Monday, 29 October 2012
When I worked out that I'd be able to pass through Houston and catch up with an old university friend Brad and his wife Louise and son Sean I was keen to experience some real American football. Having been to see Leicester Falcons play once and been a bit underwhelmed I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about!
Unfortunately the Houston Texans were out of town the weekend I was there but Brad assured me that a trip to see his Alma Mater, Rice University play on the Saturday would be just as good.
We headed over just after 11.30 to try to catch some tailgating which there was a small amount of, as below, but then headed straight into the stadium for the main event. I'd been given a quick briefing on the rules before getting there (which did remind me of the hour I spent trying to explain cricket to my hosts in Seattle - thanks for being patient with my stupid questions Brad!) but I was still not sure if I'd follow all the action.
In a slightly surreal moment a guy came up to us at the queue for the ticket office and handed over three tickets with the words, "You need tickets? Here take these" and wandered off with no request for payment - bargain!
The game was against Southern Mississippi University whose mascot is a Golden Eagle - a fair foe to face off against the Rice Owl (as seen at the top of this post). The first thing that strikes you when entering the stadium is the sheer scale. Rice is a pretty small university even by UK standards - c. 4000 undergraduate students - but the stadium holds 47,000 people! There weren't that many people there on this slightly chilly (for Texas!) Saturday in October I can assure you. (As an aside the stadium was where JFK made his famous declaration that we go to the moon because it's hard, not because it's easy: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too". And apparently this is the one time that the stadium was filled to it's old capacity of 70,000 people).
And apart from the scale of things, the spectacle is much more impressive than even a professional sport game in the UK - the players run out onto the pitch through an inflatable tunnel and dry ice and there's a proper half-time show (of dubious quality admittedly but, still).
I won't try to do a play-by-play account - you can get that here but let's just saw that it was a great afternoon's play - probably more enthralling than the baseball (my report of that here) as although it's similarly stop-start in terms of the action, when things get going they really get going - I was cheering good plays and abusing the referee with the best of them by the end of it!
Not sure it's quite supplanted cricket in my ranking of sports to go and see (and I certainly wouldn't get up at 1.30am to get tickets for it) but I loved the authentic experience and might be tempted to follow a professional team in the future. The NFL are committed to bringing a series of games to Wembley and according to this there might be a plan to create a UK team to play in the NFL in the future - bring it on!