Tuesday, 29 October 2013

When Gaming Became a Reality (kind of)

I don't talk about it often here but, alongside the more obvious choice of football (I mean actual football - you know, where the 'ball' is kicked with the 'foot'), my favourite sport is the stupidly-named-but-still-awesome American Football. It's a sport that always been popular in its homeland, now more than ever, but aside from the odd spurt of interest elsewhere, few other countries really take an interest. There are a few fans here and there of course, like myself, and it may not surprise you to hear that my appreciation of the sport stems from the world of video games.

The superb sequel to the original Joe Montana game...
Back in the early 90's when Sega's MegaDrive was the latest console powerhouse wowing the world, I was given a game by a college friend called Joe Montana Football. I had no clue who he was or what the sport really entailed but thanks to a combination of trial and error and a periodic scan of the hefty instruction book I gradually learnt the rules to this complicated sport. Soon after this I discovered that one of the less popular television channels here in the UK showed games on Sundays so I decided to give the real sport a try, but I needed a team to follow. The first and most obvious choice was the team I played as in the game - the San Francisco 49ers, led by who I then knew was the legendary quarterback of the game's title himself. However, he was nowhere to be seen! It later turned out that he had been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs that very summer and Steve Young now had the unenviable job of following in his footsteps.

Despite this unexpected setback, however, I decided to stick with the team I was already so familiar with rather than the player himself (well he was getting on a bit by then!), and I've been a Niners fan ever since, even sticking with them through the 'Decade of Suckiness' which only recently ended. San Francisco is a long way from England though, so in around 20 years of supporting them, I had never actually seen the team play for real. Until now.

That's right, thanks to the NFL's splendid 'International Series' initiative, fans from far-flung lands such as Great Britain could now watch real life games, and not just exhibition matches either - they had occasionally taken place in my time as a US football fan. No, these were actual regular season games which had started in 2007 with the ever-popular Miami Dolphins 'hosting' the New York Giants.

On the way to Wembley Stadium...
This and most of the other games in the International Series took place at Wembley Stadium in London (home of the England football team - actual football, I mean, obviously) which meant tickets would be expensive and I would also have to spend a not-insignificant amount on travelling to and from London as well, and as much as I like the sport I found it hard to justify a three-figure-plus sum on a sporting event that I could watch at home with a couple of beers. Even the 49ers had visited previously when they smacked up the Broncos in 2010; I wanted to go but decided against it. Not this time though. This time I was determined to become a 'proper' fan and actually go to see the team I've been watching on TV for 20 years so I took an apprehensive gulp, clicked the 'buy' button on the ticket agent website, then went through a similar process to procure train tickets to London Tahn, and waited... until this past Sunday! The day of the game had arrived!

Even as far away as the train station in my own city I started seeing people wearing various NFL merchandise and the closer I got the more there were. Most commonly spotted were fellow 49ers fans - I guess they're more popular over here than I realised - and I was among them, sporting my red Niners hat and shirt (and keyring but I guess no one could see that in my pocket). The only trouble I had whilst in London was trying to find the bloody office used by my ticket agent of choice (which was in a hotel). Once I had the ticket I approached the immense stadium - my first such visit to England's national stadium, I'm ashamed to say.

Once inside, and after being subjected to a more rigorous security check than I've ever endured at an airport, I made my way up numerous escalators, walked through the 'gate' specified on my ticket, and... holy crap! What an eye-opener it was walking down the short passage and seeing the inside of this enormous place! I was quite late arriving too, so it was nearly full and the pre-game show was just ending. It was at this point that I remembered it was a 'home' game for the Jag-Wahs - their livery was littered around the stadium and nearly all the talk by the announcer was understandably regarding the home team - "Jaguars this, Jaguars that, Jaguars, Jaguars, Jaguars. Oh, and the 49ers are here too"...

Niners QB, Colin Kaepernick, on the way to Wembley...
Still, they were at least there, and after both the US and UK national anthems the game was under way. Sadly for the home fans, however, it was immediately apparent which team was 5-2 and which was 0-7 going into the game - the Niners got to the endzone on their first four possessions putting them 28-3 up at the half with the Jags going three-and-out on most of their possessions with only a solitary field goal at the end of the second quarter to show for their efforts. Surprisingly there was no half-time show (that must only be for the Superbowl) and the pace set by the Niners was understandably slightly less urgent at the restart but, despite a turnover-by-fumble which led to the Jags only visit to the endzone, they still managed another TD per quarter making a final score of 42-10 - hooray, we're catching you up, Seattle! It was a great game for us 49er fans too, but I did feel sorry for the poor old Jags - they had some bad luck but they really were poor on occasion as well.

But alas, regardless of the result, my historic adventure had reached its conclusion. All that remained was to make my way back home along with the rest of the impressive 83,599 turnout (which took as long as the game!) and reflect on my experience. It was a great day though - not only was it my first NFL game and my first visit to Wembley but it was my first major sporting event of any kind. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to see much from the upper tiers of the mighty stadium but, despite how it may look in the photos, the view was actually rather good and helped make the dominant Niners performance a very memorable one for me. If the rumours of a permanent London-based NFL franchise are true, I'm not sure I'd be prepared to spend this much to see live games too often, but next year at Wembley again? Why the hell not!


  1. Long overdue! Really happy you experienced excitement of a live game. Experience isn't the same any other way. Impressed with turnout and field looked fantastic :)

  2. Yeah, I think the crowd was bigger than either team would have in their own stadiums! It definitely needed to be done and I'm glad it has. It looks like the action was miles away from the pics but I could see everything fine :)

  3. Enjoyed reading your review of thw game Sime. My first NFL game as well. Really enjoyed it. Already planning on going next year for the Cowboys @ Jaguars game.

  4. That is very cool, Simon! I haven't been to an NFL game in a while. You've probably seen on my blog though, I'm a huge NFL fan (and an ardent Lions fan - aren't they coming to London to play against the Falcons? Probably would be a good game - lots of points I would hope). :)

  5. Cheers Steve, I'm glad you enjoyed the game too! It's a shame we couldn't meet up but I arrived later than intended and had to leave straight afterwards (work the next day!). We should arrange to meet up at one of the games next year though :)

    Yes, Mr Chalgyr, I noticed the banner on your blog which is dominated by an NFL shot (featuring the bloody Packers - grrr!). Next year we've got three games - Jags vs Cowboys as Steve mentioned, Falcons vs Lions, and Raiders vs Dolphins. I'll certainly go to one of the games. As for the Lions - haven't they just come out of a period of suckiness like the Niners? :P