American Football in Texas 2012

America’s favourite sporting pastime is for foreigners, sometimes a difficult one to support as much as their beloved football code back home.  The rules seem too technical and hard to follow, the game can go on and on for hours and why are there so many players(and whoever else) on the sidelines???  Once you grasp a few of the basic aspects of the game such as the ‘down & distance‘ rule, it does help you sound like you know what you’re talking about in a bar but you don’t need to know it all to enjoy the amazing entertainment and atmosphere of going to a live game and cheering on your newly adopted American football team. Go Texans!

Watching the Texans in action @ Reliant Stadium

American football has evolved over the last few centuries from the early forms of UK rugby.  The game was first played in the mid-1800’s between colleges in the North-east US and as new rules were developed, a cult following grew and collegiate football was born.  College football is still much loved and passionately followed by most Americans today with fierce rivalries such as Texas A&M vs Texas Longhorns and Ohio State vs Michigan.

Professional NFL football grew out of Ohio during the early 1900’s with the first official National Football League(NFC) game in 1920 at Dayton, Ohio. The American Football League(AFC) started in 1960 as a rival league and finally the two merged together in 1969 to establish the Super Bowl.  ‘Super Bowl Sunday’, usually the first Sunday in February, is the biggest day of sport on the American calendar and is one of the most watched TV sporting events in the world.

The Houston Texans are currently ranked 1st in the AFC South Division, the Texans also have the highest ranking in the overall AFC.  With 5 games left they are certainties to make the playoffs and are being talked up about contesting the Superbowl.  The 5 remaining regular season games include home games on the 16th Dec (Indianapolis Colts) & 23rd Dec (Minnesota Vikings) and a massive Monday night away game at New England that will really test the Texans leading up to the playoffs.  Their current success has been a long time coming for Houston football supporters since joining the NFL in 2002, after Houston’s much loved previous team, the Oilers, moved to Tennessee and became the Titans.

Touchdown Texans!

The Texans first post season objective is to win the AFC with likely playoff rivals to include the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, before facing the best in the NFC including the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and NY Giants.  The playoffs start in January consisting of knock-out games between the top teams in each of the 4 divisions in the 2 conferences to define NFC & AFC Divisional Champions. They then play off in the Super Bowl which in 2013 is at the New Orleans Superdome on February 3rd.

Although Houston have exceeded expectation so far this year, their usual southern rivals, the Dallas Cowboys (3rd AFC East) and New Orleans Saints (3rd NFC South) have struggled to perform consistently and will have a hard road to make playoffs.

Texas College Teams

Texas Longhorns @ Austin

Bolstered by fierce rivalries, college football is where the true American football passion lies.  There is nothing like going to a college game, especially when teams are playing one of their arch enemies.  The atmosphere at the tailgate before the game makes you feel like you are back at university and inside the huge stadiums, the marching bands and passionate supporters can literally shake the stands.  There is no alcohol served at college games so tailgating beforehand is huge.

All college teams are ranked(complicated) in one overall system called the BCS ranking and the top 2 teams go through to the final known as the BCS National Championship game, irrespective of their conference.  The remaining teams compete in ‘Bowl’ games according to their conference ranking and BCS league status.  This year, undefeated Notre Dame has cemented a position already in the BCS Championship and second spot is between Alabama & Georgia (who happen to play each other this Saturday for that chance).  A must watch game!

The College Bowl series starts soon as the post-season playoffs, consisting of 35 one-off final games between the 70 highest ranking teams across the entire College system.   Some of the biggest Bowl games coming up in Texas are:
1. Alamo Bowl – San Antonio – 29th Dec
2. Texas Bowl – Houston Reliant – 28th Dec
3. Cotton Bowl – Dallas Cowboy Stadium – 4th Jan

Entering LSU Tiger Stadium

In Texas, the rivalry between Texas A&M(College Station) and Texas Longhorns(Austin) is massive and getting to any one of their games is a must but one of my favorite games was over the border at Louisiana State University(LSU) in Baton Rouge, which has a beautiful campus, a tailgate party like no other and a real tiger as their mascot!  LSU(9th) and A&M(10th) will both have a strong presence in the College Bowl, however the Longhorns(23rd) have struggled this season and need a win against Kansas State this weekend to gain some momentum.

The plush home of LSU’s tiger mascot!

Tickets to all NFL & College games can be bought via their websites, Ticketmaster or resale ticket brokers such as Stubhub. You can also sometimes find a ticket outside the stadium. Prices range depending on the quality of teams playing and where you want to sit but the best seats are considered to be midway on the sidelines on the lowest level. Most of the newer, larger stadiums have many great viewpoints.

Tickets to the Superbowl can be obtained by entering the random drawing between 1 Feb-1 June the year pre-seeding the next Superbowl or will set you back approx. $2500 on Stubhub. If the Texans make it you may just consider it being in NOLA and all…a true ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.

Tailgating off an F350 truck

Texan BBQ Tailgate

Tailgating is the party before the game and can best be compared to a super-sized Nursery carpark during Melbourne’s spring horse racing carnival.  The party kicks off  4 hours before the game and can be anything from a few snacks and drinks out the back of a truck to a massive RV or bus lot with amazing BBQ, traditional tailgate dishes and lots of beer.  Tailgate lots are purchased separately to your game ticket. The best experience if you’re new to American football and tailgating is to get invited to one and see how it is done.

Let’s hope 2012/13 is the year of the Houston Texans!

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