By Eric Fleming, Contributing writer
What makes a Super Bowl great?
Is it players making spectacular plays? Two top-notch teams, coached by brilliant coaches, playing against each other? Sure, that goes into it, just as a fun halftime show and great weather play their parts.
But something else goes into making a great Super Bowl, and that's the stadium it is played in. Unlike other major sports, which play end-of-season championship series, the NFL has a single game to determine its champion. And unlike other professional sports, football has its Super Bowl on a pre-determined, neutral field.
What goes into making a great Super Bowl venue? The first aspect, just like most real estate, is location, location, location. In regards to the Super Bowl, that comes down to just three areas.
Los Angeles, New Orleans Or Florida? There are many facets of a great Super Bowl stadium, but in venue selection, location truly is the biggest key. Consider this: The NFL has never chosen an outdoor, cold-weather stadium for the Super Bowl. (Cold-weather cities have hosted the Super Bowl, but only cities with domed stadiums such as Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Detroit.) This means many famous stadiums, including Soldier Field in Chicago and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, are out of the running.
Looking at a list of all of the stadiums to host Super Bowls, you'll notice that of the 43 Super Bowls played through 2009, 14 of them -- almost a third -- have been played in Florida. New Orleans has hosted the Super Bowl nine times, with the Los Angeles area close behind, having hosted seven Super Bowls (10 if you count San Diego).
And since the NFL has decided Florida is the best location for the Super Bowl, only stadiums in Florida will be considered in determining which is the best Super Bowl venue.
There are five stadiums in Florida that have hosted the Super Bowl: Miami Orange Bowl (five times), Tampa Stadium (twice), Sun Life Stadium (four times), Raymond James Stadium (twice) and ALLTEL Stadium (once). Of those stadiums, Miami Orange Bowl and Tampa Stadium no longer exist. Of the remaining three stadiums, Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Sun Life Stadium (home of the Miami Dolphins) are the front-runners.
Raymond James Stadium In fact, those two stadiums are so close -- even in the rate at which they host Super Bowls (once every four or five years on average) -- that it was difficult to pick just one. But in the end, Raymond James Stadium is the ultimate Super Bowl venue.
What makes it the best stadium for the Super Bowl? In addition to great weather -- a key for a successful Super Bowl and a trait shared by Dolphin Stadium -- Raymond James Stadium has a couple of things going for it that Sun Life Stadium does not.
First, at Raymond James Stadium, fans are much closer to the playing field. Sun Life Stadium also hosts the Florida Marlins, so it needs a wider playing field, which is also used for soccer. This places fans almost 30 yards away from the field, compared with Raymond James Stadium, a football-only venue, where only the players separate the fans from the field.
In addition, Raymond James Stadium has a pirate ship. Built as the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Raymond James Stadium has a 103-foot, 43-ton steel and concrete pirate ship that sits in the corner of the stadium called Buccaneer Cove. The pirate ship was built for the Buccaneers by the same special effects company that builds large-scale projects for Disney. For Super Bowl XXXV, the pirate ship was host to not only the halftime entertainment, but the pre-game and post-game television coverage as well.
For those wanting an up-close experience, Raymond James Stadium was also the first NFL stadium to offer high-definition video screens. The screens each measure more than 90 feet in length and offer a detailed look at replays for fans sitting in the venue.
Finally, there is the turf itself. Voted the best NFL turf in 2004, this is more of a benefit to players playing in Raymond James Stadium, but it is also beneficial to fans watching. Compared to Sun Life Stadium and other multipurpose venues, which are forced to change turf between baseball and football games, Raymond James has no restrictions.
While other venues can make a case for why they might also be considered the "best" Super Bowl venue, including Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' new palace in Dallas that hosted Super Bowl XLV in 2011, there's no disputing that Raymond James Stadium is a fantastic venue, and is among the best Super Bowl venues of all time.