The modern American tourist

Posted: October 11, 2011 by terryvandrovec in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Forget what you've heard about Pittsburgh - the background at Heinz Field is gorgeous.

Toured an NFL stadium over the weekend – Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t my first, but it might as well have been in the sense that they’re all sort of the same.

You get to go on the field and in the suites. You’re given some history, the back story of the franchise. There’s cool architecture and at least a couple of wrinkles, details that make this venue and this franchise slightly different than the others, to prevent the NFL from becoming The GAP. In this case, for example, the tour guide told the story of how the Steelers logo came to be (a company in Cleveland talked the franchise into adding on one side of their helmets a mark that represents the three elements of steel – coal, iron ore and steel scrap). Like Johnny Carson, I … did not know that. But, having been on tours of Lambeau Field and Cleveland Browns Stadium, I knew some new knowledge was coming.

Predictable or not, it was still fascinating – the backdrop of the Three Rivers area impressed me the most – and the 90 minutes went by in a hurry.

Steelers players have long touched this plaque on their way to the field.

But a funny thing happened at the start of the tour. A heavy-set dude in his early 40s, shopping bags and small son in tow, got to the gate the same my group did. We had a pre-arranged tour – he did not, and did his best to talk a security guard into getting a look inside. Actually, he went beyond asking almost to the point of begging. It was awkward and sincere. I didn’t catch all of the particulars, but in my mind he was a lifelong fan who was only in town for one day and wanted nothing more than let his young son (lil’ Tony?) catch a glimpse of Troy Polamalu’s workplace. (I could have used Ben Roethlisberger as the example, but that might have been interpreted differently.)

In the end, I don’t think he got in and was perhaps forced to take Junior to the Carnegie Science Center that’s just outside the stadium. Lame. (Not really.)

The point is this: NFL stadiums have become arguably the most iconic – if not important – buildings in modern America.

Think about it. On game day, they’re center stage in every major city – and most minor cities, too, thanks to the magic of television. On off days, visitors from thousands of miles away arrange tours. In this case, Heinz Field was the only place we had to stop in our short time in Pittsburgh, the must-see landmark.

More tangibly, NFL stadiums are also vital economic centers, pushing through gigantic amounts of money both inside and outside their walls on Sundays and beyond. Heinz Field is shared by the Pitt Panthers in addition to hosting events ranging from major concerts to wedding receptions.

Pittsburgh displays its Super Bowl trophies in the stadium concourses.

What to make of this …

For starters, it’s not a new phenomenon. An NFL stadium isn’t all that different than the Colosseumin Rome except there are 32 of them spread throughout the country. People have long relished the idea of fierce competition, excitement and crowds.Of course, things didn’t end well in ancient Rome and some (ahem, the Tea Party and the Mayans) might say that the parallels between that society and our are no accident.

I’m not ready to go there – seems like a bit of a leap. But I will go on an football stadium tour the next time I’m given the opportunity. Why? Because I like history, I like architecture, I like sports, I like business and I like travel and walking around an empty NFL stadium offers something in all of those areas.

Three Rivers Stadium has been torn down, but the rivers still run near the home of the Steelers next to downtown Pittsburgh.

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