Be careful what you wish for.
As it turned out, the rain showed up almost exactly an hour before Miss Chef and I headed to our first-in-a-lifetime experience: an NFL game. Her parents were in town for the weekend, and since Miss Chef's been curious about what it's like to attend a game in person, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
This was my first view of the Panthers' playground in uptown Charlotte. As dreary as the field looks, I should tell you that I've run it through my picture-fixing software to improve the color and brightness. I couldn't do much about the big rain-drop blob, though! Besides, it's symbolic for the whole experience.
And as high as I was when I took that picture, I still wasn't done climbing. We had 30 more rows to go! Our seats were literally up against the concrete wall at the top of the stadium. So, no, we didn't get on tv. The cameras didn't get that high, and there certainly was no blimp droning overhead. Only heavy gray clouds.
This picture of mostly empty seats was about twenty minutes before kickoff. However, the Bengals were in town, so once it became apparent that the skies were not going to respect the NFL's timetable, fans came out of nowhere--many of them wearing orange and black--to fill most of those seats.
Here's another shot from before the game to give you a better feeling of the atmosphere.
Nice, right? It makes me chilly just looking at those few hardy souls braving the rain to get some beer and foot-longs. I loved the facade of this concessions building, covered in helmets from high school teams from around the state.
I have to say, the stadium was very nice and, as Miss Chef pointed out, everything from getting in to getting out was handled extremely well by the staff and city. We took the train into town to avoid traffic, but it was refreshing to see uptown alive on a Sunday afternoon. It wasn't all game business, either. In spite of the banking bubble burst, Charlotte still gives off an air of prosperity.
So, how was the game? Wet! And, of course, the Panthers were steamrolled by the powerful Bengals team 20-8. Even I, blissfully ignorant of the strategic details of professional football, knew going in that the Panthers are still auditioning quarterbacks. And I quickly learned that their offensive line is nothing to brag about. The rain-slicked conditions only added to the number of missed passes and fumbled turnovers. Watching the home team lose while sitting in soaking wet jeans in a pouring rain probably wasn't the best intro to live NFL action.
Still, there's something to be said for being there. Even the soggy, less-than-packed crowd surprised me with the level of noise produced by tens of thousands of raised voices. The only raving drunk was at the end of our row, where he had plenty of room to manuever, and was having fun enough to be entertaining. With a pair of binoculars, we had a remarkably good view of the game--it helps that footballs don't travel as far and as fast as baseballs. Plus I could follow any particular player I wanted, or see how the refs do their jobs. (Miss Chef's dad also found them handy for checking out the Top Cats--men!)
I can't say that I'm a convert, though. Baseball diamonds seem much friendlier, and, to me, have an older, more comfortable atmosphere, regardless of their actual age. Perhaps it's the slower, summer-tuned pace of the game, maybe it's the seventh-inning stretch, or else the focus on hotdogs and cotton candy as much as on massive mugs of beer. Or maybe, just maybe, it's that for $14 I can get excellent seats at the Charlotte Knights field down the road, as opposed to the $50 nosebleed seats we enjoyed at Bank of America Stadium.
Whatever my personal tastes, though, I think I finally have some understanding of why football fans love the game. Rather than looking down my nose at football fanatics, I can civilly agree to disagree. Gimme my peanuts and Cracker Jack, baseball's the game that keeps bringing me back.