Not long ago I went to watch a college football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – the city of brotherly love – which is about an hour 20 minute train-ride from Manhattan. I’m always keen to explore and observe the natives in their natural environment. It turns out college football is bIIIIg business, with many people preferring it to the NFL because the professional sport is so structured – “like a chess match”, that they find it just not as exciting as college football.
Adding to the occasion was the fact that this particular match was between the Army and Navy university teams, so you can imagine the heightened atmosphere between these two groups of fans. The army college West Point in New York was established in 1802, and is the oldest in the country, while the navy college Annapolis in Maryland began 43 years later in 1845. The two meet in Philadelphia because it is a neutral venue roughly equidistant from the two academies.
A beautiful day, but colder than Dick Cheney’s soul
It also brought home to me just how ubiquitous the military propaganda is in the US; it’s easier to understand how it’s hard to sort real information in America because of the sheer, overwhelming amount of it. Small case in point: Lockheed-Martin sponsored the scoreboard, which had messages that variously alternated between: “Protecting our freedoms”, (Americans’ freedoms are only threatened by one body on the entire planet – their own government) and “We never forget who we’re working for”, (yeah, your shareholders).You sure don’t get that type of messaging in New Zealand.
The army is very hide-bound by tradition and there are very few females comparatively speaking, so I laughed when I found out their ‘cheerleaders’ are guys who run out and do press-ups for each point their team scores. In the navy, there’s a lot more girls. They have actual cheerleaders.
Post-anthem pre-game atmosphere was off the hook
The stadium itself, Lincoln Financial Field, is pretty impressive. Only six years old and with a capacity of 68,000, there were 69,000 packed in to its steep confines in standing room only, but there are great views everywhere, and the facilities in terms of toilets and concessions (i.e. proximity of beer to your seat) are great. Although it’s an unwritten rule that thou shalt not offer more female-friendly food than hotdogs at a sports venue.
Americans sure do pomp and ceremony better than anyone, except maybe the Chinese, and the place was buzzing when US Defense Secretary Bob Gates came out to flip the coin for kickoff. While the atmosphere was white hot, it’s amazing how quickly the physical temperature can drop here in the states, and over the course of the game it must have plummeted to about five degrees below zero. That was interesting. Army ended up doing well to be ahead 3-0 at halftime, but that soon blew out to a 3-17 loss to Navy, to the chagrin of my army vet friend, who had ruefully predicted the loss. The full rundown of the game is here.
Then it was time for a bladder-bursting train trip back to the center of town. I had a quick look around at some of the buildings, with the impressively ominous looking gothic town hall really standing out. It’s the site where the declaration of independence was signed, so it’s rather historic.
After a perfunctory dose of one sort of culture the city is famous for, and a couple of hours soaking up more than the ambience of an Irish pub, I was ready for some of the other culture which has arguably made Philly more famous: Cheese Steaks. The two most famous cheese steak joints in America are Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s, who are conveniently located opposite each other at the end of an ‘x’ shaped intersection. We went with Pat’s, the oldest and possibly the originator (although it sounds apocryphal). Good, but ultimately, it’s just a bread roll with some meat and cheese in it – not molecular gastronomy.
Past customers include Larry King, John McCain, Humphrey Bogart & Rachel Ray
The weird thing is, I prefer Mexican to American food, but just writing about cheesesteaks is making me want one. Maybe I should be writing about spinach, tofu and brown rice.