OK, when I asked you to rank Big Ten stadiums other than Kinnick Stadium recently, none of you gave Northwestern’s Ryan Field high marks. Or even a passing grade.
I like it. I like it because it’s so un-Big Ten. It’s less than half the size of three of the Big Ten’s monoliths. You look from the press box and you see trees and trees and trees, and Lake Michigan in the near distance. It has a hot dog merchant named Mustard’s Last Stand a short walk away.
It’s virtually the opposite of big-time college football. Oh, are Nebraska fans in for culture shock when they visit Evanston for the first time.
But it’s not my No. 1 Big Ten stadium. It is, however, in my first-division.
1. Beaver Stadium, Penn State
Much of my criteria is setting as much as the structure itself. Penn State’s stadium is a couple miles from the small State College airport. As you drive the narrow two-lane road from the airport to the city, bucolic to say the least, this gigantic erector set suddenly comes into view.
The stadium itself isn’t pretty. It’s been put together in massive chunks over the decades. But it’s a scene. The tailgating at Penn State is second to none. The parking situation is second to none. Everywhere else, it seems parking is a hassle. At Penn State, it’s a science to get 100,000 people in a city that, on a normal day, would seem to have no hope of accommodating a crowd like that.
And there’s more than a little tradition.
2. Ohio Stadium, Ohio State
It’s impressive, period. It’s a horseshoe. It’s on the banks of the Olentangy River. It has a rotunda. It has all that tradition. And it’s just plain big.
It has a great pregame scene, too. The Ohio State marching band and area high school bands perform briefly at St. John Arena across the street before games at the “Skull Session.” The football team stops by on its way to its dressing room in the stadium, getting several thousand fans all worked up in the arena. I watched that in 2009 before the Big Ten title-deciding Iowa-OSU game.
3. Camp Randall Stadium, Wisconsin
I’m not all that taken with the craziness outside the stadium. But I like where the stadium sits, at a confluence of busy Madison streets near a business area that includes Mickies Dairy Bar.
And that 94-year-old colossus rocks. What goes on between the third and fourth quarters when they crank up House of Pain’s “Jump Around” … the joint literally sways.
4. Memorial Stadium, Nebraska
Great location, a short walk from the Haymarket district with restaurants and shops. A statue of Tom Osborne is outside the stadium. There’s an area where you look at the national-championship trophies the Cornhuskers have amassed.
And none of the 86,000 seats are ever empty at Huskers games. Ever.
5. Ryan Field, Northwestern
Sneer away. I like it. I like being near an elevated train. I like the fact there is still a private university in the Big Ten. I like all those trees, and that lake. I like the fact that, with the toughest academic standards and smallest stadium, Northwestern can still field teams that can beat anyone on any given day.
Of course, I sit in the press box instead of the stands and don’t deal with the less-than-ideal restrooms and concessions.
6. TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
It’s new. It’s good-looking. Some would call it state-of-the-art. I never know what that means.
It’s on campus, not far from Stub and Herbs and other fine campus haunts. It’s just the right size, unless the Gophers get good and they wish they had another 10,000 seats.
7. Spartan Stadium, Michigan State
This stadium may be underrated. What I don’t like about it, though, is it seems like it’s just set among a bunch of other athletic fields and facilities, and I don’t feel like I’m all that attached to the school itself. I need to feel attached, people.
But it’s a big stadium that gets loud, and I do like watching games there.
8. Michigan Stadium, Michigan
I’ve been there double-digit times and have never gotten emotional about being there. Yeah, it’s got 110,000 seats. But it’s a bowl. It’s constructed partially below grade, so you can’t see all that much of it from the outside. I like to see a big honking stadium when I’m walking up to it. I’ve also never thought the crowd noise is anything special there.
On the plus side, I like the atmosphere outside the stadium. Thousands of people park and party on a golf course across the street. If you have time, it doesn’t take all that long to walk downtown to State Street, that great street.
9. Memorial Stadium, Indiana
They call it “The Rock.” That doesn’t sound homey, does it? Like Assembly Hall next door, it’s odd-looking. Which is why I put it ahead of the next two stadiums.
10. Memorial Stadium, Illinois
It’s 88 years old. It has 200 columns. And it’s not far from Merry Ann’s Diner.
11. Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue
This is the home of the World’s Largest Drum, which a few Boilermaker marching band members push around. So there’s that.
Note: I forgot to clear the “Buy this photo” tag with these photos, and it would take major reconstruction for me to do it now. So know that you can’t buy these particular photos. I know none of you considered it for a moment, but that’s what I like to call a “disclaimer.”