Super Bowl in Prague
Tuesday February 5, 2013 Prague, Czech Republic
I’ve been here now for four days and it seems like four hours. The day before yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday and I knew the bars would be full of NFL worshipers. They needed to be because the kickoff was at 12:30 am or just thirty minutes after the chimes from Tyn Church overlooking ‘Old Town Square’ sounded midnight.
I met coach Lesko at the bottom of Wenceslas Square in the heart of New Town. It’s not really a square but a long elegant boulevard and the site of many plush hotels and fancy restaurants. We walked to my host’s favorite watering hole and began getting ready to watch the game by consuming the first of many beers, along with about fifty players two hours before kick off. Nancy and I had our first meal somewhere on the square in 1994 on our first visit to this beautiful city. The cost was something like $5 for a four course meal. Unfortunately those days are long gone but the area remains a favorite spot for me to sit at an outdoor café and people watch.
At the top of the square is the National Museum, looking more like a palace and just in front of the museum is the statue of King Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, riding his powerful horse. This is the exact area where in 1989 crowds of over 250,000 Czech people gathered for ten straight days of demonstration. This became know as the “Velvet Revolution” which soon overthrew the communist government and established the new Czech Republic.
While the city itself has a true central European flavor the subway system doesn’t. Yesterday I saw more police patrolling the underground area than you’ll see in a month in Vienna. There are four subway lines and it’s pretty easy to figure out which line to take and actually get there. The problem is how to get out. The passageways seem to lead to nowhere too often and you can find yourself alone in a 100 yard long hallway, which isn’t particularly confidence building. Even though the ‘Eastern Block’ feel certainly exists, I’m sure I’ll get used to it and the police aren’t armed with Uzi’s so that’s a relief.
The bar was crowded and a few people were smoking, unlike twenty years ago when everyone was. I can distinctly remember walking into a restaurant and Nancy saying to me “Lets sit at the (only) non smoking table,” as if that would have made any difference. I said, “No, let’s sit in the table next to it, that way there will be two tables not crowded with smokers.” It’s the twenty first century and cigarettes have been replaced by cell phones. I had been told of the Czech ability to drink beer but had no idea how quickly the large mugs would empty. There was only one waiter that I could see and it seems like he came by balancing four or five huge mugs on his small tray every five minutes. By halftime I had reached my limit and it seemed the game was well in the hands of the Ravens so I decided to head home. Coach Lesko ordered me a cab and fifteen minutes later after an easy ride through nearly deserted streets I arrived safely home at 2:30 am. Of course I missed the frantic 49er comeback but at my age sleep is more important than ever and I didn’t have a particular interest in either team. At the moment my conscious and unconscious mind is more concerned with another one, the Prague Black Panthers.
Our first official 2013 season practice was at 7:00 pm on Monday and I was anxious to begin instilling the ‘Coach Smythe’ let’s play to win and have as much fun as possible along the way philosophy. It’s worked for a very long time at every stop I’ve made on my personal coaching journey. I’ll do most of the coaching for the first few practices until my assistants get a feel for my methods. The first thing I always do each year is begin with a ‘walk and talk’ session explaining both the offensive and defensive philosophy to the entire team. I want our players and in this case coaches to see the Big Picture before they begin individual, small group and team drills. Having an understanding of where we want to go helps when we explain how we’ll get there.
The first practice went very well except at the end when I had to play qb…awful. I think I’ve lost it, finally. Our American qb, from Lafayette U. won’t be here until next week and the Czech kid was sick. I was just old. I know that for two very good reasons. First, as I reached to top of the escalator today there were to ‘subway police’ guys checking tickets. They both ignored me so I told one of them that I was 72 and asked ,”Did I need to purchase a transportation ticket.” He smiled and said, “No sir, not at all.” I liked the sir part best. Then when heading back into town again on the ‘free’ subway, twice young women got up from their seat and offered it to me. I sat down both times, my feet hurt, after uttering my version of thank you in Czech, “Dekuji”, pronounced something like Dah-Quu-Gee or a close proximity.
This morning I made my way to the American Embassy where I was to give a talk on American Football and the Super Bowl. I had directions, which most of the time are fruitless, but this time I got pretty close before needing to find a Tourist Office where the very polite lady showed me on her city map just how close I was. Right out the door, first left at the square and next right. I knew immediately I had arrived at the embassy because there were police everywhere. They were checking some people and, using some kind of device that looked like a metal detector you see old men on the beach use while searching for lost treasure, looking under cars for I would guess bombs. I tried to hug the wall as I passed but thought if the frig’in bomb goes off I’ll just be a smudge on the wall….here lies famous American football coach!
My destination was actually the ‘American Center’ located next to the embassy in the Irish delegation building, don’t ask why, I didn’t. But, I did ask the very nice library secretary if this was unusual procedure? I said to him, “We in American have a unique ability to piss off a lot of people. Did we happen to do that today?” He assured me the check everyone and everything procedure has been in place since 9/11 and that made me breath a little easier. Bad timing or bad luck could cause me some grief but it looked like I avoided that this time around.
My ‘talk’ actually went very well. I was speaking to a high school group of about twenty five kids from a small town just outside of Prague. They were very attentive (no cell phones texting away) and laughed when they should of and smiled at the right time. I spoke a bit about my coaching history both in the US and in Europe and then some about the actual game without getting too technical. Basically I told them it was a game of controlled mayhem with a few rules that should never be broken. Then I shared some Super Bowl stories and told them I thought it would become the next official holiday in America and that it was closing in on New Years Eve as the largest alcohol consumption day in our country. Unless you were of Irish decent when every Friday night became New Years Eve and Super Bowl Sunday combined. They all cheered at that.