When I decided to move to Paris this fall, one of the things I was most excited about was the opportunity to see a Bucs game in Wembley Stadium.
I guess that makes me about the ugliest sort of American -- shouldn't I have been more excited about the cheese? Or the parks? Or, I don't know, the Eiffel Tower or something?
But no, I wanted to see some American football. In London.
And I did.
As you can imagine, I'd built the experience up in my mind a bit in the past few months. And in some ways, the game met all of my expectations. In others, it was a little, well, foreign.
Worth the Wait
Wembley Stadium. It's big, it's clean, the roof is open but the seats are all covered. It was just a really beautiful facility.
The fans. I talked to several fans outside the stadium before the game, and there were so many UK residents who loved American football. It was fun to talk Bucs with Paula from Scotland and the American Football team from Brighton University. (Because they have one! Who knew?)
The costumes. In the U.S., there is maybe a stray Hoggette or Fireman Ed, but at Wembley, there were costumes galore. Pirates, bears, Batman, bananas... Like Halloween but football-themed!
The rainbow of jerseys. So, when you get one game on your continent per year, you wear your favorite team's jersey. Heck, I'd have worn my Bucs t-shirt even if it was a Jets and Ravens game. (But thank goodness it wasn't.) It just so happens, a larger percentage of the NFL fans in Europe seemed to root for teams other than the Bucs and Bears. Go, um, Redskins?
Three cheers! The fans seemed to enjoy the game, but they went crazy precisely three times. First, for the squirrel who scurried around the field for much of the first quarter. No one attempted to run him off. It was actually rather exciting. We all cheered "Squir-rel! Squir-rel!" Second, for the wave, which impressively lasted roughly 10 cycles around the stadium. Through an entire Bucs offensive series. (Eh, the Bucs didn't do anything anyway.) And third, for the streaker. Who doesn't love a streaker?
A Bit Curious
The calm. Before the game started, there were a bunch of fans sitting outside the stadium waiting for the doors to open. But, like, sitting. On the ground. Chatting casually with their friends. It was intensely sedate. A Bears fan from Britain admitted he was puzzled as well. "Everyone here is so laid back and polite," he said. "It's nice, but it's not what I expected."
The opening act. It was the Goo Goo Dolls. Singing that one famous song from the '90s. Are they still relevant in the UK?
Not My Cup of Tea
My neighbors. To be fair, my section-mates were American. And Floridian. But the guy next to me kept shouting, like, "Go LeGarrette Blount!" Eventually I explained to him that Blount was out for the week and that the running back was Earnest Graham. His friends laughed. We didn't talk for the rest of the game. Also, the genteel Southern lady behind me kept insisting that the refs were being unfair to the Bucs. "They keep calling penalties on the Bucs and not the Bears!" Um, maybe because the Bucs kept making penalties?
Waiting for the Tube. The 76,981 people who watched the game live all left the stadium at roughly the same time. And were heading for the same train. Eco-friendly transportation, sure. But man, that's a wait.
The game. I'm a Bucs fan, after all. The four quarters of play were downright painful.
Eh, let's pretend the game part didn''t happen. Because the rest of the day was brilliant.