NFL Game One (Or, American Football through the eyes of a novice).

NFL Game One (Or, American Football through the eyes of a novice).

In Atlanta, Georgia, USA (this is the first blog from our road trip). Husband very keen to watch an NFL game, so I feign enthusiasm and we buy tickets. Cannot take a bag over a certain size into stadium unless it’s transparent. Spent a few stressful minutes deciding what was essential and stuffing pockets. Decided I would wear my cardi, with many pockets. Might boil.

11am. Left hotel room.

11:20 am. Gradually met more and more people heading towards the stadium. Most were wearing the blue/green/grey of Seattle Seahawk fans. They seemed a jolly crowd. Discussed jay-walking laws at traffic lights with one of them, who assured Husband a ‘quick nip’ across road was usually ignored but depending on the state, might incur a fine. We did a ‘quick nip.’

Dropped into a Starbucks for a pre-match refuelling. Husband offered further tuition on rules/players but I felt I had it covered, and had sufficient knowledge to fully enjoy the experience. (See, “fully enjoy” — I was being optimistic!)

Joined the throngs bound for the stadium. There was a level of excitement in the air, people were laughing, greeting other fans, discussing past games. Was I the only person thinking: hours in sun, potential terror threat, way too noisy, not enough washrooms?

There were more Atlanta Falcon fans now, dressed in red and black. Police were in place, but they were smiling, pointing out directions, part of the carnival. There were no horses, no riot gear, no segregating of different teams. This was a family affair, most people were in couples or family groups. No one was looking for a fight.

Entered stadium. Made it through the ‘no bag’ check with our stuffed pockets.

Then we had the most nerve-wracking part of the day, would our mobile tickets open the barrier? It wasn’t possible to print paper copies, or save them, we just flashed the phone under the scanner — and hoped. All good. We were in. However, when activated, the ticket disappeared. Needed to remember seat numbers.

Climbed stairs and escalators and more stairs. Found seats. No danger of being hit by a stray ball where we were sitting (but low-flying aircraft might be a problem!) It was similar to sitting on the peak of a very high mountain, with no safety gear. Considered tying myself to seat for security. Decided that might look odd. 

Looked down to the pitch. A band arrived, and a giant drum. Screens flashed details about Lock Down Locket and Matt Shabb, and there appeared to be 8 different referees. Cheerleaders skipped in a line of sparkle. A chicken arrived, to play the drum (I cannot explain the chicken, but it seemed significant). Drumming was very rousing, and a line of people ran on, did a short keep-fit routine, ran off. Boys ran on with giant flags. Three players ran on. Just three. Did they get their cue wrong? They sort of stood there, awkwardly throwing a ball back and forth. Bless.

The band, cheerleaders, keep-fitters and the chicken, left. The three players remained. There also were a LOT of people standing round the edges of the field (but it was quite tricky to find your seats).

Giant banners arrived, and the US flags, smoke, noise, lots of cheering and some rather irritating dance music blasted from the tannoys; the cheerleaders formed two lines (some buxom lasses there!) and the players ran between them, onto the field. All very exciting. There were several balls being thrown around, which I felt might cause problems later. The national anthem was sung.

Then, everyone but the players left the pitch (the unseated people still loitered at the edges, hoping no one would notice). The teams took their positions, everyone was very still, the ball was kicked, it rolled to the end. . . and. . . everything stopped again. People cheered, teams rearranged, it started again.

After two minutes, someone got hurt. He lay still, medics arrived, team members knelt down, we all worried. Hurt man got up. Game continued.

After three minutes — three minutes —there was a time-out. Did someone need a rest? I guess all that armour must be heavy. Or maybe he forgot to use the washroom (they are all boys).

After fifteen minutes, I was told we’d had five minutes of play. Obviously don’t include the washroom breaks. I felt afternoon was going to be long, settled down with a pretzel. We paused for a lucky draw based on seat numbers (the helmet shuffle game). Words escape me.

Teams returned. They start from where they finished, the place kept secure by two people with orange posts. 

To explain the rules (briefly, and as I understand them): two teams take it in turns to try and move a ball down the pitch, to the very end. The defensive team has to stop them by grabbing them. The game pauses when the ball touches the ground. They then have another go, from that spot. There are more rules, but I think that’s sufficient. When there’s a foul, the referee throws a yellow flag on the floor, in a sort of angry teacher tantrum, and blows his whistle, whilst keeping his distance. He is probably the smallest person on the field, and he has no armour, just a white cap — I guess he doesn’t want to take any chances. The crowd boos and shouts angry comments. When a team gets near to a touch down (ball nearly reached end of pitch) everyone gets very excited, stirring music blasts from speakers, sparkly cheerleaders have minor epileptic fits, audience leans forward on seats — all very moving.

At quarter time (45 hours into game) the seats at the front of the stadium fill up, as fans move forwards into empty seats. In-between play (there is a lot of in-between) big screens show close-ups of the crowd, who play simple games like ‘the T-shirt throw’ (it is what it says). Kinda fills the time.

Game ended about 4pm. The last five minutes was very long and lots of people left as soon as it was clear the Falcons had lost. We, however, stayed until the very end. There was music, we filed from the stadium, everyone seemed happy. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

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