Stadium Hall of Fame

What if there were a Hall of Fame for sports venues? An interesting question. Based on history, moments, tradition, influence, championships, aesthetics and general importance to the sports played there, here are the 11 most essential arenas of sports in America. These aren't the only Hall of Fame stadiums, arenas, tracks, courses or parks, but they're my first ballot selections, the ones you can't do without, the greatest of the great.

Madison Square Garden - Willis Reed, Jordan, The Big East conference tournament, the NIT - when it was good, Snuka off the cage, WrestleMania I, X and XX, Ali-Frazier II, Messier in '94, no venue has more memories, more importance or more history than MSG. The story of college basketball, professional basketball, boxing, wrestling and hockey cannot be told without MSG; it's the king of kings.

Yankee Stadium - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, no baseball stadium has seen more great players or more great teams than Yankee Stadium. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling; Gene Tunney, Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammed Ali all fought there. The NFL Giants played there from '56-'73 which includes the famous Colts-Giants 17-17 tie NFL Championship game which was won by Johnny Unitas and the Colts in OT, the game many point to as the "Big Bang" moment in the popularity of the NFL. The center of the baseball universe for 80 years. An incredibly important landmark in America's most important city.

The Astrodome - Termed "The 8th Wonder of the World" when it was built, the Astrodome was the world's first domed stadium and a legitimate engineering masterpiece of the mid-20th Century. It's influence is profound as any baseball or football stadium with a roof traces its roots directly to Houston. What Camden Yards was to sports architecture in the '90s and '00s, the Astrodome was to sports architecture in the '60s and 70s - and maybe that should be written the other way around. The Oilers, the Astros, Houston Cougar football, WrestleMania XVII, UCLA-Houston/Hayes-Alcindor.

Camden Yards - On influence, and influence alone, Camden Yards is one of the most important stadiums ever. It inspired a generation of "retro" feel baseball stadiums. It changed stadium and arena architecture forevermore. Baseball stadiums in Cleveland, Denver, Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, Arlington, TX, Houston, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, just to name a few, were all heavily influenced by Camden Yards. The fan experience, the way baseball when it's played "looks" have all been radically changed from what it was a decade prior thanks to Camden Yards. It proved sports arenas could be cornerstones of urban renewal which to no small degree effected city planning across America for the following 20 years. Gorgeous and timeless.

Fenway Park & Wrigley Field - Baseball is a game of romance and no stadiums have more romance than these. They are time machines to the past. Both stadiums are good for 20,000 fans a night regardless of the product on the field. People, lots of them, schedule vacations around being able to watch games at these parks. They go well beyond sporting venues and are no less than national historic landmarks. What Mt. Vernon or Monticello are to American History, Fenway and Wrigley are to sports.

The Los Angeles Coliseum – The only stadium to host the Olympics, Super Bowl and World Series. 85-year home to college football power USC, two-time Summer Olympic host, host of Super Bowls I and VIII, 30 year home of the NFL’s Rams, 12 year home of the Raiders, home to UCLA football for 50 years and countless other football and soccer teams. Innumerable memories and legends from USC football.

The Rose Bowl - The crown jewel of football stadiums hosting the preeminent namesake college football game. Having been there, it's just different. The San Gabriel Mountains, the field paint, nothing else looks or feels like The Rose Bowl. Everyone watches the Rose Bowl - EVERYONE - so everyone has a vision of the stadium. Great Rose Bowl games, five Super Bowls, UCLA home games for 25 years, men's final of the 1994 World Cup and the final of the unforgettable 1999 women's world cup, easily the greatest and most important women's soccer game ever played.

Miami Orange Bowl - Has any stadium seen more great football? The Dolphins at their best, the Hurricanes at their best, 60 years of the Orange Bowl game, 5 Super Bowls - all of them good and close except Super Bowl II won by Green Bay.

Boston Garden - 70 year home of the Bruins, 50 year home of the Celtics, parquet floor, no air conditioning, awful locker rooms, rats, obstructed seating everywhere, absurdly small hockey ice surface due to design flaw, did I mention the rats? With so many flaws, it's not the building that puts it on this list, but the occupants. Nineteen NBA Finals, 16 Stanley Cups; Russell, Cousey, Havlicek, Bird, Cowens, Heinsohn, McHale, Esposito, Orr, Neely, Bourque.

Augusta National Golf Club – The singular home of golf’s premier championship for over 80 years. The azaleas, Amen Corner, Hogan Bridge, Rae’s Creek, The Eisenhower Cabin, every golfer who’s ever been anybody has played here. No golf course is more important or recognizable.

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