Behind enemy lines
February 20, 2014
The first bar we entered had sumo-shaped staff members who stared at us stonily.
By now, weeks later, the football season has ended, we all know how; but this was the day of the AFC Championship, Denver versus New England, Broncos against Patriots, winner to go to the Super Bowl. We were in the heart of football-crazy Massachusetts, and my son insisted on wearing a bright orange Broncos hat.
"You might want to take that off," the man behind the Alamo counter had said of the ball cap when we landed in Burlington, Vt., three days before. I had traveled to visit and teach a class at my older son's college, and had brought Roy, a junior in high school. He had never seen his brother's school, nor any others in the East, nor even New England. Our schedule, necessarily including this game, had put us in our opponents' state today.
Roy thought this first bar was fine, perfect. But it was dark; I didn't like the menu; and the waiters didn't like us.
Though time was now running short, I dragged us an uncertain distance, which turned out to be 15 minutes' walk, down a long snowy hill to a brewpub. Hurrying in first to find us a table, I was relieved to see four other people, young men, in orange. We two settled in, and I smiled automatically at the next table, all in Patriot regalia.
"Don't smile at them," Roy hissed.
He is a huge Broncos fan; plays on his high-school team and is on three fantasy football leagues.
The game began. Roy watched intently, willing to share explanations and commentary, especially as our team took and kept the lead.
The other hundred-plus patrons in the bar kept cheering, hopeful and combative, for their team.
"At least Denver legalized weed," a woman said when I walked into the restroom. "It'll help console them for their devastating loss today."
"Or help some to celebrate with," Roy said when I repeated the remark.
We fell into listening to one rugby-husky guy standing at the orange-jersey table.
Roy said in amusement, "He's one of the only Broncos fans in the room, but he's the loudest person in it."
"Ha!" the young man yelled, to celebrate a play. Then, in falsetto: "Oooh, throw the flag, we hit Tom Brady."
I spoke in passing to the table occupants, and found that only one had ever lived in Colorado, and that was years ago.
"We're from New Jersey and New York," his friends said. "We're here in solidarity."
The shouter, channeling a Brady predecessor, called after one mishap, "Matt Cassel woulda had that!"
"The Broncos are better," he bellowed.
A woman in a cluster at the bar couldn't take it anymore, and turned around to yell, "They are not!"
I wondered if he'd half-hesitate to argue with a woman. Not at all.
"What are you talking about?" he called across the room. "Do you <beg ital> see <end ital> the screen?"
I smiled apologetically at the scowling four Patriots at the next table.
"Mom," said Roy. "They don't want you smiling at them."
The Broncos increased our lead; Shouter taunted again. "How do you like that, Patriots?"
A guy at the next table shouted, "Go back to Colorado!"
The two volleyed back and forth; I couldn't even hear it all.
The fourth quarter got under way, hope flickered across the room, and Shouter sang, "Twenty points! Ten minutes. Not going to happen!"
It didn't, though the Patriots scored twice, to thunderous cheers.
I marveled, amused, at how unabashed Shouter was. He pointed out the now 26-16 score, and said, "Can't you read?"
The game ended, and we sidled out undisturbed and trekked back up the hill.
Weeks later in our hometown, we watched the Super Bowl at a friend's house, and our team got slammed. F-bombs flew around the room, and even Roy drifted away to play pool. I had never seen him leave a Super Bowl game in his life.
I was texting with my friend Emily, who lives in Seattle. From her: "Seattle has not won any kind of championship since you and I were in college. … So if we hold on and win, please be happy for the long-suffering folks here!"
Next, as we sank lower: "Sorry! It just has not been the Broncos' day … so far. … But it is not over!"
Eventually, I congratulated her on the win. She replied with magnanimity, and I remembered how great that is.
— "Femaelstrom" appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.