Florida (Sports) Man

Ending 2022 (and starting 2023) in the Sunshine State

Florida Man takes a lot of grief. But there’s something to be said about 70-degree days in late December.

For the past few years, I have taught courses at the University of Notre Dame’s business school. When the Irish finished the year 8-4, we were hoping the bowl game would be somewhere warm. They drew the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. As such, the family decided to make a vacation of it, and headed down to Florida (NOT on Southwest), stationing ourselves in Orlando for some theme park and sporting event action.

First Stop: Orlando’s Camping World Stadium

First sporting stop was the Cheez-It Bowl between Florida State and Oklahoma. This was my first visit to Camping World Stadium. Considering it was first built in 1936 (albeit with many renovations since) and that it lacks a permanent tenant (excluding the XFL), it’s not a bad facility. It was less basic than many college stadiums, and the concessions in the lower bowl and club areas were surprisingly solid.

The venue is just north of Orlando’s downtown in a bit of a dodgy area. We parked less than a mile away for $10 and hoped the rental car would still be there. Managed to hit two breweries, Broken Strings and Deadwords Brewing, before the game.

The game felt like a home game for the Seminoles, and the crowd left happy after a 35-32 barnburner.

As an aside, given that Cheez-It was the sponsor, fans had access to free packs of crackers throughout the stadium. I would have consumed fewer calories by sucking back 10 Miller Lites! Damn free addictive snacks.

Camping World Stadium
Florida Man hits downtown Orlando first

Next Up: The Gator Bowl

The Jaguar’s TIAA Bank Field hosted the Gator Bowl between South Carolina and Notre Dame. With this visit, my total number of unique MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA or NCAA football venues hit 62 for 2022!

Made a quick stop for a brew and a bite at Kickbacks Gastropub about 4 miles away, then drove and parked less than a mile west of the stadium before enjoying Fan Fest and all the pregame festivities. We would have made a stop at the only decent pregame watering hole near the stadium, Intuition Ale Works, but the lack of pregame options combined with Notre Dame fans’ love of the drink, and South Carolina fans’ enthusiasm and party spirit meant there was a line out the door.

Once inside, we were treated to one of the best games of the year with the Irish overcoming a large deficit and partisan Gamecock crowd. By the way, a quick shout out to the Gamecock fan base; given the relative mediocrity of the football team lately, they are devoted and loud!

Gator Bowl
The main attraction was the Gator Bowl

New Years Afternoon in a Tampa Ice Rink

Next stop was a hockey game in Tampa. You can take the boy out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the boy.

I’ve been to Amalie Arena more than all but a handful of current venues and think it’s really fun. I was excited to bring my son for his first visit. Alas, it was a rainy afternoon, so Thunder Alley lacked the usual pregame buzz.

Once inside, the rink didn’t disappoint and we were treated to an exciting 5-3 hockey game in front of a full house, while catching the crazy TCU-Michigan game on our phones.

Amalie Arena
A winter sports trip is incomplete without a hockey game.

Bring In the New Year With More Football!!

Final stop was the game at Raymond James Stadium between the Bucs and Panthers to decide the NFC South. After a little tailgating in the grass parking lots, we went in to our wonderful seats. Carolina had a 14-point lead and an 11-point second half lead, but Tom Brady suddenly decided he was 28 again and lit it up to lead the team to a 30-24 victory for our fourth great game on the trip.

A Bucs game is always fun.

More Crowds Afterwards

After that, it was three days in overcrowded theme parks. If you wanted any proof that the pandemic is over, visit a Florida theme park over the Christmas-New Year’s break!

As I waited in seemingly endless lines to ride Space Mountain and Hagrid’s, I went to my happy place by plotting how I can see 63 venues in 2023.


Rating California’s Former NFL Venues

In 2021, the public finally got to see an NFL game in L.A’s $5 billion SoFi Stadium. Raider fans were treated to the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium. Both were significant upgrades to their old homes and both land in the top 6 in terms of current NFL venues.

But the old ones all had memorable qualities. And I’d hate for my experiences there to be relegated to the dustbin of history. So in order, from worst to “best”, here are my original reviews for Cali’s three most recently retired NFL stadia.


Oakland Coliseum logo
Former home of the Oakland Raiders.
Former Ranking: 30/31
Location: Oakland, CA
Opened: 1966; Retired: 2019
Capacity: 56,057
3rd best weather of 23 outdoor venues
Games attended: 1 football (almost 20 baseball)
Last visited: 2019
Oakland Coliseum 960x400


I finally mustered up the courage to see a game in the Black Hole before the team moved to Vegas. This truly was (and likely still is) the scariest fan base in sports. It was like looking into a dystopian future: a drunken brigade of hairy, menacing, intimidating belligerents wearing skulls and spikes. And that’s just the women.

A shifty cast of characters greeted you on the walk from the BART with shopping cart bacon dogs and cold beer for sale. The tailgate scene in the Oakland Coliseum parking lot was aggressive. The stadium itself was a relatively charmless concrete multi-purpose circular bowl with incredibly cramped concessions, not nearly enough washrooms and a Soviet design ethos. To also accommodate baseball, sightlines were compromised and the infield dirt was in play. The only thing “nice” was the weather, which is normally so.

Oakland Raiders
The Coliseum was an ugly stadium with an unruly fanbase that created the most unique atmosphere in the NFL

And yet in an age where everything is so pristine and polished, it was a thrilling change of pace. Like bungee jumping, Oakland Raider games were exhilarating experiences. The Vegas stadium will likely be nicer (it’d be hard to not be), but it can only hope to match the Mad Max vibe of a game here.


LA Coliseum logo
Former home of the Los Angeles Rams
Former Ranking: 25/31
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Opened: 1923; Last renovated 2016
Retired for NFL Football: 2019
Capacity: 77,500
2nd best weather of 23 outdoor venues
Games attended: 1
Last visited: 2019
Los Angeles Rams 960x400


I came not expecting much. But there was a surprising sense of “cool” to the renovated Coliseum. I’m glad I made it here before So-Fi Stadium opens up.

This is the only stadium to host two Olympics. It was home to the first Super Bowl, a World Series and a papal mass. It finally underwent a fairly extensive renovation which included all new seats, more aisles, 650 video screens, more suites and reduced seating capacity. And they restored the peristyle, giving it a renewed sense of grandeur. While I can’t compare it to the old, the results felt solid.

You needed to walk through a low-ceiling vomitorium to reach the seating bowl, but you then felt a burst of energy seeing field for the first time. Many concessions were handled in food tents to help disperse crowds from the cramped concourses. And the beautiful weather that I enjoyed for my game is common.

The Rams crowd inside was more stereotypical SoCal chill with a little Hispanic flair. The stadium borders some gritty, working-class neighborhoods, but I never felt unsafe given Game Day crowds. Traffic in and out could be harsh, and parking was stupid expensive (like $100) if you sought something close to the field. I took the Metro (with a discretely concealed six pack for tailgating) and found it pleasantly easy (other than the fact that I was likely sitting in some homeless guy’s urine).

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
The old peristyle reminded you that the place has history, but the renovations put the stadium squarely in the 21st Century.

The impressive renovations should help keep this classic stadium in fine operation even once the Rams leave and cede it entirely to the USC Trojans. You won’t be able to see a pro game here anymore, but make it a college stadium bucket lister.


Dignity Health Sports Park
Former home of the Los Angeles Chargers
Former Ranking: 18 out of 31
Location: Carson, CA
Opened 2003; Retired for NFL football 2019
Capacity: 30,000
The best weather of the 23 outdoor venues
Games attended: 1
Last visited: 2019
Los Angeles Chargers 960x400


This was a pleasant surprise. I expected this to feel much weirder than it was; instead it kind of made me wish all NFL stadiums were this tiny.

The Chargers regrettably left San Diego after not being able to get the public funding needed for a new stadium. Instead they decided to become the 12th most popular team in LA (after the Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, Rams, Clippers, USC Trojans, Kings, Ducks, LA Galaxy, UCLA Bruins, and LAFC). Los Angeles greeted them with all the enthusiasm of one awaiting a proctologist visit, and San Diego disowned them for leaving. As such, it’s a team without a fanbase.

Ownership tried to grow its LA cred by moving to a small soccer stadium until their new stadium is built. Alas, the Chargers struggled to sell out even this tiny venue, and the majority of fans cheered for the visiting team.

It was a cool place to watch a game. Like watching U2 play at a House of Blues, you got a big league product in an intimate space. But the cool came at a price. Tickets were well above average, good craft beers were $17, and parking was exorbitant.

On the flip side, you were virtually guaranteed to be sitting in glorious SoCal fall weather – the best in football.  The park itself was quite nice: large shade canopies kept things ridiculously comfortable, the videoboards were solid, the seats themselves were nice, and the concourses were wide and filled with good choices. Lines for food, beer and washroom breaks always moved because crowds were half the size. Traffic in and (especially) out was a lot easier to deal with given the smaller crowd. And every seat was close. It felt like a modern NFL stadium but with only the lower bowl.

LA Chargers
After seeing the NFL in a tiny stadium, I almost wish all games were in places this size.

We may never experience something like this again. I’m glad I had a chance to do it.

As for their replacements

The sports purist in me wants to deride them as being shameless money grabs. The “Pragmatic Me” admonishes them for being over-the-top palaces that make little sense given how infrequently they would be used. But the sports fan in me says, “Hey, that’s not my $7 billion.” Both SoFi and Allegiant are freakin amazing pieces of architecture, solid places to watch a game, and land significantly higher on the list than these three mediocre now-defunct NFL buildings. Progress is good.



June 3, 2020

Two shiny new venues costing nearly $7 billion will be opening (perhaps) later this fall.  Both have roofs, meaning 11 of the 32 NFL teams can play home games indoors.  The climate of the desert necessitates an indoor facility for the Las Vegas Raiders to offer heat protection during those early season games.  But Los Angeles, the city with the league’s best weather, is also going indoors.  If the Dodgers ever thought about putting a lid on Dodger Stadium, there’d be a revolt!  Why do baseball purists scoff at the notion of playing baseball inside, while football fans embrace it?

1 Baseball is a pastoral summer game.  Football is played in brisk autumn winds. (This is starting to sound like a George Carlin bit).  During baseball season, those of us in northern climates are itching to be outside and soak in the precious warmth.  During football season, we start to hunker down.  It’s one of the reasons why football makes for great TV; it’s on when we want to be cozy instead of dealing with bitter, damp, grey November days.  Plus we’ve become creatures of comfort, and it’s not comfortable sitting outside in many NFL markets in mid-December.

2 Baseball requires 81 home dates when there’s not a global pandemic.  Football needs 10.  A football stadium, therefore, has empty more dates to fill.  A roof allows it to be used year-round for conventions, trade shows and other large-scale events that need to be inside.  After all, a wet trade show booth is useless, and wind knocking down the exhibits would be a problem.  Plus the football championship is played on one of the worst weather weeks of the year; great indoor facilities give cities not in Florida or California a chance to one of the biggest annual events, The Super Bowl.

3  Baseball isn’t played in the rain or extreme cold.  Football will be played in anything but lightning.  An NFL game is a full-day commitment given you’ll likely be tailgating in the elements before the game before moving to the stadium.  After spending a few hours in cold weather, rainy weather or sweaty hot weather getting your drink on, many would rather move to comfort and get rejuvenated for the game itself.  Or if it’s really ugly, and you’ve been in a bar getting acclimatized to indoor temps, the move outside is dreaded.  And the NFL doesn’t want their product to be miserable.

4 Roofed stadiums tend to hold in the noise well.  Home crowd noise can be a real advantage in football, as it makes it tougher for the offense to call their plays, and provides a bit of an adrenaline shot to the defense.  Baseball crowd noise makes the vibe more exciting, but doesn’t really provide an advantage to one side or the other. 

So why don’t they all have roofs?  Cost for one. A roofed stadium is more expensive to build.  You either need a deep pocketed owner or very generous public funding offer to add a lid. There’s also tradition: grizzled sport fans believe that the game should be played in the elements, and these fans often have a disproportionately loud voice. And subtly, TV prefers a game outside; the sport looks great on a sunny day, and mud or snow add great drama. But NFL franchises keep appreciating, meaning new owners have to be deep-pocketed; more fans are demanding the in-stadium experience better mimic the living room experience; and translucent roofs can still let in sun (the snow and mud would be out).

We aren’t scheduled for another new NFL stadium for a few years.  But my guess is the next multi-billion dollar edifice built for Sunday football will have a roof.