Lambeau Field and Cowboys Stadium: Where Future NFLers Desire to Play

By Jared Cooper

With the NFL Draft on April 28-30 fast approaching, 256 former college players will realize their lifelong dream of being an NFL draft pick. They have envisioned stepping out on to the NFL field countless times from grade school through college. But when they have those thoughts and visions, what field do they see themselves stepping out onto?

I spoke with a few dozen pro prospects at the 2011 NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February to ask them not which team they would most like to play for, but which stadium they would be most excited to play in. Granted this is a small sample size, but the answers were pretty overwhelming. The top-two most popular answers show a bridge between respect for the NFL’s history, and awe of the modernity of NFL venues. These players are between 20-22 years old in most cases, so it is striking that the most popular answer was Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Lambeau opened in 1957, making the stadium older than many of these players’ parents, and while the Packers are the Super Bowl champs, they played three road games on their way to the title, meaning there weren’t the provocative images of cold, hard playoff football in Green Bay fresh in these players’ minds.

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So what makes Lambeau, plopped in the middle of the smallest market in the NFL, so appealing?

Tennessee Volunteers tight end Luke Stocker credits Lambeau’s appeal to “all of the history that is there and Coach Lombardi and all of the trophies under him.” Stocker goes on to say “Green Bay has a tremendous amount of history in the NFL and a tremendous legacy, so getting to play in Lambeau Field would be very special.”

All-purpose All-SEC first-team selection Randall Cobb from Kentucky echoes the same sentiment as Stocker, saying, “It would be great to play at Lambeau Field. It is just a historic field and so much has gone on there. So many great players have played on the field and great coaches have been there. It would be a great opportunity to play in that stadium.”

History, as perfectly captured by NFL Films’ evocative footage, plays a large role in shaping the opinions of where these players want to play. This is something Maryland WR Torrey Smith alluded to when also naming Lambeau the place he’s always wanted to play in. For some people however, their reasons are more personal. Oregon LB Casey Matthews, brother of Packers All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews attended the Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Ravens Monday night game during Clay’s rookie year in 2009 and said it was “pretty cool to see…how the town took him in and what he is to that town.” He is also looking forward to playing at Lambeau, but when asked if he would prefer it be against or with his brother, he laughed and said, “either way.”

Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mark Ingram from Alabama wasn’t as definitive, saying, “I want to play in all of them. All 32 of them.” He then narrowed it down to two answers, which happened to include Lambeau Field and the other most popular choice. “You always hear about Lambeau Field and the Cowboys’ new stadium, so it would be fun to play there,” says Ingram.

Players who most want to play at Cowboys Stadium offered a different reason than those interested in Lambeau, most notably the huge video board and the positive reaction the stadium garnered when it opened, as well as leading up to the Super Bowl. In the case of LSU WR Terrence Toliver, he played at Cowboys Stadium during the Cotton Bowl and loved every minute of it. He wants to play there again saying, “I thought it was the best stadium ever.”

Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure has also been to Cowboys Stadium, not as a player, but as a spectator. Leshoure was at Super Bowl XLV and was impressed with the video board as he attended his first-ever NFL game. The video board and the stadium itself do hold special meaning to one player in particular, Alabama QB Greg McElroy. When asked his preference he answered, “Cowboys Stadium. Without a doubt. It is not even close. My dad (Cowboys Executive VP of Sales and Marketing, Greg McElroy, Sr.) helped build it.” McElroy is also a local kid from Southlake Carroll, not far from where Florida St. QB Christian Ponder went to high school at Colleyville Heritage. Ponder would like to play in Cowboys Stadium because “I grew up outside of Dallas, five minutes from the stadium. I haven’t been to the new stadium yet so I think it would be a great experience.”

It is not just Lambeau Field and Cowboys Stadium that future NFL players want to play in. Several of the players I spoke to mentioned stadiums that had special meaning to them because of their childhood or family fanhood. Additionally, it has become more common for neutral-site NFL games to take place at NFL stadiums, exposing some of these players to these venues prior to their NFL career.

Below are some quotes from players who mentioned stadiums other than Lambeau and Cowboys Stadium:

Penn State RB Evan Royster: I played in FedExField this year against Indiana. It is different. It is more colorful and more out there. It was cool. It is definitely going to be a little bit of a different atmosphere.

Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward: I went mostly to the Falcons and Saints (with my father, Craig “Ironhead” Heyward) as a kid. My dad would always take me to the locker room after the games and I enjoyed the process because it was time for me to bond with my dad and meet some of his friends.  I want to go to all of them. It is a great opportunity and you get to play against some great talent. Every team in the NFL has some great talent. I just don’t have any loyalties. My dad was always moving around so I never got to say “that is my team.” My grandparents loved the Pittsburgh Steelers because they live there and they would die if I went there. I don’t really have any loyalties but I think it would be a fun opportunity to get to say I played in the NFL.

Virginia Tech RB Darren Evans: I played sparingly (at FedExField against Boise State) but it was an amazing atmosphere. It was a really good game but we couldn’t come out with a win. I have heard the Chiefs stadium (Arrowhead Stadium) is pretty loud and crazy. That would be pretty cool to play there.

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson: Reliant Stadium (pictured right) hasn’t been around long, but I would love to play for the Texans. I am from Houston and it would be a great team to play for. I hope I can join a good organization that has confidence in me and wants to see me succeed. I think I can be a great addition to any team in whatever city I go to.

Cal RB Shane Vereen: This one (Lucas Oil Stadium) is pretty sweet. This one wouldn’t be bad at all.

Michigan State TE Charlie Gantt: I’d have to say Ford Field. It would be cool because my whole family is in Michigan and I’d be playing at home. That is my team; they were OK this year but it has been tough the last couple of years. But that is my team and if would be great to play in that city as an NFL player.

San Diego State WR Vincent Brown: (Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego) is an amazing stadium. Demarco Sampson and I walked out on the field yesterday and we were taking it all in. It is a big stadium with a nice field. It was a good experience.

Utah RB Matt Asiata: Definitely San Francisco. I grew up watching my dad watch the 49ers and that stuck with me.

UNC LB Quan Sturdivant: Just playing in the NFL period, it doesn’t matter which stadium. We played at the Panthers stadium (Bank of America Stadium) and the Titans stadium (LP Field). They are definitely a lot bigger than the stadiums we played in. The bowl game in Tennessee it got kind of loud in there, so it was fun.

Hawaii WR Greg Salas: Any one. I am just looking forward to it. I grew up a Raiders fan. I was a fan of the Chargers too and I have been to a couple of their games.

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