NFL stadiums will also be full again this fall, and with it, the return of football travel. What better way to spend a fall weekend than meeting up with your buddies or taking your family to a new city and stadium to cheer on your favorite team?
I have been lucky enough to cover more than 200 NFL games in 13 years as a writer, in 29 NFL cities, plus Mexico City. (I have yet to attend a game in Los Angeles, Seattle, or Las Vegas. Seattle and LA were supposed to happen last year, but the pandemic got in the way.)
Here is how I rank the NFL’s 30 football cities based on the fan experience. My rankings factor in tourist attractions, weather, stadium atmosphere, ticket availability, and accessibility to the stadium:
1. New Orleans: It is really hard to have a bad time in New Orleans. Incredible food, incredible culture and nightlife, and most everything is walkable, including the stadium. On game day, the atmosphere inside the Superdome is always loud and supercharged.
2. Green Bay: Lambeau Field is the NFL’s destination stadium and every fan needs to go once. It’s got a great mom and pop feel — you tailgate in neighbors’ yards and sit on metal bleachers in a seating bowl. There’s not a ton to do tourist-wise, but game days around the stadium can be electric.
3. Miami: One of the few trips where you can bring your swim trunks and golf clubs any time of year. You can stay in the bustle of South Beach or a quiet spot in the Keys or Palm Beach County. Plus, tickets are easy to come by, the parking lots are great for tailgating, and the new canopy that protects fans from sun and rain is a game-changer.
4. Las Vegas: I have never been to a football game in Las Vegas, but I have visited the city enough to know that it is automatically a top-five NFL destination. A great stat, via TickPick: Of the top-10 most expensive tickets for the 2021 season, one game is Buccaneers-Patriots, one is Cowboys-Patriots, and the other eight are Raiders home games.
5. Buffalo: It’s the perfect football weekend with your buddies. You stuff your face with chicken wings and watch college football on Saturday night. If you have time to kill, Niagara Falls is only 45 minutes away. And Bills games are a blast. The tailgating scene is legendary, and, although the 48-year-old stadium lacks in amenities, there is barely a bad seat in the house.
6. Tennessee: Another trip where you can have a ton of fun without getting in a car all weekend. You can eat hot chicken and visit country music landmarks in downtown Nashville. You can get in all kinds of trouble on a Saturday night on Broadway. And you can walk across the river to Nissan Stadium, which has great views of the skyline from the upper deck.
7. Seattle: Although I have never been to a Seahawks game, the reviews are nothing but glowing. The city is beautiful, the mountains are breathtaking, it’s the hometown of Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, and the Seahawks have the loudest home games in the NFL.
8. Denver: A city that loves its Broncos and has a great food and beer scene. If you get to town early, some of the best skiing in the world is only a couple of hours away. Broncos games are always packed and energetic, and the stadium is a short Uber ride from downtown.
9. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh rocks, especially if you don’t have to rent a car. The 20-minute walk from downtown across the bridge to Heinz Field is a great way to start the day. The stadium itself is fantastic, offering beautiful views of the skyline. And Steelers fans always bring the energy.
10. Chicago: Who doesn’t love a trip to downtown Chicago? Walk the Magnificent Mile, eat a steak, and take a nice walk over to Soldier Field, one of the NFL’s classic venues.
11. Kansas City: A similar vibe to Buffalo, but replace wings with burnt ends. Arrowhead Stadium traffic is a nightmare, but the tailgating is the best in the NFL. And you get to scream your face off at one of the NFL’s loudest and oldest stadiums.
12. Indianapolis: Has a great little downtown scene of restaurants and bars, plenty of hotels, and a stadium that is a 10-minute walk from everything.
13. Los Angeles: Have yet to attend a game in LA, but it’s LA. The traffic stinks, but come for the beaches, the mountains, the sightseeing, the glamour, and while you’re at it, catch a football game. Chargers tickets should be pretty easy to find.
14. Arizona: September trips to the desert aren’t so fun, and the Cardinals’ stadium is in the middle of nowhere. But it has warm weather, golf, great nightlife, and you might be able to sneak in a trip to the Grand Canyon.
15. San Francisco: A weekend in the Bay Area is always fun, but you have to deal with A) the prices, and B) an hour-plus drive down to Santa Clara for the game. I liked the vibe better at Candlestick Park.
16. Cleveland: The weather can be miserable, but early-season visits are great. Downtown Cleveland is fun for a 48-hour trip — check out the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, catch an Indians game, eat a nice dinner, and see the Browns on Sunday.
17. Tampa: Everything is spread out, it’s a lot of strip malls and chain stores, and traffic in and out of the stadium can be a pain. But, it’s Florida. The Gulf is beautiful, Bern’s cooks a mean steak, and Buccaneers tickets aren’t too hard to come by.
18. Jacksonville: Not much to downtown, but the beaches are nice and lots of good golf in the area. The Jaguars also aren’t the toughest ticket.
19. New York: You can always find something new and fun to do in New York City. And taking the train to the Meadowlands from Penn Station is surprisingly easy. But driving to MetLife Stadium is a nightmare and the stadium itself is pretty blah.
20. New England: Pretty much the same. A weekend in Boston is always a good time, but Gillette Stadium is too far from the city, traffic is awful, and there aren’t enough parking lots for tailgating.
21. Washington: Also basically the same. There’s a ton of sights to see, but FedEx Field is in a nondescript part of the Maryland suburbs, the traffic is terrible, and the stadium has no soul.
22. Minnesota: Not the most glamorous NFL city, but the Vikings have a sparkling new downtown stadium that allows for a relatively hassle-free weekend for visitors.
23. Dallas: You can eat good BBQ, check out the JFK Sixth Floor Museum, and go country line dancing. AT&T Stadium is also a sight to behold. But nothing is walkable, stadium traffic stinks, and you put a ton of miles on your rental car.
24. Carolina. Not too many tourist draws to Charlotte, but it’s another city where you can stay downtown, have a nice dinner on Saturday night, and walk 10 minutes to the stadium on Sunday.
25. Baltimore: Every visit to Baltimore is the same: Walk around the Inner Harbor, eat crabcakes, and walk to the Ravens game. It’s fun the first couple of times, but it gets old.
26. Philadelphia: Nothing wrong with eating a good cheesesteak, running the “Rocky” steps, and getting into it with rowdy Eagles fans. But the stadium isn’t really walkable, traffic in and out is tough, and Philly just doesn’t stack up as a tourist destination.
27. Atlanta: The new dome is beautiful, and you can stay the weekend without renting a car. But downtown Atlanta doesn’t have too much going on and Falcons games don’t have any atmosphere.
28. Houston: It has great BBQ and Mexican food, and you can’t go wrong with the Texas-shaped lazy river at the Marriott Marquis. But Houston is too spread out and smoggy, doesn’t have great tourist sights, and the Texans’ stadium is a soulless behemoth.
29. Detroit: It’s fine for a weekend. The stadium is nice and clean and downtown, and you can definitely find some fun, but no one circles the Lions game for their big weekend trip.
30. Cincinnati: The ribs at Montgomery Inn are great. And you can stay across the river in Covington to cross Kentucky off your list of states visited. But there’s not much going on in downtown Cincinnati, the stadium has no tailgating space, and Bengals games are rarely exciting.
ON THE CLOCK
Brady’s 40 time unmatched
Tom Brady, who turns 44 next month, keeps talking about his age and retiring from the NFL. On his recent appearance on HBO’s “The Shop,” Brady acknowledged, “It’s coming to the end.” And in an interview a couple of weeks before The Match golf event, Brady mentioned that he is the oldest player in the NFL and joked that he is older than most of the league’s stadiums, “except Lambeau.”
Turns out, Brady isn’t just the oldest player in the NFL in 2021 — he’s the only one over 40. Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach will turn 40 in August and Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth will do so in December. But Brady, entering his 22nd season, is the oldest NFL player by four years.
After examining all 32 rosters, here is a deeper look into the NFL’s oldest active players, and the number of players age 30 and older (as of July 8):
▪ Rounding out the top 10 oldest players are Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (39), Cardinals P Andy Lee (38), Ravens P Sam Koch (38), Washington QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (38), 49ers K Robbie Gould (38), Raiders G Richie Incognito (38), and Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (37).
▪The NFL has 30 players age 35 and older. It breaks down to: eight quarterbacks, five punters, five long snappers, five offensive linemen, three kickers, two tight ends, one defensive tackle, and one special teams player (Matthew Slater).
▪ Buccaneers defensive tackle Steve McClendon (35) is the only defensive player in the league age 35 or older.
▪ Ten teams don’t have any players 35 or older. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes (31) is the oldest player on the Colts. Jason McCourty (33) is the oldest Dolphin, and Tim Tebow (33) is the oldest Jaguar.
▪ The NFL has been getting younger and cheaper in the past decade, and players over 30 continue to be endangered. Of the 2,880 active players, only 274 (9.5 percent) are age 30 or older.
▪ The teams with the most players in their 30s are the Cardinals (16), Buccaneers (15), Patriots (14), Ravens (14), Bears (14), and 49ers (13). League average is 8.6.
▪ The teams with the fewest players in their 30s: Dolphins (3), Panthers (4), Packers (4), Jets (5), Bengals (5), Colts (5), and Rams (5).
▪ The team I can’t quite figure out is the Texans and new GM Nick Caserio. They are pretty much starting over and looking at a long-term rebuild. But the Texans have 11 players age 30 or older, eight of whom they added this offseason: Andre Roberts, Marcus Cannon, Tyrod Taylor, Lane Taylor, Mark Ingram, Rex Burkhead, Joe Thomas, and Justin Britt. It’s hard to see what Caserio’s big plan is here.
Boost awaits vaccinated players
Getting the vaccine isn’t mandatory for players, but an NFL league source said Friday that more than 69 percent of all players have received at least one vaccine shot. Players that are fully vaccinated — two weeks after their last shot — don’t have to get tested daily, wear a mask, follow tight restrictions on travel, and will still get paid game salary and roster bonus if they contract COVID-19.
Six teams have crossed the 85 percent threshold to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in the team facility. Expect many more teams to get there soon, with training camp now just two weeks away.
While players are not required to get the vaccine, coaches and football staff are. The source said “virtually” all coaches have been vaccinated, but there are a few stragglers, whether it’s due to a medical reason, religious reason, or a personal choice. But any coach or staffer who isn’t fully vaccinated won’t be allowed to coach on the field or have face-to-face interactions with the players.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan really wants us to know that he doesn’t have much faith in Jimmy Garoppolo. Shanahan laid his cards on the table this spring when the 49ers traded up for the No. 3 pick and drafted Trey Lance. Then this past week on The Ringer’s “Flying Coach” podcast, Shanahan revealed that he was “frustrated” when the Rams were able to outmaneuver the 49ers to land Matthew Stafford in February. It’s a good detail, but what purpose does sharing this story serve other than further embarrassing Garoppolo? The Niners decided to stick with Garoppolo as their starter for this year, but Shanahan isn’t exactly providing him with much support or confidence . . . Interesting quote from Colts GM Chris Ballard this past week, who said, “We’re just not the biggest fans of right out the gate free agency where you’re paying B players A-plus money.” He may as well have been speaking directly to the Patriots, who spent top dollar for players who are more potential than production (Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne) . . . Jessica Pegula, the 27-year-old daughter of the Bills’ owners, was selected for the US women’s tennis team at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Pegula, ranked No. 25 in the world, will play singles and doubles . . . The deadline for franchise-tagged players to receive a long-term contract is this Thursday; otherwise they have to play the 2021 season under their one-year tag. Dak Prescott, Justin Simmons, and Leonard Williams already got deals in March, leaving seven players still negotiating . . . No players opted out of the 2021 season because of COVID-19. The deadline was July 2 . . . Cam Newton’s 18-and-under football team, C1N Gold, won the Pylon 7on7 national championships this past week, going 7-0 with Newton on hand for encouragement. The championship game was held inside AT&T Stadium . . . The Navy finally made right by Buccaneers undrafted rookie defensive back Cameron Kinley, deciding this past week to delay Kinley’s active service so he can try to make the Buccaneers’ roster. Kinley told the Tampa Bay Times that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called him personally with the news. “He said this was the correct decision and that he’s just looking forward to me taking advantage of it,” Kinley said.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.