The ultimate Super Bowl road trip
Never mind Christmas, Mardi Gras, the 4th of July, or the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw. The Super Bowl is the annual celebration that reigns supreme. And it's an event that merits much more than a single day of merriment. In fact, it's the type of all-paramount mega-festivity that warrants ... Coldplay drum roll, please ... the Ultimate Super Bowl Road Trip.
How ultimate are we talking? 16 states, 7 gridiron utopias, and 4,000 miles culminating in the granddaddy football phenomenon of them all, Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Ready to hit the road? Load up on gasoline, energy drinks, and a dozen road-worthy playlists, because we got some serious trekkin' to do, son ...
The Kickoff: Green Bay, Wisconsin
Its claim to football glory: The epitome of all that's good and pure in the sporting world (apologies to Bears fans for the regurgitated bile in your mouth right now), the Green Bay Packers are the only community-owned, not-for-profit, small-town team left in America.
Winners of 13 total league titles, including Super Bowls I and II, they play at iconic Lambeau Field — the perfect place to launch the Ultimate Super Bowl Road Trip. Daily tours cost just 12 bucks for adults and include access to private suites, the player's tunnel, the atrium, and various behind-the-scenes areas.
Yelling "discount double check!" at likenesses of Aaron Rodgers is optional.
Reason to Sheathe Your Zombie Slicer in Green Bay: The streets of Green Bay aren't empty because the townsfolk were devoured by zombies hungry for their next course of man-flesh. Green Bay is simply in its usual 3-month period of reclusion and dejection that follows a season-ending Packers loss.
Ken Blaze / Alamy
1st Down: Canton, Ohio
Distance from Green Bay: 589 miles
Number of corn silos en route: 44,923
Why Canton: A Super Bowl road trip without a pilgrimage to Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is unthinkable — like watching football for longer than seven minutes without a commercial with a grinning senior boasting about his rejuvenated, er, "man-prowess."
Tickets cost $25 for adults and $17 for kids and include access to thousands of historic exhibits. Set aside 3-4 hours for the self-guided tour and an hour or more to peruse the bronze busts of the HOFers.
Other popular attractions at the Hall include the last uniform Ray Lewis ever wore, the ball from the first indoor game (in 1902), and the hearts and souls that bazillionaire Stan Kroenke just ripped out of St. Louis.
Philip Scalia / Alamy
2nd and Long: Atlanta, GA
Distance from Canton: 693 miles
Number of people you passed on the highway who were daydreaming about Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Most of them.
The Atlanta Connection: "The ATL" may seem an odd and distant pit stop on the Ultimate Super Bowl Road Trip. After all, the Falcons have netted as many Super Bowl rings in their history as Bill Belichick has won without relying on trickery and deception (number of Patriots fans reading this who think MapQuest should go back to just giving directions: All of them).
Atlanta belongs, though, because it's home to the grossly underrated College Football Hall of Fame, which honors, among other pigskin pioneers, Walter Camp, the "Father of American Football." Without Camp's efforts to advance and legitimize the game in the 19th century, Peyton Manning would be selling insurance right now and you'd be watching dog shows and tennis every Sunday.
Besides, it's just 700 miles out of your way. With good company and good tunes, it will fly by faster than Manning's hopes of ever hoisting another Lombardi Trophy.
Gustavo Escanelle, AOL
3rd and (a lot of) Inches: New Orleans, LA
Distance from Atlanta: 471 miles
Number of people who will call you "brah" when you arrive: 384,320
Why NOLA: A couple reasons. One, New Orleans has a rich Super Bowl history, hosting the event a record 10 times. Two, it's on the way to the West Coast, sort of. And three, after 1,750 total miles on the road, you owe it to yourself to get a little crazy.
Unfortunately, you'll arrive a bit early for Mardi Gras. Fortunately, every day is Mardi Gras in the French Quarter. Stroll the quaint, historic streets by day then hit up the lively, racy, Upper Bourbon Street at night for an experience you'll never forget (or never remember). It will give you something to talk about (or never ever mention again) on the way to your next Ultimate Super Bowl
Road Trip destination:
4th and a Long 8 (hours): Dallas, TX
Distance from New Orleans: 526 miles
Number of people you will see riding horses and wearing cowboy hats: Sadly, none at all.
Its claim to football glory: Maybe there's no such thing as "America's team," but the Cowboys come closest. Winners of 5 Super Bowls and an even more impressive zero playoff games in the past 11 years, they have an unparalleled number of fans worldwide. Eight times a year, they take a beating at the next must-visit venue on the Ultimate Super Bowl Road Trip: The flashy and magnificent AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The largest domed structure in the world, AT&T Stadium is equal parts sports complex, art museum, and classroom. Self-guided and VIP tours are conducted daily and include access to the playing field, locker rooms, and press room. You can even throw around a football on the field or fumble it clumsily a la Tony Romo. Tickets range from $18-$28.
Going deep: Phoenix, AZ
Distance from Dallas: 1,048 miles
Number of scorpions who will hitch a ride in your car every time you make a pit stop in Arizona: 14
Why it's worth it: Phoenix has a storied Super Bowl history as well, hosting the event three times. More importantly, it's one of the most beautiful and aesthetic cities you'll find anywhere. Gazing at the mighty Grand Canyon or the majestic Camelback Mountain may be the perfect way to cleanse your soul of the grime that's been clinging to it since Bourbon Street.
Touchdown: Santa Clara, California
Distance from Phoenix: 717 miles
Number of hours you've spent in the car: 67
Number of times you've heard Adele's "Hello" on the radio: 131
Shape in which you drove on the Ultimate Super Bowl Road Trip: A crooked half-smile, a la Roger Goodell
Number of hipsters in ironic Buddy Holly glasses and superfluous scarves you are about to encounter: 3.1 million
How to get the most out of the Super Bowl experience: If you remortgaged your home or sold a kidney for a Super Bowl 50 package deal, you probably have the works — fancy lodgings, VIP tailgating, pre-game and post-game festivities — coming your way.
But if all you have is a game ticket, no worries. San Francisco is a deliciously weird and eclectic city, with or without the Super Bowl next door. Arrive a few days early, and enjoy the attractions, from Alcatraz Island to Golden Gate Park to the 49-Mile Scenic Drive (you know, because you haven't been in the car long enough).
And if you can attend just one pre-game spectacle, make it the NFL Experience at the Moscone Center, which runs from Saturday, January 30 through Super Bowl Sunday. The event includes autograph sessions with players, interactive games, and photo ops with the Lombardi Trophy.
For the swan song of the Ultimate Super Bowl Road Trip, it may be best to steer your rental straight to San Francisco International Airport.
Happy trails, road warriors!
Marcus Whelchel lives, works, and writes in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife and daughter. He believes that Smokey's toe really did step over the line a little. Those who know him best agree his transition into senility will be smooth.
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