Same time, same place, same result.
ASTORIA, New York City- “Petra, get up, you’re going to the football game.” It was 5:30 am and I’m waking up my 10-year old daughter to go to the Bills game with me. She’s never been to a football game before and wasn’t expecting the invite. She popped out of bed, almost jumping from her bunk — threw on some clothes and topped it all off with her Bills hat. Her mother lent her a Bills shirt, which hung off her shoulders a bit but did the job.
My wife was supposed to go to this game with me but we couldn’t get a babysitter. Who wants to watch someone’s kids from 6am to 7pm? Nobody, apparently. So Petra was going to be my football buddy this week. We grabbed my 12 pack of PBR and some bottles of water and headed down to Port Authority to grab a bus out to the stadium.
It’s kind of surprising how un-supported football is here with public transport. There’s only three buses that go from Port Authority directly to the stadium — the 160 at 7:50, 8:50, and 10:10 — and they don’t provided additional buses for the uptick in people wanting to travel there on relevant Sundays. So this bus is packed standing-room-only, and many fans are left in the dust. “Next bus is in an hour, suckers!”
It almost seems as if NYC takes an odd sort of passive aggressive stance towards their NFL teams, as, technically, they don’t have any. Both the Giants and Jets play in New Jersey. By convention, they should have New Jersey in their titles, but that doesn’t really have the same ring to it. However, this fact isn’t lost on the people of New York City. Even NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared:
“But, what is the only New York football team that plays in New York? It’s the Buffalo Bills,” the governor zinged, noting the Giants and Jets both play who play in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
How can you identify with a team that is actually from another (extremely shitty) state? I imagine it’s pretty tough. It would be like if the Bills played over the border in Ontario. Sure, it’s pretty close — it’s right over there, actually — but it’s just not the same.
It’s generally a better idea to take the 161 or 163 bus from Port Authority to the Meadowlands. However, these buses drop you off on the side of the highway — literally. There are dedicated game buses and trains, but they don’t start leaving until 10 am — way, way too late.
So we took the 161 at 8:35 and got off a little ways past Metlife with a few other fans. The view from here was a little bleak: a roaring highway separating us from the stadium and giant flashing signs saying “no foot traffic.” We walked past the signs along a meandering course of highway ramps and winding side streets that went through swamps and what appeared to be junk yards and remarkably terminated right at the tailgating lots. Bills fans drinking beer and playing tailgate games greeted us as we entered. “Go Bills.” Then we carried on to Lot 26, where Kenny does a light version of his tailgate — the beating heart of this community.
We did our Bills Mafia thing.
Petra wasted no time fitting in. I introduced her to my friends and she jumped into the fray, mowing sausages, chicken wings, and meatballs grilled on wood saws and stewed in bed pans. She played bean bag toss with the Connecticut crew. She danced wildly to the Shout song. She’s been hearing stories about this for so long that she intuitively knew what to do. I stood back watched her, proudly chugging my PBRs. She was born into this.
“Do you know what I call a kid at their first Bills game?” Kenny asked rhetorically. “Good parenting.”
I had my reservations at first. I never took a kid to a football game before. I knew I wouldn’t go into dad mode just because my daughter was around — that’s just not me — so I debated whether she was old enough. Would she be able to handle it? Would she get bored with the game? What if I party too hard or get beat up? I thought about it, and realized that if things got messy the person I would want with me third-most would be my kid. She’s 10, but was always raised to know how to handle shit. I had no reason to worry.
Petra threw down to one last shout song and we made our way into the stadium. Metlife has this long tunnel that leads in from the tailgating lots which is one of the most epic ways to enter a stadium. The Giants fans walked quietly and orderly through it. The Bills fans made a mess of themselves yelling and chanting. These are very different football cultures.
But unlike soccer in Europe, football games in the USA are generally pretty friendly affairs. Sometimes a couple of drunks will beat the shit out of each other, but for the most part there is nothing to fear when walking into an opposing team’s stadium. They will rib you, talk shit about your team, push some buttons, it’s usually good natured and kind of fun — wearing an opposing team’s colors isn’t enough to usurp the generally good sentiment of hospitality.
But that doesn’t mean we walked in meekly and quietly. Some NFL fanbases have chants, others don’t. We do. Our chants resounded throughout the corridors of the stadium. Petra had fun trying to start them herself. The kid is naturally loud — she was raised in China and was mildly acculturated as such.
We made it to our seats, stood up, and looked around. We had around 25% of the crowd. Not bad.
In some weird quirk of scheduling, the Bills are played in New Jersey on back to back weekends. Last week they played the Jets; this week they played the Giants. Same time, same place,
same different show. It was almost startling how much the stadium transformed itself between weeks. The vendors were different, the colors were different, the endzones were painted different, the names on the wall of fame were different, and the feel was entirely different. While the stadium for the Jets game felt like a shopping mall, for the Giants game it felt like an actual football stadium. I tried but couldn’t quite determine what triggered the difference. Maybe it was the $5 discount beers?
It was now game time. We all stood for the national anthem and Petra had no idea what was going on. I don’t believe she ever did this before. I explained it to her and oddly heard my own voice giving her a bonafide “Now, son” talk. It was a real dad moment which made me remember going to a baseball game with my dad when I was a kid. I queried as to why I had to stand. He just said something along the lines of “Because.” I didn’t get it at the time but now I see the wisdom in it:
That’s probably the best way to explain any aspect of culture.
The game itself went well … for us, anyway. The Giants have one player who is truly something special. The guy put on a one man show for the first five minutes of the game, and that was about it. The Bills adjusted, and the Giants had nothing else. It was pitiful. The fans were booing by the end of the first quarter. By halftime there was a mass exodus from the stadium.
“If they don’t score again by halftime we’re out of here,” said the dude in front of me. They didn’t score. They kept their word.
The score was only like 21-7. This is a deficit that’s more than possible to come back from. Did these people really spend so much money and come all the way out to New Jersey just to give up after one half of football? But they seemed to know something that I didn’t: there is no hope in Jersey this year. Their geriatric QB looked like a pouty little boy. It was clearly the end of him. After 200-something straight games, after being the MVP of two Super Bowls, this guy was done. He was just chucking the ball down the field and hoping it would go to the right guy. He was recoiling from any and all forms of contact. He wasn’t the problem, per se, but he was doing little to provide a solution.
As it turned out, this would be his last game as the starting QB. For 200-something straight games this guy was the QB for this team. But they lost so bad this Sunday that they’re starting a rookie next week. The Bills ended Eli — they ended an era.
The boos in the stadium only gave way when enough Giants fans had gone home as to make the Bills fans and their chants audible on the TV broadcast. When the game was done some of the players ran a loop around the stadium high-fiving the fans. We shifted home field advantage for the second week in a row. We pat ourselves on the back for stuff like this — maybe we don’t have enough more important things in our lives?
It’s a bit of a different market in New York. Giants fans have other things that they could be doing with their Sundays — they live in and around NYC, there’s other stuff to do here. The team needs to put a better product on the field — or at least the possibility of such — or people won’t show up.
It’s a little different in Buffalo. No matter how bad the Bills do, they still sell out the stadium. They could start Nathan Peterman at QB and we will still show up, watch him throw the ball to the wrong team, and keep sitting there. Win or lose, we’re there. But we have a different culture surrounding the team — the spectacle is vastly bigger in Buffalo, the Bills are the only show in town.
The Bills move on to 2-0 this season. The Bengals are next up for our home opener this Sunday in Orchard Park.
How did Petra like the game?
Our QB stating the obvious:
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