American Football. That strange sport where jockey blokes wear lots of plastic and slam into each other. There is also a ball involved that plays some important unknown role. That was my uneducated view of the sport. To me, it seemed boring as hell, but to everyone else football was a big deal. I had to find out more about this plastic and testosterone filled spectacle.
I had the opportunity to watch a "Stamps" game with Erika and her family in Calgary. The Stamps being the Calgary Stampeders. Today they were facing off against their old rivals, the Edmonton Eskimos. It was a great day to watch this plastic punch-up with sunshine and warm temperatures forecasted all day. To be honest, the Calgarian summer had been very kind to me, with warm sunny weather for the whole of the Calgary Stampede, Strathmore Stampede and now for this Stamps game.
Arriving into the ground outside the stadium I was surprised to see that fans from both teams used the same entrance. It was only a few drops of green Eskimo fans in the sea of red Stamps supporters. But still, compared to other sports I had seen, the fans usually have to be kept separate to prevent them from beating this shit out of each other. The football (soccer) game I saw in Guatemala required a whole platoon of heavily armed riot police to keep the peace. But I guess with American Football, the beating of shit out of each other happens between the players only, not the fans.
Before the game started I had to buy a Stamps shirt. Symbolising my allegiance to a team who participated in a sport I knew nothing about, really I just wanted to collect memorabilia of my travels. I already had a Canucks shirt from Vancouver and a Antigua GFC shirt from Guatemala, I now needed a Stamps shirt from Calgary. Chris had already given me a Stamps hat to wear, and after putting on the vivid red Stamps shirt, I felt like a bonafide Stamps supporter. Or rather I looked like one.
I was worried a real fan was going to come up to me and start talking to me about the team. About the players, recent performance or whatever sport fans talk about. What do I do in this situation? Try and wing it with generic responses? "eh, yes, I think the Stamps have performed well, especially in the part involving the ball, and the scoring of the points" Or do I admit that I just bought the shirt as a souvenir and that I was a fraud, a fake fan, a deceitful chameleon trying to be red. A fucking imposter, who, once found out, would be immediately ejected from the grounds of the stadium. I think I was overthinking this. But I did ask Erika and Chris for insight regarding the Stamps in case I did have to cobble together some fan lingo. Apparently the Stamps had a good defence, whatever that meant.
As with any public sporting spectacle in the North American continent, nothing is done by half. There was announcements, military fly overs, cheerleaders, competitions, vendors, mascots and some twat firing t-shirts into the crowd and the game hadn't even started yet.
The players got a big entrance, well the Stamps players did. There was a very significant difference between when the Stamps and Eskimo players entered the field, with the Stamp players entering through a big archway with cheerleaders and smoke machines going crazy. The Eskimo players sort of just appeared on the field, probably through some small side door.
So the game began and there really isn't much to write about. The actual sport itself consists of very short set plays where the players lineup facing each other, some dickhead throws the ball and everyone crashes into each other for about 10 seconds. After the brief commotion, all the players have a chat about what happened, some guy in a suit wearing a headset shouts for a bit then the players line up and prepare to charge into each other again.
As these stoppages are frequent and sometimes long in duration, extra entertainment is required to keep the fans occupied. This is where the cheerleaders and corporate sponsors step in. Flex cam, for example requires you to flex your muscles for the camera with the best flex winning a prize courteous of Pete the Plumber. Probably a free consultation where Pete will come round and twiddle with your ball cock or something.
Probably the strangest corporate entertainment was the half time season that involved Canadian service men and women. Some supermarket came up with the ridiculous idea of getting military personnel, highly trained highly disciplined men and women, trained to fight and kill, to throw bananas into a box labelled "bananas".
Probably the part of the game I found most interesting were the cheerleaders. They would come out and perform a routine whenever there was a dip in the action, which was very often. Every routine seemed different, I assumed they have a catalogue of rehearsed dances that they could pick from and perform on demand. And these ladies worked hard, I am sure they burnt off more calories throughout the game than the actual players did.
I really enjoyed my time at the Stamps game. I didn't think much of the actual sport itself but the event as a whole, it was both ridiculous and entertaining at the same time. Sport back home in the UK, like football (soccer) and rugby are all very serious, too serious. You show up, shout abuse at the players, punch a rival fan and leave. Here, it was all more entertaining, and isn't that the point of a spectator sport, to entertain?
This, along with most of the other Calgary antics I enjoyed this summer was thanks to Erika and the Kosmack family. I really owed them a lot. Their hospitality and making me feel like part of the family was just fantastic. To be honest I am really bad at writing this kind of stuff, but just to sum it up, I am more grateful than I can ever express in words.