Infiltrating Austro-American Football

The parking lot was nearly empty as we approached the Stadion Stadlau for a football game – American football, that is, between the local teams the Danube Dragons against their arch rivals, the Vienna Vikings. Were we in the right place? Where were the “tailgate” parties I had heard so much about, the lavish picnics, the coolers of beer and inebriated football fans? My companion, an American, knew the sport, and I worried my invitation had been false advertising.

But as I was soon to realise this was not just “any given Sunday”.

Getting closer, we heard the blaring of horns and cheers of the fans. My friend’s eyes lit up: This might actually be a real American football game – in Austria.

A "real" American football game in Austria | Photo: Franziska Zoidl

A “real” American football game in Austria | Photo: Franziska Zoidl

The stadium, we were pleased to discover, was packed. But that also meant no free seats, so we moseyed off to the sidelines where we could watch the goings on. Acrobatic cheerleaders and sexy dancers bounced their golden pompons while thick Danube-Dragon-green smoke smelling of fireworks slowly spread across the bleachers.

It was supposed to rain, so I had dressed accordingly – unaware of the American football “dress code”: On our side was the green sector for the Danube Dragons and next to it, a purple area for “the enemy”. Faces painted in the respective colours cheered enthusiastically as their teams came on the field. Toting signs and blowing horns, they screamed: “De-fense, go!” With my shiny yellow rain coat and my rubber boots, I didn’t exactly blend in on either side. As the sun streamed down, a teenage boy nearby eyed me with contempt. “Strange choice,” he muttered. I felt like an idiot.

As the game progressed, more questions arose: Wasn’t “Inception” a movie? (No, dummy. Interception – snatching the ball on its path to the intended receiver.) Why did my companion keep talking about a guy “running downhill”, even though the field was flat? And what was the smell of Bratwurst doing at an American football game?

Each team is allowed two American players on the field at a time, and the language of American football is English, even in Vienna’s 22nd District. Pretty early on, the Dragons were losing ground – and fast – and most of the ensuing swearing was done in German.

My unending questions caused my friend to seek backup from a former player who attempted to explain the complex rules to me. Both of their gazes kept wandering towards the field and their explanations were regularly interrupted by monkey-like exclamations. “What happened?” I kept asking, trying to be a more convincing fan. “That was a fumble,” my companion responded. Seeing my confused look, he clarified: “It’s like an interception.” Which it isn’t actually, as it describes the loss of control of the ball from the other side. But why quibble.

With seven seconds left, the rain finally began pouring down and the bleachers emptied out in minutes, as both teams posed for the final photos and rushed to the locker rooms. With my rain-proof outfit, I looked smugly around for the snotty little kid from earlier, preparing to revel in an I-told-you-so. But he had already left.

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