A Game larger than Life

Lights, cameras, action. A huge arena lit up by lights. Thousands of people yelling their hearts out cheering as the men walk into the arena. Screens everywhere playing dramatic background music that would make warriors proud and announcing each participant who is entering the arena. Where am I now? In Rome of the pre- Christ era? Not exactly but quite close. Rome was the heart of the human empire back then – America is the heart of the human empire today. Sitting at an American Football match, a burger and chips to keep me company, I can kind of imagine how it must have been for those ancient Romans to sit watching those gladiatorial contests and chariot races. Only technology has made the spectacle many times grander. It is difficult to capture the experience in words – one has to be there to experience it. And the game itself – no, Sir, no – it is not the English gentleman’s game that Indian so love. This is a game that resembles a full blooded gladiatorial contest. You have 22 men like in cricket. But the similarity ends here. Brawny men these are, heads protected by helmets, they rush at each other like men possessed. One man takes the ball and runs. The opposite teams run after him and jumps at him. His own team mates along to support him. There is mad scramble. He tried to throw the ball to his team mate. The team mate catches it and runs. The opponent players are after him in a trice. He is down now. Again, the quarter back picks up the ball and starts a run for that is what the one who is running is called.

Well that was my brush with American culture – a much more American thing to do than visiting Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco or Sears Towers in Chicago as I had in my previous two visits to this great country. For it is not buildings that make culture but people. This was where the people were. A local had invited me to be part of this experience – a Monday night match between the Pittsburg Steelers and Houston Texas. A mega event it was – the entire town was in frenzy. I heard all hotels were booked and I might not have got a ticket if I had not booked 2 months in advance. The Texan fans had arrived by droves to cheer their favorite team. Even my own hotel lobby, when I went to change, before setting out, was packed with the Texan fans in Texan jerseys. I was apparently lucky to get this opportunity to watch this match for tickets were not all that easy to come by – only pass holders could get tickets. I had been lucky to have this friend who had a lifetime pass who also knew somebody else with a pass, who was not going for this match. Apparently it was quite tough to get hold of one of these passes as well. “I have booked one each for my son and daughter,” he said, proudly. “It will be twenty-five years by the time they get their passes. So long is the waiting list.” It almost seemed as if the life in the whole town revolved around football. That evening as my friend drove me to the stadium, I could hardly see anyone without jerseys. Even my friend Nathan changed into a jersey as he entered the stadium. We had to arrive an hour before the match to get parking and the match ended up starting an hour late.

In some ways I felt the game was a representation of the spirit of America. Everything felt larger than life. Along with all the dramatic game announcements, there were commercials on the big screen indicative of the consumerist side. And the place was so full of passion – even old grannies were jumping off their seats cheering for their side.

While we were waiting for two hours, we got to talk quite a bit. I learnt Pittsburgh had been a small obscure town, which had risen in prominence post the advent of steel industry. And now with manufacturing moving to China, apparently the city was hit and there was lot of unemployment and economy was suffering badly. I came to know about Nathan’s parents – they lived in a rural town and brewed beer for a living he told me. He told me of his own family – his wife and two children and how he planned 2 vacations every year with entire family and one with just his wife alone. Contrary to what is generally spoken of American family system collapsing, he seemed to be an out and out family man – job, family, hobbies – same things all of us want. He told me of his favorite hobby as well – ice hockey. Made me see however different we may be, how similar we are as well in some ways. Only the form varies but essential substance of humanity is just the same. That is the thing about seeing people up close – you realize we are all but branches of the same human tree.

He also told me about the history of the Steelers team. Apparently, they had been one of the top teams winning super bowl for successive years. But in recent years, they had declined and not performing so well. This year however apparently, they fan had lot of hopes, but the performance so far had only been average. Texas was supposed to be a pushover team and the fans were looking for an easy victory.

Coming back to the match, he did try to explain the rules to me. But it was a bit tough to follow. There were goal posts on either side and a median dividing the region between the goal posts. And region from the median to goal posts were further divided into sections with numbers 10, 20, 30 written on them. Apparently, the players had to hold the ball and successfully run 10 yards without being captured in 4 attempts. If they crossed to the next box, they got another 4 turns and so on. The other team had to down him and seize the ball all 4 times without letting him finish the 10 yards. All the catching and pulling somehow reminded me of our own Kabbadi. Initially Texans seized the lead going up 13-0. The scoring was quite complex with 7, 3, 2 and 1 points for different things. That was a bit difficult to understand but I could get the general sense. I wondered if I was going to see a major upset. A pall like silence prevailed on my side of the stadium. The Texan side was filled with cheers. The Texans being lesser in number, generally the atmosphere was quiter than at the start. Then suddenly Steelers scored one. The mood lifted on my side. I was not familiar enough with the game at what score difference it would be easy to come back. In regular football 13-0 meant the match was lost for good.

Unfortunately, we could not stay to see the full match as Nathan had to get up early and go to work the next day. The next morning, I got to know Steelers had stemmed the tide and managed a comfortable victory. As I ate my fruits, muesli and croissants, I could see the Texan fans checking out with forlorn faces. It had indeed been an experience of a lifetime.  Being a World traveler and going on trips of Exploration to different parts of the world did make you more Open Minded and Love the World more and more. Travel Inspiration I call it.

Lufthansa seeks to support your dreams of being a World Traveler and this post is an entry for a contest they are holding as part of their campaign. Click here to see the campaign details. Do take a look at this video to see the spirit behind this campaign.

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