Updated: Nov 27, 2018
It truly is difficult to fully describe the atmosphere and experiences one may have at an NFL football game. With so many hilarious, frightening, and just down right rowdy sounds, any of those brave enough to attend this type of event is certainly in for a treat. In case you couldn't tell, I am writing about my recent experience as a spectator at my very first professional football game. I attended the game in week 8, where the New England Patriots visited the other boys dawning Americas colors: the Buffalo Bills.
Forewarning all readers: I am an absolutely huge Patriots fan through and through and I had the best time maneuvering my way around enemy territory.
For awhile, I wasn't sure how I wanted to write this piece. What should I say, how should it flow? I didn't know which points I wanted to focus on or which takeaways I wanted to highlight. Instead of thinking too much about it, I decided to just start writing. I let the ideas flow and listened intuitively to any (and all) of the points of interests that stuck out in my mind from that special day. I won't even really focus on the game itself since I'm sure you probably know the outcome (if you don't, that's where YouTube takes over). There were so many things to write about from a spectator point of view that I wouldn't even have enough strength left in my fingers to review the actual plays of the game. I'll touch on key points throughout the game that led to certain spectator reactions, but I won't indulge as to what it meant for the game or team.
Let's start at the beginning, many of hours before the game had even gone underway. As I headed out of the house and onto the road towards New Era Field, the rush of excitement was already hitting. Repping as much New England merchandise as one could possibly own, I started imagining all stares and boos I was destined for. To my surprise, however, it wasn't Bills fans who I first crossed paths with. Instead, I ran into some good ol' Patriots fans. Not just one or two, but upwards of ten. Common goal of getting through the boarder and to head straight onto the Bills Mafia waiting across the line. With a mob of cars spread across the open lanes of the boarder, fans alike began to wave jerseys, cheer, and even shout, "Go Pats!"
After a total of 4 hours on the road, a quick stop at the golden Target for beer and pizza, off I went to begin my tailgate experience. The time had come to be forced into the "belly of the Bill." I parked my car on a Bills fan's lawn (that appeared to be the way everyone was doing it) and, from the moment the car was parked, I was almost handed Bills souvenirs. Weaving through the crowds, I respectfully declined as someone handed a beer cozy that had "Tom Brady sits when he pees" written on it. While I can't confirm nor deny he does, I wasn't about to support that kind of bold accusation and display it across my personal beer cozy. After about two minutes of walking towards the stadium, it was clear that there were no rules anymore. Everywhere I looked, every person had a beer in hand (I mean everybody). Despite the fact that there was a cop just shy of ten feet from me, I cracked my first cold one and joined in the fun. Going through the thick of where the elite tailgaters were, it was obvious I was in over my head (unusual considering I'm 6'6). I was deep in the midst of a sea of barbecue cookouts and blazing fires (to keep those sports fans warm), and was almost swallowed up by the chants of "Let's Go Buffalo" which came from all directions.
The line up into the stadium alone should've been enough to tip off what would soon become one of the most memorable nights populated by the most memorable of sports fans. I was aware that going into an NFL game as the away team fan puts a huge target on you, but immediately upon entering the crowd felt the way those numbers on the front and back of my shirt quickly transformed into what could only be described as a bullseye. What was a little fortunate about my scenario going into Buffalo as a Patriots fan was, for starters, the colours are pretty well the exact same: blue bases with red and white as the complimentary colours. The only thing that set us apart was the shading. Put those jerseys in the dark of the night, factor in the mass alcohol consumption and they quickly become recognized as “same-same but different”. All lined up at the gates closer than sardines in a can seemed like the perfect time to scan around to who was wearing what logo. You can't really tell who is a fan of who (or what) unless you're truly focused. To my left and right I would have a couple Buffalo supporters chanting out cheers and mutually agreeing that Tom Brady sucks. I couldn't tell you how many times someone personally pointed out to me that Tom Brady kisses his son on the mouth (it seems that is a relevant point to football and ones ability to play).
Talking amidst the crowd, I was amused by how many people were able to pickup on the fact that I was Canadian when I would speak. There were so many Canucks at the game. In what could only be described as a herd- a pack, a clan, a flock- of accent laden, maple syrup loving, "eh" emphasizing Canadian Sports fans.
NOTE: my Canadian identity by no means slowed down any chirps or yips coming from others with reference to my choice of support.
To my surprise, when I arrived to my seat, I was surrounded by a decent wall of likeminded Patriot fans. Even where there would be a pile of Bills fans, you could always spot the Pats fan. I will admit, that Bills fans were some of the best spirited fans I had seen (despite their being in favour of such a terrible team). My view was directly parallel with the end zone line and high, almost to the top of the first bowl of seats. Visitor side of the field. Perfect view of the entire game. Don’t get me wrong, there were absolutely some obnoxious people around, but aside from some random belligerences, my seating was prime. Bills fans gave high fives to other Bills fans as they booed Pats fans walking down the isle. I heard one woman go on a rant for fifteen minutes about how Buffalo would not only win the game, but contend for a Super Bowl. The unfortunate soul who had to endure this directly beside him would casually respond with “Nooo, Bills are bad.” He knows.
I had one Patriot fan sit beside me while his two Buffalo fans for friends sat two rows down and listened as they would persistently jab back and fourth. At one point, I even got involved for my own amusement (and to get the full football game experience, of course). I saw a fight down near the bottom of the stands where the tanked of the tanked all subsided. To my complete surprise, there was a Bills fan who did not where a shirt for the entirety of the game (chilly, much?). The temperature felt so cold you could almost see the moisture in your breath start to form to solid ice and this man was running up and down the aisles pumping up the squad in only his bare chest.
There were three moments that will forever stick out in my mind whenever I reflect on the experience. In order of occurrence.
I was lucky enough to be at the retirement ceremony for Buffalo great Thurman Thomas, and this was an experience I will absolutely not forget (since he is arguably the best player to ever dawn the Bills jersey). For anyone who is a true supporter of sport, his speech was incredibly moving. You could sense his love for the game and his passion for the organization. For the majority of the speech, the fans couldn’t contain their cheers. At the point near the end where the Patriots were taking the field again, the fans began mercilessly booing. While I understand those boos were for the New England Patriots, I found it incredible that when one of the best franchise players was in the middle of his moment, yet the fans would not hold themselves together. Instead, they chose to selfishly voice their displeasure which took away from his speech. I couldn't even hear what he was saying. Reflecting back, I hope that Thurman was: 1) unable to hear the fans, and 2) if he could, I hope he was able to not let it take away what was otherwise a very special moment.
Now that I start to think about it, all of my memorable moments have to do with the fans and their negative attitude.
The second moment was exciting for Patriot fans, and was the final straw for a lot of the Bills mafia: The Buffalo quarterback Derek Anderson heaved the ball downfield in what looked to be a fairly decent gain down field. It would've been nice had New England Safety Devin McCourty not sniffed it out from the moment it left the QB’s hand. He returned the interception over 80yards for a touchdown. As McCourty was seen walking his way into the end zone, Bills fans were already walking for the exits. For them, at that point in the fourth quarter with the score sitting at 25-6, the game was over. As a sports fan, I understand how expensive tickets for these live events may be (as I am constantly looking for the cheapest deals for the best seats) and I know there are people out there who would be willing to pay whatever price they find first just to secure a spot in that stadium. None of these people seemed to care, however, and chose not to stay until the very end of the game. The effect of this was twofold: on one hand, their early leave took away from the morale support their attendance gave to the players who struggled, but also took away from the physical support of actually being in the stadium spectating. No matter the outcome of the game, I still think its amazing to watch any one of those players out there. Bearing witness to professional level sports is an exhilarating experience, and showcases a level of talent that most of us could never get to. As an athlete, I know that players are always told: "you play until the end." Why shouldn't you as a “dedicated fan” do the same? If you truly feel passionate about the sport, you would suck it up; get over the bad weather, get over your disappointment, and get over the heartbreak you might be feeling. Having realistically no control over your team losing, it is your job to let the players know their efforts weren't for nothing. Moral of the story: stay till the final bell… case closed.
I want to dedicate this last paragraph to an unfortunate man in an unfortunate situation: Nathan Peterman, this one is for you pal. Now former quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, Peterman entered into the game extremely late, and only out of necessity. Starting quarterback Anderson took a hard hit that would force him out for the remainder. As Peterman trotted toward the huddle, what remainder of the pretty scarce crowd that was left, began to boo again. Now I'm not claiming to be an NFL expert, but when your own fan base is willing to "boo" one of their players throughout his entire time on the field, it's definitely worth considering parting ways. On my view, Nate may have been deserving of the negative praise since he’s been picked off seven times already this season only playing in four games (only finishing one entire game, accounting for three of those interceptions). At the same time, this is a young, professional athlete who is visibly struggling. Who is constantly walking into situations where he is scrutinized every moment. Obviously crumbling under the pressure, Peterman is someone who would need the support of the fan base to figure out the problems and find the right execution to win games. Its not as though Buffalo has done an outstanding job finding players who excel at protecting the quarterback. And besides LeSean McCoy, there really isn't any legitimate talent offensively to take the spotlight off Peterman. The Bills have always struggled producing offence, and have had a carousel of quarterbacks attempt to prove themselves as the answer or solution to the monstrosity that is the offensive options. Nathan Peterman just sped his ride up and purchased his one way ticket out of the Buffalo Bills.
Once the game was over, I was overcome by the rush of emotion that came as the aftermath of such an experience. I couldn't help but feel the sense energy- the buzz, the pulse, the acceleration- that carried me out of the stadium, into my car, and across the boarder. Looking back, it is hard to come to terms with everything that I took away from that experience. Seeing by far my favourite NFL player Tom Brady live and in person was something I thought I would never get the opportunity to do, and I feel grateful for having been able to do just that. It almost went by too quickly. I know I didn't get to see him throw a touchdown, but I was able to see the execution, the precision and the Belichick mentality of an all in effort. That last part- the all in effort- is what I have grown to appreciate about the Patriots and the way they do football. Look out, Bills Mafia. Next year I'm coming back to watch if you dare be brave enough to face my New England Patriots.