“Football is a context where watching becomes doing – not in the aerobic sense, because watching a game, smoking your head off while doing so, drinking after it has finished and eating chips on the way home is unlikely to do you a whole lot of Jane Fonda good … But when there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outward until it reaches us at the back of the terraces… The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others’ good fortune, but if our own.”
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
I shaded my eyes from the bright October sunshine. It was so warm, my jeans were burning my legs. From my seat overlooking the 50 yard line, I waved my yellow Jacksonville Jaguar flag, trying to muster some enthusiasm for the 4.5 hour game ahead.
I’m sure I hid it well from our American buddies, but inside I was less a crazed fan, and more an enthusiastic student of crowd anthropology.
On 2nd October, Hubby and I raced from church to Wembley Stadium for an altogether other ‘religious’ gathering of devotees – our first American Football game.
The same American clients who invited us to baseball in Boston, treated us to a big NFL game at Wembley.
We were greeted on arrival with Champagne and treated to a three course pre-game meal in the Bobby Moore Room (private hospitality suite). There was a complimentary bar before the game – Hubby and I chose fresh pineapple juice! Between the second and third quarters (‘half-time’ periods) and at the end of the game, popcorn, pretzels and nachos magically appeared on our table… I would normally have scoffed the popcorn, but it was glazed with sugar and it’s against my religion to eat sweet popcorn, but I certainly partook of the rest!
We were truly spoilt and felt like celebrities.
What did I learn? NFL is all about the fans and TV audience, not the game:
- Let me deal with the really weird stuff first – I just don’t get the cheerleader thing! These half-clad lasses spent their time in formation, waving pompoms, smiling, kicking up their heels and flicking their hair about (in a worrying spinal-injury-manner) – I guess real fans would moan if they weren’t there?
- We had an ‘exclusive ex-NFL player appearance’ in the Bobbly Moore Suite – I didn’t understand a word he said – and the fans cheered!
- After the game, we walked away with flags, souvenir programmes, a football coffee flask each and commemorative VIP passes. The coffee flasks are really useful, but the other bits and bobs are in our spare room cupboard – I’m sure that if we were ‘real fans’ each precious item would assume a place of honour in our home.
- Everything was dramatic – the payers ran onto the field through a giant jaguar head to booming music and intermittent bursts of fire from the sidelines. I’m not sure of actual playing time, but we were in our seats by 2pm and the game finished at 6:30pm.
- Unlike our rugby or football games which run straight through two solid halves leaving players sweaty and tired, the NFL game was all stop-start. I’m told this is because of commercial breaks in America.
- Giant jaguar mascots roamed the perimeter of the ground encouraging us to “Get loud!” and “Make noise!”. They were accompanied by more semi-clad long-haired ladies with T-shirt guns. Thankfully no-one was harmed by flying T-shirt balls.
- Two large screens showed replays, but also a whole lot of interactive crowd-pleasing stuff including ‘Kiss Cam’ and ‘Dance Cam’ – where the camera focusses in on a couple of people in the stands and they either have to kiss or dance.
- A large blimp ball with camera was perpetually bounced around the stadium to show footage of upside-down delighted faces waving and screaming – eager for their moment of fame on the big screen.
- There are 4 refs on the field to enforce rules and maintain order. They are ranked and the main ref is mic’d up. Regularly throughout the game he gives dramatic announcements about player penalties using gestures and grimaces: “Blocking the back. Number 58. Two minute timeout!” His pronouncements appear on the big screen.
- Though there are only 11 players per side on the field at any given time, there are actually 55 players per team: an offence team, a defence team and various ‘special’ teams for kicking etc – players wait on the sidelines looking on until their moment.
- The game is measured in ‘yards’, ‘downs’, ‘goals’ and ultimately points. We sat next to true fans who explained everything to us, but I doubt I’ll get it right if I try to so explain, so please refer to the rules for beginners on BBC Sport.
- Somehow, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the home team, representing Great Britain. Eerily we sang ‘God Save the Queen’ at the start of play (see video at end of blog).
ENOUGH about sport (maybe there will be a ‘lessons from sport 3 and 4’ if I manage to get to a basketball or ice-hokey game)!
In other news, Hubby and I are eagerly awaiting news from Hull to say that our new little niece is on her way. My sister-in-law assures me she has already tried a hot curry to bring on labour!
Any other suggestions?
P.s. There is something called a ‘Hail Mary pass’ which we heard much discussion about, but never actually witnessed.
P.p.s. Hubby is convinced that if you don’t have long tresses you probably don’t qualify to be an NFL cheerleader. #mydreamsshattered
P.p.p.s. If you missed my first lessons from sport, click here.