Monday, September 30, 2013

Chicago Bears 32 at Detroit Lions 40 - September 29, 2013

I am not a big fan of indoor stadiums for football, but it makes sense in Detroit, which has some brutal winters. As it turned out, yesterday in the Motor City was marked by a cold drizzle, so the roof was useful even in September. Paul Swaney, founder of Stadium Journey, accompanied me to Ford Field for game 9 on the trip, with the Chicago Bears in town for an NFC North divisional battle.

We did the obligatory lap but Ford Field is not particularly photogenic from the outside, with no good vantage points as the stadium is right in the middle of downtown. Inside, it is a bit more interesting, and quite a bit different from the other stadiums I have seen. The main entrance at Gate A leads to the Adams Street concourse that is fairly dark with a large number of concessions. Recommended options are the kielbasa with sauerkraut or the Coney Island chili dog.

If you head upstairs, you get a good view of the entrance lobby.

The upper concourse is a bit brighter (above) but concessions here are less varied but Big Boy, based in the Detroit suburb of Warren, is another good local choice. There is no truth to the rumour that I am applying to be the new mascot.

The seating bowl is great, because the suites and club are only on one side of the field. Thus the upper deck is still quite close to the action. However, sections 315 and 316, as well as 346-347, are end zone corner seats that are not angled towards the field. As well, 315 is the family zone, so no alcohol if you please. The view below is from our seats in 315, row 13.

Some other shots of the seating area.

I had seen Chicago last week in Pittsburgh where they won 40-23 and expected them to continue their solid start. After a quiet first quarter in which each team kicked a field goal, the fireworks began.

After David Akers gave the Lions a 6-3 lead on the third play of the second quarter (below), Chicago took over on their own 20. After an end-around gained 27 yards, Matt Forte (#22 below) took a pitch from Jay Cutler and rumbled untouched for a 53 yard touchdown.

That was the high point for the Bears. After Detroit kicked another field goal to make it 10-9 Chicago, the Bears went 3-and-out. Micheal Spurlock returned the punt 57 yards and the Lions drove to the goal line. QB Matthew Stafford (#9 below) tried for a sneak and fumbled the ball, only to have it fall into his arms as he crossed into the end zone for the weirdest touchdown I will see on the trip.

On the first play of Chicago's next possession, Jay Cutler (below) threw a crap pass and it was picked off by Glover Quin, who brought it all the way down to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Stafford tossed the ball to Calvin Johnson, who made a typically acrobatic catch and suddenly it was 23-10.

Chicago again punted after three plays and Detroit used Reggie Bush, returning from injury, to start their drive. But Bush fumbled, only to have Johnson drop on the ball to retain possession. On the next play, Bush got the ball again and juked a defender, leapt over Major Wright, and was on his way to the end zone with a 37-yard highlight touchdown. Three Detroit TDs in 3:26 and the game was pretty much over by halftime.

The Bears made it close in garbage time, but the outcome was really not in doubt, with Detroit winning 40-32. Bush finished with 139 yards while Cutler was picked off three times. Both teams are tied for the division lead at 3-1 and I will see them again in November in Chicago, though I doubt the game will be as entertaining as this one was.


Although I like the design of the stadium, the game experience leaves a lot to be desired. TV timeouts are characterized by constant loud music or announcements, and there is no out-of-town scoreboard to distract you. Too many fans moved around during the action (including a few that decided to leave their seats 5 seconds after a 3-minute TV timeout) and I felt a bit trapped in the middle of a long row.

Those are middling complaints though, what matters is the game and after a couple of weeks of rather mundane affairs, it was nice to see a game with a lot of action. Next up is Buffalo and Cleveland on Thursday night and I am already having nightmares about that one. 6-3 anyone?



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Northwestern Wildcats 2 at Michigan Wolverines 0 (NCAA Soccer, Big Ten) - September 28, 2013

I'm on my way to Detroit for game number 9 on the NFL road trip, but I made a stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is famous for two reasons. First, the University of Michigan is located here. This is the school I cheered for when I was a kid, since their mascot is a wolverine, also one of the characters in X-Men, a less popular comic in those days but one which I read religiously. The second reason Ann Arbor is well known in the sports world is that it is the home of Stadium Journey, for whom I do occasional writing.

Stadium Journey's president is Paul Swaney and when I told him that Michigan had a football game on Saturday night, he agreed to go with me. So we headed over to the Small House (this is where the real football team plays, although you might know the sport as soccer) to watch the Wolverines host #7 Northwestern on a beautiful fall evening (above).

We arrived a bit late and by the time we got there, it was already 1-0 for the visitors. Amazingly, there were no seats available in the 2,000-seat stadium (the student section is above), so we stood at one corner (below).

The second half saw Northwestern score 56 seconds in (the clock is stopped in NCAA soccer so I can be precise) to make it 2-0, and although Michigan outshot the Wildcats 15-5, the game ended 2-0 for the ranked team.

Frankly, the fans didn't really care who won. This was a great night to be outside, before winter takes control. Although this is an NFL road trip, I will not pass up opportunities to see other venues and other sports and tonight's experience confirms my preference. The best thing about America is that these opportunities are always available and it just takes a bit of legwork to find the next game. Sure, most games won't be on ESPN, but there is value in seeing a game that doesn't make it to the national scene, especially in a sport that doesn't make the ESPN radar. If you are in Ann Arbor, try to see a Michigan athletics event other than football or basketball, simply because it gives you a chance to see true amateurism while it still exists.



Friday, September 27, 2013

San Francisco 49ers 35 at St. Louis Rams 11 - September 26, 2013

Another Thursday night and another stinker. This one was the worst of the lot and I'm beginning to rethink my decision to take the trip, which is heavy on short week games, with 10 in all. The NFL also has to reconsider this idea, perhaps by only using teams with a bye week prior to their appearance on Thursday night as the offenses cannot operate with their normal efficiency and players are more likely to get injured.

As St. Louis is in the Central time zone, the game started at 7:25, which meant the pre-game began around 5, a bit early on a weeknight. There were lots of 49er fans on vacation and a few Ram fans as well, but there was no atmosphere building when compared to the games I've seen elsewhere. This is the tailgate right next to where the NFL Network has set up. Wow!

I took a couple of external shots, but the building is pretty boring.

I entered a bit early as they had one lineup that was being allowed in before gates officially opened. This allowed me to get down to field level and snap a picture of Anquan Boldin as he left the field after warmup.

I was then told to leave as I did not have a ticket for this section, the first time this has happened on this trip. There is no reason for such an unfriendly policy; you already have one of the worst venues in the league, why add to fans' misery?

Anyway, I wandered around for a bit, taking a few pictures as usual. The seats are red because when the dome was built, they were trying to entice the New England Patriots to town. Of course, having the visiting 49ers dress in red while the Rams wore white didn't have the desired effect.

The Rams actually have a decent history with the 1999 World Championship added to those won in 1945 when the franchise was in Cleveland and 1951 when they played in Los Angeles.

The big play in their only Super Bowl win was Mike Jones' tackle on the last play of the game that prevented Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson from reaching the end zone. This is commemorated in the lower concourse along with some other famous plays in Rams' history.

As I've mentioned, the game was terrible. Sam Bradford has difficulty, getting sacked (below) and making bad throws throughout the game.

The 49ers started slowly, but scored 5 TDs by the end of the game, including Boldin, who scored on the play below, and Anthony Dixon (#24) scoring untouched in the 4th quarter.

The cheerleaders kept smiling while fans left the game in droves.

This is early in the 4th quarter, about 2/3 of fans have already left.

They left Bradford out there right until the end, when I had moved down to the end zone to take pictures from different angle.

The final score with the game stats below. Truly, truly ugly.


The Rams held a "Celebrating Primetime with Rams Legends" event before the game. Thanks to Dennis Morrell of Stadium Journey, I was able to stop by. There were several former Rams including Tom Mack, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Eric Dickerson (below). They spoke about their time with the team, telling a few stories and entertaining the crowd for an hour. At the end, the MC said "Let's go beat those 49ers". The team would have done better with these guys I think.

This was Game 8 on my trip, which means I'm already a quarter done. I'd say half the games have been good, and the other half have been crap, including all 3 Thursday nighters played on the short week. The NFL chooses to air these games on their own network in an effort to increase subscribers, but fans are already wise to their money grab. I've got seven more Thursday games which I am not looking forward to, but if you are a fan, the best you can do is stop watching the games in protest until the league makes a change.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Washington Nationals 1 at St. Louis Cardinals 4 - September 25, 2013

Is there anything better than weekday afternoon baseball, especially when the sun is shining in late September? Summer is taking a curtain call in St. Louis and the Cardinals obliged their fans by having a Wednesday afternoon game against the Washington Nationals. The crowd is happy to be out of work or school, and tickets are easily available as many fans can't make it due to grumpy bosses. I arrived at Busch Stadium just before game time and was handed a ducat by an extremely nice gentleman, who had an extra pair but was happy to give me just one.

The seat was low down in the left field boxes, a spot I don't particularly enjoy, so I moved into the upper deck. This gives great views of downtown and the Gateway Arch.

The Cardinals had a magic number of 3 to clinch the division, with the Pirates chasing them and also playing an afternoon affair. Jordan Zimmerman (below) started for the Nationals looking for his 20th win while his opponent was Shelby Miller, a rookie with a 14-9 record. I had seen Miller pitch in the Midwest League back in 2010 and was looking forward to seeing him again in a big league uniform.

Washington scored in the top of the first when Denard Span (above, leading off first) walked and stole second, then advanced to third on a groundout. Bryce Harper, wearing old-fashioned stirrups that should be mandatory (below) drove Span in with a single

That was it for Washington though, as Miller shut them down through six. St. Louis tied the game in the third on a Daniel Descalso double, Miller sacrifice, and Matt Carpenter RBI groundout. In the fourth, Matt Holliday (swinging below) was hit by a pitch to lead off. First baseman Matt Adams (one of my players to watch in 2010) then doubled and Yadier Molina singled them both home to make it 3-1. Adams added a solo shot in the sixth to complete the scoring as St. Louis saw their magic number drop to 1 when Pittsburgh lost.

The final score and game time, a very quick 2:28. I complain a lot about games that take well over 3 hours these days and it was nice to have a well-pitched game for a change.

That will be my final baseball game of the season, unless I find a cheap playoff ticket in Cleveland or Cincinnati. I've still got 25 games to go on the NFL road trip, including the 49ers at Rams tomorrow, so keep checking back for updates.