A View from the Cheap Seats

Dear Heather Dinich,

Good for you, having been to all of the ACC stadiums – it’s something I can’t say for myself. And kudos to ESPN for hiring an Indiana graduate and a Maryland resident to write a regular blog about the ACC.

I’ll be honest here, Heather. I’m provincially prejudiced and I don’t intend to change that about myself. I’m a born and bred North Carolina boy and times have been few when I cared what an outsider thinks about Carter-Finley, but your rankings lack credibility and beg for a response. I’ve been to Lane, Memorial, Bobby Dodd, Groves, Wallace Wade, and Kenan stadiums. And when I say I’ve been there, I’ve been there on days where actual games have been played and not just to look at all the pretty columns.

My problem with your rankings for “toughest stadium” in the ACC isn’t that you are necessarily wrong – I actually agree with your top three, in no specific order – but rather that you failed to deliver any compelling argument for actual “toughness.” I’m just a simple mountain boy that somehow learned to read and write and managed to get an engineering degree along the way, but in my experience, words like “picturesque,” “gorgeous,” and “appreciative” aren’t generally utilized to draw a correlation to toughness. Erin Andrews is gorgeous; John Wayne was tough. See the difference?

Honest, it was a hack job, a little disconcerting after your fine Ernie Myers column, and a seasoned college football fan such as you should have done much better. For instance:

Lane stadium is tough because it “sells out?” C’mon, now. How about this instead: Blacksburg is like Virginia’s version of Boone, nestled atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on fall afternoons, orange and burgundy contrasts against the sprawling green fields enveloping Lane Stadium, making for an impressive approach among the mass of Hokies fans filing through the gates. Once inside, the stands are high, steep, and tight, especially in the end zones, and the noise punctures and resonates without end, seemingly unable to escape the semi-bowl. The main problem with Lane Stadium isn’t that the walk from the concourse to your seat at the top of the stands will leave you completely winded, but that the fans are just too durned friendly. I was there when we beat them at the last second in 2004, and we were heartily welcomed by nearly everyone we passed, mingled and tailgated with new friends before the game, and were congratulated on the victory and the memorable defensive performance afterwards; by all regards, they were gracious to finally be in the ACC and wanted to be liked by the rest of us. They were loud, sure, but they were largely a class act.

Death Valley has “The Rock [and] the Hill?” In this case, yes you do, indeed, need to say more. You could start with how the maze outside Death Valley is a giant sea of orange that dwarfs even off-campus sprawling areas like, say, the fairgrounds and lots surrounding Carter-Finley. Or how when you’re maneuvering through campus from where you parked, in some farm field down in Pickens County between a graveyard and a silo, everyone you ask “Which way to the stadium?” tells you something different, so you wander around aimlessly trying to find the increasing commotion. And then, once inside, you don’t see the hill, but rather a narrow, steep strip of green parted by a sea of orange t-shirts and blue jeans. What you’ve also never seen on TV is the team loading up onto buses for the short drive to the Hill so they can rub Howard’s Rock and then run down the Hill while 80,000 fans rejoice with pompoms; see, the old field house was under the opposite end zone stands, not on top of that Hill. You also could have added, to your sterling analysis, how the band plays between every play, constantly building up to the annoying but catchy Tiger Rag, which ends with the deafening C-L-E-M-S-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-N being belted out by floppy-haired kids in tiger paw ties and roughnecks in purple overalls alike. Clemson fans – much like their far superior cousins in Raleigh – like to be interactive and let visiting fans know of their presence, liquor-breath and all. The best way to silence the Death Valley crowd is a 38-6 shellacking on the Thursday night ESPN game. Just don’t ask for directions back to the graveyard afterwards.

Bobby Dodd is old and it’s “unique” because it’s “in the heart of Atlanta?” I almost fell asleep at Bobby Dodd in 2003. I’m dead serious. My neighbors have complained to me during State basketball games for making more noise than the Bobby Dodd crowd. What exactly about the fans makes it unique? Georgia Tech fans epitomize the typical Atlanta fan: quietly disengaged. I remember a 60-degree, sunny noon game at about 75% capacity and the only time that stadium got loud was between the third and fourth quarters when the band played the Budweiser Song and finally the students made a pseudo-attempt at unified noise with “When you say Budweiser, you’ve said it all!” Then promptly left. You could have mentioned that, at least, speaking to its uniqueness.

Groves is also “unique” and obviously small, and its fans are “faithful and appreciative?” Here in the South, we call that “charming,” and it’s often used when you can’t find anything good to say otherwise. I’ve been to Groves many times, actually (although I’ve sworn, after two different debacles in 1999 and 2003, to never go back). In fact, I’ve seen as many Appalachian State games there as State games, and the only distinct characteristic I can draw to memory, other than a lot of empty seats and a lot of visiting fans, is that before our game there in 2001, the P.A. announcer reached out, longingly, for all “Deac Freaks” still in the parking lot to come in and support their Demon Deacons – right before the first quarter ended.

Ah, Kenan; “just the right size” and has “picturesque pine trees?” Contrary to popular myth, pine trees aren’t exclusive to Chapel Hill; in fact, North Carolina is often referred to as the Pine State (which I much prefer, and if ever elected governor, will pass an executive directive to replace “Tar Heel State” with “Pine State”). I’ve been to Kenan twice, and on both occasions I spent most of my time trying to explain to the fine folks around me why I stand up during an exciting play, particularly on a third-and-long or a touchdown; also, that I’m not a farmer. The verbal abuse was just horrible, and if those mean folks had returned to their seats after halftime I don’t know what would have happened. I can only imagine how anyone can go into such a beautiful place and win, especially with Butch Davis’ office looming forlornly over them as they break the huddle. Kenan at #4 is ridiculous on all accounts; you’ll be hard-pressed to find even a handful of Carolina fans that would consider Kenan a tough atmosphere.

You actually summarized Wallace Wade quite succinctly, although I like to denigrate it further by calling it Cameron Outdoor Stadium.

Carter-Finley’s “facilities are impressive but it lacks tradition?” What does that even mean? Since my freshman year in 1997, I’ve missed a mere handful of games at Carter-Finley, so I’m what you call an expert. I don’t labor under the impression that it is the ACC’s toughest and I certainly won’t argue it’s one of the nation’s toughest by any stretch; it’s smaller than Doak Campbell, Death Valley, Lane, Scott, and even Kenan, but to chalk up Carter-Finley to simply having “impressive” facilities is flat irresponsible.

Ask Tom O’Brien, who spoke to just how impressed he was by the atmosphere after a Saturday night loss here with Boston College in 2006, or Jerry Moore, who publicly stated that Carter-Finley was a tougher place to play than Michigan Stadium.

You could have touched on the intensity of the State fan base, how it’s unquestionably passionate and intimidating in its own right, with its well-known tendency for abrasive behavior towards certain opposing fans. Or how the design of the stadium coupled with the recent renovations enclosing both end zones has created a sense of claustrophobia for opposing teams, which literally have fans just a few feet behind them – actively engaged in friendly banter. Or how no State fan wants to get caught sitting on any third down and feels a certain shame for not being hoarse on the walk out.

But you seem to be focused on aesthetics and atmosphere, so let’s touch on one of those perfect late October or early November afternoon games, where that autumn sun traces low across the Southern sky, quickly burning off the morning chill as the tailgating lots fill up and parking becomes more difficult as drivers have to maneuver between pig cookers, grills, canopies, corn hole boards, flying footballs and kids chasing after each other. You could have talked about how by mid-afternoon, the aroma of pork and vinegar saturates the air as old friends catch up and complain about how they’ve eaten – and drunken – far too much. As the sun starts to slip behind the tall “picturesque” pines – apparently on loan from the altruistic town of Chapel Hill – surrounding arguably the nation’s most impressive college football facility (according to Bill Cowher), and that crisp autumn air sets in, a Sea of Red, nearly 60,000 strong, merges en masse through too few entry gates, awaiting eagerly for the team to charge onto the field and that first opportunity to explode in unison and declare proudly, exactly where Carolina can go.

Look, all I’m saying here, Heather, is the evidence suggests you might be misguided on what most knowledgeable college football fans consider “tough.”

But more importantly, since you work for ESPN, I was hoping you’d put me in touch with Erin Andrews. She might remember me; I had my picture taken with her when Gameday was at Carter-Finley in 2004. Tell her I have an extra season ticket if she wants it.


About LRM

Charter member of the Lunatic Fringe and a fan, loyal to a fault.

NCS Football

38 Responses to A View from the Cheap Seats

  1. jasondeans 07/14/2008 at 3:09 PM #


  2. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 07/14/2008 at 3:43 PM #

    I ddn’t hvae any torulbe uerdntsdannig aynhtnig you worte. Gerat lteter! As lnog as you hvae the fsirt and lsat ltteer rghit msot of us wtih smilpe mnids can fgirue out the maening.

  3. packpigskinfan23 07/14/2008 at 3:49 PM #

    GREAT piece, regardless of what tobaccofreakshow thinks.

    Dont we all make mistakes?
    I think LRM’s is more forgivable than Ms. Dinich’s.

    Its a shame that this pathatic excuse for an article(or was it a blog she wrote? either way… its not even BLOG worthy!) can make it past ESPN. Who’s Now? NOT ESPN.

  4. Southbeachstyle 07/14/2008 at 3:51 PM #

    Mmmmmm, Erin Andrews.

  5. nsj 07/14/2008 at 4:04 PM #

    Well done. If the original author had a third as much personal experience with those stadiums as you have, she might have made a better list.

  6. wufdog 07/14/2008 at 4:34 PM #

    I appriciate the biased opinion you have expressed and had no trouble understanding it. This is almost an instant medium and therefore inherently subject to slight errors. None of us want to feel like this stuff is going to be graded. I especially liked the part about pine trees not being exclusive to chapel hole. Other than Carter Finley I have only been to Groves and sold peanuts there at wake games as a kid. It would be half empty and so quiet you could carry on a conversation with ease. My chrurch felt like it was a nice youth activity to go to games at Groves. If it is that church friendly it aint a tough atmosphere.

    LRM Note: Funny you mention that about Groves, wish I had thought of that. I remember now that growing up, Groves always had Baptist Men’s Day on the Wake/Duke game.

  7. whitefang 07/14/2008 at 4:41 PM #

    A couple of her less than accurate statements:
    Carter-Finley “lacks tradition” – well maybe but it was built in 1966 I believe Groves was built in 1967 and Lane was completed in 1968.
    With the “faithful and appreciative” fans at Groves it seems strange that the many State games (and some UNC) I have seen there appeared to have as many or more of the opponent’s fans as Wake’s.
    If you are talking basketball than put the Dean Dome up high on the list, but Kenan? I showed this to a recent UNC grad that works for me and he laughed like hell. He rarely misses a “game” and rarely sees one. He said most people just go in for the 2nd quarter and leave at halftime for a party. He also said when he and his friends go to C-F to watch a Carolina game they don’t wear blue and they don’t say shit. Too dangerous and crazy there in his opinion.
    And Scott Stadium in Virginia, while pretty, holds 61,000 not 51,000.

  8. Dr. BadgerPack 07/14/2008 at 5:30 PM #

    What is utterly, inexcusably pathetic is she has been to all of the stadia (or claims as much). Now, someone who writes about ACC football (and is PAID!) should be able to put together a competent list based on experiences, and some basic knowledge (knowing what game you’re actually watching, if it’s a below average, average, or above crowd; the type of opponent, etc.).

    I’ve been to 3 whole college football games. The 47-45 Duke/State game when I was young, NC State/Maryland my freshman year, and Wisconsin/UNLV. Still, if I ranked “toughness” of ACC stadia, I’d get a list similar to SFN and other competent analysis- JUST FROM WATCHING BLOODY TV!

    And LRM- this is good stuff!

  9. old13 07/14/2008 at 5:49 PM #

    I stopped watching/reading anything (except watching actual games) on ESPN long ago – I wonder why!

  10. highstick 07/14/2008 at 6:52 PM #

    Wonder if Billy Packer needs a job?

  11. Primewolf 07/14/2008 at 7:19 PM #

    Thanks LRM, good read.

    ESPN suffers from good leadership just as our state and nation. Surely, someone high up at ESPN would go ballistic over this degree of incompetence. However, in this day and age, I am not surprised by anything.

    This reporterette has taken Rush’s sccurate portrayal of the “Drive-by” Media to a new level. I think we could say she is part of the “Fly-by” media. It is clear she didn’t get down to drive -by level in her 3ird grade analysis.

    I don’t think Heather is smarter than a 5th grader, I’d put her at 3rd grade level.

  12. Dr. BadgerPack 07/14/2008 at 7:26 PM #

    What’s worse is people read this stuff. Potential recruits read this stuff. And if this type of hatchet job costs us one single recruit, it should cost her her job- plain and simple.

    Think I’ve hammered home how disgusted I am by her “analysis” yet? I could go on, but there’s a home run derby to watch.

  13. ncsujohnny7 07/14/2008 at 7:40 PM #
  14. Dr. BadgerPack 07/14/2008 at 8:16 PM #

    ^Changed the title of the list too…

  15. howlie 07/14/2008 at 8:30 PM #

    We live in a time of bimboization of sports.
    Does someone in marketing decidethe entertainment section is not large enough, and they want more bimbos to read the sports section?

  16. highstick 07/14/2008 at 8:45 PM #

    Intimate setting? Come on! I haven’t tried to be intimate at a football game in years! Maybe it’s a “Carolina thing”? Wonder if the Carolina football players that got beat up by the ‘ho’s were in to intimacy?

  17. EverettBeez 07/14/2008 at 9:07 PM #

    Ho Ho Ho! nice one highstick!
    I’ve seen ball in a lot of places – C-F, Keenan, Wade, Groves in the ACC, App (of course, didn’t miss a game for 4 yrs) and then a number of places out of conference. C-F, is clearly the best of the conference in the state, hands down. App, however, does rock. When you drive into town, you can hear the drums echoing through the valley – all good stuff. Not to mention, we got away with lining shot glasses up on the wall during pre-game. Oh man, where are the drunks of yesteryear? the best part about App playing Wake, was all these drunken’ Happy Appy’s invading, and taking over the place! Oh, the Baptists were never happy about us. Guess that’s why we are off their schedule.

    LRM Note: I think it had more to do with the fact that App. was beating Wake regularly.

    Out of conference/state? Wow – Nebraska, great atmosphere. (1 game) Ole Miss (9 yrs – it was grad school) so wonderful, so many HOT women, such awful teams. Texas Tech – ever seen a marching band where over 70 members get red shirted? Talk about loud! But they lost to North Texas the first game, and my wife would not go back. Notre Dame (1 game) – great fans. I was not impressed by the pre-game. but man where they nice & polite. Arizona? Awful – but it is on campus, and the bars were only about 6 blocks away.

    the point is well made – atmosphere doesn’t translate to hard place to play. I bet Riddick was a hard place to play – what with all of 2,500 folks there, the train blasting by, the locker rooms leaking. I don’t know that it helped the Red Terrors much on the field. Of course those couple years we wore pink and brown probably didn’t help either.

  18. EverettBeez 07/14/2008 at 9:56 PM #

    Fair enough LRM.

  19. ncsumatman 07/14/2008 at 10:10 PM #

    Thanks so much for writing this. I have been ripping on Dinich since she first posted an entry on the 4 letter.com giving one liner blurbs about each teams future. At that point she spoke about Ant Hill and T Baker’s injuries, how they would be back for Spring practice, and all prospects look good.

    A little hw would have led her to TOB’s comments expecting neither to be back in during spring practice, published before her comments. Since then, she has had some asinine coverage on .com that makes you wonder what kind of folks they have working for them.

    She was a Terp beat writer, trying to make her mark I suppose, but every post, or entry, or whatever you call it is elementary at best. Here is an example:

    GT: Expect them to gain more grounds on the yard as they switch to a hybrid triple option.

    FSU: Look for them to return to the glory years of the 90’s.

    CU: They plan to run the ball.

    Mary: I see them throwing the ball to Bey, a lot.

    WFU: Well though out dink and dunk.

    etc. etc. etc., please, give me a media guide to quote. Clearly she sucks, should not have a job at this level, and is a product of, dare I say it, diversification of the workforce.

  20. wbnation 07/14/2008 at 10:52 PM #

    So Wallace Wade gets put on the bottom for being “quaint” and “Not exactly the atmosphere you’re looking for when you want some smashmouth football.” But Kenan gets 6th for being “intimate”? Aren’t they basically the same thing?

    The worst thing about talking heads is that there is no consistency. From Billy Packer to a blog writer for ESPN. Basically they have to either fill air time or press and so they just spew nonsense constantly. So I guess if there is any consistency in the talking heads its that they are consistently writing or saying jibberish. I just find myself laughing at the assenine comments made daily on air.

  21. choppack1 07/15/2008 at 7:09 AM #

    You have to give credit where credit is due. She moved us from 11th to 4th. I still think she’s kind of guessing on some of these, but I think this list is closer than her last one….and at least she listened instead of bunkering up and refusing to admit things like other writers have done. Since she’s shown she’s at least open-minded, I’ll cut her some slack.

  22. Sw0rdf1sh 07/15/2008 at 7:19 AM #

    Yep, I think she got the picture and I bet she will keep a stronger eye on the Pack this year….(even if she thinks we aren’t going to do much). I’m glad she made the adjustments.

    Great piece here….I too got a little lost after reading Erin Andrews….but after I woke up from my daydream I enjoyed the rest of the article.

  23. choppack1 07/15/2008 at 7:36 AM #

    Here would be my ranking for “most intimidating places” to play:

    1)Lane Stadium – Loudest stadium I’ve ever been to. It’s probably the acoustics in the place, but it also helps that they don’t have a whole lot of old timers either.

    2) Death Valley – Cheesy tiger roar is pretty cool, as is the Rock. While it has nothing to do w/ intimidation, the Esso Club is a must stop for any college football fan. This place can be electric during night games but the last 20 years probably don’t compare to the Danny Ford years.

    3)Doak Campbell – Great fans, loud, and usually filled up. No better place to be on a November night than a game that means something here.

    4) Carter-Finley – I’m biased. Wolfpack fans are figuring out they can be a force. The entire place is red – and when it’s a night game – the place absolutely rocks. We’ve still got to do a better job getting “up” for nooners, but aside from VaTech, no school in the ACC has changed more in its fervor for football Saturday. (note: FSU and GaTech don’t qualify.)

    5) Groves Stadium – It’s not the fans, but the borderline cheating loudspeaker. When the opposing team is on offense, loudspeakers blare while they are in the huddle. Their fans are getting better – and they will be playing in front of a sold stadium for the 2nd straight year.

    6) Kenan – This place can get loud. However, they’ve allowed visiting “armies” of NC State and USC fans to take over. The fans are reactive…they get loud when things are going well. If they aren’t – the fans talk about basketball.

    7) GaTech – How do you screw up a good thing? Mess up the synergy of your stadium by building a monstrous addition that doesn’t fit w/ the “classic” feel of your stadium. If this was needed, it would be one thing, but there were always seats available in GaTech w/ the exception of when they played UGa and probably Clemson. I went to the old stadium for a 3:30 game (or was it 2:30) in 2001. The atmosphere, while fun, wasn’t exactly electric. I can’t imagine this addition added anything.

    8)BC – The stadium itself isn’t bad. It’s actually perfect for a smaller school w/out a big time progam. It’s 2 levels all the way around. It’s aluminum/steel, so fans should be able to stomp and make lots of noise. Of course, when 17K show up to a November game when the team is having a solid season…Still, there’s actually hope here. The students do a great job. But they’ll always play 4th fiddle in Beantown to the Bosox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins….whoops, that’s 5th fiddle.

    9) Wallace Wade – Did you know that they once played the Rose Bowl here? Did you know that I accidentally walked into this stadium for free when we played Duke in the early 90s? Did I have trouble finding a seat? nope.

  24. RAWFS 07/15/2008 at 8:08 AM #


    You spoke for us all with your piece. As I read it for the first time I kept saying “damned right” and “hell yes” in response.

    If this is not moved into the All Time Best Entries on this site it will be a shame.

  25. mafpack 07/15/2008 at 8:58 AM #

    Great piece LRM, I enjoyed every word.


    Not normally one to frequent the Char-Observer, Rick Bonnell had a good piece this morning about JJ in the NBA Summer league (along with a great quote by JJ about Lowe’s positive influence).


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