The top question I get asked online is about where I live. People are curious by nature, and I expect it at this stage, because yeah, it is a bit weird. I live in Ireland and I write about football. That green place on the other side of the Atlantic ocean that 99 percent of you Americans claim ancestry from? That's where to find me. Not that you'd need to find another one of my type as there are 10 times as many Irish-Americans as there are actual living Irish. Seriously. Next to drinking, the thing we're best known for is emigrating.
Where I come from, soccer is football and football is "American football." This is an important clarification I have to make in every conversation where I mention I'm a writer because if I don't very clearly differentiate between the two sports, I'm likely to be hit with some speech about Liverpool's mid-field being a mess or how Everton is one good manager away from a title.
And even depending on what area of the country I'm in, football is something else again entirely. It could also refer to Gaelic football, which is sort of like soccer except you can pick it up for short periods of time. It's very similar to Australian Rules football except it's played with a spherical ball rather than the more Americanized oval-shape.
I know all this because I was born here, and I grew up here, and apart from two brief holidays state-side, I don't really have much experience of American life. I have attended one single football game in my lifetime, and it wasn't even an NFL one -- Penn State vs. UCF played in Croke Park, Dublin a few years ago. The first time I understood the rules of football was when I played 'Madden 2003' on the Playstation 2 though I didn't even play that until the summer of 2006.
This time 10 years ago, I couldn't name three NFL teams, yet, here I am now with two years of work experience in the football industry -- first as an analyst for Pro Football Focus, and then to this fine establishment, where I annoy Ed(itor) Valentine with pitches for articles that he'll never greenlight because they're all pie-in-the-sky ideas like "What would a 3-4 New York Giants defense look like?" and "Here's a Nike concept Giants uniform."
Would you believe that the first full NFL game I ever watched was the 2007 Super Bowl? In Madden, I always wanted to play as "the blue team," so the Giants became my thing, and when I saw they were playing against an undefeated team that year, I decided I would do it. I would watch the Super Bowl ... because it meant I got to stay up late.
At the time, I was 18 years old, but I was still in school, so this game was a little difficult to watch. Because of the difference in time zones, the Super Bowl doesn't start until nearly midnight here, and doesn't finish until about 4:30 a.m. School started at 9 a.m. and I never had a TV in my bedroom growing up so this was something I had to run past my parents. Outside of possibly Amish communities, I doubt there are many 18-year-olds in America who have to get permission to watch the Super Bowl.
Amazingly, my parents agreed to it, based on the once-off nature of the event, my relative maturity, and a promise that I wouldn't attempt to get the next day off school by faking illness. We all know how that Super Bowl turned out -- the biggest upset in the history of the game -- so I watched the Super Bowl the year after too -- another nailbiter between the Cardinals and Steelers -- before picking up the game as a full-time fan in 2009, and well, you know where it went from there.
Being a fan of a sport that's based on a different continent has its challenges. The closest stadium to where I live is in Foxboro, MA., but that's nearly 5,000 kilometers away from my house. All that said, the time-difference isn't the strangest part of watching the Super Bowl in Ireland. Can you imagine being hyped for the biggest game of the year and there being close to zero media coverage for it? Like, absolutely nothing? It's shown on TV here, but only via British channels and everyone is asleep anyway, so it's not really a huge deal.
In the past, I've tried many different ways to fully embrace the Super Bowl spirit. For the first two games, my only company was my little brother, and that was fine. In 2009, we invited a small number of friends around because it was the New Orleans Saints, and we have family over there (Sidenote: I went to N.O. in 2011 for my cousin's wedding at the exact week where the Saints were on a bye-week and LSU was away at Alabama, so I had my photo taken outside the Super Dome and went back to my cousin's house to watch Vince Young beat the Giants), and that was very good indeed, and probably the best way to watch the game if I'm honest. Don't go too big on your parties. I learned that the hard way.
Because in 2011, which was the biggest celebration of any and was also the same year we started a flag-football game on Sundays and we held Lad Bowl I, which actually also had a girl playing, and that shows that girls can be lads too so it's all fair game. Following the game -- which was more mud sloshing than anything resembling football -- there was a proper extra large party at a house owned by a few friends of mine. Everyone wore their respective favorite team jerseys, and I opted for an old white Jeremy Shockey jersey from 2004 (wherein the "old" and "white" are descriptors for the jersey and not the player). This party maybe represented about 15-20 percent of the total Irish NFL fandom, and there were still some seats left in the back if you didn't mind not being able to hear the commentary.
That was the only Super Bowl party I've ever been to, and honestly, it sucked. It was too loud, too cramped and generally pretty lame. My friends were all total jerks about it. Everyone became fans of the sport roughly around the same time, but none of their teams had made it to the Super Bowl in their short fandoms, so none of them understood how important that experience was.
At one point, after a decent third-down conversion, someone lobbed a Drumstick lolly -- a pink and white chewy lollipop -- at my head. Any good play would provoke anger towards me, and any bad one would generate jeering. They were usually a decent bunch of friends with good-natured intentions, but there's something strange about adopting hyper-masculine traditions as one's own that really brings out the cartoon bully.
I had a two-and-a-half hour walk home that night, and whoo boy, thank God the Giants won that game, because it would have been a very different experience to what actually happened; a joyous sunrise saunter through some sleepy seaside towns after I watched my team lift the Lombardi Trophy. I got home at about 6.30 a.m. and was sure everyone back at the house was still partying. I was done. Too drained after an emotional game.
And that leads me on to what I've been doing the last few years. Honestly, I haven't bothered making much of an outward effort. A lot of my friends have regular jobs now, and getting to and from places in the early hours of Monday morning is a nightmare, so parties aren't really even an option. I've kinda just settled on watching the Super Bowl like I would any other game. I plug a HDMI cable into my laptop and stream NFL GamePass onto my TV and sit, mostly quiet alone in my room. This isn't the sexy end-result that many, maybe even including Ed(itor), predicted. It turns out that an Irish Super Bowl isn't a crazy alcohol fueled romp. It's really actually boring and secluded.
The next day, the morning papers won't have any coverage of the game because it would have finished past their deadline, and the best you can hope for is a brief mention on the back end of the sports segments on radio or TV news, often with minor mistakes or inconsistencies because, well, it's not that important here. This country practically shut down when Ireland made the quarterfinals of World Cup 1994, it gets very quiet in the streets during important rugby matches, and come Sunday night, all will be silent once more, but for different reasons altogether. Everyone will be asleep, except for a handful of people savoring the last moments of the NFL season. The drought is coming. Enjoy it while you can.