Road Trip! Monday, September 12, 2011-Monday Night Football

Is there any spectacle so grand, so outrageous, so in your face BIG, so quintessentially American, as NFL football?  I’m attending a game at what used to be called Mile High Stadium in Denver,

and of course that name was way too appropriate and easy to remember, so now it’s named the Sports Authority Field, and maybe it’s just me, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?  But it’s very indicative of the state of sports in this country, because let there be no mistake, modern American athletic events at all levels run on money, and lots of it, and that means corporate sponsorship.

So our circuses are run based on TV ratings, and Denver has its share of fans, and Monday nights are great draws for sports bars and game watching, so big advertising dollars, whether on TV or on the marquee of a brand new stadium, means big exposure for the sponsors and lots of bucks for the teams.  So far, that’s easy enough to understand, even while I still bemoan the fact that college athletics are now also tainted with the same stains of crass commercialism.  But at professional events what business is it of mine how people spend their money?  None.

But that’s not where it ends.  Somehow, the billionaire team owners and the big business sponsors have convinced simple-minded civic leaders and their constituents that if they spend public money on state of the art football fields, the increased tax revenues from such expenses will pay for the stadium over time, so now, the billionaires cash the checks that the public is handing them, and it’s just another example of the bizarre reverse altruism that is going on in this country, where the poor and dwindling middle classes subsidize the rich, and the corporations are parasites on the public treasury, and whether we’re talking about football fields, or “national defense”, or “shovel ready projects”, or bank bailouts, corporate welfare is draining us dry at both the federal and the local levels, and it has to stop.  And doesn’t anyone ever think to ask the simple question, which is, if this investment in entertainment infrastructure pays off so handsomely over time, why won’t a businessman do it with his own money?

No.  Because everyone knows in his or her hearts that it WON’T pay off, but the sports fanatics in town want to stiff everyone else by forcing them to subsidize their passion for their beloved team whether they are fans or not, and because the businessmen who sell this idea are far more clever than the imbecile politicos that they are negotiating with, and because they owe no allegiance to anyone other than to their own bulging wallets.

But, since the dough’s being spent anyway (or, more accurately in this case, since Denverites are spending it  for me), I might as well enjoy it.  And enjoy it I do, because this is a fantastic stadium in what by all appearances looks to be a nice clean big city in the great American West, full of real country cowboys and cowgirls set in the foothills of the Rockies.

Jonathan and I started out this morning at the Riverside Inn, which is highly recommended if you want to start your own flea circus, enjoy scented pet-poop carpets, and have no need for hi speed Internet.  I eat breakfast alone at Jack and Janelle’s while Jonathan is loading the car, and I enjoy a light meal of pancakes with extra butter, bacon, and eggs with coffee, which is perfect for my crash weight-gain diet, and I enjoy every bite of it.  Go there when in Cortez, Colorado.

We head east on highway 160, crossing the San Juan Mountains just outside of Durango before heading north on highway 285.  This is cattle country, with broad flat grasslands in valleys between huge mountain ranges.  It’s not unusual to go over 50 miles between gas stations, or even between cities, but the road is great, because when you’re not going up or down a mountain pass you have views of the “purple mountains majesty” all around you.

We pass by the Sangre de Cristo range about noon just east of Bonanza before crossing Logan’s Pass at 10,000 feet, which is the high point of our trip (by the way, it’s also a milestone for our car as we have now driven it over 10,000 miles).  Still we are surrounded by the Rockies, and there are a half dozen peaks over 14,000 feet tall within my eyesight.

We reach Denver by 3:30 and check into the Rodeway Inn (Trip Advisor Rank: 117 out of 133), which is under reconstruction, which I know because the clerk is at the Ramada Inn next door, and because my room has large holes in the walls and doors and is missing the slide lock.  Other than that, and the fact that it smells like old wet laundry, it’s a great place.

So Jonathan and I check out and find a nicer place for the same price, but you don’t get something for nothing.  Our original motel was within walking distance of the stadium.  This one is a thirty-minute drive away, but has the advantage that only humans are allowed in bed and your feet don’t stick to the floor.

We eat pre-game at Tacobe, “an American Indian Eatery”, and I enjoy the pulled bison fried bread, which is stacked high with meat, peppers, tomatoes, and onions, but I think I’d go with the ribs for a healthier and maybe tastier choice. That’s what the guys from “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”, ate, and that’s how we got this recommendation.  Jonathan has the chicken version of the fried bread and enjoys his also.  $20, no tip, since this is a fast-food style service.  Recommended.

We park in the fleabag hotel’s lot near the stadium for free (and no, I don’t feel guilty), and walk about a mile to the game, past thousands of people enjoying their tail gate parties, some of which are as simple as a few beers and lawn chairs, while others have hired out a limousine complete with a catered BBQ grill and cocktail bar.  My favorite has a toilet seat hanging over the fender that says “Seating for Raider’s Fans”, which is who the Broncos are playing tonight.

Almost everyone but Jonathan and I are wearing their team colors, orange and blue for the Broncos, and a surprising number of the infamous Oakland fans (known as the Raider Nation) sporting black and silver.  But a lot of people go far beyond those basics.  You’ve got painted faces, painted bodies, helmets, banners, flags, color coordinated costume jewelry, dyed hair in team colors (with Mohawk option), and complete Raider outfits with pirate head shoulder pad figurines.  A couple of the Broncos are dressed head to toe in nothing but orange pom-poms, representing (I think) Orange Crush, symbol of Bronco victory.

Jonathan IS wearing orange and blue, but it’s a Florida Gator T shirt (perfect for a rainy 50 degree evening), yet he’s still getting a lot of praise and attaboys from Denver boosters, because everyone knows that Tim Tebow went to college in Gainesville, and Tebow is a Heisman Trophy winner and genuine football hero. Even though his pro career has been spent almost entirely warming the bench on the sidelines, Tebow’s popularity is such that his name on anything far outsells any of the other Bronco’s team articles.

Now, if you’re a Raider fan, of course you’re way outnumbered, and walking into the stadium is like running a gauntlet of screamed insults from mostly drunken partiers still pounding down beer in the parking lot.  Since they’ve been at this since early this afternoon in some cases, and it’s nearly 8 PM now, you can imagine that some of this gets a little out of hand, but mostly it’s all good natured, and I didn’t see any fights break out before, during, or after the game, though I DID intercede and get between two people who almost got into fisticuffs over cutting in line waiting for a stall to open in the men’s room.  I’m still amazed that Monday Night Football is such a success, given the fact that, even in this crappy economy, at least some of us still need to work the next day, and these games don’t end until after midnight after a WHOLE lot of binge drinking…

From a distance, the stadium looks a little like a lasso being thrown, because the top tiers are shaped in a wave pattern, and I think that’s very cool, given the team’s mascot.  Oh, and it looks new…shiny new, even though it’s ten years old.

Inside, I order up a Chardonnay ($6.25) from one of the many food vendors and find my seat, way high up at the top, but right on the 50-yard line ($211 for both).  Jonathan’s already there, and the pregame show has already begun.  Someone is singing “America the Beautiful” while images of American landscapes are projected onto the Jumbotrons, and 75,000 people are cheering, because now a parachute team is landing on the field.  The last of three jumpers has an American flag trailing behind him, which he drags across the field when he touches down.  The crowd goes wild.

Now the players enter the Coliseum…I mean, stadium, opposing team first, which means a series of boos along with a few screaming “Raiders Suck”.  Next the Broncos emerge from a tunnel shaped like a horse’s head through a gauntlet of gyrating strippers…wait, no, they’re cheerleaders, dressed in white bare midriff outfits with leather fringed hot pants and busty tops tied with a knot in front.  I’m dismayed, but only because I can only see this level of detail through the big screen.  The real figures are just ants on the field a quarter mile away.  As the players run onto the field to the roar of the crowd, fireworks erupt from the end zone.  The trouble with football is, it’s just way too understated for my tastes.

Then a half-acre sized American flag is rolled onto the field (along with a smaller Broncos flag only about the size of your house) and the announcer says we will have a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11.  Now, never mind that this is 9/12, the crowd actually IS silent, for about 5 seconds, and I say a brief prayer as well.  Then a montage of photos from that infamous day flash up on the big screens, and a spontaneous chant starts up: USA, USA, USA…slowly at first, and quietly, then gaining momentum, and soon the whole crowd is chanting simply, USA!  You can’t choreograph this, and you can’t fake it.  These good people love America sincerely, from the heart, and this is their way of showing it.  No dictator or despot in his wildest dreams enjoyed through violence and force the same kind of accolades that these people give willingly to their country.

Then color guard contingents from all of the armed forces, including the Coast Guard and even representatives from the local fire and rescue departments, carried the Stars and Stripes out to the middle of the field and the crowd begins to sing the National Anthem, and as you know it’s not easy to sing, but almost everyone makes an effort, including me.  Then the Marine Corps Honor Guard fires a three-volley salute for the fallen victims.

Now, I’m going to make a comment here that may offend, but, in keeping with my policy…I don’t care.  I think a good show of patriotism is important, and I think there is some genuine value in waving the flag and supporting the ideals of our nation.  But.  But there is an overt militarism that is creeping into these ceremonies (which during the daytime include Air Force fighter and bomber flyovers), and our willingness to “Back the Troops” has turned into a rubber stamp for the US to involve itself in all manner of ill-advised foreign adventures, and I’m afraid that these kind of events, which focus almost exclusively on the armed forces and martial strength, help to foment the kind of Imperial agenda that has gotten us in to so much trouble already.  I wish that we could be as proud of a country at peace as we are of one that is involved in endless wars.  Let’s get past the fact that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home.  It seems like to me that there are some ominous parallels between our brandishing of weapons at sporting events and the old Soviet-Era May Day parades.  Both are propaganda.  Both have an agenda.  Nether one is an innocent display of patriotism.

Now, I feel better.  Back to the game.

The game itself you can read about elsewhere, and by better sports writers than me, but I’ll summarize it as follows:  this was not well played on either side, and I doubt either team will wind up advancing very far into the playoffs if they get there at all.  Yes, it’s very early in the season (game one, in fact) to say that, and this was played at least partly in a downpour, but this was truly ugly.  A lot of mistakes were committed, from sloppy one-armed tackles to stupid penalties.  Blocked punts.  Fumbles.  Interceptions.  Dropped passes.  You name it, they did it.  Bad football, pure and simple, and I guess I expected good football for over $200, even if Jonathan DID pay for the tickets, which he did (and, thank you very much!).

Even the weather didn’t cooperate, because it starts raining in the second quarter.  Hard.  That sends me and about 20,000 of my closest friends below decks, where we enjoy the game from one of the three 19” screens that are above one of the bars.  But Jonathan and the other real men and women gut it out and get soaked.  The disadvantage of an open stadium.  But I like them that way.  It makes the game more real, somehow.

The halftime show is comprised of a silly contest between three fans dressed in strange costumes and the Marine Corps Drill Team, which awed with its precision.  Then we’re back to the game, and the rain has stopped for now.

It says a lot about a game when the highlight is a field goal.  63 yards was the old record, and it’s tied tonight.  Too bad it was by the wrong team, the winning team, the Raiders.

To make it worse, Tebow doesn’t play at all, in spite of the fact that the starting QB is struggling hard and the fans are cheering for a change.  No, it’s worse than that.  They’re BOOING their own team’s incompetence by the end.

So we leave the stadium and it’s after one in the morning before we get back to the hotel, and two before we retire.  The Quality Inn is a nice place for about $80 out the door.  Very comfortable beds and pillows.

Tomorrow we visit my relatives in Amarillo, Texas.  See you then, I hope!

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