In the wake of Murtaugh's post on Notre Dame Stadium last week we started a little internal discussion about other college football venues that we have visited. Collectively we have been to quite a few of them and we decided that we should spend a little time this offseason discussing our experiences elsewhere.
I am going to kick things off with a stadium that has gained quite a bit of notoriety in the last 15 years or so. Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia is home to the Virginia Tech Hokies. As you most likely know it has become famous for a crowd that consistently produces a true homefield advantage.
I had the pleasure of visiting Lane Stadium for a home game against Nebraska in September of 2009. My tour guide was my Hokie fanatic Brother-in-law. I generally refer to him as The Deer Hunter but I will save that story for another day. The meat is after the jump.The Campus- A
The campus at Virginia Tech is pretty spectacular to look at. Almost every building utilizes the same architecture and the buildings are covered in a grayish rock from a nearby quarry. The locals refer to those rocks as "Hokie Stones." The Deer Hunter has one in his man cave.
The Friday afternoon prior to the game the Deer Hunter took me over to the stadium and to my amazement we walked right into The Merryman Center, or as The Deer Hunter calls it, "The house that Vick built." This would be the VT version of The Gug. I still can't believe that you can just walk right in there. The team must have already departed for the hotel because the place was relatively empty.
Once inside they have a huge lunchpail hanging from the ceiling in the foyer and you can literally roam down the hallways and walk right up to the meeting rooms. They also have a little VT Football museum that they call "The Hall of Legends" right off of the foyer. The most interesting item on display in the Hall of Legends? An empty trophy case that is waiting to be filled when the Hokies win their first National Title.
The Tailgate Scene- A
We headed out relatively early and he turned me on to what he referred to as "The official tailgate drink of all Hokies" which is of course Wild Turkey. We roamed the tailgate scene on campus with a pair of 32oz Hardees cups full of Wild Turkey and a splash of Coke. The tailgate scene was great all over campus and there was a smattering of Huskers mixed in there. The Hokie fans were very accommodating of their visitors and both fan bases were great all day. We then met up with some other buds, and spent a couple of hours at their tailgate just talking football.
Somewhere in there we switched to beer, and after another hour or so we headed towards the stadium with plenty of time to spare before kickoff. Maroon and Orange Bud Light "Fan Cans" were abundant everywhere. Bud Light scored big with that promotion in Blacksburg that year. On the final walk to the stadium The Deer Hunter successfully brokered a series of deals that resulted in us ending up with some additional beers and a fistful of airplane bottles of "Fighting Cock" bourbon in the process. He was on fire.
The Stadium Itself- B+
I was pretty impressed with the stadium overall. You can tell that the closed in ends were late additions but they actually tied it all together pretty well. I also like the seemingly zig zag pattern along the front of the stands. Coupled with the natural grass surface that really gives the playing field some character.
The stadium isn't real big at 68,000 but it looks and feels much bigger than that. The stadium is very steep all the way around and has a huge bank of press boxes and luxury boxes on the home side that feels 100 stories tall once you are inside and looking up at it. The place is designed to contain noise.
The concessions weren't anything to write home about but honestly we weren't really looking to eat. It appeared that the only thing they were selling outside of the standard concession fair was turkey legs. There were plenty of Hokie fans screaming while tearing those things up.
The fans- B+
Overall I found the fans to be really hospitable. As per usual the Huskers traveled well and there was a smattering of red mixed into the crowd. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Hokie fans were very accomodating of their guests and there appeared to be a fair amount of conversing going on between Hokies and Huskers throughout the game. Both factions were rooting hard for their teams but it never got ugly at all.
Crowd noise- A+
This is a subset of the fans in general but deserves its own category. The crowd noise definitely lived up to the hype. The place was deafening and the fans were right on cue with the noise at the appropriate times for all four quarters. I have been to a lot of college football games in a lot of different places but Lane Stadium was hands down the loudest stadium that I have ever been in. Before visiting there I thought that Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama was loud. Compared to Lane Stadium, not so much. I shot the video below with my iPhone when the Hokies took the field.
The band and the use of piped in music- A
The band was pretty good but they didn't blow me away. They actually had a tendency to disappear here and there throughout the game. They only pipe in one song during Hokie games and that's Metallica's "Enter Sandman." They use the song when the team takes the field to start the game. Outside of that they only break that glass to fire up the crowd during key situations. Every time they use it the crowd goes absolutely crazy. As you probably noticed in the video above the crowd around me was so loud that you could barely even hear the music itself after Lars Ulrich started in on the drums.
Video board usage- D
The Hokies have a single small video board but I honestly don't remember a single useful thing coming across it outside of the replays. It was nice for the replays but there wasn't anything at all memorable about how they used it. From what I remember they at least weren't running obnoxious ads on it. As a side note I will freely admit that video boards were the last thing on my mind that day as it hadn't become a discussion topic amongst the Notre Dame faithful at that point. So admittedly I wasn't exactly looking for it.
Overall, I came away feeling like they do it up right in Blacksburg. The Hokie fans were welcoming and hospitable to the Husker fans and we saw a great college football game. Where else can you see a great college football game and go deaf after drinking a half gallon of Wild Turkey and Fighting Cock?
But the thing that really blew me away was the sheer volume inside Lane Stadium. The Hokies have a legitimate homefield advantage. I'll leave you with this clip from last season as a reminder of how they bring it in Blacksburg.