Ralph Wilson Stadium no 'rat hole'
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
|The Ralph is no Taj Mahal, but it is a serviceable football venue with fan-friendly sightlines. (Getty/AFP)
The city of Buffalo regularly has been a bullseye for national cheap shots over the years, including a stinging barb from NFL pretty boy Tom Brady at the Super Bowl in February.
“Even when I started my pro career, (my dad) traveled to Buffalo,” Brady told reporters eight months ago. “I don’t know if you guys have ever been to the hotels in Buffalo — they’re not the nicest places in the world — but he would still travel to those (games).”
Brady would later offer an apology, but the damage had already been done.
Less than a year later, the target has shifted from the area’s lodging facilities to Ralph Wilson Stadium, the 39-year-old home of the Buffalo Bills.
Slagging The Ralph recently has become commonplace, as witnessed by a piece in the well-respected Bleacher Report the other day entitled: Why a New Stadium Is Necessary to Keep the Team in Buffalo. At one point in the article, The Ralph is described as a “rat hole.”
Is it that bad?
Or have the opulent gridiron cathedrals like Cowboys Stadium raised the bar of expectations to the point where a venue that lacks sushi stands, plug-ins at your seat for your tablet and a townhouse-sized video screen, well, that’s simply no longer acceptable on the NFL landscape.
There will be no such “Monuments to Football Sundays” built in western New York. Not in the near future. Not with the region’s struggling economic climate.
And not when The Ralph is completely serviceable, especially if the team’s desire for $220 million US in renovations are met.
As owner Ralph Wilson once said, “We don’t want a Taj Mahal. We just want a nice, clean place to watch a football game.”
The dark foyers, with the omnipresent stench of stale beer, can be brightened up. Another video board or two should be on the shopping list. So should a couple of restaurants/bars. And the problem of standing fans blocking the sightlines of those in private boxes could be solved by taking out the last row of the lower bowl.
But it is far from a dump. Or a “rat hole.”
The $63-million facelift done in 1997 gave the joint a fresher feel, while the game-day tailgating experience in the massive parking lots is one the league’s best.
The sightlines are second to none. From the top of the upper deck, you are far closer to the action than in places like Houston’s Reliant Stadium, where fans in the top rows probably could use gas masks to combat the thin air at that lofty altitude.
Access to The Ralph isn’t the best. Three-hour traffic snarls are not uncommon. But it is no where near as miserable as trying to get to New England’s Gillette Stadium, which is reachable — at least by car — via just one main road.
You want “rat holes?”
Try the Coliseum in Oakland, otherwise known as The Black Hole.
The “Mausoleum” is one of the most intimidating venues in the league because of the incredible, leather-lunged fan base that sit in the seats, not the stadium where the seats are located. From the weird east-end grandstand known as “Mount Davis” to the opposite-end circular stands that run away from the field, this place is as outdated as they come.
Candlestick Park in San Francisco (or whatever corporate name it has now) is a crumbling venue that is decades past its expiry date. The 49ers are moving to a sparkling new stadium in Santa Clara, which is a whopping 75 km from Candlestick. In other words, the San Francisco 49ers won’t be playing anywhere near San Francisco.
Stadiums in San Diego and Jacksonville have issues as well, resulting in those franchises being rumour-mill fodder for possible shifts to Los Angeles. Last week L.A. city council unanimously approved plans for a $1.5-billion football stadium in downtown.
It’s unofficially called Venue Blackmail. Keep up with the Jerry Jones’ or you might lose your team. Bills fans are well aware of those tactics.
Think about that $1.5-billion price tag in L.A. Incredible.
You’ll probably be able to eat quiche there.
But the Ralph will still have better sightlines.