I was excited. I rarely say that these days about sport. It does feel sometimes as if I have “been there, done that”. I have seen World Cups, Champions League Finals, England Internationals. I have sat in the press box at Rugby World Cup Finals, enjoyed the finest hospitality at Wembley Stadium and the Bernabau. I have shared tactical knowledge with England’s finest manager, Alan Pardew (you cannot argue against this fact at the moment) and I have now experienced what it is like to sit at the Directors table at a football club.
But today I was REALLY excited. I was in New York, with a week’s full of work ahead but I was going to see my first ever NFL game. I couldn’t be looking forward to anything better, unless the warm up was a Lingerie League game of course (alas there wasn’t, but the Philadelphia Passion were at home to the Baltimore Charms on Thursday AND it is only 90 minutes away…Could I? Should I?). Myself and Mr Pravda were off to Newark (anagram of the word W@nker if you wanted to know) to see New York Jets play at their amazing new stadium, the MetLife against the New England Patriots and possibly the most famous ever QuarterBack – Tom Brady.
This wasn’t my first ever American Football game. Back in 1990 I won tickets to see the London Monarchs play the Barcelona Dragons at Wembley Stadium. I say win but actually all I did was buy a four pack of Coca-Cola. They were desperate times for the struggling franchise as you can imagine. Nor was this my first visit to Meadowlands, the huge sports complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Back in 2005 I went to the then Giants Stadium to watch England beat Columbia in a post season friendly. I booked the trip back in February 2005 when the Hammers at the time were struggling to hold a play off spot in the Championship. Of course they picked up form and ended up reaching the final against Preston North End in Cardiff. All was not lost as I ended up watching the game in Nevada Smiths in NYC with John Motson and Sir Trev.
But that was then, and this is now. I had two aims from the game.
- I was determined to complete the holy trinity – a foot long Nathans hot dog, a bowl of Killer Turkey Chilli and some Nonna Fusco Meatballs all washed down with some Blue Moon beer;
- To sign up at least two Americans to join Lewes FC’s Membership scheme.
Feasible? We will see. I have to say I have a soft spot for watching US sports live. I have seen Baseball, Basketball, “Soccer”, Indoor Football and Ice Hockey. And at every one, without fail, I have been ID. This was to be no exception as the stadium policy was very clear on my tickets:-
“Any guest who appears to be 40 years of age or younger will be required to provide appropriate proof of age with a valid driver license or non-driver identification card issued by a U.S. state or territory. Guests may not possess or purchase more than two (2) alcoholic beverages at a time. All concession stands and portable units will stop serving alcohol at the beginning of the third quarter”
So no drinking in the second half? Based on the fact that games could go on for three days, that is along time without a beer (and a “Lite” beer at that). But hopefully the game would be a perfect distraction.
The game would have been a shoe-in for Sky Sports Super Sunday with both teams sitting at the top of the AFC East with identical 5-3-0 records (won 5, lost 3, drawn 0). Only the Patriots three more touchdowns separated them coming into the game. However, the current form was with the Jets who were on a three game winning streak after two opening season defeats. Ironically the Patriots form was the complete reverse – two defeats after three consecutive wins.
It was a shame in some ways that this game wasn’t in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots have one of the most unusual celebrations of touchdowns in the NFL whereby 10 men dressed as minutemen line the back of each end zone. When the Patriots score a touchdown, field goal or point-after-touchdown, the militia behind the opposite end zone fire a round of blanks from flintlock muskets. Sums up America quite well – you can fire a gun in the stadium but if you appear under 40 you need ID to buy a Bud Lite.
The Patriots have been Super Bowl champions three times, with all three victories occurring in the past ten years under the guidance of legendary quarterback Tom Brady, some say the greatest Quarterback ever to grace the game. Dan Marino was good, although I was not impressed by the service at one of his diners in Orlando once, Joe Montana a great and of course the Cowboys had Troy Aikman. But Brady is a legend. He has played in four Super Bowls, winning three of them (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX). He has also won two Super Bowl MVP awards (XXXVI and XXXVIII), has been selected to six Pro Bowls (and invited to seven, although he declined the 2006 invitation), and holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single regular season. . Brady has the third-highest career passer rating of all time (95.5) among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 career passing attempts. Bit like Billy Bonds really.
The Jets have only one Super Bowl victory to their name, back in 1968 but have always had a rivalry with the Patriots, some may say because of the link between the Yankees and the Red Sox in Baseball. But with no concept of travelling fans this was hardly going to be a game where you needed to keep an eye out for some “action”.
Getting to the stadium these days is as easy as can be. A bus service runs from Port Authority under the Hudson to New Jersey, and Meadowlands. Yes – in one of those strange anomalies of US sport, there is only actually one NFL team from New York state and that is Buffalo Bills – the Giants and the Jets play in New Jersey – but hey, why let a small detail of geography get in the way.
We alighted and walked through the parking lot, which had been transformed into party central. Every car had its boot open, grill fired up and people were partying. Bands were playing, portable screens put up to watch the Giants game and beers were being passed around.
Tickets in hand from our good friend Will Call we headed for the shop, sorry Premium Megastore. After all, no visit to the game could be complete without picking up a trinket or two. I was like Charlie Bucket in the Chocolate Factory. I stood in awe at the greenness of everything but here were my top five items to buy.
Jets Shower Curtain Hooks (who wouldn’t want these at $20?)
Jets Fireplace screen (just $225)
Jets Door knocker (only $65)
Jets Remote Control stand (A bargain at $55)
Jets 50 beer can cooler on wheels (who needs hand luggage when you can have beer luggage – just $59.99)
Alas luggage restrictions from BA meant I had to resign myself to just the shower hooks and a dog t-shirt.
We started to climb up the stadium, and climb and climb. At one point we were given hats with oxygen and red lights on to warn any low flying aircraft from Newark Airport nearby. But eventually we reached concourse, bought the first of our holy trinity of the Nathan’s foot longer and indulged in some “beer”, which of course I was ID for. I say “beer” because it is essentially shandy. Quite why so many fans appeared absolutely slaughtered by kick off is a mystery considering what they are actually drinking!
Pre-match entertainment relied heavily on the Jets “Flight Crew” – the cheerleaders. They take this noble activity very seriously here in the NFL and the girls are essentially a business in their own right, with merchandise, personal appearances and their own benefit scheme. Obviously views from the Gods of their performance would be limited but based on previous games I can assure you it was top notch. It was also US Forces day so the biggest flag I think I have ever seen was unfurled on the pitch and we stood to attention like the patriots we are.
And then it was time. Pyrotechnics, loud music and a fair smidging of banter signified the start of proceedings. And by this time Luge and I had been awake for almost 24 hours.
New York Jets 16 New England Patriots 37 – The MetLife Stadium – Sunday 13th November 2011
In the end it was the Tom Brady show. Despite the over the top abuse raining down on him from the height of Mount Everest he simply kept his bottle more than the Jet’s Mark Sanchez and inspired the Patriots to a win that halted their losing streak. By the time the game was made safe in the fourth quarter, Luge and I had departed with matchsticks propping up our eyes. Not that the game wasn’t interesting, but let’s put it this way. By the time I walked into my hotel room at 12.01am the game had just finished. It had lasted 3 hours 41 minutes. For just an hour of game play.
It was almost a perfect start for the Jets as they took the ball into the Patriots 10 yard line with their first set of “offense”. However, in a very rare incidence they missed a field goal from just twenty yards and came away without a score. In fact the first quarter was one of attrition as the only scoring chances came from the boot with the Patriots Gostkowski planting two over the Jets bar to give them a 6-0 lead. Time for another beer and round two of the Holy Trinity – the Killer Turkey Chilli. Unfortunately, despite walking around the whole of the upper tier we couldn’t find where it was being sold, so we had to make do with Chicken Tenders and fries coated in Ranch sauce.
In the second period, the Jets got on the score sheet as Brady was forced to touch down in his own end zone (sort of an own goal but only worth 2 points). They then kept up the pressure and eventually we got the first touchdown when quarterbank Sanchez easily ran in from close range to give the Jets the lead. That lasted just a few minutes before another Gostkowski planting another field goal over the Jets bar to make it 13-9.
As if there wasn’t enough going on on the pitch, in the stands it was all kicking off too. Friendly banter between sets of fans started to turn nasty, culminating in a guy in his fifties telling a Patriots fan (female) to “Suck my dick”. She responded that he couldn’t get it up and if he did it was probably the size of a peanut. She then decided to take offence at the comment and act all innocent. “I am so upset. I am only 20. I feel violated”…I should add that she had had a few beers by this point. So after a spat with an elderly women next to us where she called her a “bitch”, she decided to get the old bloke thrown out. Nice people.
Back on the pitch the Patriots were in control with another Gostkowski field goal and then a Brady thrown Gronkowski touchdown giving them what appeared to be a unasailable 23-9 lead. Various shots of famous people in the crowd tried to raise the fans such as Donald Trump, Ice T and Spike Lee but it could raise the flagging spirits of Luge and I so we decided to start making the long trek back, with still ten minutes to go. And of course Sod’s Law decrees that we then miss a host of attacking play as the Patriots ran in two further touchdowns (Branch and Ninkovich) to leave the final score 37-16.
I had done it – every major US sport was now under my belt. It was an experience, but could I really go through that every week as a fan? Probably not, but then again that is what made the whole thing so special.
More pictures from the evening can be found here.