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HOME FIELD DISADVANTAGE.
September 12, 2003

by Bill Hogan

 

 
 

It only takes a couple of days on the road to realize how great it is to be home-sweet-home. Sleeping in your own bed on your own pillow with the familiar drool stains; using your own shower with shampoo in a full size bottle. You know how to get from the bed to the toilet in the middle of the night without shearing your shin on a coffee table or nightstand.

Dorothy was right on the money when she proclaimed "there's no place like home." Sure the lawn needs to be cut – every week. It always seems like one sink or the other is backed up. And any discussion about the hot water heater is never good. But, hey, it's home.

 
 


Even when the house seems to be more work than it is worth – when the linoleum is coming up and the garbage disposal is on the fritz - we don't abandon it, we don't move to the new house next door and implode the old one; and we don't dismantle the entire second floor just because the carpet needs to be replaced.

The Philadelphia Eagles didn't like their home at The Vet. It was old and decrepit. The artificial turf was worn and torn. The building housed rats the size of Chihuahuas. Parts of the foundation were falling apart. There were incidents when fans were actually hit by falling debris. It seemed more like a war zone than a stadium.

But isn't that where a team that prides themselves on gritty physical toughness would want to play? Visiting teams hated – HATED – going to The Vet. And that sentiment gave the Eagles a clear advantage every time they took the field. Especially when it was cold and windy and the turf felt like concrete.

The Eagles traded in The Vet for Lincoln Financial Field. Somehow, I don't think visiting teams will find The Linc as intimidating as The Vet. It's tough to drum up support when the fans are checking out the spankin new cappuccino bar located in the spiffy state-of-the-art food court where the only thing missing is the rats. Football was not meant to be played in such comfort.

In Green Bay, the Packers unveiled The New Lambeau Field before playing division rival Minnesota. The $295 million redevelopment project was a glowing success. In fact, you'd hardly recognize the old Lambeau Field – you know, the place where the Packers have been winning championships since 1957.

For that matter, it was difficult to recognize Brett Favre and the rest of the Packers last Sunday as well. By losing to the Vikings 30-25, the Pack surpassed last year's home loss total one game into the season. But hey, how 'bout that brand new, full color LED video display – ain't it grand. And don't forget the 1264 restrooms – that's twice as many urinals!

At least many of the Packers' faithful were able to watch the action in the climate controlled comfort of one of the 166 private luxury boxes or in one of 2,900 new indoor club seats. It certainly doesn't wake up any echoes from the 1967 "Ice Bowl." Fifty thousand Packers fans watched the see-your-breath taking finish to that NFL Championship – outdoors.

How are the 2003 Packers supposed to give it their all when fans are walking around shag carpeting in their slippers, sipping champagne and watching the action through a Plexiglas window? Favre didn't play last Sunday's game in the cozy confines of Lambeau Field. The final score was as unfamiliar to the team as the refurbished surroundings. Coincidence? I think not.

The Chicago Bears will open their newly renovated stadium on September 29. The New Soldier Field looks like a spaceship landed on the old Soldier Field – where the '85 Bears became part of football lore. The stadium will be open to Bears fans for "Meet Your Seat Day" two days prior to the game.

As part of the festivities, fans will be able to get to know their bathroom attendants, become acquainted with their beer vendors and familiarize themselves with the new parking facilities. If I'm a life-long Bears season ticket holder, there's little comfort in the fact that I now need a map to get from my car to my seat.

New stadiums are fine for some teams. But these places have – that is, had – too much history, character and tradition to be completely reconstructed or worse, imploded. Somebody forgot to tell them "there's no place like home."

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