This past Sunday I watched the Saints put an end to the Atlanta Falcons undefeated season from the Mayan Bistro outdoor patio bar at the Aventura Mexicana boutique hotel in Playa del Carmen. It was my first trip to Playa del Carmen where I had traveled for an old college buddy's destination wedding. When I received my invite in the mail I was not sure if it was in Mexico or Florida. Courtesy of the couple's wedding website listed on the invitation, I determined that it would require making a run for the border right in the middle of football season.
Scheduling a wedding during football season has the potential to cause conflict between friends and family. However, if a couple must exchange wedding vows sometime between September and November, having it take place at a Caribbean resort destination can be worth missing a few hours of football during the course of a full weekend . However, that sacrifice was only minimal. With the ceremony scheduled on the beach at sunset, it left the majority of the afternoon for watching college football.
That is if we could find a cantina that carried it. But as luck would have it that would not be a problem. During a hangover recover run Saturday morning down 5th Avenue, the pedestrian only walkway through the outdoor festival marketplace of Playa del Carmen, I spotted a bar about six blocks from the hotel called the End Zone with an attractive waitress in a black mini-skirt standing outside holding a sign that said "American Futobol shown here!" I knew then that in a few hours later I would return.
Having already gotten some quality beach time in and with more anticipated on Sunday, I walked back down to the End Zone around 1 P.M. with the hope that what the pretty waitress was referring to by "American Futbol" was more specially SEC Football as the #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide were set for a 2:30 kickoff with the surging Texas A&M Aggies. When I arrived at my oasis I was immediately spotted and waved in by about 6 or 7 male relatives of the bride and groom that I had met at the rehearsal dinner the night before who had also somehow received qood intel on where to spend their Caribbean vacation watching college football. I joined them and proceeded to alternate between drinking Bloody Marys and Dos Equis as we watched the second half of the South Carolina Gamecocks take the struggling Arkansas Razorbacks to the woodshed.
A few minutes before kickoff of the Alabama and Texas A&M game, Mike, another old friend of mine from college that i had not seen in about 15 years came and joined us. Mike lives in Houston now but is from New Orleans and we determined that it was probably his own wedding sometime in the late 90's that we had last seen each other. A huge football fan like myself, we then began to catch up on what has happened in college football since 1997 and how much better the SEC was than everybody else. As we discussed the superiority of the SEC, it was actually a conference newcomer led by a true Freshman quarterback nicknamed "Johnny Football" that was sticking it to the defending National Champion and arguably the conference's most premier program in the Alabama Crimson Tide. While it had been a rolling high tide earlier that morning at the beach just a few blocks away from us, it was beginning to recede by mid-afternoon on the TV screens playing inside at the End Zone sports pub. The nation's #1 ranked team just seemed to emotionally drained from their come from behind win over arch rival LSU at Tiger Stadium the week before.
There was definitely and unspoken sentiment among our group that Alabama would mount a comeback despite being down 20-0. However, with wedding time approaching there would not be enough time to watch it. So, guys gradually started peeling off from the table to report back to their wives at the hotel and get ready. Not faced with that requirement, I was able to stay until midway through the 3rd quarter, before having to make a mad six block dash past the Playa del Carmen outdoor shops, cafes and street vendors and get ready myself.
The groom, my friend Gerald from Spring Hill College, is from New Orleans and as big a Saints fan as they come. As most Saints fans are, he is also an LSU fan, but was confident that the Tigers would beat my Mississippi State Bulldogs, and was willing to hold off watching it in order to make a lifetime commitment on a Caribbean beach to his new bride. However, that did not mean that other LSU fans in attendance were willing to give up on watching the Tigers and Bulldogs scheduled on ESPN 2 at the same time as the reception, without wearing out a remote control to find it.
The Indigo Beach Club, where the wedding and reception were both held, had one television set mounted up on the wall. Once the ceremony was over and the drinks started flowing, guests gathered around that TV, which had been preset to soccer, trying to make Southeastern Conference Football from Death Valley appear. However, the effort was futile even with the assistance of the Mexican servers, as all the ESPN channels seemed to be automatically set to soccer. The penalty kick between Guadalajara and Mexico City didn't interest me as much, so I went to the bar, took a Tequila and headed out to dirty dance with bridesmaids.
While Gerald's assumption about the outcome of LSU and Mississippi State was unfortunately (for me) correct, he was much more concerned how the Saints would fare against the undefeated Dirty Birds. So, he had somehow made pre-arrangements for the hotel, which had a covered outdoor bar, to show the game. With both the bride and groom being from New Orleans, there may have been mutiny if the Saints game was not shown. Not only were the bride and groom both from New Orleans, but both families were Italian and there was not shortage of passion and emotion while cheering for the Saints against their most bitter rival.
Needing extra time to wash the alcohol sweat from my skin in the cool Caribbean waters, I did not make it back to the hotel from the beach until the Saints were already down 10-0 (no I wasn't skinny dipping). A group of about thirty all decked out in Saints gear had gathered to watch the game as tropical-spring like breezes floated through the air of the Mayan Bistro outdoor patio bar.. I grabbed a chair and sat next to Wayne, another old college friend who had packed his Drew Brees jersey along with an inflatable blow up doll of a Saints player that he had set off to the side. Several plays after grabbing a seat, Chris Ivory busted through the Atlanta defense to put the Saints on the scoreboard with a 56-yard touchdown run.
As soon as Ivory crossed the goal line, the bride's aunt cued her iPod with Saints music and we all commenced doing a second line with white napkins through the bar, cafe and pool area. Just like in New Orleans, it didn't take much to get a celebration started. The second line really caught on with the Mexican bartenders and waiters who joined in with us. However, while the hotel staff caught on to the spirit of the second line they did not quite catch onto its significance and timing, as they then started grabbing the white napkins and doing it after every other play regardless of what happened on the field.
We may have finally found a way to watch American football in a soccer dominated country, but it was still not without local flavor as the broadcast was still in Spanish. Even though we did not understand what they were saying, the Spanish speaking announcers added so much more excitement than Moose Johnson and the other crew usually calling the games, which fit in with this crowd well. On occasional big plays they would shout, "Ole! Ole! Ole!" and whenever Jimmy Graham caught a pass it was always "Jeeemmee Grahaam!!' When referencing the Superdome going in and out of the commercial breaks, it was referred to as, "Superdomo!"
If only we had a Dirty Bird Pinata!