Although he acknowledges it was a dump, Boomer Esiason nonetheless has a soft spot for the Cleveland Browns' former Municipal Stadium, which, to the horror of sentimental purists, was demolished in 1996. "Playing in the 'Mistake By The Lake' – that big, old, crusty building, where half of the field was dirt – it was what football was meant to be," Esiason laments. "It was meant to be played in mud and dirt and lousy weather in front of 85,000 lunatics."
Esiason knows from our country's varied roster of sporting venues as much as anyone in the world, thanks to his 14-years as a QB in the NFL and his second career in broadcasting, as a football commentator for CBS and host of a morning sports shows on New York's WFAN radio. Although he knows many spots from the decidedly elite on-field perspective, at heart Esiason is a sports fan's fan who misses the days when a stadium was more about the game on the field than the artisanal pickles, craft beer, and mega widescreen TVs. "I think the perversion started in the early seventies, when they built all the cookie-cutter stadiums: Cincinnati, Kansas City, St. Louis, Pittsburgh," he says. "Then came the mausoleums, the Yankee Stadiums of the world, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, even the Meadowlands stadium now. I'm not a fan because it takes away from what I think is the real product – and that's the game." During a recent Leary Firefighter Foundation benefit in New York City, Esiason let us in on his short list for top spots to catch a touchdown, three-pointer, home run, or goal.
Madison Square Garden, New York City
It ain't called "The Greatest Arena on Earth" for nothing, but Esiason has an unexpected take on how Madison Square Garden actually hurts the Knicks and Rangers. "If you're an opposing team and you come in there to play, I always say this, the Knicks and the Rangers are actually behind the eight ball in the sense that every team comes in there like it's Game 7," Esiason says. "Whoever that key player is on the opposing team, he wants to light it up." Reggie Miller's single-handed shocker of a comeback over the Knicks in Game 1 of the 1995 semifinals is a testament to that. Then there is the unparalleled pressure that New York fans hoist onto any newcomer to step onto the hardwood or skate onto the ice. "I've told many a Ranger that has come here as a free agent, most notably Brad Richards," Esiason recalls, "I said, 'Be careful of what you wish for, because your anonymity in Tampa and Dallas probably was really good for you. You can have a week where you didn't score a goal. But let me tell you something, when you come to New York, everybody's going to expect you to score a goal every single game.' "
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