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Memory: An Englishman Watching A Live American Football Game

[An old memory, from my time living in America, as I tried to capture my experience of going to an American football match, having only watched it on television.]

Sunday, 15 September 2002. Indianapolis, Indiana. I have a ticket to see the Miami Dolphins take on the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome, kick-off at noon. There is a nice symmetry to the fixture, as I have been here in Indy for nearly two years, and the first team I used to root for were the Dolphins, so I will be happy whoever wins, as long as it is a good game.

There is a nice vibe heading into the game. I think the Dome holds about 50,000 people, which is rather a lot of folks to be descending on downtown Indy, so the police are out in force to keep control of traffic, especially on Capitol Avenue. Loads of people walking down the street, nearly all dressed in a blue Colts shirt (with either Manning, James or Harrington as the name on the back – Manning is the quarterback, James is the running back and Harrington the wide receiver, who feature in many of the plays I will see today), shouting and cheering and being good natured. There are Miami fans dotted about, which I didn’t expect, but people move from state to state, so I should have thought of that. There is no antagonism towards them, as would be the norm between soccer fans, so this is rather nice. The atmosphere reminds me of walking to Highbury or Wembley for big games, the buzz of anticipation.

The venue itself is huge, and the number of vendors selling junk food and junk merchandise is staggering. I somehow avoid them. I also avoid being in the stadium when they play the national anthem (I am pointing the pink pistol at the porcelain firing range) for which I am glad. When I walk up the steps into the arena proper, it is a cool reveal, and I discover that my seat is better than I thought. I am in the corner, admittedly (the ticket was only $55) but I am 15 rows up, quite close to the action, on the Colts side of the field. (There are so many people participating, from players to subs to coaches to assistants to waterboys, they need an entire side of a field for all them.) The only thing is that the seat is so narrow. I hit my wide hips sitting down, and barely have enough room to leave my arms anywhere comfortable. The guy to my left is trying eat nachos, but I have no idea how he is doing it without getting him or me covered in fake plastic cheese sauce-like substance. This is incongruous, as eating vast quantities of crap is apparently part and parcel of the watching live sport event, but it seems impossible to accomplish in seating designed for children.

The game starts almost promptly (television cameras, everywhere around the field and up in the stands, remind you that TV is keeping the schedule here) and the atmosphere is cool. Cheering the home side unreservedly while booing the opposition. The game itself is quite difficult to watch live and at this position in the arena; seeing around twenty men explode in motion and end the play within three seconds is something not designed to be witnessed easily in front of 50,000 people without the aid of 123 cameras and action replay. (Not that the replay is working correctly, as the choice of plays deserving the honour of replay are seemingly chosen at random.) If it wasn’t for the cameras, we wouldn’t have a clue what is going on sometimes. I can now see why my theory about American sports being better suited to the big screen rather than watching it live, compared to soccer, is valid; the nature of the game in its present form is perfectly suited to television rather than stadium viewing. It is disconcerting not being able to see the play again from several different angles and in slow motion to understand what happened and who did what to whom.

At least we have cheerleaders to distract us. There are around 20 of them, and they split up into 4 groups and go to each corner of the stadium to cheer to that part of the crowd. They rotate at each quarter, so we can see which one is the hottest, erm, I mean, to divide their time equally among the fans. They all have long hair, which can be moved about dramatically in their, admittedly quite simplified, routines. For the first half, they wear skirts, but change to shorts and what look like bras that have had sleeves added to them for the second half, for no particular reason. Both halves they wear cowboy (or is that cowgirl?) boots, because we are the Colts, I suppose, as well as natural colour tights, which look horrid, and detract from the inherent sexiness of athletic, nubile women with long legs and dazzling white teeth dancing around and showing their bums. I feel sorry for them, because when they are not doing their cheerleader thing, they have to stand with their hands (in their pom-poms) on their kidneys, their elbows out wide, and one leg is straight while the forward leg is slightly bent at the knee. It looks very stupid, in my opinion. Actually, the worst case of embarrassment is when they do their big routine in between quarters, when they all get together again to do their stuff, but have to suffer the indignation of an Austin Powers impersonator doing a bad Austin Powers thing in between and around them as part of the show. Very sad. Maybe this is to show that it’s for the kids or something. Actually, I’ve just remembered worse: having to stand there while an advert for the Colts Cheerleaders Calendar is shown on the large screens at each end of the Dome. Glossy pictures of them in bikinis and stupid poses flash on the screen while they must be cowering in shame on the inside.

Postscript: I can’t remember much else from the game now, and it was only from using the vast power of the internet that I know that Miami beat Indianapolis 21–13, something I neglected to record in my original piece; I can’t tell you if it was a good or bad game. However, I did enjoy the experience.

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