Tuesday, November 25, 2003 Updated: June 7, 6:21 PM ET
A day at the stadium
By Bill Simmons Page 2 columnist
At its best, an NFL game is the best experience you can have as a fan. But the bad days ... ugh.
Here's when you know you're in trouble. Without ticket connections, you're stuck in nosebleeds near an end zone, wedged between a 400-pound strip-club bouncer and a wobbly college kid who assures you before kickoff that he's "almost done" puking. Thugs behind you drop so many F-bombs, Tony Montana would be blushing. And with the winter chill numbing your epidermis like novocaine, a $5 styrofoam cup of cocoa becomes the highlight of the game, the day -- possibly even the year.
It doesn't get better than this for a Bengals fan.
First, though, you have to get there. Do you enjoy traffic? Well, get ready for a healthy dose -- a steady crawl all the way there, another 20 minutes to park. And let's not speak of the two days it takes to get home. Still, the right tailgate can salvage the afternoon. At the Cowboys-Pats game, I crashed one with Igloos of beer, pulled pork and ribs, dogs and burgers, even DirecTV. Sure, it was 30 degrees out, and we could have had the same get-together in the warmth of someone's house. But where else do you get to party like bundled-up rock stars?
Just one problem. Ever see Cops? You know the one where the shirtless guy is pounding a forty and wiping blood off his knuckles, when they bust down his door and grab him by the mullet? All right, that's every one. Anyway, there's an 85-percent chance he's over at the next tailgate. Do not make eye contact. That last tailgate featured a friend of mine nearly brawling with a Cops reject, prompting another buddy -- a reasonable guy with a respectable job -- to cram a barbecue fork down his pants "just in case," before wading into the melee. Good times!
Inside the stadium, it's more cramped than a Southwest Airlines flight to Vegas. Can 10 people and 10 seats fit into three square feet? Apparently so. To make matters worse, you have to stand about 150 different times: 25 for a big play, 50 because some idiot mistakenly decides there's a big play and 75 because someone has to pee.
It's quite a crowd. You think, "Is this what it feels like to attend the Springer show?" and "When these two guys start fighting, will they spurt blood on me?" At my game, the moron behind me screamed obscenities at Tom Brady for four quarters. Tom Brady! Super Bowl champ! 29-12 (and counting) as a starter! What would this loser have done if Kurt Kittner were QB, charge the field?
You try desperately to follow the game. Without announcers or stats or many replays, and unable to judge distances or even see the football, you eventually realize you have no clue about what's happening. It's like watching a game on TV, if you're hanging upside down and getting clubbed in the head. And there are so many TV timeouts you lose the will to live. Three plays, punt, timeout. Eight plays, field goal, timeout. Kickoff, timeout. Two plays, really exciting TD, crowd gets into it, back-breaking timeout. These aren't just blips, either ... we're talking four-minute stretches of your life you'll never get back.
By the third quarter, with your face spasming and your ears covered in beer-spit, you want to leave ... but that impending traffic jam looms like the final stage of hell. You say things like, "If they score, we're out of here" and then, "For the love of god, get me out of here."
Eventually, your wish comes true. And that's when it gets good: that glorious ride home. Beating the traffic, you listen to the final minutes on the radio. Your extremities slowly reanimate in the heat of the car. Realizing you're still alive, you feel like the girl fleeing at the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In this case, it's the stadium swinging the chainsaw.
Will you ever go back? Of course. Because next time will be one of those perfect Sundays -- sun shining, home team kicking butt, strangers hugging and slapping fives. Like I said, the finest experience you can have as a fan. In the word of Joaquin Andujar, youneverknow.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, as well as one of the writers for Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC.