- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Hostile environments — we’ve all been in them.

Whether it’s facing a rival high school, walking through the tunnel at the Horseshoe in Columbus, getting dressed in the pink visiting locker rooms at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium or just Christmas at your in-laws, they make the hair stand on the back of your neck. You just hope you make it out alive.

Well, the NFL has plenty of them.

I’ve written before about how hard it is to win on the road in this league. It’s the hardest thing to do in football. Now, throw in some rabid fans, noise, huge sound systems and the occasional roof, and you’ve got a lot to deal with. Not to mention playing and trying to win the game.

I’ve seen it all and heard it all from fans over my career. Some of it has actually made me laugh. Other times, I could have sworn — no pun intended — that I was at an NC-17 movie.

Oh, yes, the crazy and obnoxious fans. They’re at every stadium. Throw on some face paint and a costume, and they’re complete. Some NFL stadiums look like Halloween every Sunday with the different get-ups and costumes. They put the finishing touches on the tougher places to play.

I will admit that I hear them. Do I listen to them? Absolutely not. But they do make for some great stories when I look back and think about them.

When I was in eighth grade, I thought it was tough to play basketball at St. Joan of Arc. It was dark, and they pressed a lot when they played at home. Man, shooting those free throws was tough.

That was before I traveled to the Meadowlands to play the Jets for the first time.

Try checking into another pass coverage with 80,000 of New York’s finest doing everything they can to distract you. A little different than eighth grade with about 25 parents in the crowd.

I’ve got a lot of stories, but I have a word limit. So here’s a condensed run-through of some of the toughest places to win in the NFL:

[Bullet] The Metrodome in Minneapolis. The team is led out of the tunnel by these huge guys dressed up as Vikings. There is a catch, though. They ride out on snowmobiles with the loudest horns you’ve ever heard, followed by fireworks. If you were talking to someone, forget about it. Put that roof over the top of it, with crowd noise I swear is pumped in over the PA system, and you’re in for a battle.

[Bullet]Lambeau Field in December. You know that if the weather — or the smell of bratwurst — doesn’t get to you, something will. I swear there are ghosts in that place. Eerie things happen on the football field in Green Bay. Something always happens in those games that make you think twice.

[Bullet]Texas Stadium when we come to town. Enough said there. They hate us, plain as that.

[Bullet]Miami during the first month of the season. I’m not a hot-weather guy. I like snowmen and hot chocolate. With the Marlins still playing games, that infield dirt transforms into concrete when a football game is played. And don’t get me started on the humidity.

[Bullet]Philly and New York. Both are tough. Division games, hostile crowds, people dressed up as birds. Division games in the NFC East are traditional and hard-fought. Throw in the crowds and noise, and you’ve got a tough place to play.

[Bullet]Any place on a Monday night. “Monday Night Football” crowds are great. It’s on national television. They say all the players get fired up for a prime-time game. Well, the fans do, too. All the costumes come out on Monday night. Don’t forget the extra time for tailgating. I would bet a couple more sodas (or whatever else they’re drinking) has something to do with it.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve reached my word count. I could go on and on with stories about all the different NFL stadiums I’ve been to, but I’m out of room. Guess you’ll just have to buy the book.

Ask Matt

Q: What’s the most memorable play of your football career at any level [-] pro, college, high school or pee-wee?

A: In fourth grade, I ran a quarterback sneak for 80 yards on a silent snap. Everyone thought I was offside and watched me run down the field for a touchdown.

Q: What would you do if an opposing player spit on you during pregame warm-ups (a la William Green and Joey Porter last Sunday)?

A: If someone spit on me during pregame, I would be sure and look that guy up on the first play of the game. I wouldn’t even play the coverage, just go right after him.

[Bullet ]Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to [email protected]

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