger van. A man hanging out in the small lobby volunteered his vehicle for $120, cash of course. Told there were nine of us, he deputized his daughter over the phone. Obviously proud of her car’s sound system, she arrived in minutes.
We came up with the cash without passing the hat, but withheld payment until the return trip.
Both vehicles were waiting at the predetermined time. In the dark of night, the cash deal was consummated.
Two years later, the van driver listened to his navigator, moved into a non-existent left turn lane, and wound up on the wrong side of a road divider. Apparently wrapped up in the post-game, a cop in a car on the corner missed the move.
LSU was No. 1 and Sanford Stadium was No. 2 in Athlon’s ranking of stadiums, but Tiger Stadium is No. 2 on this list. Georgia’s home field is not in the top five, maybe because of limited exposure.
The trip to LSU is preceded by a communication from the publisher of Hawgs Illustrated who reminds the elderly travelers that the pressbox is open in Baton Rouge. In other words, dress warm — an insulated shirt, plus something for the ears. If the game is out of hand, retreating from the pressbox windows is an option.
Traffic to and fro is always awful. We stick with the known route to the stadium and the two lanes of vehicles crawling toward the game are exasperating for somebody who thinks three hours is ample time to play 18 holes of golf. Ignoring a one-way street sign is part of the exit strategy.
No. 3 is Bryant-Denny, where nine-foot tall, 2,000-pound bronze statues are unavoidable on the walk from the media parking lot. The tributes to Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bear Bryant, and Gene Stallings were unveiled in 2006; the one of Nick Saban in 2011. Under those coaches, Alabama has won 15 national championships.
I’m always surprised that nobody pauses to genuflect.
No. 4 Florida and No. 5 Texas A&M on the list reflect envy rooted in a love of golf and a fear of heights.
On the 2009 trip to Gainesville, Fla. time for pre-game pleasantries was consumed by a low-handicap golfer-broadcaster who went into detail about how he played TPC-Sawgrass less than two hours away and how the island 17th made famous during the Players Championship is not that difficult. An update is expected Oct. 5.
Distributed before the 2012 A&M game, the media packet said the pressbox would sway when the Aggie faithful lock arms during the Aggie War Hymn. Suffice it to say that moving the series back to Cowboys Stadium is fine with me.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.