Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Buffalo Bills September 18th, 2005
On the eve of the new NFL season our resident office expert on all things American sports blogs about the first time, he went to an NFL game.
On a trip to Orlando, Florida during a heat wave we had the bright idea of going to see our first NFL game. So in the car we piled to make the the hour and a half journey down the I-4 to the Raymond James Stadium home of the perennial losers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe I’m being harsh calling them perennial losers given they won a Superbowl in 2002 and in lately in 2020 but they had a 26 game losing run and 14 years of consecutive loses, however they are undefeated in Superbowl games and the first expansion team to to clinch a division title, win a playoff game, and host a conference championship so every cloud and all that.
We arrived and parked up near the stadium before realising we neglected to think about tickets – DOH! Luckily scalpers were out in full force and tickets in decent seats were secured for face-value.
When we walked to the stadium we were amazed at all the activity in car parks and gardens, people were wandering from car to car (well truck to truck) with beers and food. As we got closer we saw and experienced what we soon learned is a staple of American sports – the Tailgate Party.
Fans arrive hours before games start and get ready to party – marques, flags and seating are all erected. BBQ’s set up, I saw gas, charcoal and someone actually smoking meats and music turned on. People PARTY and this is before the game has even started. Its a joyous, carnival atmosphere with different sections taking it more seriously than the next, and sections competing with each other for display, food and variety of beer. We loved it!
At first we didn’t have a clue what was going on, but a few polite questions and us Brits were given a warm welcome, a burger and a cold beer (did I mentioned we went in a heatwave?) and we joined in. We were having such a good time, we were almost sad to have to go off to the game!
So a top tip from me, research tail gate parties if you go to an NFL game and turn up early and experience it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
We entered the ground and had seats on the half way line, about 20 rows back, so ideal seats for us newbies. Opened in 1998, this bowl like stadium sponsored by Raymond James financial services had unobstructed views all round but what amazed me was the full size replica pirate ship located in the aptly named Buccaneer Cove. The game was a sell out with 65,000+ fans in attendance.
A relatively tame first quarter resulted in a score of 0-0 but sometimes the match is second to the entertainment in the crowd with Bills and Buccs fans all mixed together with funny, free flowing banter going back and forth between the fans, something us Brits aren’t used to with crowd segregation.
I learned another important tip that day that has stuck with me, especially on my most recent trip to Louisiana, Bills fans kept taking it in turns disappearing to the toilet and to the bar, and when they came back they were distributing wet towels amongst themselves to wipe the sweat and put over their necks, genius idea especially when were in an open air, concrete bowl on a scorching day!
The temperature hit over 40 degrees and my friends made their way inside to watch the game in the bar, I stayed and the sweat was literally pouring off me and all the Bills fans.
The game continued to be a back and forth affair until the Bills Quarterback got sacked in the end zone, first points to the Buccs and the crowd went wild. Suddenly there was a series of explosions in the stadium and I through myself on the floor, only to be laughed and pointed at by all the fans – each time the Buccs score the crew on the Pirate Ship fire the cannons, two make explosion noises and four fire confetti. they are loud, very loud – how was I supposed to know it was all part of the experience? Some fans helped me and my red face to my feet ready for the rest of the game.
With just under three minutes remaining of Q2, the Buccs scored again, rushing the ball one yard over the line, this time I was able to enjoy the celebrations without thinking Bills fans were destroying the stadium! The Buccs converted the field goal to make it 9-0. The Bills stormed up the pitch from the punt but just couldn’t get the ball over the line, with a minute to go they kicked a field goal making the score 9-3.
Half time. And a cool half time at that. Only 15 minutes but the cheerleaders put on a show, the Pirate Crew walk around the stadium firing t-shirts and freebies out of cannons, and it gave me a chance to cool down inside with a nice beer!
The third quarter started the same way as the previous two, back and forth for nearly ten minutes before the Buccs engaged their rushing game and bashed their way up the field to score a touchdown and with their field goal the score was 16-3, this was to be the only scoring drive of the game.
The fourth quarter started at a fairly high pace, this is why I loved American Football, you have to keep trying to score, and charge up the field, if you don’t you risk turning the ball over close to your endzone resulting in the game turning quickly against you, not like other sports where you can reduce the pace and play around with the ball running the clock down.
The Bills tried and tried to get back into the game but they just couldn’t get past the mean defence of the Buccs. When the Buccs scored a field goal after six minutes of Q4 making the score 19-3 the game was as good as over but the Bills kept going and their last drive nearly got them a touchdown but it just wasn’t to be for them.
Whilst the Bills were in a transition period, the hopes of Tampa were on the Buccs who ended the season with their first winning record since they won the Superbowl but it was alas not to be and they were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs by the Washington Redskins before entering into a long period of decline, only recently being revived by the GOAT Tom Brady.
I love watching American sports live when I’m on holiday, the build up, traditions and fan fare always make it a great day out for me, and I highly recommend incorporating seeing a game, be it American Football, Basketball or Baseball when your on a trip. Hearing 80k fans in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans chant ‘Who Dat’ always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
On my bucket list is to see my beloved and mostly frustrating Chicago Bears play live at Soldier Field. If anyone wants to take me, then please drop me a note!
If you want to see a live game on your next trip to North America then we’ll be happy to incorporate this into any bespoke intinary we create for you. Want to start chatting? Then give us a call today 0800 316 3012 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.