3rd down, 4 to go! John Stephens breaks through the line! There he goes!! Touchdown!! This is usually the highlight of a day at a football game. But I recently learned that there is more to a football game than the dazzling runs and exciting touchdowns - there are many parts to a football organization which occur behind the scenes.
The Patriots were to play a home game against the Indianapolis Colts, on a freezing Sunday in December. At ten in the morning, almost three hours before the game, a group of fans outside the Stadium were already preparing to watch their favorite team. The Patriots had just four wins and eight losses, yet these cheerful fans were awaiting the game with fervor and delight. The fans excitedly tossed around footballs and ate quick lunches in the parking lot. They had presumably spent 20 dollars to watch one fair team play another fair team. They came for the sole reason that they loved football. Despite the fact that we too love football , we were here for a different reason
I had been invited to the game by Patriots' management and the editors of this paper. My father and I had been given an opportunity to both tour the Patriots' facilities and to watch the game free of charge. I was to accompany a Pizza Hut contest winner, an eight-year-old named Theresa Marsili. She received a tour of the stadium, as well as a free pair of front row seats, and I was to accompany her. It was to be an exciting chance to learn what a professional football organization was like, and I had been waiting for this day for weeks.
After being treated to parking in a small private lot, we entered the administrative offices. Two Patriots officials served as our guides, and they were to lead us through the huge stadium. Despite the fact that Sullivan Stadium is comprised primarily of a football field, there are also many offices surrounding the playing area, and a large press box.
The group also included a TV crew from the children's television show "Ready To Go," who were filming the winner for a future show. Our entourage went from office to office , learning about the administrative facilities, and meeting some of the owners and officials. The offices were not too interesting,except for high-tech fax machine, and without looking out of the window you would not have known that you were in a football stadium.
Next we visited the press box located at the top of the stadium, which is basically where the television and radio announcers sit, and the newspaper writers and owners watch the game. Also located here is a large room where, with a computer, a few operators work a gigantic scoreboard. The scoreboard is the most prominent object in the stadium, and constantly flashes replays and play results for the fans.
Next were the pair of rooms which were labeled "Positively, absolutely no admittance," where everyone wondered "What goes on in there?" It turned out that we were in front of the infamous instant replay booths where referees watch replays to determine if any of the calls made on the field are wrong. This use is controversial in the NFL, and many feel that the process delays the games excessively. Other small offices in the press box are for both the radio announcers, and for the coaches on both opposing teams, and the Patriots. The coaches in the booths relay messages through headphones down to the field with the formations of the opposing team, and possible plays to use.
After touring the press box, our entourage proceeded to the field for a brief description of the playing surface which is comprised of artificial turf, a carpet-type material. A bunch of players were warming up on the field, and a famous ex-football player, Joe Namath, stood getting ready for the game as well. Mr. Namath, however, was not to play, he was preparing to announce it. I did not recognize this former star, but my father remembered him from the '60s,when he was a quarterback for the New York Jets.
Most fans are immediately interested in getting a star's autograph, but since I always feel this is too much like worshipping that person, I didn't ask for Mr. Namath's. I did ask him, however, about being an announcer, and he had some interesting answers. He told me that announcers have to prepare for each game and must both memorize the player's number, and know their characteristics. More interesting than his comments, though, was the fact that he was down-to-earth, and talked to me as an equal.
We next toured the actual training facilities, where the weight room, trainers' room, and video equipment are located. The Patriots own over half a million dollars of computers and video equipment. This equipment is used not only to manage the financial affairs of the team, but also by the players to study films of old games and plays. The players study films of their opponents'games, and work hours learning plays and strategies.
In the weight room, there are hundreds of different weights which are available to the players throughout the year, both during the season through the off-season as well. With the tremendous bulk that most NFL players have, each organization spends millions to keep their players in competitive form. The trainers' room is full of modern health equipment, which, with the current rate of injuries, is understandable.All these parts of the Patriots make up an organization which is more than just a football team, but is closer to a business venture.
But there is one remaining item left undiscussed: The game. It turned out that the Patriots overcame the Colts in the last minute of the game for an exciting comeback win. But the highlight of the day was definitely not the win, but the behind-the-scenes work that went into that win. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.