DURHAM, N.C. — Every Sunday something brings families together across the country. Religion? Maybe, in a way. Instead, it is football that has such a pull.
Football is just a segment of the bigger picture: Sports is a religion that spans the globe.
Like any religion, die-hard sports fans have their own destinations for pilgrimage, and it may seem strange, but those sanctuaries are under attack.
This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but imagine pulling into church one Sunday morning to find out you will be worshipping in the Cingular Sanctuary at Associated Bank Presbyterian Church.
"Blasphemy!" you probably would rightly say. Well, for followers of the religion of sport that is exactly what has happened in the past 15 years.
Nowadays, clubs sell off naming rights to their stadiums to the highest bidder and those names typically — because of corporate bankruptcy, merger or lease expiration — change about as often as Britney Spears plays with her children, that is to say, about once a year.
But amid all that strife, the shrines of sport, the arenas known by one word — Lambeau, Fenway and Wrigley — have managed to stay above the fray and out of the name game.
It's not just the absence of a .com or airline name that makes those signature stadiums rise above others and stand the test of time, however. These places aren't always the most comfortable of spots to take in a game, and most don't have the modern-day amenities that brand-new, sterile stadiums have.
When you walk into those stadiums, however, you know you are walking into someplace truly special — a historic site that, for sports fans, ranks right up there with the Supreme Court or the national Capitol building. The first time I walked through the tunnel and saw Lambeau Field in all its splendor, it was an awesome moment. I felt honored to be there. Same for the other stadiums.
Head up to cheer on the Packers at Lambeau, and you had better be ready to be squeezed on a bench with no seatback for four quarters with thousands of new friends. It's a tight fit at the beginning of the season when it’s warm, but once the Tundra freezes and the winter attire comes out, you end up shifting your shoulders sideways and sucking in your stomach to get everybody on the bench.
Not the most comfortable way to watch a game, but when you end up next to a woman in her 60s who attended the Ice Bowl and sat in the very same seat, it gives you an amazing appreciation for the moment and venue you have the opportunity to watch a game in.
In a case like Fenway, there's the Green Monster standing sentinel over the leftfielders — the very same Green Monster that Carlton Fisk waved his home run over to win Game 6 of the 1977 World Series in extra innings and Manny Ramirez held up a game to take care of some personal business in.
Go to a game at Fenway and your seat is tight, your legs cramped and the concourses don't especially scream sterile. Sitting in the first row of the right field corner, close enough to reach out and touch the Pesky Pole, you can, for a moment, see Ted Williams rounding the bases as he homers in his final at-bat ever.
Sure, you might run the risk of having a large chunk of concrete fall on you (Wrigley), but it is tough to top taking in an afternoon baseball game sitting behind the very same ivy that Babe Ruth hit his called shot.
Walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke University campus is no different. Fittingly, when you approach the fabled arena, it looks more like a church than any sort of athletic complex at all, with high arches and stained-glass windows decorating the outside.
Inside, it is more of the same. The seating bowl looks like a scene straight out of "Hoosiers," with high school-style wooden benches ringing the court.
But once the ball is tipped, the atmosphere is simply unmatched.
So if you are a sports fan — if you are reading this, you likely are — make every effort to make pilgrimages to the few sports sanctuaries left. You won't regret it.
Ben is a junior majoring in political science and journalism. Interested in joining him on a pilgrimage to Yankee Stadium before the park is shut down? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.