Although I am happy to have a decent job, moving back to Finland was hard in many respects. Among them was the lack of American football.
If I can conjure up the money, I suppose I will watch games this autumn on the Internet. However, I will miss the possibility of seeing it live.
One of my best friends has season tickets to two NFL team. I was supposed to attend a rivalry game with him in December but, alas, it is not to be.
Thus, one of the things I tried to do my first week back was to learn the goings-ons of the team here in my Finnish town. They have a team that plays in the highest American football league in the country.
I came into contact with their players in a sports pub one Sunday night about three or four years ago. They, like me, were gathered to watch the NFL.
One of their number invited me to join them. I spent time getting to know these guys a little at their events, including a clinic for kids which I took my son to and a Super Bowl party at the same pub where I met them.
When I checked their website, I learned the team had a game yesterday. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to attend.
They have moved up in the world. In the past, they played at a small field on the east side of town.
Now, they play in the city’s main stadium. This field has hosted major track and field events. In fact, one of the track records is held by American Olympian Jackie Joyner Kersee.
I have fond memories of this stadium for other reasons. My kids participated in track and field events through their school and the local athletic club they were members of.
I was late to the game, which began about 5 pm. However, I missed the home squad’s first touchdown.
I got there just in time to see the extra point, midway through the first quarter. It didn’t matter.
By the middle of the second quarter, the score was 35-7. The Lappeenranta Rajaritarit (loosely translated “Border Knights”) went on to squash the Helsinki Roosters 56-14.
At halftime I ran into Mikko, the young man who had invited me to watch the NFL with the other Knights several years ago at the pub. He was in street clothes and limping.
As I stood in line for my coffee and makkara (sausage), we chatted. I told him of my NFL adventures back in the States and he mentioned that he had tore up his calf during the season, which was now coming to a close.
In fact, the Knights last home game was the one I was attending. I told him I was glad I had made it in time to see them.
I recommended that he read John Grisham’s book “Playing for Pizza, the story of a failed NFL quarterback who ends up in Italy playing for a team there. Mikko told me he had it in his bookshelf.
The feel of the Knights-Rooster matchup was that of a small college game. Think Gettysburg College vs. Slippery Rock.
Each Finnish team is allowed (I believe) three American players. I asked Mikko where his quarterback was from.
I was interested because the fellow reminded me of a small-time Ben Roethlisberger. He was tall, mobile and had a good arm. Mikko told me he was from the University of Redlands, some school in California I had never heard of.
The Knights had receivers that reminded me of the Smurfs of the 198os Washington Redskins. They were short and quick, and had good hands. So was their running back, Nate Kmic, a recent American import who apparently is something of an international star.
The Knights QB made a fortune out of throwing his receivers and Kmic short outs. They made huge yardage after the catch.
On one drive, the star was the Knights’ Finnish tight end. He caught pass after pass and the final touchdown.
By Finnish standards, he was a big dude. The Rajaritarit roster says he weighs 195 pounds. This makes him the heaviest guy on the team.
I was impressed with the Knights defense, too. It was hard hitting and their defense backs were of the ball-hawking variety.
I was less impressed with the Roosters. They weren’t a very good representative of the country’s largest city.
The timing between the Rooster quarterback and his receivers was out of sync. In addition to their defense not being able to keep up with the quicker Knights, the Rooster defensive backs kept dropping interceptions.
Their uniforms were gaudy and just plain godawful to me. They were totally bright red, including helmets. Set against the mellow Finnish landscape and sky, the impact was literally blinding, and I was wearing shades!
Despite the American game, the crowd was typically Finnish. There was no screaming, catcalling, or heckling.
Generally, a good play on the part of the Knights met with light applause. I tried a little screaming and yelling in English, but it seemed out of place, so I quit.
Though there was once was what appeared to be the potential for a brawl, the Rooster linebacker came over and slapped the hand of the Knights Quarterback, quelling the growing stew. This and other polite gestures on the field I witnessed are not that common anymore to me in the American game I know
The crowd was Finnish. I figured most of them were relatives, friends or girlfriends of the players.
The home side had what I gathered to be about 1,000 spectators. Looking across the way, about 100 Rooster supporters showed up.
Despite the cultural differences, the post game atmosphere reminded me of home. There were the same young women hanging around their heroes. Some of the players spent time chatting and posing for photos.
The players lined up toward the stands and sang some song to the fans in Finnish. It was to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”, but since “mina puhun vain vahaan Suomea (I speak very little Finnish)”, I couldn’t make out the lyrics.
It was a nice touch for the fans at the final home game though. It showed class.
What was less classy, but expected, was my experience waiting for my bus home. Sitting on a bench on a quiet Sunday night, there was hardly anyone around.
One young soldier on his way to somewhere sat nearby, waiting for a long distance bus. Out of nowhere came this crazy or drunk (I couldn’t determine which, although I judged the former) to harass him.
The man would come over, chat with the trooper, and then go away. Then he would come back for more.
I felt sorry for the boy. I guess he left me alone, since I was an aging, curmudgeon-like looking foreigner.
Last night when I went to bed, I thanked God for the day when I said my prayers. It was a Sunday I could have had back home, and I was grateful.