Since I was a little girl, fall has meant two things: apple cider and watching football. Our Sundays were filled with watching games on TV and listening to games on the radio, and my father turned to me to make his weekly football pool picks on his behalf. (I think I’m allowed to admit that 25 years later.) Everyone knew I was football obsessed — enough that I was selected to make two weeks of NFL game picks against full-time sportswriters in the local newspaper at age 15.
You would assume I must have attended my first NFL game at a young age, then.
Taking a kid, no matter how football obsessed, to an NFL game, is an investment. Given the cost of tickets, the distance to most stadiums, and the sheer size of the event, you can’t wing it.
I didn’t attend my first NFL game until my 17th birthday. Good news: Your children don’t have to wait as long as I did. Here are some tips for anyone hoping to bring their kids to a New England Patriots or any other NFL game:
NFL games are long and include a lot of starts and stops thanks to penalties, timeouts, and television production needs. Also, depending on where you are sitting, the players can seem like ants, which is the total opposite of what you’re used to when watching on TV.
Because of that, a live NFL game can be, well, disappointing if you’re not prepared. Odds are, you won’t be able to see Tom Brady’s face from your seat. And you’re going to watch a whole lot of standing around. But if you set realistic expectations, it doesn’t have to be a disappointment. A real live NFL game should be something your child works up to. You may want to start with a high school or Division III college game, which are still pretty lengthy but often include fewer timeouts and have better sightlines. That way they get used to watching a whole game without the comforts of toys, good bathrooms, and the kitchen they have at home.
Be prepared for tight security.
NFL stadium security is the toughest in all of pro sports. You will definitely need a clear bag. Buy one before you get to the stadium, either online or at an area sporting goods store. (Dick’s Sporting Goods sells a great generic stadium-approved bag that holds so much and has multiple non-football uses. I ended up buying one to use for supplies we keep at daycare so I can quickly see when they are running low on extras.)
This will limit the ages you want to take to a game. It is going to be difficult to bring in extra snacks, toys, electronics, bottles, sippy cups, and spare clothes. That makes bringing anyone under the age of 5 difficult.
Be strategic about bathroom breaks.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, will try to go to the bathroom in between quarters and at halftime. Because of that, you want to have a bathroom strategy.
Go to the bathroom before you get to your seats. You’ve likely been driving a while or been out tailgating a bit, and even if your kid says they don’t have to go, encourage them to. That will buy you at least a quarter. Then with five minutes left in the half, see if they need to go again. If they do, head to the bathroom at the next possible timeout or change of possession. You’ll beat the halftime crowds. Then, unless the game is really tight, ask again with seven or eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. If they do, go at the next break, thus beating the postgame crowds and the port-a-potties in the parking lot (which are usually disgusting by post-game). This isn’t just for kids — I use this schedule, and I’m a grown adult.
Prepare them for the atmosphere.
Okay, I’ll prepare for the boo birds flying toward me for this. NFL game crowds can be loud and spirited, and some of the “spirit” might not always be kid appropriate. (This is sometimes because the spirit is usually spurred on by some spirits, if you catch what I’m saying.) You may want to prepare for your kid hearing a saying or chant that you might have to explain or don’t want them to repeat.
If your kid is a football geek who loves certain players and knows all their stats and might have a really good feel for what offensive pass interference is, prepare them that the people around them likely do not have as good of a grasp on the game. Sounds strange, I know, but that might have been my biggest surprise as a 17-year-old attending my first game. I wanted to start arguments with people sitting near me who lacked knowledge of the rules and dared question my favorite player. Luckily, my mother said that doing so would be unwise, and she was most likely correct. They were drunk, I was four-foot-eleven, and that would have not ended well.
Seeing an NFL game can be fun for kids and parents alike – just prepare in advance, be flexible, and enjoy. Go Patriots!