You've decided to attend your first NFL game. Great! You're excited, but then you start thinking, where am I going to get tickets? What do I wear? How bad is traffic? What about parking? How do the fans act during the game? So many questions! If only there was someone with experience to shed some light.
Well, fear not, my friends. I've been attending professional games in Cleveland for years, and I've also been to several games in Pittsburgh (both Three Rivers and Heinz Field) and taken longer road trips to Cincinnati, Arizona and, most recently, Miami for football games. So I suppose you might consider me an old veteran when it comes to heading out to a game (although I resent the use of the word "old").
I'm pretty sure most people have been to at least one football game, whether it be high school or college. However, the NFL is a completely different animal, and it helps to know up front what you're in for. Overall, attending games is a great experience, and any real fan of the NFL owes it to himself to go. While I can't guarantee there won't be surprises along the way, I'd like to share some tips with you to help your first NFL game become a pleasant memory.
Me and my sister Rhonda Dunder celebrate with fellow Browns fans after a Cleveland victory in Miami in December 2010. Even though we were at a road game, we were lucky enough to find ourselves surrounded by other Browns fans.
Where to buy tickets
If you're not lucky enough to know a season ticket holder who wants to sell his tickets to you, then you'll have to look elsewhere for tickets. Several good, trustworthy places to try are StubHub, Ticketmaster, and the new NFL Ticket Exchange on NFL.com, powered by Ticketmaster. On StubHub, tickets sometimes cost more than face value, but you can choose from seats anywhere inside the stadium. With most of the choices, you'll find yourself in the thick of the home team fans. Ticketmaster sells tickets at face value plus processing fees. However, be aware that you will most likely be sitting with opposing fans if you buy your tickets here.
Hit the road.
LEAVE EARLY! There will be a gigantic mass of people trying to go through security and enter the stadium five minutes to kickoff. Don't be one of them! You must allow extra time for traffic, construction, inclement weather, accidents, etc. And once you get to the stadium, you'll want to visit the team shop, stop at a food stand and locate your seats. It's really not fun to arrive late and hustle to your seat only to realize you've missed kickoff. Plus, by rushing, you failed to give yourself the chance to take in your surroundings, especially if you've never been to a game before.
Find a place to park.
If you want to tailgate, park in the stadium lot. If you park elsewhere, check to make sure tailgating is allowed before you pull out the grill-some lots don't allow it. If you're not planning to tailgate and don't mind walking, I suggest avoiding the overcrowded stadium lots. As a general rule, I've found that the farther away from the stadium the lot, the cheaper the parking.
Get ready for stadium security.
Security personnel check each individual entering the stadium, so if you'd decided to bring along your stadium blanket, be prepared to unfold it. Likewise, make sure your jackets are unbotton or unzipped, and get ready to identify items in your pockets and bags. Visit the stadium's website before you go and review its list of banned items.
Ladies, you're going to a football game, not slinking down a fashion show runway in Paris-leave the stilettos at home! Still, you'd be surprised at how many people choose inappropriate footwear. Attending any type of sporting event usually entails a lot of walking, so choose a comfortable shoe.
In addition, be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions. When my sister and I go to Cleveland, we always dress like it's going to be 15 degrees cooler than the forecasted high. That's because the wind blows in off the lake, and it can get a bit chilly at times, even in warmer weather. In addition, if you've never been to the stadium before, you have no idea if your seats will be in direct sunlight, which can get pretty hot. Dress in layers and you should be plenty prepared. It's easy to peel off layers if you're stuck in the sun.
If you plan to wear the opposition's clothing, make sure you also carry with you a good sense of humor and a thick skin. Quick fact: Not everyone is nice. Face it, people can be jerks when their team is on the field, and unfortunately one or two bad grapes can spoil the whole bunch. The reaction to opposing fans varies from stadium to stadium. I've seen everything from fist fights to complete indifference. When I visit "enemy" stadiums, I immediately strike up conversations with people around me, just to show them that I'm simply there to enjoy my team, not to annoy them.
Behave like an adult.
Oh, and one last, very important thing. Don't be "that guy." You know the one-the guy (or gal) who won't shut up, sit down or stop bothering people. And this doesn't have to be a fan of the opponent. Plenty of home team fans are guilty too. As a rule of thumb, if you mind your own business and refrain from obnoxious screaming (side bar-yelling at your team to play strong defense or cheering when they score is not obnoxious. Shouting obscenities at every passing opposing fan, loudly pointing out after each play your team's faults and doing the moonwalk back and forth through the aisle after your team scores is obnoxious behavior) people will most likely leave you alone.
The NFL's opening weekend takes place in two weeks. I'll be at Cleveland Browns Stadium enjoying the Browns home opener. Whether you come to Cleveland, go to Pittsburgh, or take a longer road trip, just keep these tips in mind and you'll be just fine. I hope to see you out there!