NFL / miami dolphins

Pyrotechnics, scooters and last-second field goals: My first live NFL game in 18 years
One of the benefits of having three brothers is that when one of those brothers gets a perk from their job, say, four tickets to a Colts game, sometimes you get to share in that perk. So when my beaming brother returned from a work conference and happily announced that he was going to take the four of us to a game at Lucas Oil Stadium (despite his wife's desire to sell the tickets for their $600-plus value), I was excited at what for me is a rare opportunity. While I love sports, I'm really reluctant to pay to see teams play live, especially when it's a really expensive trip. The last time I took my own family to a pro game, it was to see the Rockies host the Dodgers, and we were able to see the game, get ice cream for my kid, a beer in a souvenir cup for me (that's usually my favorite part) for a little over $100. Not bad! But football games usually aren't so friendly on the wallet. The last time I attended an NFL game, oddly enough, it was the same match-up as last weekend: the Colts hosting the Dolphins. Only then, Santana and Rob Thomas were topping the music charts with "Smooth", the Colts still called the RCA Dome home, and Dan Marino was in his final season for Miami. There's something both games have in common, though: I didn't pay to attend. And my motto for entertainment is the same as it is for food and drink: If it's free, it's for me! A buddy buying you an occasional beer is a nice gesture, but free seats at a professional sporting event touches your soul. Speaking of which, my soul was already sticky with thankful residue from Thanksgiving, only a few days before (or maybe that was peanut oil from the turkey fryer), so I was almost floating in a gratitude Nirvana when I jumped in a minivan to head for the stadium. I don't think I'll ever own a minivan, but make no mistake -- I'm very glad my brother does. Minivan technology has improved immensely since I was younger. Modern minivans are basically rolling mini night clubs. My brother's is outfitted with a built-in DVD player with all sorts of inputs, a remote control that hides away and a headphone jack for everyone in the van. Being the mature adult men that we are, my brothers and I watched a PBS Documentary about exotic wildlife on the way to the football game. Just kidding. We hooked up my brother's Xbox One and played Madden. It was fun, playing a video game while rolling down the Interstate and feeling 90 minutes whip by pretty quickly, but don't ask me who won. I don't want to talk about it. But I will talk about the game. The real game we went to see; not the virtual one in which I lost suffered very real shame. Both the Colts and the Dolphins entered the (real) game Sunday at 5-5. Not exactly a game that experts were hyping as a preview of the Super Bowl, but it did serve as a kind of turning point for two teams trying to stay on the plus-side of .500. Also, the approximately 60,000 fans were, as the saying goes, ready for some football, and the fact that both teams were 5-5 didn't seem to inhibit their enthusiasm in the slightest. When the Colts ran on to the field, I couldn't help but be overcome by more gratitude. Sure, there have been some ancient sport spectacles, like Gladiators and the Mayan game pok-a-tok where losers may or may not have been decapitated. But I am grateful to be alive in a time where we can safely witness the majesty of professional athletes coming on to a field, led by a man riding a motorcycle, accompanied by pyrotechnics on a scale that seem way too large for an enclosed stadium and loud (very, very loud) rock music. Fortunately, the game itself did not disappoint. Yes, like a too many NFL games, there were a lot of penalties (something that's been a perpetual gripe of mine for the last several years), and a lot of TV timeouts, which don't seem quite as necessary when you're watching the game in-person and not, you know, on TV. But it was a close game; it literally came down to the last second, with Indy winning 27-24. There were a lot of turnovers, which isn't exactly a great indicator for either team's offense, but they do make a game fun to watch. Andrew Luck was in typical form, somehow dipping his 6-and-a-half-foot frame to elude defenders, edge up to the front of the pocket and complete a long pass. This, despite the Dolphins fan behind us yelling the indispensable advice to their team, "Get him, dammit!" I could tell you more about the game, but you can also just watch highlights here, including the play I mentioned around the 8:00 mark. So yeah, it was great. I was a little salty that I couldn't buy a beer in a souvenir cup (if the cup isn't a souvenir, then basically you're paying a $10 beer rental fee), but it's hard to complain when the tickets are free. We emerged from the stadium amid a throng of happy Colts fans and disappointed Dolphins fans and began the long walk back to our parking spot. As the huge throng slowly inched away from the stadium, some exuberant pedestrian flew by on one of those $1-rental scooters, yelling "How ya like me now, suckers!" (And yes, he said "suckers", not an expletive that rhymes with "suckers", which for some reason made it all the more endearing.) I don't know who that man was, but I'd like to thank him for capping off our night in Indy with a unique farewell. His antics were the kind you just don't get to enjoy watching the game at home. With the politics and penalties, I've been critical of the NFL recently, but I have to admit I enjoyed my first game in 18 years, almost to the exact date. I am grateful for the free tickets, but I do hope it's not another 18 years before I see my next NFL game.

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