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Game time 

Behind the scenes with the NFL

People like football. People like football a lot. They have fantasies about it, creating alternate universes where players score touchdowns for them and only them. (Incidentally, I once tried to start a fantasy politics league with statistics such as legislation passed percentage and longest filibuster time. It didn't take.)

The Panthers are the pride, joy, and mascot of our city -- not the mutual fund; although, a personified portfolio with gloved hands and stockinged legs would be a pretty snazzy mascot if you ask me.

I've written articles about how to eat as much as you can at a tailgating party before the game and about the psychos who wait for hours in the cold for the team bus to come back just to catch a glimpse of the second-string tight end before he climbs into his Escalade. But until now, I've never written about going to the game itself.

I signed up for a press pass for a Monday night game, thinking I would be directed to a press box, but some employee pointed to a door and said, "The field is that way." The football field? Rad.

I received a personal greeting from star player Steve Smith upon entering the field: He vomited in a trash receptacle a few feet from where I was standing. The ESPN cameras swung around from the game to catch some hot projectile action. But unfortunately, as "Spew" Smith would report in the locker room after the game, it was mostly dry heaving.

Cameras and wires littered the field (37 wires to be exact, according to a guy whose job it is to stand in one spot and guide a chord through his feet). I spent much of the game trying to get one of the cameras to notice me. Although it would have been easier to just run on the field and tackle the quarterback, which the Bucs seemed to have no problem doing (snap), I opted for the legal way. When a team was threatening to score, I positioned myself by the end zone, hoping the cameras would catch me. It actually worked; a friend reported seeing my maroon sweater and part of my patchy beard.

Football and war hawking are curious bedfellows. At halftime, a military man read some sentimental poetry about fighting overseas. Ronde Barber of the Buccaneers, waiting to take the field, got real into it and started clapping feverishly. It reminded me of the last professional football contest I attended in Atlanta five years ago -- a day which coincided with the day we invaded Iraq. Before the game started, the enthusiastic PA cheerfully announced that President Bust had just deployed our troops. The crowd hooted and hollered as if the home team had scored a touchdown.

After the game, I ventured into the locker room, where male and female reporters try to grab a quick quote from the naked behemoths. I decided to get a quote from the long snapper, (the least desirable interview) whose only function on the team is to hike the ball great distances on punts and field goals. Jason Kyle spent the whole game stretching his hamstrings or sitting alone on the bench like a lonely neglected puppy. Kyle was amused I wanted to interview him. He said he's not jealous of the attention his teammates get because if people want to interview him, it means he f'd up. After the long snapper, I tried to interview the second least-cool player, fellow Jason, Mr. Barker (the punter). But he was too busy brushing his teeth.

On his way back to his locker, a towel-clad Keyshawn Johnson knocked into me and didn't offer so much as an "excuse me" or "oh my, pardon." Apparently discourtesy is endemic among the receiver potion. After the crowd of reporters cleared away from Spew Smith, I informed the star that he vomited perilously close to me. Disdainful of vomiting etiquette, Spew didn't apologize or inquire if I needed a dry cleaning tab picked up. The nerve.

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