After an action-packed weekend of Hall of Fame excitement in Canton, the grand finale of festivities took place at Fawcett stadium, where thousands of dedicated football fans gathered on a hot summer night to witness the official start of the NFL season. Following a brief hiatus in 2011, our little city was once again honored with hosting the kick-off game: this year a face-off between the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals. But no matter which teams are playing each year, for a true fan of the sport, there’s nothing better than heading to a high school stadium like Fawcett to watch an NFL game. It’s true that there really are no bad seats in the house.
Arriving early allowed time to catch a rarely seen glimpse of team warm-ups, as well as ample opportunity to people-watch before the real action began. The HOF game attracts fans of all teams; yes, there are many hopeful Browns fans (after all, the season hasn’t officially started), but you see pretty much every team represented. Soon the announcer called attention to two skydivers high above the stadium: a pair of wounded soldiers parachuting toward the crowd. At first they appeared to be almost drifting through the air, American flags waving behind them as the crowd cheered. But as they got closer, you realized how fast they were traveling, and while it seemed almost impossible, they both landed gracefully on the field.
In keeping with tradition, both teams lined up on the 50-yard line, forming an aisle for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2012 inductees to travel down. The six men proudly took to the field in their gold jackets, as fans roared with approval. Soon after, a men’s quartet sang the national anthem, while a huge flag was unfurled on the field. As the song came to a climatic close, without warning, two jets flew fast and low over the stadium for a most dramatic effect.
Like any preseason game, the starters are only in for a few plays, usually not even for the whole first quarter. But it’s enough to get the football adrenaline pumping, plus it’s so fun to see the action up close. Since we were next to the Cardinals’ sideline, we had a front row seat to see (among other things) No. 93, Calais Campbell, in all of his 6′-8″ 300 lb. glory, doing a little dance every time a song came on between plays. It was so apparent that these guys were just plain having fun. Okay, there was football being played too, but obviously as the first game of the season and all second-stringers in the mix, it wasn’t the greatest game ever played. Leading for most of the game, the Saints won, 17-10. What’s more important, is that now it’s officially started: it’s football season once again!