With fall fast approaching, it's time to gear up for football season. If you're about to enjoy retirement, too, it's a chance to get back in touch or spend even more quality time with your favorite team.
But what if you're the most fanatic of fans, the sort of guy or gal for whom all those years of hard work merely distracted you from your true calling: Sitting in the stands, braving foul weather, screaming your head off? So, where's the best spot for a die-hard to settle down in order to get the biggest possible fix of every sack, touchdown, and fumble America has to offer?
To help narrow down the pigskin possibilities, we dug into our database of more than 2,000 Best Places to Retire, and came up with 10 destinations to appeal to the hard-core football fan. Picks range from retirement meccas like Tempe, Ariz., to towns with some of the nation's most enduring gridiron traditions, like Cornhusker-proud Lincoln, Neb. (If you're a fan of another locale—and we're guessing there are lots of opinions out there—feel free to offer your own game plan in the comments section below.)
If it's variety you're after, there are some great spots that offer combinations of lots of teams in lots of conferences. Bob Boyles, the coauthor of the USA Today College Football Encyclopedia, says that you should consider places that offer a chance to follow as many teams in as many conferences as possible.
Look no further than Charlotte, N.C., home to the NFL's Panthers, and a wealth of great retirement options, including 30 public and private golf courses. Charlotte offers fans easy access to a huge swath of teams. Check out this lineup: In the Atlantic Coast Conference alone, and within just a few hours' drive, Charlotteans can scout four major teams—Duke University, Wake Forest, North Carolina, and North Carolina State—with a fifth, Clemson, just a short hop away. Southeastern Conference fans can track stalwart University of South Carolina, while Greenville's East Carolina University is the easternmost outpost of Conference USA.
"Charlotte is smack in the middle of all those schools, and gets the occasional neutral site game at the Panther stadium," Boyles says. "And the city is really split quite a bit by loyalties to ACC and SEC, which is kind of cool."
For a gridiron and retirement hub with more exposure to the pros, head south to Miami Beach, Fla., where the Dolphins may anchor the city's sports life, but with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jacksonville Jaguars just a few hours north, fans can easily mix up their NFL options.
Plus, the area boasts a sizable roster of college talent, which makes it a sunny oasis for tanned hordes on Saturday afternoons, including the legendary rivalry between Florida State and the University of Florida, plus up-and-coming programs like Florida Atlantic. Florida (like Texas and Ohio) is a huge high school football state as well. Miami Northwestern tops USA Today's Super 25 Index of high school teams.
"If you live in Miami and are a football fan, you've got a tremendous banquet table," Boyles says. (Speaking of which, you can also dine at steakhouses bearing the names of, separately, Don Shula, Bernie Kosar, and Dan Marino. Noshers can hit up former Dolphins linebacker John Offerdahl's signature bagels at three locations).
And what football list would be complete without a Texas team?
We'll pick Austin as our spot in the Lone Star State, thanks to a laid-back culture that doesn't extend to those dedicated to Longhorn fandom. Alumni John Henderson (Class of '35) is returning with his wife, Charlotte, in the fall of 2009, when Longhorn Village, a retirement community built in association with UT's alumni association, opens. At 95, the long-time season ticket holder is one of the oldest living UT football lettermen (he played both offense and defense in those days, helmetless, and lost a couple of teeth in the process). The former guard says Austin in general and football in specific is a great way to find community. "I'm looking forward to us all having something in common that live there," he said.
It's no surprise there are other college towns like Austin on the list.
Lincoln, Neb.'s devotion to its Cornhuskers is legendary, and right now there's nothing like a historic team preparing for another attempt to fight its way back into the spotlight. Bo Pelini, hired this year, promises to bring back the walk-on system, giving more local players the chance to "bleed red" at UNL. Longtime fans are watching cautiously, but no matter who's in charge, they'd still be in the stands.
"For people my age and older, it's something we look forward to every year," says Harley Bergmeyer, 66, a banker and chair of the University of Nebraska Foundation. "People have football tickets in their last will and testament so they stay in the family." Bergmeyer has already been scouting this year's team at preseason practices, and touts Lincoln's sense of community, tradition, and safety for some truly enjoyable football.
"It's more than just a football game," he says.
In the same vein, State College, Pa., defines a larger version of Lincoln's fervor, where 85,000 residents situated in "Happy Valley" live for Penn State athletics. The town's location in central Pennsylvania also makes it a conduit to the state's pro rivalry. Students from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia mean an annual influx of Steelers and Eagles fans.
Madison, Wis., gets a nod both for its Badgers and its proximity to Green Bay Another pick: Chicago, is the big-city version of enduring hometown devotion, where the Chicago Bears remain an enduring temple to fandom, and the city of Chicago continues to draw retirees back into urban living.
Out west, Pasadena, Calif., the L.A. suburb, puts fans close enough to watch University of California-Los Angeles and University of Southern California, plus a prime spot every year for the Rose Bowl. If you need the pro fix, fans can turn south to San Diego, where the Chargers and LaDainian Tomlinson are among the current short list favorites to play in the 2009 Super Bowl, according to BetUS.com.
Other retirement spots sit at the nexus of long-standing traditions—and rivalries.
Tempe, Ariz., may be dominated by Phoenix Suns fans, but the Cardinals are still there, and the rivalry between Arizona State and the University of Arizona-Tucson is still surprisingly hot.
In Cincinnati, Bengals fans mix with Ohio State Buckeyes backers. Ohio also has the Cleveland Browns, but we'll pick it for proximity to both Columbus and the Indianapolis Colts.
Some spots have great bits of football history, like Pocatello, Idaho, home to Holt Arena, the first covered college football stadium. Others, like Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., have great traditions but offer less in the way of amenities for folks looking to retire. Also, we'd simply like to apologize ahead of time to Ann Arbor, Mich., fans for excluding them.
While the real best place for a football fan to retire may just be wherever their home team is, here's U.S. News's list of places that combine a quality retirement with an eye toward the 50-yard line: