On Sunday, I went to my first live regular season Broncos game since the year 2000 when I watched Corey Dillon set the single game rushing record against our beloved Broncos. In my only preseason game (this year against the Bengals), Tim Tebow busted up his ribs. Bad things happen when I watch football games in real life.
Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant to attend the game. We were facing the 2009 leading rusher in the NFL. Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do was travel 300 miles to watch Chris Johnson put up 300 yards rushing on the Broncos defense. Not only would that mean the Broncos lost, it would also mean that my friend Alex would never let me hear the end of it.... because he is a Titans fan and he was going on the trip.
I was taking 3 of my friends to Nashville (1 Titans fan, 1 Buccaneers fan, and one college football fan). Alex and I have been friends for years and years, but this was no ordinary football game. This was serious business. A few years ago (before graduating and moving on to attend different colleges), some high school friends and I used to watch NFL games in his basement every Sunday. With his NFL Sunday Ticket, I was able to watch every game and hang out with friends at the same time. Win-win, right?
I tell you that bit of information to tell you this. Both of us hate when our teams lose. We hate it, a lot. I was at Alex's house when the Bears came back and beat the Broncos courtesy of two Devin Hester returns. While he and his dad (a Browns fan) taunted me, I sat in silence. When his Titans lost, I'd say a sly remark and he'd sit in silence. Let's just say that I've been around him enough to know that a loss by the Titans will ruin Sunday afternoon. By the same token, a Broncos loss will ruin my Sunday, as well.
Furthermore, just think about the car ride home. These are some high stakes. From my house to Nashville was a four and a half hour drive. That means one of us was going to hate life for the entire ride home.
Oh, how I hoped that person wasn't me.
On the Road
It all started at 6 AM eastern time. On a brisk Kentucky morning, the preparation began. Autographed hat, Brian Dawkins jersey, Broncos hoodie, gas money, tickets... check. Two of my friends (Alex and Bryan) came to my house and we all rode to Louisville to pick up the fourth (Beemal) on our way to Nashville. Needless to say, with four 20 to 21 year old guys in a car, the drive was full of crude humor and noxious gases, especially after our breakfast at Hardees. Trust me, I wish I could forget...
More importantly, we had a long discussion about one of my favorite topics of conversation. Football.
What would it take for the Broncos to win? What would it take for the Titans to win? Would the Titans get pressure on Kyle Orton? Could Finnegan and the Titans secondary slow down the Broncos receivers? Which current college player do you think would help your team the most? Did you hear about what Brandon Marshall said about Sterling Sharpe? What do you think about Jeff Fischer's coaching style? How many yards will Chris Johnson have? What kind of plays do you expect to see the most?
That kind of thing...
So, we arrived in Nashville around 12 eastern (11 am central), which awakened a very heated debate about time zones. Alex, my Titans buddy, implored that we were going to be late for the game. The ticket stub said that the game started at 12 o'clock (he said it didn't specify a time zone). Since Nashville is in central time, I told him that it was fair to assume that the ticket meant that the game started at 12 o'clock central. However, Alex still gave me a confused look. Something about the hour difference just didn't register. Since we were losing an hour going from northern Kentucky to western Tennessee, I guess he thought we were actually losing an hour of driving time, as well. I don't even understand where he was coming from...
We just left it at that, but I was right. We weren't late to the stadium.
One of the coolest parts of my day was when we were crossing the street to get to LP Field. As soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk, I looked up and saw the one and only Woody Paige. I took a quick look around to see if anyone else noticed who was walking in front of us. I guess I was the only person in Nashville who knew who Woody Paige was. He was just walking up to the stadium like the rest of us and since nobody around me noticed that it was him, I went ahead and said "Hey, Woody Paige. How are you today, sir?"
He responded by putting his hand in the air and giving me a nod, as if to say "Why yes, I am Woody Paige and I acknowledge your greeting and send a salutation of my own in a more subtle but equally effective manner."
Now, I know a lot of you guys aren't a huge supporter of Woody Paige, but to meet the guy in real life kind of makes me step back and reevaluate how I talked about him. He's frustrating at times, yes, but he's a person with an opinion. Aren't we all? Agree or disagree, but it's still his opinion. I'm as guilty of bashing some of Woody's articles as the rest of you, but after seeing him in real life I realize that it's just too easy to sit back in our armchairs and put on a veil of anonymity to bash people on the Internet. If you met the person in real life, would you say the same things to them that you would when you are talking about them anonymously?
You don't have to answer that. It's a rhetorical question, but I think it's at least worth thinking about. I did, anyways.
Clever Titans Fans
I walked another 30 feet, went through security, had my ticket scanned and walked up to a group of stadium staff. They were handing out free Titans hats to every person who entered the stadium. One of the men asked if I wanted one of the hats and I said "no thank you".
He replied, "Aw, c'mon. You sure you don't want to wear the hat of a winning team?" .... Ha! Clever, but I'll stick to my autographed Orange hat. (Mile High Salute to Kirk)
Another item that they were selling at LP Field was breast cancer awareness memorabilia. They were selling pink pins, bracelets, hats, scarves, and just about anything else you could think of. The group of us walked into the Titans shop. Alex was going to grab some Titans gear and the rest of us were just looking around. As we went to the register and Alex purchased his things, I asked the girl behind the counter if they had any breast cancer awareness gear with a Broncos logo on it.
She said, "No, but we are selling this pin for $10 that you can buy to remember the day that the Titans beat the Broncos." ..... Ha! Another clever Titans fan. No thanks...
Back to the important things
We found our seats, section 344 row K, fifth row in the upper deck. A family of four sat in the row below us. Titans fans, of course. A man and his wife brought two little girls to the game, which was nice, but the girls were embarrassed once the game started (you'll see why, in a minute). Alex and I were talking with the husband/father/guy about the game and he seemed like a pretty nice guy. He was pretty knowledgeable about the Titans and even knew the basic scouting report about the Denver Broncos. He seemed like he read MHR from the information he was discussing. Nothing about him struck me as violent or angry or loud in any capacity. He was just a football savvy, soft-spoken, southern gentlemen.
Anyways, I mentioned that his daughters were embarrassed once the game started. Why was that?
Because once the game started, their dad was crazy. He was yelling during the coin toss. Yes... the coin toss. He was screaming about how the Broncos suck (typical stadium talk, no big deal there). He yelled something about how Chris Johnson was going to own the Broncos defense (again, that's to be expected at the stadium). He was pleading for the Titans to grind Orton into a fine powder and then snort the remains...
Fanhood is cool but this guy was the craziest fan I've ever seen. His wife and daughters looked like they wanted to hide under a rock, to be honest. The game was very exciting - I'll give him that - but I don't see how you can act that way from the coin toss to the end of the game without being completely exhausted. I was exhausted just watching him, to be honest.
This led me to a realization. I had known of the idea for a while, but I had never fully come to full enlightenment of it. Fans celebrate in different ways. There are your crazy fans like the man I described. In fact, to keep it simple, I made a list.
List of Fans
- Passive fan - Also known as the stoic fan, this type of fan keeps an even keel throughout the contest.
- Angry fan - This type of fan is upset about everything. "Orton took too much time in the pocket... our offensive line is awful.... these nachos are too expensive." You get the idea.
- Parental fan - This type of fan brings kids to the stadium. Much like the man in front of us at the Titans/Broncos game... but not always as outspoken...
- Analytical fan - This type of fan thinks about the game on a very deep level. I consider many MHR members and especially staffers an analytical fan. They know more than the average fan and you can see that when you hear them speak or read their writing.
- Drunken fan - Self explanatory.
- Knee-Jerk fan - This type of fan reacts to every situation in the extreme. If their defense gives up a big play, this fan will likely say "C'mon... that was awful. Our defense sucks.". But then if the defense stuffs the RB in the backfield on the next play you will hear "There you go! That's a top 5 defense, right there."
- Informative fan - I think of somebody like Steve Nichols, here. This type of fan not only analyzes the situation, but they are able to convey that idea to those around them.
- Capricious fan - This type of fan may deviate between 2 or 3 different styles of fanhood. They aren't wishy-washy, but they just feel differently about their team at different times during the year.
Obviously, I don't claim that this list is all inclusive. There are plenty that I may have missed, but this is just what stood out to me at the stadium. You may have traits of one or two in this list or maybe none at all. I don't know where you stand. To each their own.
Rising from the Ashes
Flash forward to the fourth quarter. The Broncos were losing 16 - 20. The Broncos were driving down the field and the Broncos stalled just outside of field goal range. Orton throws one across the middle and it is intercepted.
The crowd goes nuts. I'm sitting there, dejected, surrounded by thousands of cheering Titans fans, including Alex. He was standing up and yelling "Slap hands... slap hands with me" while giving numerous high fives to Titans fans in our section. He came to me and said "Troy, slap hands with me."
"No, I will not."
After getting the ball back and driving down the field again, the Broncos have the ball inside the Titans 10 and have 4th and goal. Incomplete pass. Turnover on downs. The Titans crowd erupts yet again. At this point, I've lost about all hope and just sit in disbelief as the Broncos fail to convert yet another fourth down. The Titans look like they're just going to run out the clock and this game will be over.
Not so fast. The Broncos managed to get the ball back after an incredible defensive stand. (P.S. Brian Dawkins did the Mile High Salute after the stop on 3rd down. Not sure if it was on the broadcast, but it got me and the other Broncos fans in section 344 very excited.).... Anyways... we got the ball back at the Titans 49 yard line and started to move the ball up the field. I started to get a bit more excited after the passes to Lloyd and Royal. Unfortunately, the Royal completion was called back for holding. That caused Alex to stand up out of his seat and throw a fist pump or two.
I thought to myself, "That's okay, we can pick up a 1st and 20 with a few completions. No problem."
Sacked.... well, this trip was fun, time to pack it in. Right? 2nd and 25 from the 50? Picking up 25 yards for a first down is like playing a game of NFL Blitz at the arcade. Unfortunately, that video game is not the same as facing an actual NFL caliber defense.
I leaned over to Alex and said "Well, it's 4th down territory anyways. If we can get 3 plays of 10 yards, that will get us back into the red zone. Watch Lloyd." Lloyd wasn't targeted on the next play, but fortunately McDaniels' strategy and play calling was better than mine. I'm sure that you know, by now, what happened. Orton was pressured and flushed out of the pocket to his right. He threw a jump ball to Gaffney at the goal line along the right sideline. The defender never turned for the ball and made contact with Gaffney and the referee threw the flag. 1st and goal at the 1.
Let me tell you this.... there is no better feeling than being in a raucous stadium in one instant and then hearing dead silence the very next. Once I had fully realized what had just happened, I found myself standing and pumping my fists while yelling "YEAH!!!!! THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!!! YEAH!!! GAFFNEY!!! YEAH!!!!"
I have never screamed that loud in my life. In fact, my vocal cords are still recovering after I wore them out on Sunday. Don't pity me, it was worth it. What a great experience.
Let's Leave, Dude
At this point, Alex just wanted to get out of there. "It's over, Troy. Let's just go." I had to convince him to stay so that we could watch the rest of the game. I did what any good human being would do in that situation. I fed him false hope. "No man, there's still a chance. There is like a minute and a half left and you're down a field goal."
He decided to stay.
Then the Broncos recovered the kickoff. "Seriously, Troy. Come on. You guys won. Let's go." Again, I had to speak confidence into him so that we could stay. "We'll run it and take 3 points. You'll still have like 30 seconds to score a touchdown. Let's just stay. Even if we left now, we would still be stuck in traffic. We may as well catch the final whistle."
Clearly, Alex wasn't buying it, but it ultimately came down to me saying "I'm your ride home, so we're staying."
In the end, the Broncos did win the game. There wasn't much hope for the Titans on that final drive, but if I paid all kinds of money on football tickets and all morning driving to Nashville then I was going to watch every second of football that was available to me.
The Golden Rule
Obviously, things weren't the same on the ride home as they were on the ride to the stadium. Long gone were the conversations about strategy and schemes and match ups. Instead, there was silence. Nobody wanted to step on Alex's toes by talking about the game. It was just quiet.
I flipped on the radio and listened to the Titans post game interviews and the local post game show. The Titans had no idea how the game slipped through their fingers. There was talk of Chris Johnson looking for the home run instead of taking what was given to him. There was all kinds of talk about how Jeff Fischer ruined the game by calling run plays at the end of the game when their running game was clearly being stuffed by the Broncos defense.
That was the only noise for the whole drive home. To be honest, I don't think that anything would have been different had the Titans won. Perhaps Alex would have been more apt to rub my nose in it, had the Titans won, but I certainly wouldn't have wanted that. I decided to take the high road, at this point. Earlier in the game, I mentioned how Alex had said "Troy, slap hands with me." as the Titans were winning. I could have done this, but that wouldn't have been right, in my opinion.
The Golden Rule goes as follows, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Would I like to have a pregame smack talk when I'm walking into the stadium? Sure. It's fun, at times. A little bit of cleverness is wholesome fun. Would I like to have a tough loss rubbed in my face? Probably not. A loss is like dying inside, to begin with, let alone if someone is jabbing you with insults at the same time.
I felt bad for Alex. I had been there just one week earlier and then two weeks before that. That feeling isn't foreign to me and I sure hate to see a buddy of mine take a loss like that.
On the other hand, I'm just glad it wasn't me.