November 10, 2011

Football Sunday’s Party Crasher

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Attending a live NFL game is a dying tradition. It’s a hassle. It’s just not that fun. The hooliganism of die-hard fans has been replaced by the professionalism of corporate luxury boxes. More fans nowadays would prefer to watch the game on their 60-inch plasma TVs, in the comfort of their own homes, than have to deal with the trouble of traveling to and from the stadium. Don’t tell that to the crazies who go to the games on Sunday, because they clearly did not get the memo.  I bet none of you turn to the sports page to read about the columnists’ weekends, but my experience last weekend is worth retelling. It makes a good story, but more importantly, it speaks volumes to the NFL’s game day culture, a culture which is anything but “dying.” Last weekend, I headed up to Buffalo with a group of eight friends to watch the Bills square off against the Jets. This one had been marked on our calendar for months. We woke up at 7 a.m., made a quick stop at Wegmans to pick up tailgating supplies and were on our merry way for a three-hour drive to Ralph Wilson Stadium. As soon as we got within a few miles of the stadium, there were Bills fans everywhere creating a sea of white and blue chaos. We were in for an awesome day of football. And what made it all the more enjoyable was that we’re Jets fans.I know what you are thinking: what ensues is a story about a typical group of obnoxious Jets fans, disciples of Rex Ryan in both their confidence and their brashness. Damn right. The only thing was, we weren’t in Kansas anymore, and the Bills fans made sure we understood whose home it was. It began when Bills fans lining Jim Kelly Boulevard — the street leading to the stadium — shouted “Jets fans!” and proceeded to surround our car, unleashing verbal slurs that cannot be published in this newspaper. Two fans grimaced as they showed off the message on the front of their shirts: “The Jets Suck.” I didn’t think it was all too clever, until they turned around and I could see the backs: “Sanchez Swallows.” That was when I knew it was going to be quite a day. The fans didn’t get any nicer, but we didn’t exactly help ourselves out either. Four of us had J-E-T-S painted on our stomachs, with a message on our backs that read “Scott Norwood Wide Right,” a friendly reminder of the missed kick that dealt the Bills franchise its first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses. (Scott Norwood was “honored” (read: forgiven) last Sunday in a pre-game ceremony.) Another friend donned a No. 51 Vilma-turned-Maybin jersey, to remind Bills fans of their underachieving first-round draft pick who has been performing quite well for the Jets. The rest of our crew was decked out in Jets gear, and one of them (quite wisely) even wore a Jets helmet.After some light heckling and one surprise-attack in which a Bills fan ran around smacking us with a stuffed animal buffalo, it was nearly game time, so we made our way to the stadium’s entrance gates. Walking to the stadium, I felt like a prisoner of war in Ancient Rome being marched through the streets. Light heckling turned into vicious slurs. Mr. Clean himself didn’t have enough soap to wash out the mouths of Bills fans on that day. Bottles, chicken wings and hot dogs flew in our direction from all angles. It was a war out there, and we were greatly outnumbered.In response, we were anything but shy. We paired chants of “HERE COME THE JETS” with equally rude insults, and managed to get into the stadium without any bodily harm — which probably owes itself more to the intimidating war paint on our faces than our physical statures. Once inside, “Rot in hell you @$%^&!” seemed to be the Bills fans’ go-to insult, though other death threats and generally rude remarks were constantly thrown in our direction. Seemingly innocent children and a group of girls behind us got in on the action, smacking us on the head with pom-poms every time the Bills had a big play. As a visiting fan, you just have to take it, or risk having herds of angry fans overpower you and biased security guards subsequently kick you out instead of the aggressors (as happened to a pair of pummeled Jets fans to our right). But we had our moments. Whenever the Jets scored, we led a J-E-T-S chant, fireman hats and all. Sure, I had to dodge some beer bottles, magazines, and pom-poms while on my friend’s shoulders, but it was well worth it. And as the game began to lean in the Jets favor, everything changed. We were in control, as a team and as fans. As the time wound down with the Jets clearly headed towards victory, the few remaining drunken taunts were quickly met with “scoreboard” and “The exits are that way.” Other than a congratulatory five star that one of my fellow shirtless friends received from a sarcastically-sportsmanlike Bills fan, we made it out unscathed. Thank goodness our team backed up our talk, because we sure as hell couldn’t have. There is something decisively thrilling about being in opponent territory, especially when your team walks out with the ‘W.’ Even when things don’t work out so well, there’s something special about being at a game in person and experiencing the game-day culture, from tailgating to trash-talking to kickoff to more tailgating, that you just can’t experience on your couch at home. So the next time you’re considering going to watch an NFL game in person, even if it means putting your life on the line, don’t hesitate to do it because if you don’t, you’re putting your fanhood on the line.         On to the picks… Saints at Falcons (Pick’em) The two teams atop the NFC South are set to clash on Sunday in what’s sure to be a close game. The Saints are coming off a win against a shaky Bucs team, and a loss the week before to a shakier Rams team. The Falcons have won their last three rather handily. Even Vegas is unsure about this one, but if recent performances are any indicator, the Falcons are a good pick.  Falcons by 2. Giants at 49ers (-3.5)It’s tough to pick against a 7-1 49ers team at home, but then again it was tough to pick against the Patriots at home for the past few years until the Giants put an end to the most frequently-cited streak in football. What’s more, the Giants play poorly against bad teams, but great against good teams — and for the first time in years, the 49ers are a good team, but it won’t show this week.  Giants by 3. Patriots at Jets (-1.5)Calling the Patriots defense Swiss cheese would be giving them too much credit. The Jets defense, on the other hand, seems to be regaining its identity from the past two years as a stout run-stuffer and stingy coverage corps. Gang Green, coming off strong running performances and three straight wins to show for it, is primed to keep its perfect home record. For the Patriots, close but no cigar. Jets by 3.

Original Author: Paul Picinich