By Shawn Krest
For diversity, quality and history, there are few better places to watch sports than North Carolina. Since the start of 2015, only two states have hosted a college bowl game, NFL conference championship or Super Bowl, golf major, UFC fight card, NASCAR race and NCAA tournament games—Georgia is the other, and if you throw in “NHL game,” they drop out.
The teams playing in this state have been pretty darn good, too. Since 2015, only two states have had a Super Bowl team and Final Four team—Pennsylvania is the other.
Since you can see every major sport, played at its highest level, within our borders, we’ve decided to take on the task of looking at where you can go to watch them. Here is SportsChannel 8’s first annual Top 25 Sports Venues in North Carolina.
In addition to a wide variety of sports teams, we also have many different groups of easily-offended sports fans. So, to try to head off some of the venom we fully expect to be sent our way, here are the criteria we used to evaluate a venue:
- Atmosphere—Is going there an experience not to be missed? This includes the noise level, fan enthusiasm, general gameday experience and more. There’s also an intangible component. Basically, is seeing an event here (or participating in one for an athlete) a bucket-list item, or is just another stop on the schedule?
- Aesthetics—Can the place take your breath away, even if it’s empty? This encompasses architecture, sight lines, views (for outdoor venues) and more. Is it unique or a cookie cutter place?
- History—Are there ghosts of great moments past? The loudest, prettiest place still needs a few spots you can point to and tell a kid, “Right there. That’s where it happened.”
- Relevance and Quality of play—Tanglewood Golf Club hosted the 1974 PGA Championship and was a Champions Tour stop until 2002. Now anyone can play a round there for $45. Similarly, Rockingham used to be one of NASCAR’s best-known stops. Now it’s primarily used for equipment testing. The venue needs to still be relevant and the athletes competing there among the nation’s best.
Competition was tough, and there were deserving arenas, stadiums, complexes and fields all over the state that didn’t make the cut. Here are the most obvious snubs from our list and a brief explanation tha likely won’t be nearly enough for the people who are outraged.
The Snubs: The reasons for not including Tanglewood Club, Rockingham, the USA Baseball National Team Complex in Cary, Carmichael Auditorium, the DAP, Doak Field and Clark-LeClair are discussed either above or in the descriptions of venues that made the list ahead of them. The closest near miss was perhaps the most North Carolina stadium ever: Bowman Gray in downtown Winston-Salem, which has a football field (used by Winston-Salem State) encircled by a track … that is used for short-track auto racing. In both cases, it was simply a numbers game, and it was hard to find a venue to drop in order to include them … other than Wallace Wade Stadium.
Then there are the venues that are very sport-specific, for a lower-profile sport, hurting their chances of cracking a list that is, admittedly, biased in favor of the “big four” team sports in this country. The list includes the Wake Forest Tennis Center, Tryon Equestrian Center and Big Rock (technically contested in the Atlantic Ocean).
No high school facilities made our list, although we like Cherokee High, Durham County Stadium, A. L. Brown’s Kannapolis Memorial Stadium, Shelby High’s George Blanton Memorial Stadium and Terry Sanford Stadium in Fayetteville. Broughton’s Holiday Gymnasium in Raleigh was considered; as a long-time host of the Holiday Tournament (now the John Wall Holiday Tournament), its court has likely been played on by more future NBA players than any high school gym in the state. We also gave serious consideration to the gym at Laney High in Wilmington, but the place where Michael Jordan played was replaced a few years ago.
North Carolina is home to a dozen teams in baseball’s organized minor leagues. Only Florida and Arizona have more, and most of those are Rookie Ball level. While there were some minor league ballparks on our list, there were also several who probably deserved a spot, including Asheville’s McCormick Field and Kinston’s Grainger Stadium.
Here, then, is our state’s top 25:
Honorable Mention: Elon’s Schar Center, Elon
North Carolina’s newest arena is impressive enough to earn a mention just two months after opening. Clearly, the state-of-the-art facility is short on history, although landing UNC as the visiting opponent to open the building on ESPN makes Schar among the more relevant of the state’s many mid-major basketball home floors. The building is a quirky marvel, with an open lobby that eliminates the old concept of the seating bowl. There’s also a cool glass wall that allows fans in the arena to look down into the team’s practice gym. It remains to be seen if the excitement of the new home holds up in the long term, but for now, the building scores high on atmosphere.
Greatest moment: Nov. 9, 2018. Steven Santa Ana, best-known for being tripped by Grayson Allen, hits a three pointer, and Tyler Seibring follows with a J to give the Phoenix an 8-4 lead over the Tar Heels. UNC then went on a 112-59 run to close out the game.
25. NC Central’s McDougald-McClendon Arena, Durham
The 68-year-old facility is an old-school gymnasium, with fans practically on top of the players, making the building seem much more packed than its 3,500-person capacity. The building is also an important landmark in area sports and civil rights history. One of its namesakes, former coach John McClendon, helped put together the “Secret Game” between all-black Central and all-white Duke–the first integrated game in college basketball history, six years before the building was opened. More recently, McDougald-McClendon was the host to the NC Pro Am, one of the best summer leagues in the nation, until local colleges started keeping their players from participating.
Greatest Moment: Feb. 13, 1989. The Eagles squeeze past Shaw, 59-56 to complete the home portion of their schedule. Two more road wins closed the regular season, and then Central swept through the Division II tournament to blow out Southeast Missouri State 73-46 for the national championship in the most lopsided national championship game ever.
24. WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary
- Like the nearby USA Baseball National Training Complex, WakeMed Soccer Park consists of a main stadium field, surrounded by a sprawling array of other regulation fields, making it an ideal site to hold large tournaments and other events. Unlike the baseball facility, the Soccer Park is home to two professional teams—The USL’s North Carolina FC men’s team and the Carolina Courage, who just won the National Women’s Soccer League title. In addition, WakeMed is a regular host of major college soccer tournaments. It’s hosted the ACC men’s or women’s tourneys a total of 22 times. It has also hosted eight NCAA Women’s College Cups and four Men’s College Cups (as well as being scheduled to host two of the next three. It’s also served as temporary home for some of the state’s biggest collegiate programs, most recently, UNC Women’s Soccer, while their on-campus home field underwent renovations and has hosted national team exhibitions. There’s also a world-class cross country track running through the facility that has hosted the ACC Championship as recently as last year.
Greatest Moment: Dec. 16, 2007. After trailing Ohio State for 53 minutes in the NCAA Men’s Soccer title game, Wake Forest tied the game with under 14 minutes to play on a Marcus Tracy goal. Less than eight minutes later, Tracy sent a cross to Cary High grad Zach Schilawski, who scored the game winner, giving the Demon Deacons their first-ever soccer title.
23. Duke’s Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
- Okay, so it turns 90 years old next year, attendance is frequently sparse and cruel reviewers often compare it to a high school stadium. It has undergone renovations to improve the game day experience in recent years, however, and its stunning views of Duke’s campus and Duke Woods, as well as the play of the Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe make Duke’s attendance struggles harder to explain each season. Wade earns bonus points for history as the only stadium other than the Rose Bowl to host the Rose Bowl.
Greatest Moment: Nov. 19, 1938. It was known as Duke Stadium at the time, because Wallace Wade was still coaching the Blue Devils. More than 45,000 fans braved the snow to watch No. 3 Duke play No. 4 Pitt in the regular season finale. After three scoreless quarters, Duke blocked a punt for the only score of the day in a 7-0 victory that wrapped up one of only three undefeated, untied, unscored upon regular seasons in college football history.
22. UNC’s Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill
- Much like basketball, the state is chock full of quality college baseball programs, including many who play in picturesque stadiums. NC State’s Doak Field at Dail Park and East Carolina’s Clark-LeClair Stadium. The Tar Heels have more College World Series visits, however, and the Bosh, like the other two venues, is one of the country’s nicest on-campus diamonds. It was ranked No. 6 in Baseball America’s top college ballparks and offers a gorgeous view of the high-rise dorms and ample greenery of UNC’s South Campus. Built in 1972, the stadium was extensively revamped in the late 2000s to upgrade and update the facilities. Plus, it features a courtyard paid for and named after longtime Yankees’ boss George Steinbrenner, the perfect jarring sight for a Southern university to keep those Tar Heels from getting too full of themselves.
Greatest Moment: June 2, 2007. The Tar Heels were looking for a return trip to the College World Series, and East Carolina, who hadn’t won in Chapel Hill in 13 years, stood in their way. The Pirates scored seven runs in the first five innings and took a 10-8 lead into the ninth. The Heels tied the score on two walks, a wild pitch and an RBI single. Freshman Dustin Ackley then hit a game winning RBI single up the middle, setting off a wild on-field celebration that saw winning pitcher Rob Wooten lose a tooth in teammate Reid Fronk’s head. Fronk needed five stitches.
21. NC A&T’s Aggie Stadium, Greensboro
- The scoreboard and Aggievision video monitor is the first thing fans will notice. School mascot Aggie Dawg grips the board in his paws and peeks over the top, keeping an eye on the field and the rest of campus. While many college football stadiums have undergone renovations to get rid of the tracks encircling the field, Aggie Stadium embraces both sports, with several high-profile track and field events being hosted in the home of the 2017 HBCU football national champions. Rabid fans and a spectacular band add to the gameday experience. The stadium isn’t just a nice HBCU or FCS facility, it ranked 40th among all college football stadiums in a Stadium Journey 2014 poll.
Greatest moment: Nov. 18, 2017. The Aggies cap an undefeated season, snap a three-year losing streak to Central with a 24-10 win in the Aggie-Eagle Classic to earn a bid to the Celebration Bowl where they will play for and win the HBCU national title a month later.
20. Wake Forest’s Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem
- Sure, Demon Deacon basketball has fallen on hard times, and the promotions and atmosphere often seem like mid-1990s NBA lottery team, but this is still the floor where Rodney Rogers, Randolph Childress, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan played. Plus, when the Deacon comes out onto the floor on the motorcycle, that’s still pretty cool. Joel has hosted four NCAA tourney opening weekend, including the start of UNC’s run to the 1993 national title. The arena has also been home to the CIAA and MEAC tournaments, Davis Cup tennis and WCW Fall Brawl. This was the building where Karl Hess ended his career by yelling a slur to a courtside trustee, and it’s the place where an enraged Bob Knight walked back to the team hotel after Indiana lost in the 1997 NCAA first round.
Greatest moment: March 15,1997. Joel has been home to several great Wake teams, but the Deacs weren’t in the building on this day. UNC beat Colorado, 73-56 for Dean Smith’s 877th career win, moving him past Adolph Rupp into first place on the all-time list. A who’s-who of UNC basketball greats were on hand to witness the moment, leading to one of the most memorable postgame moments in ACC history.
19. The Carolina Mudcats’ Five County Stadium, Zebulon
- The Mudcats were born as a Double-A franchise and, through a complicated team and franchise swap that is fairly common in the minors, ended up in the Single-A Carolina League. As a result, in a league where the home parks are frequently bleachers and fields, the Muddies have the equivalent of a Class A palace, with a two-tiered seating bowl and a fine-dining restaurant with field views—Cattails. Mudcat Tower, a water tower bearing baseball stitching and the team logo—is located just beyond the left field wall and is a quirky touch for the ballpark, as is the team’s high-energy P.A. announcer. Bonus points for Michael Jordan playing minor league games here with the visiting Birmingham Barons–the Mudcats even got a cameo in Space Jam.
Greatest moment: Sept. 14, 2003. With Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom started the season with the Mudcats, listening to updates phoned in to the Marlins clubhouse, Carolina won its second Southern League title with a dramatic 4-1 win over the Huntsville Stars in the fifth game of a best-of-five series. In addition to Willis and Cabrera, who were called up and helped lead the Marlins to the World Series title in October, the Mudcats featured Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Aaron Small, former Tar Heel Ryan Snare and 14 other players who would play in the Majors. Manager Tracy Woodson, a former Wolfpack star, added even more big league pedigree to the clubhouse.
18. The Hornets’ Spectrum Center, Charlotte
- It’s tough to get a feel for this arena. It’s been around almost as long as the original home of the (original) Hornets, the Charlotte Coliseum, but has far less history than the old building. Part of that is poor on-court performance leading to fan apathy, especially compared to a building that sold out more than 300 straight games. Since opening in the 2005-06 season, the Spectrum Center has hosted a grand total of eight NBA playoff games, or a little more than a third the number of NCAA tournament games that have been played there. Even the most noticeably unique part of the arena—the scoreboard—produces mixed feelings. It has a honeycomb pattern, in honor of the hometown Hornets, except its honeybees that build honeycombs and produce honey. To truly honor its insect namesake, the scoreboard would have to be encased in a goopy gray blob. Still, it’s NBA basketball, and the arena itself is comfortable with good sight lines all around. It just needs a successful team and large engaged fanbase to match.
Greatest Moment: March 16, 2018—Princeton couldn’t do it against Georgetown. East Tennessee State fell short against Oklahoma. Murray State couldn’t hold on against Michigan State. In fact, the first 138 times a 16-seed played a 1-seed in March Madness, they had yet to post a win. But University of Maryland, Baltimore County, matched up with Virginia’s suffocating Pack Line defense? U Must Be Cinderella. The Retrievers did the impossible and beat the Cavs going away, running up the score to produce a 74-54 shocker.
17. The Checkers’ Bojangles Coliseum, Charlotte
Better known to longtime North Carolinians as “the old Charlotte Coliseum,” Bojangles is home to the AHL Charlotte Checkers. The building hosted the longest game in AHL history in May, a six-hour marathon between Lehigh Valley and Charlotte that went into the fifth overtime. The building is dripping in history—it’s hosted the NCAA tournament 13 times. Only five buildings have hosted it more (Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium: 20, Madison Square Garden: 24, Philadlphia’s Palestra: 17, Salt Lake City’s Huntsman Center: 15 and University of Dayton Arena: 16). It also was one of several homes for the legendary Carolina Cougars of the ABA, which featured Larry Brown and Billy Cunningham, among others. It was an architectural breakthrough when it first opened in 1955 and has held up well, offering a comfortable spot to watch hockey, concerts or wrestling.
Greatest Moment: March 12, 1978—The arena’s eighth NCAA hosting experience was capped by one of the most exciting days in tournament history. In the opening game, the top seeded at large team in the East region, Indiana, came dangerously close to losing to Furman, blowing a 13-point lead late and holding on to win 63-62 in a game where coach Bob Knight griped that the better team didn’t win. In the nightcap, ACC champion Duke, the top-seeded automatic qualifier in the East, needed two free throws from Mike Gminski with 17 seconds left to beat Rhode Island by the same 63-62 score. Duke would go on to the Final Four that season, its last without Mike Krzyzewski as coach.
16. Wake Forest’s BB&T Field, Winston-Salem
- It’s heartbreaking to put this stadium so low on the list, because, pound-for-pound, it’s the prettiest place to watch a game in the state. It’s small for a Division I college football stadium, let alone a Power Five team’s home. But from the architecture to the technology to the views from the seats, pressbox and field, it’s an absolute gem. The Demon Deacon’s sports information staff used to give out maps of the view from the pressbox, so guests could identify what they saw from their seat, from the old R.J. Reynolds warehouses to Pilot Mountain. The stadium itself is more than 50 years old, but it essentially got rebuilt in 2006, including the impressive seven-story Deacon Tower. On the downside, the fact that a statue of their mascot stands at the entrance, instead of legendary Wake players emphasizes the lack of history for the original ACC program, which has led to sparse crowds in recent years.
Greatest Moment: Nov. 4, 2006—The Deacs continued their magical run to just the second ACC title in school history with a 21-14 win over Boston College. For the second straight week, the Wake defense preserved a seven-point lead with an interception in the end zone. Patrick Ghee had the game-saving pick against B.C., a week after Jon Abbate sealed a road win over UNC. Wake went on to win the ACC title game and Orange Bowl.
15. UNC’s Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
- Another nice place to watch a game that has been somewhat soured by the on-field play in recent years. Nestled in the woods on UNC’s campus, the stadium offers a picturesque view of the University’s Bell Tower. Kenan’s claims to fame lately, however, have been sparse crowds and acres of empty seats, a hasty name adjustment to avoid association with a major donor’s racist past and a struggle to keep the field playable through several major resoddings resulting from on-campus construction forcing the team to practice on the field. Still, the school’s recent coaching change could bring crowds and magic back to the old stadium in the relatively near future. Or, the giant could continue to sleep.
Greatest Moment: Sept. 25, 1948—More than half a century before Texas lured away Mack Brown with its superior football pedigree, the Longhorns made the trip east for UNC’s season opener. With 44,000 fans packing Kenan, some of whom paid scalpers $100 for student tickets, Choo Choo Charlie Justice scored two touchdowns and threw for two more. The Tar Heels jumped on top 21-0 in the first quarter and cruised to a 34-7 victory.
14. Knights’ BB&T Ballpark, Charlotte
The Knights five-year-old home gives the International League (Triple-A minor league baseball) team the undisputed most-improved venue award. Their previous park—Knights Stadium—was not only far outside the city limits, it wasn’t even located in the state. BB&T is right in the heart of the city, built on the site of old parking lots for the Carolina Panthers. Its location gives fans a Major League quality view of the Charlotte skyline and has vaulted the stadium into the top echelon of the league. In its first three years of existence, the stadium was chosen to host both the Triple-A All-Star Game and the Triple-A National Championship. Baseball America named the stadium the top minor league park in the nation, and Charlotte was the top-drawing team in the minors last year.
Greatest Moment: May 25, 2017—The Knights have yet to make the playoffs in their five years in the ballpark, but the team hit a high point in the first game of a double-header against Syracuse. Pitcher Lucas Giolito went the distance and struck out three and retired 13 of the first 14 batters he faced in pitching the first no-hitter in the history of the ballpark. Giolito, who spent all of last season with the MLB Chicago White Sox, threw the team’s first no hitter since 2013 and fourth in franchise history. Future White Sox Adam Engel ad Nicky Delmonico both homered in the game.
13. East Carolina’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville
- In an era where teams play copycat with gameday traditions, ECU has managed to find unique spins on two of them. The team entrance, through purple smoke, while Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze plays on the stadium P.A. is must-see excitement, and the red “No Quarter” flag raised prior to the fourth quarter (on the flagpole and in the student section) is also bad ass. The fact that the building is packed with 50,000 loud fans for big games adds to the atmosphere, and the views from the seats are also strong. There’s a reason in-state ACC teams dread having to travel to Greenville, and the Rowdy Dowdy is a big part of it.
Greatest Moment: Oct. 26, 1991—The Pirates were having a good season—running off five straight wins after a close loss to Illinois in the opener. The win over No. 23 Pittsburgh helped take things from good to great. It almost didn’t happen. A game-changing interception and 41 yard return by the Pirates was waved off due to an offsides penalty. That allowed Pitt to score and take a four-point lead. The Panthers added a field goal with 3:22 remaining to go up by seven. Quarterback Jeff Blake led an 80-yard drive and scored a touchdown with an option run to the left with 46 seconds left. Then, instead of kicking for a tie in a pre-overtime era, Blake ran an option to the right to score a two-point conversion and give ECU its first 6-1 record in 15 years and pave the way for a dramatic Peach Bowl win over NC State.
12. Quail Hollow Golf Club, Charlotte
Best known for hosting the 2017 PGA Championship, Quail Hollow has hosted a PGA or Champions Tour event in 34 of its 59 years of existence. Since 2003, it’s been home to the Wells Fargo Championship, a tournament that’s been won by some of the top players on the tour, including Tiger Woods, Vijah Singh, Jim Furyk and Rory McIlroy. The PGA seemed impressed by the course’s first time hosting a major, two years ago and indicated that they’d be returned sooner, rather than later. Quail Hollow is scheduled to host the Presidents Cup in two years. The course is best known for 17, a par three located dangerously close to a pond, with the green jutting out over the water. It’s the centerpiece of a tough final three holes that have been known as “The Green Mile”.
Greatest Moment: May 16, 2010: Two days before he turned 21, Rory McIlroy shot a course-record 62 in the final round of the Wells Fargo to win his first career tournament and become the youngest winner on the PGA tour in 14 years, dating back to a young Tiger Woods. He battled a back injury in his opening round and came close to missing the cut before finding his groove over the weekend, setting up his 62 with a 66 on Saturday. McIlroy would shave a stroke off his course record five years later when he again won the Wells Fargo, becoming the first two-time winner.
11. Appalachian State’s Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone
One of the top 10 college football stadiums for natural beauty, The Rock gives fans a good look at the mountains of Western North Carolina, including Howard’s Knob. The stadium has also been the site of historical milestones, including the first college game in the state to be played on artificial turf (vs. Elon, in 1970) and the second college game ever televised on ESPN (vs. Western Carolina, in 1979). The stadium is named after a North Carolina icon. In addition to coaching App to 30 wins in four years, Kidd Brewer was an All-American player at Duke. After football, he got involved in politics—running for governor, lieutenant governor and state court of appeals—and real estate development—selling the land that was eventually used for Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall. The stadium has also seen some high-quality football over the years, winning three straight national titles at the FCS level before moving to FBS, where the Mountaineers are a perennial bowl team, and bowl winner.
Greatest Moment: Dec. 7, 2007—For the third straight year, App got to host the national semifinal game at Kidd Brewer. In 2005, the Mountaineers beat No. 3 Furman, 29-23, at home to move on to the title game against Northern Iowa. As defending national champions in 2006, App blew out No. 5 Youngstown State, 49-24, to earn the right to beat UMass for the title the following week. This time around, No. 5 Richmond came calling, and future Carolina Panther receiver Armanti Edwards, then the App quarterback, rushed for 313 yards and completed 14 of 16 passes in a 55-35 win. The Mountaineers completed the three-peat the following week with a win over Delaware.
10. NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh
- The balance between relevance and history is a tough one to master. Michael Jordan played his college home games at Carmichael Auditorium, and, while UNC’s men’s team no longer plays there, Carmichael is still used by women’s basketball and other Olympic sports. Similarly, future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones played his home games as a Bull at Durham Athletic Park. The Bulls have moved on, but the DAP still gets plenty of use from N.C. Central. After much discussion, however, neither venue made our final cut. But this is Reynolds—home of the first 13 ACC Tournaments, host of 12 NCAA tourneys, including being a key stopoff on the road to national titles for the 1974 Wolfpack and 1982 Tar Heels. It was the site for Black Sunday, in 1979, when the top two seeds in the East, North Carolina and Duke, were both upset in back-to-back NCAA games, and it was where a failing Jim Valvano tried out some of the riffs he’d use in his far more famous ESPY speech two weeks later, as the school celebrated the tenth anniversary of the 1983 champs. Plus, the arena has stayed relevant. It underwent a $35 million renovation two years ago and looks better than ever. In addition to being the permanent home court for several Wolfpack teams (including the currently undefeated women’s basketball team and a nationally prominent wrestling program), it also hosts at least one Wolfpack men’s game a year to help the school embrace its storied past.
Greatest Moment: March 6, 1965—Four months after failing health forced him to retire and 13 months before his death, legendary coach Everett Case sits courtside as his Wolfpack face Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game. The Pack earn an emotional 91-85 victory over the Blue Devils and carry Case on their shoulders, so he can cut down the nets for the eleventh time in his career.
9. UNC-G’s Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro
If any building in the state has more sports history than Reynolds, it’s the ACC’s home in Greensboro. The ABA Carolina Cougars played here, as did the pre-PNC Arena Carolina Hurricanes. The eight-building Coliseum Complex still hosts UNC-Greensboro and NBA G-League Swarm games, although most are held in the smaller Fieldhouse. But the mother ship still gets plenty of use. Its hosted more than two dozen ACC tournaments, including the 1974 Final Four, where NC State ended UCLA’s reign with a double-overtime win, then topped Marquette for the title two days later. The Coliseum has hosted March Madness games a dozen other times, tying Charlotte’s Bojangles Coliseum for sixth-most ever. That includes Lehigh’s upset of Duke in 2012 and the start of Duke and UNC’s title runs in 1992 and 2009 respectively. This is the building where Grayson Allen lost his team captaincy after tripping Elon’s Steven Santa Ana. It was also UNC’s temporary home for a 2017 game against Notre Dame when Chapel Hill had a water main break. But, much to Jim Boeheim’s chagrin, it will always be a familiar stopping point for the ACC Tournament.
Greatest Moment: March 9, 1974—Quite simply “The greatest game in college basketball history.” NC State was 25-1 and the No. 1 team in the nation. Maryland, 22-5, was No. 4. When the two teams met in the ACC title game, there were two future NBA first overall picks on the floor—David Thompson and John Lucas—as well as seven other future draftees: Tom Burleson, Monte Towe and Mo Rivers for State and Tom McMillen, Len Elmore, Tom Roy, Owen Brown and Mo Howard for Maryland. Only the winner would be able to play in the NCAA—a rule this game played a big role in changing. The Pack won in a dramatic 103-100 overtime thriller and went on to cut down the Final Four nets in the same building weeks later.
8. Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
- All due respect to college sports, the NHL and the NBA, the biggest sporting events in the state are likely to happen at Bank of America. The NFL is still the king of American sports, and no team brings area sports fans together—in celebration or outrage—like the Panthers. The stadium comes across to first-time visitors as a standard-issue NFL venue. The closest thing to a must-see are probably the half-dozen bronze panther statues paired up at each entrance. Weighing one ton each, the statues are—according to the team’s website—the largest sculptures ever commissioned in the United States. Of course, the fact that the panthers are joined by a giant statue of deposed owner Jerry Richardson, that the new ownership is apparently contractually forbidden from removing, adds a bit of a cringe factor. Still, the building doesn’t need bells and whistles. People are there to see the big game, and the stadium is more than capable in that regard. The crowd is involved and engaged, giving the building a strong game day atmosphere that, unlike many other NFL stadiums, doesn’t seem to devolve into a drunken violent orgy by the fourth quarter. The stadium also hosts several big college games, including the annual Belk Bowl, season-opening marquee games and, usually, the ACC championship game.
Greatest Moment: Jan. 24, 2016—The NFC Championship Game made its first trip to North Carolina (The Panthers had to win on the road in Philadelphia in the 2003-04 season) and the Panthers returned to Super Bowl with a blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals. With the area recovering from winter weather early in the week, the crowd arrived early to make sure they were in their seats for kickoff. The rowdy crowd had the building shaking during key moments in the game, as a slightly-worried Joe Buck pointed out during the broadcast. Cam Newton (335 yards and two touchdowns, as well as two rushing touchdowns) and Luke Kuechly (eight tackles and a 22-yard pick six) helped the Panthers remove doubt early and cruise to a 49-15 win.
7. The Bulls’ DBAP, Durham
- Yes, it’s a minor league stadium. But it’s THE minor league stadium. Four words: Hit bull. Win steak. From the snorting bull sign in left field to the Susan Sarandon sound-alike who reads the stadium rules before each game (“Now before the boys take the field, let’s go over a few rules … If you have a problem with a fan in your area, don’t handle it like Crash did”) the team embraces its Hollywood history and DBAP is their perfect home, even if it’s technically not the one seen in the film. Sure, many of the fans in attendance don’t know the score … or who the Bulls are playing, but it’s a large crowd, beautiful stadium with views of the ever-changing city of Durham and some of the finest game day entertainment around, highlighted by mascot Wool E. Bull’s 360 degree warning-track spin out in his racing go cart. In recent years, the team has opened its own brewery inside the stadium and opened a luxury dining club in the suites behind home plate. And it’s hard to imagine a more successful on-field product. The Bulls have dominated the International League, winning 14 division titles in 21 seasons, along with six league titles and two Triple-A national championships. The stadium also hosts most of Duke baseball’s marquee home games and is a regular stop for the ACC baseball tournament. UNC and NC State also play neutral site games there on occasion, and USA baseball is a regular tenant as well.
Greatest Moment: May 25 and 26, 2013—NC State and UNC met in a highly anticipated ACC tournament semifinal. A standing-room-only crowd of 11,392—the largest to ever watch college baseball in the state—packed the 10,000 seat DBAP. Future White Sox starter Carlos Rodon pitched 10 innings for the Pack, striking out 14 and allowing just one unearned run in the eighth inning. UNC scored its second run in the top of the 18th inning, then had to survive the bottom of the inning, after State got the tying run to third with no outs. The Tar Heels held on to win in a six hour, three minute marathon that ended less than 11 hours before Carolina would take the field again in the championship game. It was also less than a day after UNC had played 14 innings against Clemson.
6. Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord
- Stock car racing has been part of North Carolina’s identity since moonshiners tried to escape police during the prohibition. NASCAR’s first visit to Charlotte was in 1949, and the Motor Speedway is the state’s main tie to what eventually became a billion-dollar industry. Charlotte was the first NASCAR track to feature night racing under the lights and the first to embrace luxury suites and on-track condos. The Speedway complex includes drag strip, a dirt track and a road course that can be combined with the track to create an innovative “roval,” which made its debut this year. The Coca Cola 600, Bank of America 400 and the All-star race are three of the gem events of the motorsports calendar each year and ensures that North Carolina will remain at the center of what the legislature has declared our state sport. Charlotte has long pushed to be the home of the auto racing hall of fame, and the track complex features a dazzling collection of racing memorabilia to add to the fan experience.
Greatest Moment: May 29, 1994—After a rookie season where he was criticized for driving too aggressively, including a crash while leading the All Star race in Charlotte, 23-year-old Jeff Gordon won the pole for the Coca Cola 600. He managed to channel his aggressiveness in Charlotte, however, taking a risk that paid off late—with 20 laps remaining, Gordon and his team decided to only change two tires, instead of all four. The time he shaved off the pit moved him from third place to first, and his tires held up the rest of the way to nose out Rusty Wallace by 3.91 seconds for his first career win.
5. UNC’s Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill
The gigantic video boards added to the Dean Dome rafters prior to this season are an impressive enhancement, even if the building’s namesake would have hated them. The fans still have to cope with Sam Cassell’s “wine and cheese crowd” label, but the building can get rocking for big games and produce as much noise as anyplace else. The building is over 30 years old, so it lacks a few modern amenities, like luxury suites and high-end concessions. But it’s still one of the better on-campus arenas and they’ve added increasingly larger video boards in the corners, including new ones this year. The banners in the rafters get scorn from rival fans, but it’s an impressive thumbnail sketch of the program’s history. And if you manage to get inside the team’s locker room, the wall of every Air Jordan shoe in history is pretty awesome. Now if we only knew why the building always seems to smell like sugar cones.
Greatest Moment: March 6, 2005—Anyone that thinks this will be anything other than a Duke game suffers from a terrifying lack of perspective. There are plenty to choose from, from 2012’s Austin Rivers game to the Bloody Montross game of 1992. There was the No. 1 vs. No. 3 game that opened the building in 1986 and the No. 1 vs. No. 2 in 1994. The choice here, however is the final game of the 2005 regular season, where UNC wrapped up its first outright regular season crowd (if that existed) in 12 years. The largest crowd to see an on-campus hoops game in the state showed up to watch Carolina finish the game on an 11-0 run to wipe out a nine point Duke lead and win, 75-73.
4. NC State and Carolina Hurricanes’ PNC Arena, Raleigh
- While some of the arenas on our list no longer have a big-name tenant, PNC has two of them. Home of Wolfpack basketball and Hurricanes hockey, PNC is one of the busiest buildings in the state and, often, the place hosting the biggest game. When the opponent isn’t a big draw or the season isn’t going well—particularly in hockey—the crowds may be sparse, but fill it up for UNC or the Penguins and it’s instant atmosphere. There’s not a lot of noise or eye candy to pull attention away from the ice or court. It’s a clean view, and, unlike many NBA and NHL arenas its size, it’s not mountain-side steep in the upper deck. For a building so young, it has plenty of history, including the NHL All-Star game and draft, a pair of Stanley Cup Finals and five NCAA tourneys, including Duke’s loss to Mercer in 2014 and Stephen Curry-led Davidson’s upset of two-seed Georgetown in 2008.
Greatest Moment: June 19, 2006—Having fallen short in their first two attempts to finish off Edmonton, the Hurricanes returned home for the biggest event in all of sports: Game Seven. The Canes took a 2-0 lead into the third period, then saw the Oilers score just over a minute in, which meant the entire state had 19 minutes to spend on the edge of their seats. Not until the empty netter with a minute to play did anyone feel comfortable enough to breathe. Once the 3-1 win was sealed, it was time to celebrate with Lord Stanley as Canadian purists bemoaned the Cup spending another year with one of those new southern teams.
3. NC State’s Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
- How many Power Five schools can say their stadium was designed by a member of the faculty? Georgia Tech can’t. Neither can Virginia Tech. Carter-Finley’s architect (along with well known Raleigh architect Milton Small) was Charles Kahn, who, in addition to being a distinguished professor at State was also a graduate. The stands are right on top of the sidelines, which creates a powerful home field advantage and also leaves opposing players and referees as potential targets when things get rowdy. The Pack are closing in on a decade of consecutive sellouts. While the views from inside Carter-Finley are mainly of parking lots, neighboring arenas and the fairgrounds, it’s an attractive arena from the outside, particularly when fans approach by way of the Murphy Center, with the wolf statues roaming the fountain in the front. It will probably be an outstanding place to watch outdoor hockey, too. Just sayin’.
Greatest Moment: Oct. 6, 1973—There were several to choose from, including upsets of Florida State in 1998 (when the Noles were No. 2) and 2012 (when fans danced on the goalposts). The greatest moment, however, has to be a defeat of the Tar Heels. There was the 1967 opener, when linebacker Chuck Amato invented the White Shoes defense by bringing a case of white polish to the stadium before a 13-7 win. Lou Holtz’s wild 28-26 win over the Heels gets the nod, though. State took a 21-3 lead into the third quarter before the Heels rallied. State, as State is prone to do, helped out by shooting itself in the foot, fumbling a post-UNC-touchdown kickoff and botching a late game punt to give the Heels one last shot. In the end, the Pack held on, sparking a four-game winning streak that gave Holtz his only ACC title.
2. Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst
- There are no water hazards and very few heavily wooded areas that can hide an errant shot, and yet Pinehurst No. 2 is one of the toughest courses around, thanks to its small, unforgiving greens. Legendary designer Donald Ross declared it, “The fairest test of championship golf I have ever designed.” Hall of fame golfer Sam Snead frequently called No. 2 his favorite course to play. The sandy ground and scattered pines provide a beautiful 18-hole walk and a playing experience unlike any other in the country. “It was right here in these sandhills that the first great national movement in golf was started,” Ross said. The course has hosted the 1951 Ryder Cup, 1936 PGA Championship and multiple U.S. Opens (1999, 2005 2014 and it’s returning in 2024). The course also hosted the U.S. Women’s Open in 2014, a week after the men—the first time that’s happened in U.S. Open history.
Greatest Moment: June 20, 1999—At the time, Phil Mickelson was still the greatest golfer never to win a major. The U.S. Open’s first trip to Pinehurst appeared to be on the verge of breaking through. He was tied for the lead after each of the first two days and entered the final round down one stroke to Payne Stewart. Mickelson caught Stewart on the 10th hole, pulled ahead briefly on 12, then took another one-stroke lead after 15. By the time the golfers reached the green on the final hole, they appeared to be destined for a Monday playoff. Stewart was able to defeat the notorious crowned greens, however, sinking a 15-foot putt for par and a one-stroke win. He was the only golfer to finish the tournament below par. Four months later, he would die in a plane crash at age 42. It would be another five years before Mickelson would win his elusive major, 14 before he won an Open.
1. Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham
- Words can’t possibly do it justice. If you’ve been there, you know. If you haven’t, the experience can’t be suitably explained. It’s why luminaries and celebrities from George Bush to Donald Trump to Emmitt Smith to Michael J. Fox have pulled strings to get courtside seats. There is no space between the players and the students, who reach across press row to claw at players inbounding the ball, all while chanting and waving, using everything available to them to distract and intimidate. They make up chants during the long nights spent camping out in Krzyzewskiville for tickets and pass out dirt sheets with personal information on opposing players, should the moment arise to use it. It’s the closest thing we have to players from Angola posing for photos with the original Dream Team during games at the 1992 Olympics, as players want to remember everything about their Cameron experience, including the often inevitable Duke win. It’s loud, hot, crowded and you’ll probably leave covered with paint and saliva. And you’ll want nothing more than to go back for the next game.
Greatest Moment: Feb 28, 1998—It was Steve Wojciechowski’s Senior Day, and it appeared that he was going out on a losing note. Not only that, but the winner of the rivalry game with Carolina would be the top seed in the ACC Tournament. The No. 3 Tar Heels scored 18 of the first 22 points of the game and had a 17-point lead over the top ranked Blue Devils with 12 minutes to play. Elton Brand, still playing off the bench after missing substantial time with a broken foot, scored eight points in three minutes, then Roshown McLeod scored six in three minutes, as Duke went on a 32-11 run, pounding Carolina in the paint and suffocating them on defense. The Heels had just two field goals the rest of the way. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who earned his 500th career victory with the 77-75 win, exchanged a tearful hug with his senior point guard as Wojo left the floor near the end of the game.