Today was, I suppose, one of the highlights of the holiday. We were off to see a real live bone fide NFL game. Now this isn’t my first game of American football, no sirrree y’all. Nikki, my big sis, was one of the early adopters of gridiron (nope, no idea why it’s called that, just believe me it is). Those of you of a certain age may remember that when Channel 4 launched in 1982, one of its early sports offerings was American football (and also Italian football. I remember watching a game at Laaazzziiioo and seeing flares in the crowds and assuming it was crowd violence, well this was the height of hooliganism in the UK. Apparently that is just the way to do things in Italy. But less of this, we are talking about American football). But it had actually been featured on World of Sport prior to that, which is where Nik spotted it. (For those of you too young to remember life before ridiculously expensive sports rights, there were two offerings on a Saturday afternoon; BBC1 had Grandstand which was mainly horse racing and then the final scores of the football; and ITV had World of Sport which basically had any old tosh they could buy from foreign broadcasters and the the wrestling was on from 4-5. Hence the reason gridiron was on.) The team that was playing was the LA Raiders (and another team, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a competition). From that point on Nik’s heart was set on the men in black (and slilver).
On August 3rd 1986, American football came to the UK in the form of the American Bowl, a demonstration game between the Chicago Bears (featuring William “the refrigerator” Perry) and the Dallas Cowboys. Nik and I got the train from Lime Street and had a day trip to Wembley. Things I remember about that day; old Wembley really was a bit of a dump (especially the gents’ toilets which was basically a trough containing fast flowing urine and cigarette stubs); It rained. I mean real torrential stuff; being given a copy of the Chicago-Sun Times newspaper and realising that I should have done weight training before picking it up. I had never realised just how heavy a newspaper could be; The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Come on I was a 16 year old boy! Oh and Chicago won, but the game was kind of secondary to the razzamatazz that went with it.
I went to other American bowls with Nik and when Karen appeared on the scene we went to a few London Monarchs’ games. (This was the NFL’s bid to make the game more popular by creating European and Canadian teams to play in the World League. The fact that one week the Monarchs might be playing Frankfurt in London, then the following week they might be off to play in Montreal made travelling to away games impossible and meant that the whole thing fell flat on its arse and was abandoned a few years later.) The NFL do now have a couple of proper (I.e. league, not demonstration games) in London, but this was the first time that we had seen a real American game in a real American stadium with real Americans screaming unintelligibly at the field of play
Being in Nashville, the team was the Tennessee Titans and their openents….the Raiders. This was a win win position for me. If the Titans won, great news y’all; if the Raiders won, then that would be one for the old team. (Karen was not going for such pragmatism and set her total heart and soul behind the Titans.) We got the tickets on NFL Exchange for less than you would pay for a ticket to a Championship game of football, so we were well chuffed.
When we have been chatting with various Uber drivers (more on that tomorrow) and we have been telling them that we were planning to go to the game it has been met with comments varying from how bad the team is; how they are expecting trouble as the Raiders are bad boys; that there would be us and three other people there; and that this time last year, the team was so bad that they were giving top tickets away for 15 bucks on the day of the game. This was game three of the season and so far the Titans had one won and lost one, so not a devastating start to the season (unlike Boro, who seem to have really lost form since I have come away on holiday).
We didn’t care, we were going to an NFL game. We got to the game with plenty of time to soak up the pre-match atmosphere (yep, we are in a competition to win a shed. You don’t get that offer at many Premier League games do you. Soccer, you have so much to learn). I have already made reference to the heat here (sorry to rub it in….not) but it is still in the thirties and sitting outside in an uncovered stadium at an altitude just below that at which jet aircraft fly was always going to be problematic. It was hot, and as quickly as I was putting liquid in me, it was leaking straight out of me again. We took our seats about 15 minutes before kick off and the thing that struck me was how empty it was. Admittedly we were in the “nose bleeders” but generally the whole stadium felt empty. During the course of the first quarter it filled up, but it certainly wasn’t full.
The Titans took an early lead, but quickly lost it. At halftime it was 17-3 to the Raiders. Then we had the marching band at half time, which I loved as I had never seen one for real before. (Karen was very blasé about the whole affair as apparently she spent her childhood watching and following those marching bands. They used to march past the end of her street. Sunderland is basically a mini America.)
With 5 minutes to go before the end of the game, the Titans were still trailing and the stadium began to empty. Then in the last two minutes it got really exciting (just to explain that in gridiron, it can take about 15 minutes to play 2 minutes. The refs keep stopping the clock. Apparently the Glazers introduced exactly the same system when they bought Man United, they just forgot to tell the rest of the league). In the last 55 seconds, the Titans moved the ball from one end of the field to other, scored a touchdown (which would have drawn the game); had a the touchdown disallowed and then in the last five second everyone began shouting at each other, the fans walked out, the players walked off and the Titans lost (I knew what I was doing by hedging my bets). I’m still not sure what happened, but those people who left with 5 minutes to go missed it all. As for us, we stayed on for a further hour and watched the “pee wee” game (the juniors). We know how to get value for money.