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My Guide to NFL in the U.S.

By Jason Hayes

Most NFL fans on this side of the pond have managed to make their way to the International Series

in London at one time or another, but attending a game on the other side isn’t quite as easy. I’ve

been fortunate enough to have made three trips to the U.S., which included five NFL games and two

CFB games. Having just returned from my third trip, I thought it could be useful to relay my

experiences for others contemplating the 5,000+ km journey to the home of the pigskin.

Picking your games

Each of my trips has involved at least two games. I’ve previously done three days in a row with CFB

on Saturday, NFL on Sunday and Monday Night Football, or most recently a Thursday night game

and a Sunday game separated by 10 days to allow for some non-NFL related travel in between. That

part is really up to yourself.

In terms of game selection, as soon as the schedule is released in May I get to work. My planning

resembles Charlie Kelly trying to crack the Pepe Silvia case in Always Sunny, trying to find the perfect

combination of location, timing and matchup. I’ve always erred on the side of early season games, as

I have a fear that the game I’m attending could be rendered meaningless if it’s in the latter half. As a

Cardinals fan this caution is warranted, but if you follow a good team, or if you’re a gambler, go for a

later season game by all means.

When it comes to selecting seats, I’ve sat in nosebleeds and field-level, halfway line and endzone. All

have their perks. This time round I chose field-level, endzone seats for both games as I hadn’t done

so before. There are obvious drawbacks, such as having to use the jumbotron when the action is on

the opposite side, but the positives of seeing a DeAndre Hopkins one handed TD catch or a Zach Ertz

dive for the pylon mere feet away is something I won’t soon forget. You might get on TV too, if that’s

your thing.

Tailgates, do ‘em

It won’t be a true gameday experience unless you immerse yourself in the pre-match buzz of a

tailgate. This is where you will find the local, die-hard fans who attend games week in, week out. If

you have a Twitter account, use it. I received countless invites by putting out a simple tweet - people

are more than accommodating. If not, don’t worry. Wander aimlessly around the stadium and you

can be sure someone will soon offer you a beer and a burger (and those offers will multiply as soon

as they hear that charming Irish accent).

This also applies to away games. As I strolled around US Bank stadium in my Cardinals red last

Sunday, the Vikings fans couldn’t have been nicer. We did ski shots (this is where five individuals

take a shot off a ski by lifting it up simultaneously - I didn’t know either), more beers, and I had

yellow penalty flags thrown at me - all playful of course. If deciding between a tailgate and a bar

before the game, tailgate all the way.

Get in early

This was the first year where I made a point of entering the stadium early for each game. Having

purchased those lower-level tickets, I was determined to make sure I didn’t miss a second. So I

entered the grounds 90 minutes early to watch the team warm-ups (okay, it probably ended up

being about 60 when I was offered that extra beer).

I couldn’t recommend this enough. Once the kick-off starts, it’s easy to get lost in the action and in

the scoreboard. The pre-game warmups is really the time where you can let your jaw drop at the

sheer size and athleticism of the players. Also, it’ll never really feel normal seeing the players you’ve

followed for years up close, like JJ Watt throwing a ball into the crowd in my direction (a ten year old

kid beat me to, b******). Of course, the team entrances and anthem aren’t to be missed either. The

Americans know how to put on a spectacle.

So enter early, buy another beer (they’re like $14 though, be warned), sit back and enjoy the calm

before the storm.

Win or lose, enjoy the experience

Alright, this one is easier said than done. I was fortunate enough to witness a TNF win over the

Saints for my first game – that one was fun. Surrounded by home fans, high fiving and cheering

every play – it was basically a three hour party and my voice was in tatters the next morning. It’s not

hard to enjoy a game like that.

I wasn’t so lucky the second time, however, as the Cardinals lost a close game with significant

importance to the Vikings. That one hurt. Walking out after the game, one Vikings fan, with the most

pitiful and sincere look in her eyes, said to me “I’m sorry for your loss”. I looked so sour and

disheartened that this individual used an expression normally withheld for those in mourning to

comfort me.

I knew then that I was perhaps too invested in the result. I had witnessed an exciting game, some

ridiculous plays and a ground-shaking atmosphere. It was the experience of a lifetime either way. So

do your best to embrace the moment and accept that losing is possible.

Hopefully these tips aid you on your way to the States, writing about it has made me hungry for

more already.

*googles schedule release date for 2023*

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