It’s American football in all its glory and weirdness, and it was in Sydney, Australia. So too was Justin Twell, our foreign football fan, (well, one of them), and he writes about his experience taking in American football in Australia.
The 2016 college football season is finally underway, and there was no better place for it to begin than in Sydney, Australia as the University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears faced off against the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at ANZ Stadium. There is a heck of a lot of bias there to start this off, I know, but I’m sticking to it.
I mean, it’s not every day we get to see two college football teams come to Australia to play an actual, meaningful game.
This is a pretty big deal if you don’t live in the United States. Trust me.
My day started off at 4AM as my wife and I made the 30-minute drive to Brisbane International Airport to take the 1 hour, 20 minute flight south to Sydney, wearing, of course my, Inside the Pylon t-shirt (Now available for purchase!).
Once in Sydney the plan was to catch a train from the airport to the stadium. This plan changed as we made our way to the train station. We were stopped by a man dressed in an illuminous orange jacket bearing the mark of an airport employee, and he offered us a shuttle bus ride direct to the airport for $20 each.
Great – this would get us to the stadium quicker and via a direct route – so we agreed. Five minutes later a twelve-seat bus showed up and the friendly driver opened the door for us and in we climb. As we get inside, the bus is nearly full with NFL fans sporting such jerseys as Jarvis Landry of the Miami Dolphins, Todd Gurley of the St. Louis Rams, and Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The bus ride was a pleasant one and the driver was entertaining, and all too happy for a chat. He started off asking questions about the game and the sport in general, then where everyone was from and who we support. We then got into a game of “guess where the driver is from” as going by his accent he certainly wasn’t a local.
“Italy!” someone shouted. Nope. “Russia!” another shouted. No again. “Greece!” I shouted from the very back of the bus. Wrong. He then gave us a clue and told us he is from a Middle-Eastern country and we eventually guessed correctly. This friendly little man was from Israel, and a proud Israeli who enjoyed talking with us as much as we did with him.
We arrived at the stadium, paid the driver, and stepped out of the bus and into the glorious sunshine on this beautiful day. As we made our way toward the front of the stadium, music could be heard and a man on a microphone directing what sounded like some sort of fan activity going on.
At this point I could smell the food coming from the stalls, the music getting the crowd pumped up, and the many fans already at the stadium sporting as wide range of NFL jerseys as you would expect. Plenty of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers jerseys, obviously, but up popped more ‘exotic’ jerseys such as Jay Cutler of the Denver Broncos, Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins, and Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys.
No fewer than five fellow fans approached me to ask after who or what was Inside the Pylon as we queued up for food and the very reasonably priced programs, which cost only $10 each. The time struck 11AM, so we made our way into the stadium, stopping as we passed through the gate to the beer stall, of course!
We got to our seats by the corner of the end zone and I was immediately impressed with this stadium and the view we have for the game. Players of both teams are on the field warming up and out come the phones to take pictures and just soak all this in.
Yes! We get to see the college football season opener!
And here we are.
The atmosphere started to build as more fans took to their seats.
The game itself was an entertaining, high-scoring affair as heavily-favored California racked up a 51-31 win.
The crowd was entertained by cheerleaders of both teams on the sidelines as well as the hilarious mascot of California – Oski the Bear! – taking photos with children, playing “catch” with some fans in the crowd, and taking time to use advertising boards to “box-in” a member of security to the delight of the crowd.
And nobody will forget the California victory cannon that fired every time the Golden Bears scored, not to mention the Mexican wave (Yes, we call it that) that got going in the second half. During media breaks we were entertained by the kiss-cam, dance-cam, and karaoke-cam that appeared on the two big screens in two corners of the stadium. The highlight of this was a young boy in a yellow California shirt who was busting moves like he was Michael Jackson to absolutely raucous applause from the 61,247 people who turned up.
Halftime brought us a dance troupe on the field and we bore witness to a halftime marriage proposal on the field between two Hawaii supporters from Adelaide, South Australia.
The lucky lady, of course, said yes.
But then disaster struck! Yes, believe it or not, the stadium ran out of beer. How could they possibly let this happen?! Lesson for next time guys: Bring more beer!
Speaking of which, will there be a next time? If rumors now surfacing are true, then yes, college football will be back next year. After the game, California coach Sonny Dykes said that he believes this won’t be a one-off game here and anticipates this being annual event.
It’s also been announced that the Pac-12 Conference has agreed to a multi-year deal with Fox Sports to show football as well as basketball games here in Australia. Great news and perhaps a sign of things to come, both for fans here and the game itself.
Australia now has a taste of a competitive American football game, which continues to grow down under. The next few months I’ll be keeping a close eye on any announcements that we may hear of college football coming back. Fingers crossed.
Follow Justin on Twitter @JustinTwell78. Check out his articles on how the Detroit Lions will fare without Megatron, the elite Minnesota Vikings’ linebacker corps, the potential for a breakout season from the Chicago Bears’ Eddie Goldman, the Bears’ draft fits, training camp battles in Green Bay, and more on being an NFL fan on another continent.
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