Friday, September 28, 2007

fútbol americano

About once a year, I have the honor of being Polly's late father's cousin's cold weather date to a Chicago Bears football game. (For my international readers, that's the game played with a brown oblong ball that is mostly carried in the players' hands. Only one or two people on the field actually strike the ball with their feet. You may have heard of this bizarre sport--it's quite a big deal here in the USA.) Bill has held season tickets for quite some time, and his seats are quite good. First row, 23rd yard line. It's a pretty good way to see a football game.

(The photo above should give you some idea of how good these seats are--somehow I thought a photo of people taking photographs would be more clever than it turned out to be. Oh well...)

While many cities in areas prone to sub-zero temperatures have built enclosed domes in which to play this sporting event, Chicago has not chosen to do so. In fact, the stadium was recently renovated and instead of putting a dome on top, they created this odd structure that looks as if a large toilet bowl seat had been installed on top of the classic architecture they were trying to retain. It's pretty damned ugly, but you'll have to take my word for it. I tried to find a good photo of it, but it's late, I'm tired, and I didn't find anything immediately.

Normally, I am wrapped in many layers of clothing, including several military-issue garments designed to keep soldiers warm in Siberia. By halftime, I can barely feel my fingers and have to remind myself that I once had toes.

It so happened, however, that Bill was going to be out of the country, and would miss last Sunday's game. Since it was going to be Polly's birthday on Monday, he gave us his tickets for the game. So for the first time in several years, I was going to enjoy watching a football game without glancing around to see if there might not be a large drunken fan around that might not mind too much if I were to slice open his belly and crawl inside for warmth in the 4th quarter.

People who know me know that I'm not really much of a sports fan. I don't plan my life around the big game...I don't spend a lot of time knowing who all the players are...I don't get depressed when my team loses, or riot when they win (yeah..they seem to do that in Chicago). I do really enjoy going to the game, though. I much prefer the experience of watching the game live at the stadium over seeing it on TV. Even in obscenely cold temperatures.

But no matter how much of a fan I am, I am not prone to wearing to the game any sort clothing that identifies me as an aficionado of any given team. I'm more apt to wear that stuff when I'm NOT at the game. I don't know why...I've done that for years. Even when it's not sports related. If I go see a band I like and am wearing a t-shirt, I usually choose one that has another band's name on it. Or something that isn't music related. It's part of my well practiced pose.

While I knew that Polly was going to wear a replica of Walter Payton's jersey I didn't realize that she would find it odd that instead of Bear's blue and orange, I would opt for my charcoal grey t-shirt with a skull and crossbones printed on it. In Polly's defense, she spent a fair amount of time in high school as a Pom and so only finds it natural that one's attire is critical in showing support for one's team. Polly's mother, who was a little bitter that we were going to the game and she wasn't, shared Polly's opinion regarding my attire, but I was fairly certain that the Bears wouldn't mind terribly if I wasn't dressed for their success, as I would be outnumbered by those who weren't as self conscious as I.

When we got to the game and finally took our seats, I somewhat smugly pointed out that the gentleman seated next to Polly had also opted not to dress in Bears drag. Any solidarity I felt with this fellow quickly dissolved once the game began.

But first: the national anthem, Latino-style!

Apparently September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. This is news to me. I didn't get the memo--and I'm a card-carrying Hispanic. (Actually, none of the cards I carry have anything to do with being Hispanic. But some Hispanics actually DO carry a card in this country because of their alien origins...but most don't. So maybe "card carrying Hispanic" is a poor choice of words.)

I'm a little confused why we Hispanics don't get the whole month of September or the whole month of October, instead of this weird hybrid month. But...I guess I shouldn't complain. At least we get a full 30 days. Black people only get 28 for Black History Month.

Anyhow, at Soldier Field, the way that Hispanic Heritage month was observed is that they have a bunch of signage around the place declaring that we were going to watch "fútbol americano" and there was a large group of Hispanic young people out on the field with special t-shirts on. I imagine that perhaps they showed the game on Spanish TV, and had that soccer announcer guy yell TouchDOOOOOOOOOOOOWN whenever a team scored. But the real treat was that they trotted Gloria Estefan up to sing the National Anthem. I guess J-Lo was busy. But Gloria is Cuban, like me (except she actually lived there for a while) so It was nice to see one of my people get some attention, I guess. I tried to sing her hit "Conga" to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner, but it was very difficult to do.

Her performance of the song wasn't really great. I didn't expect it to be, i guess. It was pitched way low, as I expect that if Gloria ever had it in her to hit the high notes, she doesn't any longer. However, as she approached the part of the song that goes "and the rocket's red glare" they set off a bunch of pyro (always a crowd pleaser) and at the very end of the tune, as people began to cheer and applaud and sort of mix up their feelings of patriotism and team spirit with the beer they had undoubtedly been drinking for several hours leading up to the game into some sort of jingoistic stew, a couple of actual F-15 fighter planes buzzed the stadium. Everyone was dumbstruck. And it actually was pretty cool.

The coin was tossed, the ball was kicked and the game was underway. One of the aspects of watching a football game at the stadium is that you get to hear commentary from all the football experts seated around you. Each one of these guys has their own opinion of how the game should be played, and they are certain that by expressing their opinion as loudly and as often as possible, it will serve to enhance the game viewing experience of all those within earshot. Mostly, I find these people equal parts annoying and amusing.

None compared to the guy sitting next to Polly. Do you remember the guy I mentioned earlier? The one who, like I, was not adequately dressed to express his fanaticism? This guy proved to be a great source of amusement to Polly and me. As if to make up for his lack of proper attire, he threw himself into the game with a zeal usually reserved for those fans who paint their half naked bodies in blue and orange greasepaint.

Perhaps inspired by his striped shirt, he began to referee the games from his seat, demonstrating the signals that he believed the refs should call. I didn't have the heart to tell him that refs wear vertical stripes...not horizontal.

It was pretty clear to us that one of his primary objectives was to get on TV. I suspect that it was perhaps a sad attempt to impress his students. (Somehow he had communicated to Polly that he was a middle school English teacher. I began to mutter corrections to his grammatical errors under my breath.)

The Bears did not play a particularly inspired game, but they had a couple good moments in the first half. Eventually they scored a touchdown. Referee/English teacher guy held up his hand for a high five. I stared at it for a moment, unsure if I wanted to make this sort of connection with him. There was such desperation in his eyes...the pain of unreturned high-fives past, but a glint of hope that maybe this time someone would celebrate with him. In the end, I gave him the high five he was looking for, wondering if I had committed to future co-celebration. I thought perhaps I would avoid eye contact should the Bears score another touchdown.

I never had to make that decision, as the Bears played miserably after that. My English teacher friend took to chanting the name of the third string quarterback, Kyle Orton. Whenever he tired of that, he would explain to anyone who would listen--mostly himeself--that Orton had a great record and didn't make mistakes and so on. A guy behind him interrupted to tell him that Kyle Orton's dad had called and thanked him for his support.

As the game wore on, and the Bears lost their will to fight, my very own personal referee became less animated. He could do nothing more to help the team.

He left sometime before the game ended. Polly and I stuck it out to the bitter end. By that time, there were more Dallas Cowboys jerseys surrounding us than Bears. I guess Polly and I are more devoted to the team.

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