We sometimes take for granted the stadiums our favorite NFL teams play in. We forget they are often specifically designed to please fans or provide the home team with certain game-day advantages. Gillette Stadium’s open-air design in New England allows freezing air to circle around its interior and CenturyLink Field in Seattle holds noise better than any stadium in the NFL, though fans in Kansas City may riot when hearing that.
We also forget these teams hold leases on their stadiums, and they try hard to fill their seats every Sunday. If attendance and viewership plummets, owners may look to relocate the team to a new area of the country. This has happened many times in NFL history and even now, talks continue to swirl about moving certain teams to more lucrative locations.
It feels great to have your team build a new stadium because it means they will stay in your city for many more years. It also means you can enjoy the modern luxuries that accompany a newly built venue. But what about those other, older stadiums? How do we find joy in them? While it feels great to have a new stadium rise above your town or city skyline, it might feel even better when your stadium is renovated. Often teams renovate so they can delay building a new complex, or because they want to preserve the mystique of the current venue.
The stadiums listed below are the NFL’s oldest stadiums that are still used by their respective NFL franchises. All have been renovated and most hold strong ties to their cities and fans. Interestingly enough, the venues listed have hosted some of the world’s most grandeur events and historical personalities. So remember, when you drive by these stadiums, don’t take for granted their existence. What you are looking at is a piece of American history.
10. EverBank Field, Opened: August 18, 1995, Capacity: 67,164
It took almost the same amount of time for Jacksonville to build EverBank Field as it took for their new football team to reach its first AFC Championship. In only 19.5 months, the Gator Bowl Stadium was razed and EverBank Field was built next to the St. Johns River. In 1995, the Jaguars completed construction on their much anticipated stadium and played their first game in it that same August. Even more impressive was how the Jaguars reached the 1996/1997 AFC Championship a little over a year after they entered the NFL as an expansion team.
EverBank Field has gone through over $63 million in renovations since its completion and has already hosted a Super Bowl. Jacksonville expects to complete the stadium’s most recent $63 million renovation by the 2014 season. The upgrades will include supposedly the largest score boards in the world, as well as a variety of other upgrades to existing facilities. Owner Shad Khan has fronted $20 million of the improvement costs and the city’s hotel bed taxes will provide the additional $43 million.
9. Georgia Dome, Opened: 1992, Capacity: 71,250
Before the Braves became America’s hottest team of the 1990s and the Falcons were dancing the “dirty bird,” they played at a stadium other than the Georgia Dome. Prior to the dome’s construction, the Atlanta Braves and Falcons shared the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, a “cookie cutter” style, multipurpose facility.
Since the 1930s, the city of Atlanta had been vying to build a stadium that could house at least one sports team, but the idea was consistently dropped. Then, in 1964, the idea took flight on a stadium that would house both the Braves (MLB) and the Falcons. The Braves had announced that if Atlanta built a stadium by 1966, they would relocate from Milwaukee. Once Atlanta committed, the NFL also awarded the city its own football team.
Ted Turner bought the Braves in the mid-1970s and began to upgrade the stadium, however, many across baseball still complained about its awful playing surfaces and terrible design. Finally, in the 1990s, the Falcons moved out of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and into the newly built Georgia Dome. The last game played at County Stadium was a World Series match-up between the Braves and the Yankees. Soon after, the Braves moved into a nearby renovated Olympic stadium called Centennial Olympic Stadium, which they later renamed Turner Field.
The $210 million Georgia Dome is the world’s largest cable-supported domed stadium. Since its predecessor, it has come a long way in terms of functionality and appeal and has hosted Super Bowls (1994 and 2000), as well as NCAA Mens and Women’s Final Fours and some 1996 Olympic events.
8. Sun Life Stadium, Opened: 1987, Capacity: 75, 540
The stadium’s name reflects its lively atmosphere. It also helps that it’s hosted two World Series (1998 and 2003) and four Super Bowls (1989, 1995, 1999 and 2010). The warm weather and active scene make it a perfect venue to hold a number of different outdoor events.
Prior to the stadium’s construction, the Dolphins shared the 72,000 seat Orange Bowl with the college football team Miami Hurricanes. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, owner Joe Robbie lobbied to have a stadium built for his Dolphins, but voters rejected his tax increase proposal to raise funding. So, instead, he financed the project with $115 million in private funds, luxury and club seat sales, and agreements with season ticket holders. On August 16, 1987, Joe Ribbie Stadium was complete.
In the early 1990s, Miami began to look into the possibility of bringing baseball to its city. With the help of H. Wayne Huizenga, who purchased 50 percent of the stadium, the Florida Marlins were born. Then, in 1994, Huizenga purchased the remaining 50 percent of the venue. In all, the stadium has been as active as its city. Between 2008 and 2009, Stephen M. Ross, Chairman of the Related Companies, bought roughly 95 percent of the Dolphins’ franchise from Huizenga.
7. Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Opened: 1975, Capacity: 72,003
The Superdome has been home to numerous concerts, trade shows, conventions and sporting events. While some people remember it for hosting these extraordinary functions, everyone remembers it as the shelter that held over 20,000 people during Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane ripped off much of the dome’s outer layer, which allowed water to seep through to its interior. Damage stood at over $180 million.
Since then, the stadium has been fully repaired and in 2009, the team reached an agreement with the State of Louisiana to keep the Saints in New Orleans until at least 2025. For a passionate fan base, this was great news. While the Superdome may not have the visually historic look of some of the older stadiums, it has hosted some very historic events. These include seven Super Bowls, the most recent taking place in 2012, as well as Muhammad Ali’s third Heavyweight Championship and last professional win in the late 1970s. The NCAA has also hosted the Men’s Final Four five times in the dome and in 2014, World Wrestling Entertainment will use the complex to bring to life their annual WrestleMania.
New Orleans’ businessman Dave Dixon helped bring the stadium and team to fruition in the 1960s. After the Louisiana Legislature approved his plan to build a stadium at a cost of $163 million, the NFL awarded New Orleans its own football team. Through the years, some believe the dome even helped spur the growth of the city. Doug Thornton, the regional Vice President of the dome’s management company, believes the venue likely persuaded the Pope to visit the city and Republican National Convention to set up quarters.
6. Ralph Wilson Stadium, Opened: 1973, Capacity: 73,079
In upper-state New York exists the only NFL team to actually play home games in the state of New York. That’s right, they’re your Buffalo Bills. While the Bills are currently at the mercy of the Patriots and much of the NFL, they were once a solid team led by quarterback Jim Kelly and head coach Marv Levy. In fact, from 1988-1996 Buffalo’s home regular season record stood at a whopping 61-11.
Ralph Wilson Stadium had also treated the Bills favorably in the playoffs. Up until 1996, when they lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card round, Buffalo had won every home playoff game at their stadium. During that game, both teams traded points back and forth, but the Jaguars provided the Bills the ultimate blow when they knocked Jim Kelly out of the game and forced a critical fumble. Jacksonville turned the fumble into their game winning score.
While the Bills reign of dominance ended in the mid to late 1990s, their legendary games at the stadium will always be remembered. For example, “The Comeback” is widely considered one of the NFL’s greatest games. Playing at Ralph Wilson in the first-round of the 1993 playoffs, the Bills stormed back from a 32-point deficit to top the Houston Oilers in overtime 41-38. The game still stands as the largest post-season comeback in NFL history.
These memories may have failed to happen if the NFL hadn’t awarded then minority owner of the Detroit Lions, Ralph Wilson, a professional football franchise. Eventually reaching out to Buffalo, Wilson’s new team, the Bills, played at War Memorial Stadium from 1960-1972. In 1973, the Bills moved from War Memorial, also known as “the Rockpile,” to their newly built home, Rich Stadium. The cost of construction stood around $22 million.
The Bills were one of the first teams in North American sports to sell a stadium’s naming rights to a company. For $1.5 million and 25 years, Rich Products agreed to buy the rights to the stadium’s name. In 1998, the Bills and Rich Products ended their partnership because of a disagreement and the stadium’s name reverted back to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
5. Arrowhead Stadium, Opened: 1972, Capacity: 79,451
While many believe CenturyLink Field in Seattle is currently the toughest place to play football, Arrowhead may have been home to the original “12th man.” Once rated by Sports Illustrated as the most difficult stadium to play in, the magazine stated, “When the Chiefs are having a bad season, they’re tough to beat at Arrowhead.”
Originally meant to be a single, multi-purpose dome stadium, architects had concerns about Arrowhead’s design and seating capacity. As a result, architect Charles Deaton proposed the idea to build a stadium for both football and baseball. His idea was approved and Arrowhead officially opened its doors in time for the 1972 season.
In 1984, again, the Chiefs explored building a dome, but the project fell through. In later years, they would install the stadium’s first natural playing surface and expand the number of seats. In 2006, the Chiefs were approved for further renovations by increasing sales tax to help raise funds. Upgrades included a Sports Lab, the Chiefs Hall of Honor, an improved sound and scoreboard system, and larger concourse areas, to name a few.
It’s also little wonder why the team wanted to keep Arrowhead standing. Of any NFL team since 1990, the Chiefs have the seventh best home winning percentage in the regular season.
4. Qualcomm Stadium, Opened: 1967, Capacity, 71,294
Partly because of local sports writer Jack Murphy, the San Diego Chargers have called Qualcomm Stadium their home since 1967. Mayor Pete Wilson and the City Council would later rename the stadium, San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, in honor of the writer.
Originally, Murphy tried to convinced owner Barron Hilton to move the Chargers from the L.A. Coliseum to San Diego, and in 1961, Hilton agreed. Murphy then convinced the city to build a major stadium to house their new football team. His proposal called Proposition 1 passed, and the Chargers were built a new $27.75 million home to house 53,000 raucous fans.
Since then, the Chargers have renovated and expanded their complex. In 1997, the stadium expanded to 71,500 seats and it added a number of new facilities and amenities. In fact, the expansion may have never happened without the support of QUALCOMM, a local San Diego Telecommunication Company. They agreed to donate around $18 million toward the project, if they could also have the rights to the stadium’s name.
In recent years, ideas have surfaced about building a new stadium in San Diego, but the team and city continue to disagree on who will take on the massive bill. In early February, the Chargers chose not to exercise their right to terminate their stadium’s lease for the 2014 season. They want to keep their team in San Diego, and both Mayor candidates vow to complete a deal soon after their election.
For now, fans can stay motivated and confident by singing their famous “San Diego Super Chargers” fight song.
3. O.co Coliseum, Opened: 1966, Capacity: 63,132
As Oakland began constructing what is now the O.co Coliseum, the Raiders played football in stadiums around the Bay Area such as Frank Youell Field, Kezar Stadium and Candlestick Park.
In the early 1980s, they also moved to Los Angeles when owner Al Davis failed to receive support for extensive renovations on their current stadium in Oakland. During his team’s stay in Los Angeles, Davis pushed hard to build a new stadium because the current Los Angeles Coliseum lacked luxury suites and was located in a poor neighborhood. When the city did not approve his request, Davis attempted to move the team back to Oakland. In 1995, he received his wish, as well as $200 million for stadium renovations.
Like the Raiders, the stadium’s name has gone through many changes. Originally, it was called Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. In 1997, two years after the Raiders moved back to Oakland, the stadium was renamed UMAX Coliseum and then a year later it was called Network Associates Coliseum. After the 2004 season, the venue was renamed McAfee Coliseum. When McAfee did not renew its naming rights, the stadium’s name reverted back to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. In 2011, Overstock.com purchased the naming rights as part of a six year contract worth $1.2 million annually. Finally, for now, the stadium has settled on O.co Coliseum. Yet, despite these changes, one thing has always remained as constant as Raiders’ fans loyalty, the word “Coliseum” in the stadium’s name.
The Coliseum houses some of the NFL’s most passionate and loyal fans. Even though they watched their team move to different cities, they always waited patiently for them to return home to the “Black Hole.” Among the most passionate, and crazy, fans bases in the league, the Raider Nation are a special group of people who inhabit the O.co Coliseum. There is only one nation, Raider Nation.
2. Lambeau Field, Opened: 1957, Capacity 80,750
When we think about the Green Bay Packers, we often think about legends like Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Brett Favre and now, Aaron Rodgers. We often think about the team’s storied championship match-ups such as the 1967 Championship game dubbed the “Ice Bowl” or their 1997 win over Carolina, which advanced the Packers to their first Super Bowl in 29 years. We think about the Lambeau Leap coined by safety LeRoy Butler after he returned a fumble for a touchdown and tried to jump into the stands. But what do all of these people and events have in common? They’re all linked to the “Frozen Tundra,” Lambeau Field.
Presently, it’s almost inconceivable to think these historic moments almost never happened. Before Lambeau Field opened officially in 1957 as City Stadium, much uncertainty surrounded the state of the franchise. During the 1950s, the NFL began to put pressure on the Packers to build a new stadium that could fit more people. The NFL’s popularity was expanding, and teams had to better accommodate its growing popularity.
In 1955, the NFL demanded the Packers build either a new stadium in Green Bay or move all of their games to a larger stadium in Milwaukee. In 1956, by a vote of 11,575 to 4,893, Green Bay’s residents approved a $960,000 bond to build a new City Stadium. With Vice President Richard Nixon and actor James Arness in attendance, the Packers christened the new stadium with a 21-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
From then forward, the stadium’s legacy continued to grow almost as fast as its seating capacity. In 1965, City Stadium was renamed Lambeau Field in honor of team founder E.L. “Curly” Lambeau, who had died that same year. The Packers also increased the stadium’s capacity to 50,852.
Even more recently, the Packers began to renovate Lambeau Field. The renovations would increase the stadium’s seating capacity and improve the overall experience for fans. Throughout these projects, the venue has always preserved its historical overtones. It’s easy to see why Sports Illustrated rated Lambeau Field as the number one stadium experience in the NFL in 2007 and 2008 and ESPN The Magazine awarded it the same title in 2009 and 2011.
1. Soldier Field, Opened: 1924, Capacity: 61,500
Originally named the Grant Park Municipal Stadium, the South Park Commission built the structure to honor American soldiers who had fallen in battle. At a construction cost of $13 million, the stadium was built in three stages between 1922 and 1939, but officially opened its doors on October 9, 1924. At the request of the Chicago Gold Star Mothers, it was renamed the iconic Soldier Field a year later.
Grant Park Municipal Stadium’s first event was held in front of 85,000 spectators who watched a meet of 1,000 police officers. From then forward, it was commonplace for the stadium to hold regular crowds of well over 100,000 and even held its largest crowd of 260,000 for the religious Marian Year Tribute. From the 1926 Army and Navy game to a 1944 wartime visit by Franklin Roosevelt and the opening ceremonies of the 1994 World Cup, the stadium had grown into a museum of sorts. It was even awarded National Historic Landmark status in 1987; although it was stripped of the title in the mid-2000s because of its controversial renovations.
In 2003, Soldier Field completed its 20-month, $365 million renovation. Once completed, many fans (and preservationists) dismissed the new upgrades because they believed the stadium’s new design detracted from its historical flavor. Yet many others, such as the New York Times and United States Green Building Council, valued its renovations. The Times lauded it as the fourth best architectural project that year and in 2011, the Council awarded Soldier Field the status of LEED-EB, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Existing Building. It was the first NFL stadium to receive the prestigious award.
On Monday, September 29, 2003 the Bears played the Packers in the renovated venue’s first game. It was not memorable, the Bears lost 38-23, but the defeat failed to detract from the team or stadium’s already storied history. Soldier Field lives on as the NFL’s oldest and maybe most treasured stadium.
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