I got back to LA late last night after watching the San Diego Chargers snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against the New England Patriots.
I scalped the tickets from a kid in LA who had Chargers season tix and couldn't go -- $425 for a pair that had face value $230, in the top ring of the stadium, looking down on the visitors' 20-yard line. Ticketmaster wasn't selling tickets to anybody with a credit card billing address outside SoCal, and apparently SD radio stations were pleading with fans all week not to sell their tickets to Pats fans. I found both of these items rather amusing. On Sunday, I slipped on my Tom Brady jersey, and Scott the Hobo and I set out in search of glory. Well, I did anyway. Despite being a long-time resident of San Diego, Scott isn't much of a fan of the Chargers; I think he was in it mostly for the overpriced food and photo opportunities.
Parking and traffic around Qualcomm is a bear, so what most folks do is park a couple miles away and take a train. We parked in the underground garage of some office complex, passed some guys holding a tailgate party in the garage, walked out to the train station, and took the train to the Q.
We got to the stadium at around 11:45 for a game that kicked off at 1:30, so we had ample time to kill. I noticed one concession stand selling Charger Dogs for $6.50 while most of the others were selling them for only $4.50. I should have pounced on this arbitrage opportunity, but instead we idled our time away by circumnavigating the stadium and watching the Chicago-Seattle game on TV, which Chicago ended up winning 27-24 in OT. I have $20 on Chicago to win the Super Bowl at 15-1. Booyah.
While we were ambling around I also saw one of the Charger Girls walking around. I wanted to speed up so I could continue to ogle her, but unfortunately Scott could not keep up and she zoomed out of sight.
We got into our seats shortly after 1. The stadium was about 85% Chargers fans, 15% Patriots fans, and 1 empty seat next to me. Way to go scalpers. Some guy was parading around with a sign that said "Transplants Go Home". Another guy was waving a huge Chargers flag around with a smaller American flag underneath it. Evidently God did not look favorably upon this breach of flag etiquette.
Most of the fans I ran into were pretty reasonable, with a few exceptions. On the Pats' side, there was a guy who got escorted from the premises in handcuffs, and another guy who got into a loud fight with a bunch of Chargers fans before the game started. Later on he wanted to bet $50 that the Pats would score on the current drive. He got three takers, then wussed out by saying that he spent the rest of his cash on drinks. On the Chargers' side, there was a stream of drunk Chargers fans shouting obscenities as we left (standard) and a chick who yelled at me to stop smiling as we were leaving our seats (sell out your own house next time and you won't have this problem). Most noteworthy was the guy who was a couple hundred feet behind us as we were returning to the garage; he was yelling at me about how horribly the Pats won (I didn't even bother to turn around), then apparently didn't like my attitude and started yelling about how I'd certainly be giving him crap if the Chargers had won in Foxboro like that. I hope he didn't drive his car into a lamppost on his way home.
The fans I spent the most time interacting with were a couple Chargers fans in their mid-20s sitting to my right and two Pats fans and their 8-year-old kid one row above me. The parents had to cover their kid's ears a couple times, but the kid had a fun time watching the game and chatting with the fans.
The stadium, which seats 68,000 or so, was loud but not rock-concert loud, as the noise leaves an open-air stadium too easily. The Patriots seemed to have no problems communicating on the field. Fortunately, the endless TV timeouts do a pretty job of killing the crowd noise (there's a timeout after every score, every punt and every change of possession). Of course, there was a palpable hush when the Patriots tied up the game, when Tom Brady hit Reche Caldwell for a long gain, when Stephen Gostkowski nailed the go-ahead FG, and when Nate Kaeding missed. That was awesome.
Watching a football game live is much more enlightening than watching it on TV, since you can see the entire field as opposed to just the area around the ball and try to anticipate what's going to happen. I had a multitude of "oh crap" moments when LDT got the ball with open space in front of him, but the worst was when a San Diego receiver got open on a deep post pattern when they were up 14-10 (fortunately, the receiver's second step landed him OB after the catch).
The downsides of watching live are the downtime and the fact that you don't get to see lots of replays. The lack of replay made things particularly perplexing when Troy Brown stripped the ball away from Marlon McCree. First I saw McCree intercept the ball on fourth down, then saw him run a few steps with it, and then all of a sudden there was pile-up on the ground and the refs were signaling first down for New England. It was also hard to figure out what happened on the various personal fouls that were called, as well as on the play where LDT tackled Rosevelt Colvin by the facemask after an interception (I saw it and wondered why there was no flag; after seeing it on TV it definitely should have been a foul) and the play where Philip Rivers took a dive after spiking the ball (I didn't see how he ended up on the ground at the time).
Except for at the end of the second and fourth quarters, the New England offense really played quite poorly. The offensive line did a pretty good job of neutralizing San Diego's fearsome pass rush, but the New England receivers never got much separation from the defenders. Even when they, Brady often missed them. He underthrew a bunch of passes to the sidelines, including a deep out-pattern that got tipped and picked off. It really does look something's wrong with him physically. Brady also made several poor decisions with throws into heavy traffic in the middle of the field. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney ripped off a few nice runs here and there, but for the most part it was frustrating to watch the New England O because their strengths (running the ball and throwing to the tight ends) were countered well by San Diego's front seven, while New England didn't have the talent to exploit San Diego's weakness (their cornerbacks). Of course, as soon as the Pats switched to a no-huddle spread offense at the end of each half, Brady started carving up the Chargers defense.
On the other side of the ball, New England did a good job stopping LDT from running inside, but he went nuts on stretch plays to the right (Mike Reiss thinks the Chargers were targeting Tully Banta-Cain). Pass defense was pretty good for the most part; the Pats gave up more big pass plays than I would have liked but they also made several nice pass break-ups.
Next up is Indianapolis. New England for the most part played it straight-up against San Diego. Bill Belichick is going to have to be more cunning and devious if the Pats are going to beat Indy. Peyton Manning is the best QB in the game when he knows what's coming, but throw a zone-blitz in an unexpected situation or from an unexpected direction and you can coax some bad plays and turnovers out of him. Offensively, the Pats should just keep running the ball down the Colts' throats, something that fomr some reason they chose not to do when they played in the regular season. Stephen Gostkowski seems to have passed his first real playoff test, which is a huge relief for the legions of Pats fans (including myself) who thought it was absurd to let the greatest postseason kicker of all time go over a few hundred thousand bucks and go with a rookie kicker with a stronger leg.
Here's hoping that Peyton Manning gets showered with chants of "Moo-vers" as he walks off his own field on Sunday.