Etiquette for American Football Spectators Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Etiquette for American Football Spectators

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American Football is a game of big men and sprinters trying to get the ball to move 10 yards at a time over four attempts. So as you can imagine, if you want to go along to spectate, you don't want to be a spectacle yourself amidst all the hardcore fans. An interesting point about American Football Fans is that, since there are relatively few teams (most of them in major cities), many fans cheer for a team many miles away. The Dallas Cowboys were considered 'America's Team' for many years. It's common for fans never to see their team live in action.

The Pre-Game

OK, if you are a rookie1 American Football spectator, the first rule of etiquette is turn up early and bring food. The reason for this is that the day starts in the parking lot2 with the tail gate party. Even in the depths of winter, barbecues have been lit outside Landau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, for hours before the game commences. Radios are tuned in to the local radio stations pre-game show, or portable TVs are tuned in to the Pre-game show, especially if the game is going nationwide on one of the networks.

Certain venues will even lay on a little extra entertainment to get the crowd geed up and ready to rumble when the doors to the stadium finally open and you are to take your seats. The more fired up you get here the better you support is reckoned to be during the game, so pace yourself and don't peak too early. After all, there is no point finally finding your seat with only enough strength to collapse into it for the next three hours.

Pace Yourself

If you are not used to American sport you will not be necessarily used to the intensity, duration and level of support you will be expected to give. This is not a football/soccer match which is 90 minutes of singing. This is three hours plus of support and intimidation. So take throat sweets, you may well need them (especially if you follow all the advice here) and be prepared to get involved. If you have survived the pre-game, you are now about to enter the lion's den.

Lets Get Ready to Party

You may well now be inside the stadium but don't expect the game to get going straight away. Sure you will see the team warm up and do their practice drills if you turn up inside early enough, but then the show will really begin.

Most teams have some sort of cheerleading team3 whose main aim is to orchestrate the noise from the sidelines. They will undoubtedly have already warmed up before the players warm up and will be starting to do some of their routines on the sidelines. Guys: you are here to watch a ball game, but if you must watch the cheerleaders during the warm up, you might miss something if you ogle them too much during game time.

Know Your Side of the Ball

Something that the early days of NFL Europe seemed to forget was the whole idea of homefield advantage. Many of the fans would continue to cheer and shout when their team had possession as well as when their team was in defence. The golden rule to help your team, is to make as much noise for the whole time they are in defence - that's two loud syllables, DE-FENCE - and maintain quietness when on offence. If you are quiet leading up to the snap when your team is in possession you quarterback can hear the coach inside his helmet and also give audibles4 if needed.

How do you create a noise? Shout, clap, stamp, sound klaxons, fly an Air Force Jet low over the stadium5. You name it - if it makes noise, it stops the opposition from being able to concentrate on the calls from the side lines and with any luck they'll have to waste timeouts to hear the instructions clearly. If they do this with all six timeouts the crowd deserve to be the MVP (Most Valuable Player).

Dress Appropriately

OK, the first thing to do is get dressed appropriately. Don't forget, the season in the US runs from the warmth of early September to the depths of January and appropriate dress is needed if you are a fan of one of the Bay teams. (Green Bay Packers who are hard to beat in under 40° Fahrenheit or Tampa Bay who love the warmth of the Mexican Gulf and find it hard to win in such low temperatures). However, it is not just the thickness of the apparel that needs to be considered, but also additions to your costume, especially if you are among the hard core fans. Here are some examples:

  • Cleveland Browns - Only dogs allowed in the Dawg Pound [Editor - 'What?'].

  • Green Bay Packer - A yellow cheese head.

  • New England Patriots - Revolutionary War gear is worn by a few.

  • Oakland Raiders - Silver and black face make-up, studs and chains.

1A first year or novice.2Or other appropriate venues in NFL Europe games. Check local press for details.3There are a few exceptions, but these teams have truly committed fans, or fans that need to be committed.4A change to the play agreed in the huddle.5Disclaimer: since 11 September, 2001, this is not a good idea unless you are Air Force personnel as it could lead to you being shot down.

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