NFC Championship Game

January 27, 2007

This is the first weekend of the last three that I've been at home with Mrs. theskinnyonbenny. It's good to be back in a routine, but cold and rainy Louisiana winters are for the birds. We had two days without rain this week, and I made it outside to enjoy the sunshine somewhere around zero minutes. The weekend forecast is entirely for rain.

Last weekend was another wet one, but colder, and in Chicago. We went for the once in a lifetime chance to see the Saints play in a championship game, and also to cross of "See a game in a snowy, freezing stadium up north in January" from the list of things everyone should do once in life. I strongly suggest that everyone make an attempt to have this experience, but I'm not sure I want to go to another game in sleet/wet/snow any time soon.

We took a train the morning of the game from Crystal and Brent's town into downtown Chicago. From there, we caught a cab to a hotel where we were to pick up tickets and start drinking with hundreds of other game-goers. Of all of the thousands of cabs, we got into cab number 26 -- Deuce McAllister's number. I thought that was a certain sign of a Saints win on Sunday.

Saints fans flood Michigan Avenue to head to the game.

The bar at the hotel was socked full of fans from both teams. The Saints fans monopolized the area closest to the bar, and the Bears fans migrated away more toward the tables. For a good two hours, there was more or less constant chanting or singing from one group or other.

My game day photos almost -- but not quite -- do justice to the party of Saints fans that marched in a massive sea of black from Michigan Avenue to the stadium a couple of hours before game time. The crowd was huge and wild and fantastically loud. It felt like we ruled that city, and I guess that's the truth of the couple of block stretch that we took up. As we passed a hill on the lakefront park, a Saints fan yelled, "WE'RE TAKING THE HILL" and led a small charge up toward a couple of baffled and cold cops. It was about that point that I noticed that I had lost a glove, which gave me worry about my ability to hang in through the cold for the next five hours.

I had prepared for the weather with long underwear, cargo pants, another undershirt, a fleece sweatshirt, and my heaviest jacket. I had two pairs of socks and shoes that fortunately proved waterproof. I had a knit hat under my Fleur de Lis cap, and a pocket with a few of those chemical hand-warmer packs.

The marching crowd stopped outside the art museum, before we would have to break apart and go to our separate ramps and tunnels to get into the stadium. Someone had a tuba and played staccato tuba notes that characterize the New Orleans style of jazz and funk. I wondered aloud what he would do with a tuba in the stadium, but no one had an answer for me. More chanting, a little more singing, some more photos, and we broke apart and entered the stadium.

Mrs. theskinnyonbenny and Stacie drink a beer in their seats at Soldier Field.

People at the gates were giving away orange towels to wave during the game. Many Saints fans turned them away, but Brent had called and warned me to pick up a towel for wiping snow out of our seats. Great, great advice, which I passed along to as many of the other Saints fans as would listen. I heard one guy say in a heavy New Orleans accent, "Ah'll use it fer toirlet papah."

Chicago is a fine city, but they're not too good about helping their visitors get enough alcohol in their system for a cold football game. The bar at the hotel refused to drop shots into our glasses of Guinness. The beer stand at the stadium would only let me buy two at a time. But at least there was no worry about them getting ward in the 28 degree air and snowy cup holder.

It wasn't as lonely in the stadium as I expected. There were other groups of Saints fans pretty near by. Bears fans are getting a lot of rap for being dickheads, but I didn't find them to be too bad. I was disappointed that their heckling wasn't very funny, but it wasn't particularly mean-spirited either. And a couple of fans made the point to be welcoming and thank us for making the trip up.

The cold wasn't as bad as I had expected, really. I never got to the point of shivering, but my hands and feet were painfully cold starting in the fourth quarter. Perhaps it's fortunate that the Saints' play didn't necessitate that we stay for the full duration of the game, and we were out of there with 5 minutes left to play.

On the train ride back, we finally got those chemical hand warmers to start working. We are true cold-weather rookies. We are also train-riding rookies, as we missed our stop, and then were too slow to get up and get to the door on time for the stop after that. Crystal had to drive two train stations farther to find us.

Once we got home, it was a hot shower, a couple of bowls of chili, the last twenty minutes of the AFC Championship game, and bed.