Monday, December 30, 2013

St. Louis Rams 9 at Seattle Seahawks 27 - December 29, 2013


After nearly four months on the road, I finally made it to Seattle, the final stop on my NFL Road Trip. Having lived in Vancouver from 1990-96, I have spent a lot of time in the Emerald City, and was happy to finish my trip here. In 2001, when I did my MLB Road Trip, I started in Seattle, so the circle was complete.  A friend from my college days decided to drive down from Vancouver to join in the celebration, a nice way to end the entire journey.

CenturyLink Field

Proven to be the loudest venue in the NFL and the one with the largest home advantage, CenturyLink Field is a pleasure to visit. Located just a half-mile south of Pioneer Square and right next to Safeco Field, the distinct roof is even visible from Pike Place Market, Seattle's iconic tourist destination.



The area around the stadium is hopping at least four hours before game time. There were two pregame party zones, including one at Safeco. The other one was next door at the WaMu Theater but that required a security check, so I passed.



The stadium is not particularly beautiful on the outside, with the facade hiding a number of ramps that take you to the top.





The team schedule is also shown, something I always enjoy seeing. Other than that though, not much to see on the exterior, so with gates opening 3 hours before game time, best to head inside as soon as you can.



We did not have the luxury of getting in right way, as it took us a while to find tickets with few sellers offering anything reasonable. We finally ended up with lower bowl seats near one goal line, which ended up being a good place to sit.



Once inside, I did the final tour of the trip, taking photos from a variety of angles. Below is the Hawks Nest in the North end zone.



Now some shots from the Hawks Nest with Safeco in the distance.





Below is a shot from one of the ramps, with patrons lining up to get in, while the WaMu Theater in the foreground.




As you move up the ramps, you are presented with some nice views of downtown. Even the Space Needle is visible.



It was a bit cloudy on this Sunday afternoon though.



The stadium has a unique design, with stairways off which are dead ends with views over the concourse.



There are banners celebrating the Seahawks' and MLS Sounders' accomplishments. Note the large number of rows to the top, in the middle sections this went all the way up to SS.



A few more shots from around the seating bowl.











Finally the last panorama of the trip. I was really impressed with the overall layout of CenturyLink Field. Easy to get around with lots of little areas to explore. It is smart that they open 3 hours early as you can really take your time and see the entire venue, which is one of the largest in the league in terms of its footprint. At the end, I really couldn't find fault with anything here and highly recommend you attend a game here if you haven't yet.

The Game

The Rams somehow managed to win seven times this season, amazing to me considering how terribly they've played in the two games I had seen them. This one wouldn't be much different. Before the action though, there was the national anthem (some members of the Seahawks standing below) and then the 12th man jersey rolled down over the Hawks Nest.





With the ceremonies done, it was time for some football. As these two teams were the most undisciplined in the league, I expected a few penalties, and that is what I got. In fact, referee Jeff Triplette got more air time than Russell Wilson.





After Seattle went 3-and-out on their first drive and punted (the Rams committed two penalties on the punt, the first of about 100 flags on the day), St. Louis began their drive with a couple of first downs. That was the high point of their afternoon. Facing 2nd and 14, Kellen Clemens (in trouble below) dropped back to pass but was hit as he threw. The pass was picked off by Malcolm Smith, who returned it for a touchdown and the early lead.



The rest of the half was ugly, with more penalties and almost no offense. Seattle added a couple of field goals while limiting Zac Stacy (below) to 3 yards on the ground.



The second half saw St. Louis get on the board with a field goal, but the Seahawks replied with a 14-play 80-yard drive that culminated in a 2-yard TD run by Marshawn Lynch (#24 below). The Rams committed 4 more penalties on that drive, but all were near the goal line, so only 21 yards were marched off. Kendall Langford was ejected for making contact with an official, and later threw his helmet, but so far, no fine has been announced by the league. It was an embarrassing display by St. Louis and something they need to correct in the offseason.



With the score 20-3, the game was decided, but each team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter. St. Louis went for a 2-point conversion and failed, making the final 27-9.



Defense was the name of the game here, and those two takeaways by Seattle were the big difference, along with St. Louis committing 12 infractions leading to 5 Seahawk first downs.



A pretty bad game to end the trip. I should have visited Seattle the week before (they lost to Arizona) and finished in San Diego (OT win over KC), but that would have added about 1,500 miles to the trek, so probably not worth it in the end.

Notes

The Seahawks ignored both my original and followup email requesting a ticket. I found this quite surprising as 26 of 30 teams that were contacted responded (Cleveland and St. Louis were excluded as I received tickets from friends for those games). In many cases, their answer was an apology that they could not provide a ticket, which was fine with me as I had no expectations for one. Other teams offered a credential or a ticket, which I gladly accepted. For the final team on the trip to give me the cold shoulder was disappointing. I should note that the four teams that ignored me were Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, and Seattle, who have 0 Super Bowls combined. There is a link between front office arrogance and poor performance on the field. Expect that to continue this year as the Super Bowl favourite Seahawks will lose at home as karma from their failure to recognize my achievement will come back to haunt them.

Next Up

After 4 months, 119 days, 20,353 miles, and 32 NFL games, the NFL Road Trip is over. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. Now I'm back in New York in my new home. Living in the States, I won't be taking many extended road trips, but instead will focus on completing my membership in Club 122 (seeing a home game in all 122 Big 4 venues). I'll start writing about that in the New Year. Happy 2014 everybody!

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Atlanta Falcons 24 at San Francisco 49ers 34 - December 23, 2013


When I first planned the trip, I had it in my mind that San Francisco had a home game in Week 17 as well. They don’t (San Diego does, which is probably where the confusion arose). Generally I plan these trips one month at a time in terms of booking hotels and looking for tickets, and of course, when I got around to looking for a ticket to this game, I realized it would be the last regular season tilt at Candlestick. Oops. Costly mistake.



A good way to judge how much to pay a scalper is the StubHub prices. Before the game, upper deck seats were $350+ and lower deck were $500 and up. This made it the most expensive game of the NFL season, at least on the secondary market. With that in mind, I jumped on one of the last 77X buses ($2 for a return trip!) and made my way to Candlestick Park.

Before looking for a ticket, I made a circuit around to take some pictures. Well, just two really.





As you can tell, Candlestick is not a photogenic venue. As I moseyed through the parking lot, I noticed few scalpers and lots of cops. I believe most sellers stand outside the stadium grounds as scalping is illegal here, but having taken the bus in, I didn't feel like walking all the way back. I was contacted by one fellow who was using Craigslist to sell his ticket. His ad said $275 for an upper deck seats, but on the phone it suddenly became $375. No thanks.

Another thing I wanted to avoid is scams, so paper tickets were not an option. As well, the 49ers had issued a commemorative ticket for each home game this year and I really wanted one of those. Prices were coming down slowly but I wanted to get in and experience the pregame as well, so when a scalper showed me the ticket below, a lower bowl seat for the price of an upper, I said sure.



Upon entering the stadium, I was amazed at the energy. Fans were everywhere, mainly because Candlestick is not big enough to handle an NFL crowd. I saw a model of Levi's Stadium (below) which promises to be a massive improvement. I'll be back in 2014 to continue my membership in Club 122 (more on that in the new year).



All fans received a souvenir pennant upon entering as well.



On my way up the escalator to the lower level, I turned around and saw a Super Bowl trophy peeking through a crack in the 49ers Museum. I had completely missed it in my excitement to get inside the seating bowl, so I walked back down the stairs and paid a quick visit.



The museum is a temporary structure (with the red roof above), so to be fair to myself, it is easy to miss at first glance. In fact, it was rather empty; I'm guessing most fans have seen it before. It contains all the memorabilia that you would expect from a franchise with the history that the 49ers enjoy, including all 5 Lombardi Trophies they have won (that is their first from 1982 below). I ended up seeing 26 of the 48 Super Bowl Trophies on the trip. I assume the new stadium will house this in a more permanent Hall of Fame.





With the crowds so huge and the concourses like a Tokyo subway train, I didn't have time to tour the stadium as I usually do, briefly sneaking into the upper bowl to snap a photo before heading down to my seat, which was in the opposite end zone and took about 15 minutes to reach.



Turned out that my seat was in the lower north end zone, which is where “The Catch” happened back in 1982.





This also gave me a good view of the halftime ceremony where they marked the spot where Dwight Clark caught the ball with gold paint. Clark was in attendance and made a nice speech thanking the fans for their support over the years.



No need to list the many faults of Candlestick, it was built at a different time and is simply outdated. The new stadium looks great but it will be 45 miles south of the city in Santa Clara, leaving the Giants as San Francisco’s only major league team. Such is progress in sports. Candlestick enjoyed a great run for 42 seasons and I’m glad I made it to the final game, one of the highlights of the trip.

The Game



Both teams struggled to move the ball in the first half, with the 49ers managing an early field goal for the only score of the first quarter. In the second, Atlanta's Matt Ryan connected with Drew Davis (below) for a 59-yard pass that set them up for an easy Steven Jackson (eyes and hair visible below) TD run and the Falcons had a 7-3 lead. They added a field goal at the end of the half to make it 10-3, leading to some puzzled looks from fans at the break.



The 49ers got the ball to start the second half and went 3-and-out. Except there was an offside penalty against Osi Umenyiora that gave San Francisco another shot on 3rd down, which they converted with a 47-yard pass to Michael Crabtree (below). Three plays later Colin Kaepernick connected with Anquan Boldin for a 10-yard TD pass and the game was tied.



The 49ers marched another 68 yards on their next possession, but settled for a field goal to take the lead 13-10 as we entered the final quarter, which is when the fireworks began. First Kaepernick scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown to extend the lead. Incidentally, this was the first scoring play in the south end zone. Atlanta was not fazed though, and Matt Ryan came out throwing, connecting with Roddy White (#84 below) on a beautiful 39-yard TD pass that happened right in front of me. One of the best plays on the trip in terms of watching it unfold before my eyes. Still, San Francisco led 20-17.



On their next drive, San Francisco ran the ball five times, including a 4-yard rumble from Kendall Hunter that set up a Frank Gore one-yard plunge and the 10-point lead was restored. Atlanta again replied, this time with an 11-play 80-yard march ending with Tony Gonzalez catching a 2-yard lob from Ryan. 27-24 49ers with just 2:09 to go. There was a roughing the passer penalty that allowed the Falcons to kick off from the fifty.

An onside kick was obvious, and the Falcons executed it to perfection, as NaVorro Bowman completely missed the kick and Jason Snelling recovered with a great 1-handed grab, staying in bounds and giving Atlanta the ball at the San Francisco 30. The once-boisterous fans were now silent. The 49ers had yet to clinch a playoff spot, and a loss here would damage their chances greatly with a trip to Arizona in Week 17. Two pass plays and the Falcons were on the 9-yard line threatening to score. Then the unbelievable happened. Ryan was pressured, threw quickly to Harry Douglas but the pass was tipped by Tramaine Brock into the arms of Bowman, who raced 89 yards to clinch the game and a playoff spot for San Francisco. The jubilant fans celebrate below.



The final score of the final game at Candlestick.



A fitting finish to this iconic venue, and one of the best games on my trip. It cost a lot but in the end, it was well worth it.

Notes

On the bus back, I spoke with a season-ticket holder who was lucky enough to be selected to attend last season's Super Bowl. She even had the ticket in her lanyard case and let me hold it for a minute. I hope to hold another Super Bowl ticket early in 2014.

Next Up

I'm on my way to Seattle for the 32nd and final game. The Seahawks have so far ignored my emails so bad things will happen to them come playoff time (Atlanta and Houston were the only other clubs to pay me no heed). A friend is driving down from Vancouver to join me in the celebration. Check back in 2014 for the final update. Happy New Year everybody and thanks for following my NFL Stadium Journey!

Best,

Sean

Monday, December 23, 2013

Oakland Raiders 13 at San Diego Chargers 26 - December 22, 2013


With my wife joining me in California last week, it was time for healthy eating and cultural events instead of just sports. After a couple of relaxing days in San Diego, including attending my first (and last) ballet, I woke early on Sunday and drove to Old Town, where I parked the car for free and took the trolley to Qualcomm Stadium. Day passes are usually $5 but San Diego Transit raises the price by a dollar, giving you commemorative pass in return, a nice touch.

A few days before the game I hopped on Craigslist and found a lower level seat at the goal line for $60, a bargain given that StubHub had similar seats for $180. The gentleman who had the extra ticket (Joe) wanted to make sure that I was going to show up, so I told him about the blog and he was convinced. So there is some value in recording my travels online.



When I arrived at the stadium, I met up with Joe and was happy to find out he too was born in Canada, although his family moved to warmer climes when he was a child. He is now a Raider fan and was wearing a Darren McFadden jersey, prompting a stadium staffer to ask him where he got it. Turned out the worker was also named McFadden and surprised to see his name on an NFL jersey. A lot of stadium workers are actually not fans and that was the case here as this McFadden was not aware that the Raiders had 2 namesakes (Marshall McFadden is a linebacker for the team).



We spent an hour at the Power Party, one of the better pregame zones in the league (below), including $7 IPA drafts. It was sure fun watching the Bills (flag above) shutout the Dolphins on one of the big screens while Joe wandered around getting his picture taken with iconic Raider fans. With an hour to go before the game, I entered to do my usual tour.



Qualcomm Stadium



First opened in August 1967, Qualcomm is one of the few remaining NFL venues designed for both baseball and football. It served as the home to the Padres until 2003 when they moved into Petco Park, but there have been no renovations to make it a football-only facility.



The stadium was once named after Jack Murphy, a San Diego sports columnist who was behind the creation of a multipurpose venue. When Qualcomm bought the naming rights in 1997, the honoured name remained as Jack Murphy Field but this is not publicized. There is a statue of Murphy and his dog just outside the trolley entrance though.



Walking around the exterior, you will likely be less than impressed. There was only one colourful display (below), the rest is all concrete with nothing attractive. Spend your time at the Power Party in parking lot F2 if you get there early.



Inside, you can take escalators to the top level if you want pictures, and then walk the ramps back down. The next few photos should give you an idea of the layout of the venue.













Along the top are flags for each NFL team (Oakland and San Diego are last alphabetically in the AFC West allowing me to take the matchup photo at the top). There are also 3 flags for Hall of Famers, including the late Junior Seau.



One thing to be aware of is that the plaza seats have a walkway that is in use throughout the game. If you are sitting in rows 1-5 here, you might get a bit annoyed at the constant flow of traffic in front of you.



Food options are OK, with several food trucks on the plaza the best option. I should note that most concessions are outside the seating bowl, which allows for a clearer path around the interior concourse. One option is Oggi's, which seems to have a different definition of the word "deal" than I do. Only $49 for a pepperoni pizza, you say? Bargain!





Qualcomm is clearly outdated but still serves its purpose well enough. It would be nice if a renovation was undertaken to get lower level seats closer and improve the overall atmosphere, but for now, it will suffice. The trolley is a great way to get to and from the game, and San Diego always has wonderful weather, so you can easily overlook the flaws of Qualcomm and enjoy an NFL game there, as I did.

The Game

The Raiders came in at 4-10 and on a four-game losing streak, although one of their wins was over the Chargers, so the many Raider fans in attendance were optimistic. With Matt McGloin (below) starting though, they probably shouldn't have been.



Oakland started with the ball and quickly punted. San Diego followed with an amazing 16-play, 82-yard drive but a sack (below) forced them to settle for a field goal.



After another 3-and-out for the Raiders, San Diego began to march again, but an early snap caught Philip Rivers off guard and the Raiders recovered the fumble. A 37-yard pass to Mychal Rivera led to a  Darren McFadden 5-yard touchdown run, much to Joe's delight.

On their next possession, Rivers was picked off after a great 9-play drive but Oakland could not capitalize, taking two penalties before McGloin was intercepted himself on a fantastic play by Eric Weddle that made the top 10 that night on SportsCenter. Another stupid Raider penalty (they had 12 for 73 yards on the day) brought the ball to the 7, from where Ryan Mathews rumbled home to give the Chargers the 10-7 lead.



Oakland failed to do anything on their next possession, but their punt was muffed by Keenan Allen and the Raiders recovered on the San Diego 16 with 96 seconds to go in the half. A pass to Andre Holmes (above) was dropped, forcing the Raiders to kick a field goal to send us to the half knotted at 10. Despite three turnovers, the Chargers were tied, so one would expect them to protect the ball better in the second half, and that is exactly what they did, continuing their dominance driving the ball.



After both teams began the second half by punting, San Diego manufactured a brilliant 12-play, 77-yard drive culminating in a four-yard TD pass to Allen (above). Oakland went three-and-out on their next possession and when San Diego added a field goal to make it 20-10, the game was essentially over after three quarters. The Raiders fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Chargers kicked another field goal early in the fourth quarter to make it 23-10. Both teams added field goals down the stretch, but the outcome was never in doubt as the Chargers (in victory formation below) won 26-13 in a game that was perhaps the least interesting of those with playoff implications in Week 16.



That third quarter touchdown was the difference as you can see in the linescore below.



Overall, not a very memorable game, but it was great to enjoy it with a true football fan like Joe. I hope the Raiders can recover their lost lustre as their fans deserve something to cheer about in the very near future.

Notes

Before the game, there were several skydivers landing in the stadium, including a triple tandem (below). Very impressive stuff as they all landed near midfield and one was able to kick a football off a a pylon.



Best,

Sean