On the eve of the 2014-15 NFC and AFC Championship games, I find myself desolately ruminating on my time in the three stadiums I was so honoured to visit during my 2010 exchange to the United States. My Green Bay Packers are returning to the NFC title game, and while my prospects of a quick flight up to Seattle to watch Aaron Rodgers lead my small town outsiders to the Super bowl have now just about completely subsided, I thought a post recounting my trips to Indianapolis, Dallas and Glendale would suffice as a adequate substitute. I have been a fan of the National Football League since my later years in High School, losing favour with the domestic sports Australia had to offer and instead initiating my fixation with this alien game. It’s preciously those things most unacquainted persons unforgivingly criticise about the game, that makes it without a doubt, the most exciting, and thrilling sport to spectate. The strategy, the anticipation, the pressure of making that 3rd or 4th down; the convoluted and complex rule book is tortuous to learn, demanding at a minimum two seasons to grasp an elementary appreciation, not to mention the actual gameplay and planning that takes hundreds of games to understand.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38 at 35 Arizona Cardinals
31st October 2010
The first NFL stadium I ever visited happens to be the venue for this year’s Super Bowl, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The stadium is home to the Arizona Cardinals, and is about a twenty minute drive out of downtown Phoenix and is only one of very few indoor stadiums that sports real grass. When games aren’t being played, the stadium has a facility to roll the grass out into the parking lot so it has exposure to the sun. As is quite common with most sports in the US, my friend and I bought our tickets on approach to the stadium from scalpers. We got our tickets for $20, far cheaper than any other tickets I bought for NFL games, yet the seats were by far the least exciting. Not having access to a car, we were forced onto public transport, something that is usually designed to accommodate large crowds to and from sporting games. However it is something of an icon to see stadiums from the air with hundreds of cars parked around it. This allows for fans to “tailgate”, meaning they come to the stadium hours before a game, set up in the parking lot next to their car with barbeques, throw balls around, and hang out until the game begins. A very traditional approach to watching NFL. So as a consequence, our trip to the stadium took roughly three hours on public transport, including a walk to the metro station, time on the metro, and transferring to a bus that I recall starting before 1st Ave, and driving perfectly from East to West, up until 91st Ave where the stadium was, stopping what honestly seemed like over a hundred times.
After years of going to Rugby League, Rugby Union and many other Australian sporting matches, it was truly surreal to actually be sitting (standing) in an NFL stadium watching a game. While the two teams weren’t of a particularly high calibre, it was a high scoring affair. The absence of commentary, as with watching all sports at the venue, was particularly unnatural for American football as the stop, start nature meant there was a lot of time without action, or the familiar voices filling the time and adding suspense between plays.
Cincinnati Bengals 17 at 23 Indianapolis Colts
14th November 2010
American stadiums stand out for all the right reasons. I spent a lot of time just walking around them while I had the chance. Those stadiums that are fully enclosed are some of the most incredible. Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts, sits among the other buildings of the city. A small metropolis, Indianapolis in punctuated by various factories scattered around the outskirts of the CBD in a rather salient manner. There’s no mistaking what was in mind when Lucas Oil was built; complete with a retractable roof and side window that allows fans to escape the freezing cold while still feeling like their team is not playing completely indoors.
It was amazing to see the stadium packed out for such an inconsequential game. As with most of the NFL, games will tend to sell out each week; a function of the popularity of the sport, but also the enormous populations that most teams represent. The atmosphere was fantastic. Of course, Green Bay, with a population of around 100,000, manages to sell out their home games with 80,000 fans packing Lambeau Field eight times a season, at least.
There is no nation with a greater claim to complete patriotism than the United States. The site of an American flag stretching 100 yards down the field, and the full width across, held by members of the US Armed Forces was a sight not readily forgotten by most. The national anthem is sung slightly louder, and to describe American nationalism as approaching something tangible is something most who have visited or lived in the US could attest to.
The game itself was regrettably, a fairly routine mid-season matchup, producing no memorably plays or sequences. Peyton Manning, arguably the best Quarterback in the game at the time, was a favourite player of mine; and my sole reason for venturing to Indianapolis. It was great to see him play, and from a more preferably seating position, witness the team operate for a win.
Philadelphia Eagles 30 at 27 Dallas Cowboys
12th December 2010
In a last minute decision, I decided to fly to Dallas to watch the Cowboys play the Eagles in a late season Divisional match up. Cowboys Stadium, dubbed by some “Jerryworld”, after the Billionaire Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, had just been completed that year and boasted the biggest screen in the world that hung right above the field. The stadium itself was absolutely incredible. An extremely modern venue, the stadium has giant artwork hanging in the areas outside the field, some of the nicest restaurants filling the halls, and the most comfortable seats I’ve ever seen at a sporting arena.
It’s hard to overstate just how enormous this screen is. Given that the screen fills almost the top half of the photo, yet the players on the field appear barely visible provides some semblance, but as with most things, experiencing it in person is the only way to truly appreciate its presence. Given my temporary residence in the United States, I was more than happy to pay for a trip over the weekend to see these NFL matches; however, I wasn’t sure how common it was for people to travel considerable distances for games. Staying at a hotel adjacent to the airport, they had a shuttle organised for visitors, saving what would have been over $100 in taxis for sure. But it also meant I got to meet some other people who flew in for the game, including some from Philadelphia, a destination much further from Dallas than Phoenix. Drinking a Coors Light in the back of a small shuttle bus with some American fans, it was interesting to get their take on the game. Most of all though, they were appreciative of the fact they were able to fly across the country just to watch a game. Sensing perhaps the shared realisation of the ridiculousness of spending so much money on attending a sporting match, I was glad to meet some fans who shared not only my enthusiasm, but an inclination to dispense a reasonable portion of money to have had that experience.