Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Herohill In Charlotte

Well, I was in Charlotte this past weekend, so I guess that's enough to say Herohill was in Charlotte. Petra has been in Charlotte many times this year for work, and since my beloved Saints where going to be opening the 2005 season in that same city, it seemed natural fit for us to head down and see the game. Of course we made this decision before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast and left the Saints homeless. The devastation caused by the hurricane and the flooding the proceeded it made football seem rather un-important, but I was still excited to see the game. I had faith that the the Saints could pull out a win for their fans who've been scattered all over the US.

As you no doubt are aware, my faith was rewarded by the Saints 23-20 last second win over the Panthers. The game was a back and forth affair, with both teams scoring on their opening drives but then tightening up and committing a number of penalties in the later part of the game. Carolina turnovers gave the Saints a 20-14 lead, but two Panther field goals notched the score at 20 with 1:03 remaining. The Saints did have 2 timeouts left, and I just had a feeling they'd be able to at least get a field goal to win the game. Aaron Brooks is perhaps at his best in the two minute drill, he just has to drop back and fire it, doesn't have to think about anything. Sure enough, a couple long completions to Joe Horn and then Jon Carney boomed a 47 yard field goal. 23-20 Saints. The Panthers had me holding my breath while they lateraled the following kickoff 10 or more times, but finally the Saints fell on a fumble and the game was over. Saints win.

But enough of the game recap, you could get that anywhere. What you want is the Herohill inside scoop on one of the worlds most exciting cities, Charlotte NC. Well, "worlds most exciting" is perhaps an exaggeration, but it's surely one of the most exciting cities in North Carolina. Here it is, in point form:

- Downtown Charlotte is quite nice. It's filled with new (or remodeled and new-looking) office buildings, all with fountains and/or lovely courtyards. There's also a number of very good restaurants in the downtown area. There's one other interesting aspect of the downtown area, it's empty. Well at least it is on the weekend. There's really not many people or cars around, considering the population, but I'm not complaining as it made walking around pretty relaxing.

- The exception to this was Sunday morning, as people and cars streamed into the downtown core for the tailgating festivities. By about 10:30, most of the parking lots around our hotel were jammed with cars and there were people everywhere. Overall, I was impressed with the Panther fans tailgating skills. There were many people who went all out with large spreads of food, BBQ's, and plenty of drinks.

- I had been debating whether or not to wear a Saints shirt and advertise I was a fan of the visiting team, but I figured I couldn't go all that way and not support the Saints. So I wore the shirt, and not one Panther fan said anything to me. In fact the 300+ pound black dude beside me never even clued in that I was a Saints fan even though I had the shirt on and was cheering for them. We kept up an ongoing banter about the Panthers, and as the game got into the 3rd and 4th quarters I didn't have the heart to tell him as despite being a very huge man he seemed to make an effort not to squish me into the side of my seat. A Saints fan in front of us gave me a fist bump when he sat down; a little bonding to let me know I wasn't alone. I'm guessing the non-reaction of the Panthers fans was mainly out of respect for the Saints and their fans after Hurricane Katrina and also a little bit of southern hospitality.

- Bank Of America stadium is in a great location just a few minutes walk from the centre of downtown, so it makes it easy for visiting fans to access it and there's plenty of parking for the hometown crowd. The building itself is also quite nice. It still looks new, has plenty of concessions and bathrooms even on the upper level, and the view from the upper deck was quite good. All in all a great spot to watch a football game, but here's one piece of advice, if you're going to sit in the upper deck, wear sunscreen. Of course Petra and I forgot to pack ours and couldn't find any to buy before the game. We paid for it with some very painful sunburns, her on the legs, me on the face and arms. People at work have been saying I look like the people in those Crescendo pizza ads who get a face burn from watching pizza in the oven. I felt like I was sitting in an oven, so that's not a surprise.

- For all of the USA's faults, there are some things they have that we just don't. The experience of an NFL game is one of those things. We have pro sports in Canada, but we don't get into them like they do. Tailgating really must be seen to be believed. The fact that this was opening Sunday for the NFL, it was the anniversary of 9/11, and the Saints were playing their first game since being forced to abandon New Orleans and their home field, you had to figure pre-game was going to be charged with emotion. It certainly didn't disappoint. The Saints were greeted by a standing ovation from the Carolina fans, which was really something to see. The 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina tributes were also emotional and were punctuated by a flyover by 4 fighter jets at the end of the American anthem. It would be hard for even the most anti-American types to be un-impressed by the spectacle.

- Regardless of what's going on in the world, sports are sports. It's hard not to cheer for you team, no matter who you're playing. The Charlotte fans were gracious hosts, they contributed something like $120,000 to the Red Cross at the stadium in just the couple hours before the game, and as I mentioned, they gave the Saints a heartfelt standing O. But when the game starts they're fans of the hometown squad and it didn't take long for them to show it. After a couple Carolina penalties they were screaming for the refs head. Ernie Conwell tried to make a catch down the middle and was blasted by a Panther safety, drawing a 15 yard penalty. He lost his helmet and had to be helped off the field. "THAT WAS NOT A PENALTY, HIT HIM AGAIN!!!" was yelled from somewhere behind me. Then near the end of the first half the Panthers had two consecutive TD passes called back by the refs. "YOU AREN'T MAKING IT OUT OF HERE REF!!!". Classic.

Well there you have it. I would've enjoyed my visit to Charlotte either way, but a Saints win certainly helped.

Posted at 5:08 PM by naedoo :: 0 comments

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