As i mentioned in my last post i was off to ...

Trip Start Aug 08, 2002
Trip End Feb 01, 2004

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, November 18, 2002

As I mentioned in my last post, I was off to an NFL game between the Oakland Raiders (one of two local teams, the other being the San Fran 49rs) and the New England Patriots.

Well, the game kicked off at 5:30, so we left home about 2:30. It took us an hour to get to the parking at the stadium. As we neared the stadium, fans became more obvious by the stickers and flags attached to their cars in various manners. Once we got into the carpark the real spectacle began though.

Here you find people who have cars that are literally supporter wagons. They have stickers on the sides and doors like you would see a company logo. The serious ones are closer to the stadium, and must have been there a good few hours ahead of us (and we arrived 2 hours before kick off). How do I know this, well, the americans engage in what is known as tailgate parties. As part of this, many bring barbecues with them and set them up. There are so many in fact, that there are special bins for charcoal only! So basically, you have a big van/truck/SUV with a sound system; a TV (and aerial), for picking up all the other games during the day; a tent like thing to keep the sun off; plenty of chairs; a barbecue; some tables to set up you condiments on/eat off; and of course, your cooler filled with beer. And you camp out all day, trying to see who's sound system is the loudest.

Unfortunately, it's illegal to have alcohol containers in public places, so you have to be on the look out for the police, who'll issue you a ticket if they catch you (we saw this). Incidently, if you take a can into the stadium, and they catch you with it (you're okay with a beer in a plastic cup which is available at any of the food counters inside), they'll throw you out (we saw this happen too).

So, we headed to stadium at 4:00, after watching the guy in front get all his food and stuff out. We were inside by about 4:25, there were a few players warming up. Everytime a Raiders player came out, there was a massive cheer (for the whole hour leading up to the game), everytime a Patriots player came out, there was an even louder 'boo'. Dad and I spent most of the time figuring out which was the fattest player on either side using the useful number-to-name player guide in the programme we'd bought. This is the only sport where an obese, 300 lb person is called a sportsman (unless you count sumo, and some of them looked small compared to these guys).

Then the cheer leaders came out, they got the biggest roar of the night, not least of all by me and dad. All in all we think there were slightly more that 40. That's 10 for each corner during the game, plus some spares. We also came on the night of the cheerleader reunion (they're called the Raiderettes), so we had cheerleaders from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's as well, who all did a massive show at half-time.

Finally we get the teams out. The starting lineup of the home team has to run down the line of cheerleaders and teammates when they're introduced. Dad and I reckon that some of them were struggling, thankfully they didn't have to run that far again.

Now, dad and I weren't entirely sure what was going on. We've never seen a game, but we had some of it figured by the end, so here goes. There are 4 quarters, each 15 minutes long. The idea (once you kicked off) is to get the ball 10 yrds up the field, in 4 attempts (downs). If you succeed in getting the 10 yrds (not all in one go, you could get 2 and then 8 for example) you start over and they reset the number of downs to 1, and the number of yards to gain, to ten. If you don't succeed, the other team gets it's first down. You can lose ground (say the ball goes back to the quarterback and he's tackled, or you get a penalty) so you may have to make up that ground, plus the ten. The idea is to get into the end zone, which gets you 6 points. You can then kick (convert in rugby) for an additional 1. If the ball goes off the pitch, time stops, if you get a penalty called against either side, time stops, if either team calls a time-out, time stops. So, while each quarter is 15 mins on the clock, in reality, they averaged 52 mins each. Essentially there are 10 players, per team, on the pitch. Each squad though, has about 50 players, and these are in different 'teams.' Basically you have a defensive unit and an offensive unit. So if your defending, the defence is on, but if the other team doesn't get their ten yards in time and you get your first down, all ten players (on both teams) come off and are replaced by the offence (in this case). You also have special players in the kickers, who only come on for starting kicks, and field goals.

There are 7 refs, each of whom carry little things that look like hankerchiefs with a weight in the middle, which are called flags and are used to call penalties. The ref can also check one of several TV monitors around the pitch if there's a tricky decision.

In the stands meantime, there are people milling about constantly to get food, or more beer (unlike at a footy game, where people are in their seats for nearly the full 45 mins, here they come and go all the time). Mixed in are the nutters. These are people who are dressed not in the team shirts, but have put in a little more effort. One guy had the pads and shirt, and an army helmet sprayed in the team colours with a number on it. The best was probably the elvis guy, who had a sequined jumpsuit in the team colours.

Anyway, we won, and on the way back through the carpark, the people who had been partying on the way in, were now letting off fireworks in the carpark. And not just one or two, and, apparently, these are illegal in california too (due to the risk of burning the houses down, they're all wood). So they're risking a fine/arrest again, just to celebrate.

We finally got home at 10 pm, after leaving at 2:30, for a game that started at 5:30!
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