Yesterday was a day I will not forget. Yesterday was my first time being on the sidelines for a professional football game. Now before you ask if the NFL is playing on a Saturday, they weren’t. It was for the UFL, United Football League. This is the 2nd year of the league and their nearest team are the Hartford Colonials. Last year they were the New York Sententials but never had a true home in the NY/NJ area. Since I have been looking into cost effective football alternatives to the NFL, I thought the Colonials would be a great team to cover and see what their fans thought about the team. Dr. Bill Chachkes of Football Reporters Online was able to get me a press pass and some time with one of the front office personnel. It may not have been the NFL sidelines, but to me, professional football is professional football.
My associate Sixto and I left early, I wanted to get there when the parking opened to see how the Colonials fans tailgate. Took us a little over two hours to get up there but the ride was worth it. Sixto is a great kid, he is a film student at Montclair State University and is looking to get some good experience behind the camera. We met Dr. Chachkes and his wife and he handed us our press parking pass and my on field media pass. Unfortunately, I did not get a press pass for Sixto. Bill informed us Quiznos was giving away free tickets to the game. So that is how we got Sixto into the game. By the time we made it over to Rentschler Field, where the UConn Huskies play football, there was not too much time left for tailgating.
Sixto and I set out and we covered a lot of ground, not much ground to cover there. About 5-6 rows of parking on each side as there were not as many fans tailgating like at a New York Jets game. They had a stage set up for a live band, some inflatable sections where kids jousted and a mechanical bull tossed others around. Plus some local sponsor booths and some role playing Colonials were there in full uniform. There was a moment on stage where they had wheelchair boxing, yes, wheelchair boxing. The boxing is done to help give those less fortunate a boost to their self esteem and make them feel that they can do anything. It was fun to watch as many fans cheered them on. After visiting those areas, we moved on to find some tailgaters to talk to.
We found very few fans willing to talk to us. Many were enjoying the games for the first time while few have been to previous games. The ones that did talk to us are fans of NFL teams as well. We found New York Giants fans, Jets fans, Patriots fans, and a Philadelphia Eagles season ticket holder. Those we talked to have been to Giants and Jets games, but were never season ticket holders. They felt it was too far for them to travel to the games on a constant basis. However, they did become season ticket holders of the Colonials. Reason being they were a closer franchise, $60 per seat for the whole season which is four games, and the players were from UConn and other local areas. They also have former NFL players on the team.
As we walked, there were more families having fun than the usual “beer drinking guy” crowds I find at Jets games. The UFL’s prices make it easier to bring the family to enjoy a game. Now the tailgates may not be super huge or have the flare of ones i have been to at NFL games, but it still had that warm friendly atmosphere. People still offered us food and the occasional adult beverage. The people may still support heir favorite NFL team, but they will also support the Colonials in the same manner. This is what the UFL needs, fans willing to not just show support but to bring their friends to experience it for themselves. It is always fun to see who tailgates. That is where they true nature of the fan comes out. No one I have come across has not been hospitable or unruly.
About 20 minutes before kickoff I signed in and got my press vest. I was smiling the entire time. I Was ecstatic. I was actually one of the media who gets to be on the sidelines to film and report. Whereas Bruce Speight of the New York Jets said “I was technically not the media”. I dropped my stuff off in the press room and proceeded to head out onto the field. Felt strange looking up to the stand from the field, usually the other way around for me. I got some great shots of the fans from the field as well as both teams. I even managed to get some great footage of former San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jeff Garcia, who is the QB for the Omaha Nighthawks. The action on the field was exciting. Every player played their hearts out and gave the fans what they came to see, true professional football.
I was approached by a Connecticut State Trooper on the field before the 2nd half began, his name was Danny. He asked me where I was from and who I was shooting for. I told him where I was from and that I was filming a football documentary where the basis was about the New York Jets and their fans. He then proceeds to tell me he bleeds green. He was a New York Jets fan for a long time. His brother was on the waiting list for season tickets for about 15 years. Once the Jets went through their season ticket holder base to sell the PSL’s his brother received a call fast for season tickets. His brothers seats are in the upper bowl just below the catwalk, really high up.
Danny then says he remembers seeing some footage on the internet about some guy who was being followed by a cameraman looking for blue collar fans to talk to about the PSL situation. I informed him that was me. What are the odds I go to a Hartford Colonials game and talk to a State Trooper who has seen footage I have put out on the internet about my documentary? It made me feel proud to know I have had others take not of what I am doing and behind my work. Of everything that could have happened that was something I will always remember. It let me know what I was doing was the right thing, that I was being heard even if no one was letting me know it.
The entire time I was on the field the fans were into the game. Fans did the wave and kept it going all around the stadium. One far even dressed as a Colonial from the 1770′s. They had a great fan base that showed they were excited to see the Colonials play their brand of professional football, even if they did lose by a small margin. I walked around the entire field and got shots from every angle. I loved ever minute being there and excited about any future opportunity it may bring. Even though I write for internet websites and do independent filming, I felt like I was treated like any other member of the traditional media.
After the game I had the camera set up in the post game conference area. A section where the press hears from the coaches and players about the game then proceeds to ask them questions about the game. There may not have been many members of the press in there but it was a thrilling experience to be the only one there with a video camera to get footage. After that I interviewed David Turner, the Colonials Personnel Director who had previously worked for Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders. He was able to give me some insight into the differences between the NFL and the UFL. His interview adds a perspective into NFL alternatives that is detrimental to the documentary. A viewpoint not many can provide.
Saturday’s experience was one I want to build on. I have to see what else I can do to tell the stories not many tell. To give a fan perspective the traditional reporters do not tell. Majority of the time it is game statistics, plays, and what happens on the field. Many seem to forget the fans perspective and what brings them out. The UFL understands this and seems they know what it means to build that bond between the team and their fans. They bring together fans of many NFL teams that would normally be at each other throats. Instead, they all cheer for their local team, united under one flag that flies up in Hartford.
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