It’s 2:30 am on a Monday in Bangkok and I’m watching Poland and Serbia playing professional handball and trying to figure out if this is a game for uncoordinated soccer players or bad basketball dribblers. There is no audio, just a loud humming noise which I’ve muted. Insomniac? No. Well, yes, in fact, but that’s not why I’m tethered to my laptop in the dark with headphones. And it’s not for a sudden interest in handball either. I’m killing time before my game. It doesn’t start until 3 am and the less-than-legal streaming feed goes live exactly at kickoff. No pre-game analysis or warm-up beer commercials. Just take me to the football.
Three in the morning is not the ideal time for some adrenalized NFL table-pounding action, but it’s all I’ve got when, as is typical, I am traveling far, far away from the Frozen Tundra of Wisconsin. When the regular season starts toward the end of August/early September, I have mapped out which games I might be able to see from the comfort of a Wisconsin living room with beer and pizza, and which match-ups I will have to find in an unlikely overseas American sports bar or, more likely, online.
I am a Green Bay Packers fan. In American football, Green Bay is the smallest US city to have a team, and they’ve been around since the early days of the sport. They are also the only team owned by its community. So no sneaking off in the middle of the night with some rich owner who’s pouting because taxpayers haven’t bought him another stadium. It’s religion, where I come from. So being abroad can create a certain amount of Packer fan anxiety. The last thing I want to do is wake up and see a final score. My friend Carlo, originally from Eau Claire but living in Beijing, can only watch the sad little field graphic with the gradual timeline/summary. Just three hours sitting there clicking Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Hey, touchdown! Refresh.
This time I tried something new. I brought up my usual feed from atdhe.net – this week it sounded like it was being piped in from Sweden – but also hooked up with “the guys” back in Madison. My friend Dave set up the laptop on Skype and gave me a coffee table berth with a view of the big screen. I checked in just before kickoff but no one else was there yet. “You’re the first to arrive,” he tells me. Throughout the awesome game that had the Packers beating the long-standing archrival Chicago Bears for the NFC Championship in Chicago no less — they kept checking to see if I was awake. Are you kidding??
Other than the new Skype add-on, weird hour, weird setting Packers games are not unfamiliar to me:
How about Italy? Deep south. Reggio di Calabria, the tip of Italy’s toe, kicking Sicily. No sports bars, no interest in American football. My friend Paolo has satellite TV and though he has no idea what the hell American football is, he graciously offers to take me in. The game creeps past midnight on a work night, he’s checking his watch trying to figure out much longer he has to be gracious. I have a fever (a medical one) and sore throat and am miserable. It drags on. It goes to overtime. Finally at damn near 2:45 am Brett Favre throws a losing wild-man interception in the playoffs against the Eagles. Getting home was a 45-minute icy walk of shame without a proper coat.
I was living in Ankara, Turkey for the playoffs in 1998. A friend of a friend found a government guy who was kind enough to invite us over to his place for the military feed. We won. I missed the Super Bowl that year (painful) but was told it was better than seeing them lose.
Chicago. Living in Wrigleyville and heading to, of all places, the Cubby Bear, which dubbed itself the Packer Fans Headquarters and had a large separate room with its own bar to keep us out of the hair of the Bear fans. (Though at the time, there wasn’t much for us to taunt them about!)
In Guatemala, in Bar Tecum in Quetzaltenango, with several Guatemalteco friends around me, a bottle of local rum, bucket of ice, plate of limes and two bottles of Coke… and the Green Bay Packers on a big TV on Fox Deportes. I began my instructional course in American football. After about 10 minutes of polite smiles, still no one understood. Why do they just keep running into each other? What happened there? Was that good? “OK, I’ll tell you when to cheer.”
In Panama driving around like a maniac (ie. fitting in with the locals) as I tried to find a sports bar that was airing the game like they said they would on the phone. No luck. After missing a few games that season, and catching one at a Bennigans or the like, I found Bingo 90. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? Want to see a sporting event? Go to where people need things to gamble on. I became a regular. Free munchies, order a Coke, and watch every game in the NFL on a string of TVs around the room above all the slot machines. I went with my fellow English teacher Steve (a Patriots fan, but I like him anyway) every Sunday. We were pretty close to broke back then and Steve doesn’t drink so we spent nary a penny there most of the time, and always bought some amazing ginger cookies (with the little hairs from the shredded fresh ginger!) for 10 cents each at a small bakery on the way home.
Once, the father of Salsa King, movie star and presidential candidate Ruben Blades stopped by our table. He was a regular at the casino. I knew who he was, the resemblance was unmistakable, and I’d always give him one of those chin lift greetings, sort of Mafioso-style. One of the first times we saw him, he stopped as he passed our table, and introduced himself, said hello, shook a few hands and sat down. “Señor Blades” is not a Packers fan, but a seemingly decent fellow anyway.
I, too, have done the Hit Refresh-Game Summary Method. And in Bangkok if I can avoid the score, The Sport Corner gets the games downloaded and can replay them anytime the next day. But that’s never the same.
So now thanks to the Interwebs, I can not only see the games live, but share some of the snide remarks from the armchair audience of a Wisconsin basement rec room. Now if I could only figure out how to reach the chip bowl.
Oh, and by the way… SUPER BOWL XLV HERE WE COME!!!