Thursday, January 5, 2017

Live Spectator

It had been years since I went to a professional football game.  I have a buddy who lives in St. Louis but is a loyal Giants fan.  He has come to Massachusetts a couple of times when the Giants played the Patriots.  Then once on a whim, when the Patriots were terrible, Donna and I drove to the stadium on game day and got tickets easily.  Another time in the 90s my brother got us tickets when the Jets played the Patriots in New York.  In the late 70s and 80s I went to a few games in Buffalo.  It's been over a decade since I went to a game.

For all of my fanaticism, I have not really enjoyed the viewing experience of games at the stadium. When my St. Louis friend came, it rained for one of the games and for the other we had to walk over a mile--easy-- from where we parked to the stadium.  When I saw the Jets play in New York while it was a decent seat in terms of distance to the field, we could not see the other end of the field very well. In Buffalo, we froze even when the games were in October. I never tried to go in November, but one October in particular I was an ice cube when we left the stadium.  There's also the issue of traffic getting out of the stadium.

But recently I thought I would give the experience another shot. I had noticed that the Patriots were playing the Dolphins on new years day in Miami. Well I knew I would not freeze in Miami, and it was the Patriots after all.  It would be good, I thought, to juxtapose for the first time in over ten years the experience of watching the game on tv to seeing it live.

I was so pleasantly surprised. It was just great fun to go to the game.  It did not hurt at all that it felt like a beautiful June day on January 1, or the tickets I bought on stubhub, were--by chance-- fantastic seats, or that to my surprise there were hundreds if not thousands of Patriots fans among the 50,000 or so spectators at the arena.

How was the experience different?

Well, to be sure the traffic getting into the stadium was hard (harder getting out),  I arrived at the park a full 90 minutes before the game was going to start and I kept getting waved on to farther and farther sections of the parking areas.  Then it cost me 40 bucks for the privilege of parking in another county. But that was the bad news.  The walk to the stadium was like a show in itself. There were tailgaters all over the joint. It was like walking through hundreds of parties.  The setups were elaborate.  Picnickers were eating hotdogs and sandwiches while knocking back cold ones (at 1130 in the morning).  Tables and tents were set up in the parking lot. Nobody was worried about getting cold on this 75 degree day.  I almost wanted to hang out with the tailgaters as opposed to going into the game.

I had never used my phone to carry a sports ticket previously to baseball or basketball or any type of contest.  No problem getting into Hard Rock Stadium with my little computer in my pocket.  As I walked in, the attendant scanned my "ticket" and then when something popped on my screen said, "Enjoy the game and you got a text from Bobby."

The noise in the stadium during pre game was as loud as any music you will hear in, well, a hard rock cafe.  Just blasting in my ears to the extent that I could not make a phone call from my seat even though the stadium was three quarters empty an hour before game time.

There was an enormous, but enormous American flag that was draped over the entire stadium for the national anthem. I mean the flag covered the whole 120 yards (field plus ten yards in each endzone). There were four enormous screens at each of the four corners of the stadium. One does not see as many replays as there are when watching tv, but still several were replayed and the images were extraordinary clear.

I found the spectators remarkably civilized and nobody gave the Patriot fans in my section any grief for rooting for the visitors. One guy got tossed for unruly behavior though I assure you that in Madison Square Garden this guy would not have stood out.

There were some serious imbibers. Two Dolphin fans, a couple, seated to my left barely had their asses hit the seat at any one time before they popped back up to get another couple of brewskis.

Each time the Dolphins got a first down the announcer got on with a cheer that would have been annoying had the Dolphins got a bunch of first downs. As it was the Patriots won easily so that noise was more amusing than anything else.

My seat was terrific. I was on the moon but could see the whole field. It was great to see the Patriots sideline, and watch how the substitutes shuttled in and out depending on the play. It was great to see what takes place during commercials as the quarterbacks played catch and others did exercises. When I was in cold stadia, the time outs used to drive me crazy as I was freezing during them. Here it was like a delightful scene played in the park during summer.

There were amusing contests during the breaks as well. The best was a kissing segment.  The camera would zoom in on a couple and then the kissing camera beckoned those caught to smooch.  One woman was holding a placard of her favorite player. When the camera zoomed on her and her man, she eschewed her date and kissed the placard.

While it took two and half hours to get back only about 40 miles, the day was a delight. I felt, truly, like a little boy who had gone to his first ball game.

When you watch a game at home there are lots of plusses. You can see replays from dozens of angles, you can use the bathroom without having to hop over an army. You can park in your driveway and when the game is over you can leave without waiting one minute, let alone two hours.  However, for those like me, who have avoided going to a game, it might be fun to attend one live now and again.

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