Some people prefer to watch Sunday afternoon football games at home, with only Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy for company.
Others, like Jodi Leuchten, are generally too busy to listen to the halftime rants of Fox TV network sports guys Bradshaw, Long, Strahan and Johnson. She’s talking to folks like Mark, Tim, Sean, Paul, Dan and the rest of the gang at the Ice House tavern on Putnam Street in Saratoga Springs.
“We come here every Sunday,” said Leuchten, 46, who wore a blue and orange Denver Broncos jersey on a warm November afternoon. “It’s not every bar in town that I can bring my child and know he’ll be all right.”
Football games have become social events — and not just the massive winter party known as the Super Bowl. Bars and restaurants in the Capital Region cater to fans who want to watch their National Football League teams in action and be part of the rowdy camaraderie that comes with big plays, big comebacks and big wins.
“Some people really want to watch the game because they don’t have it at home, but I think it’s more about talking about sports in general,” said Sean Lynch, who owns the red-and-white tiled Ice House. “We’re not a main sports attraction bar, but we have the games on eight TVs inside and five outside.”
Fans make regular Sunday stops September through December. And stick around for the January playoff season, too.
“We’re here for the first game every Sunday,” said Leuchten, who lives in Saratoga Springs. “We watch the first game and then go home. That’s our normal Sunday during football season.”
Leuchten was watching her Broncos on a corner television with son Mark, 12, and family friend Tim Desens of Saratoga Springs. Besides passing the time with interceptions and quarterback sacks, the group also spent the early afternoon with Philly cheese steak sandwiches, a pitcher of soda and french fries.
Others had the same idea. Kevin Lynch, 54, and his friend Jackie Seitz, 60, were watching games on the patio. For Kevin, it sounded like Sunday afternoons were the new Friday nights.
“We’ll hit four or five places,” he said. “We’ll go to the 7 Horses Pub, we’ll go to Dango’s, right around the corner. We’ll go to Trotters, Gaffney’s, the Tin & Lint. It’s relaxing, it’s a nice relaxing time.”
Paul VanDoninck, 36, of Saratoga Springs likes his Baltimore Ravens. But he also likes spending time with friends over the weekend. “It’s camaraderie on a Sunday fun day,” he said. “It’s hanging out with your friends watching the games.”
On the patio, one of VanDoninck’s friends included Oliver, a chocolate lab who tagged along with Tracey LaBelle. “He’s a Giants fan,” said LaBelle, 31, who also lives in Saratoga Springs.
Sean Lynch said he generally springs for a small buffet that gives football fans the chance to taste what’s being cooked in the kitchen. Baked ziti and quesadillas were in steam trays as Broncos and Ravens fans watched offense and defense.
“If people really like it, they’ll order,” Lynch said.
Dave Nigriny, who co-owns the 20 North Broadway tavern in Schenectady with Eric Warde, said people show up on football Sundays because they can’t tune in their favorite teams at home. The Fox and CBS television networks generally pick regional games for the NFL’s early and late afternoon games. Fox, which televises the National Football Conference, almost always shows the New York Giants. At CBS, the American Football Conference network, the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills generally are chosen. The New England Patriots will also sneak into broadcast huddles.
Sunday and Monday night games, covered by NBC and ESPN, respectively, are national games. So if the Giants are on television Monday, Fox will broadcast another game for the New York market on Sunday afternoon.
Bars — and football fans who prefer to stay home — can get all football games with DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. But the investment can be expensive — the company’s latest deal offers the remaining month of the NFL season for $140.
Nigriny said technology that allows bars to show all NFL games has helped business. So has updated technology for television sets. He said years ago, bars had an assortment of football games but still had to hang heavy, tube-driven television sets from the walls. New flat-screen televisions are lighter and provide better pictures.
Nigriny said people come for more than just a clear picture. It’s being part of the crowd — and the crowd at 20 North Broadway was in a jubilant mood on a recent Sunday afternoon.
“Let’s say I’m watching the Steelers because I’m a Steelers fan,” Nigriny said. “You’ve got a break at the quarter or a TV timeout. I’ll step a few paces away and take a look and see how the Giants are doing, or turn around and maybe check and see how Minnesota is doing. It’s a whole football experience that’s not possible when you’re sitting in your living room with maybe two of your friends.”
Occasional shouts and cheers went up from corners of the small tavern as games progressed. There were about 40 people in the place, many wearing team jerseys.
Because Nigriny is a Steelers fan, other people who appreciate Pittsburgh see him on Sundays.
“I know it’s a Steelers bar, but I didn’t want it to be exclusive,” Nigriny said. “We have seven TVs; I’m not putting them all on the Steelers. I’d like to see all kinds of fans. . . . It’s not always fun to be with just your fans. It would like everybody being the same. You want a little variety.”
Like people who visit the Ice House, 20 North Broadway has its regulars. John and Lisa Derochie are Giants fans and show up every Sunday. They always claim the table in front of the 20 North’s sole large TV, a 55-inch model that is generally tuned in to the Pittsburgh game.
“Lisa will make little place cards of each team’s name and a little helmet, she’ll prop them up on the TV so when people come in, they’ll know where their game is,” Nigriny said.
The Derochies drive in from their Schoharie home for a couple of reasons.
“At home, you get one TV,” said Lisa Derochie, 47. “Here, you’ve got everybody cheering all the different games. You walk around and see every game. It’s atmosphere, food and family.”
“The beer is good, too,” added John Derochie.
Scott Gregory is in charge of switching channels in the bar.
“It’s a job nobody really wants because you’ve got to please everybody, basically,” he said. “People come in for all sorts of different teams. We try to cater to everybody. We have people who come in to watch New England when the games aren’t on regular TV. We’ve got a big Packers contingent that’s usually here. . . . The problem is you’ve got nine 1 o’clock games and right now we have seven TVs.”
The problems can escalate around 4 p.m.
“The Giants fans are going to be interested in getting the Giants game on,” Gregory said on the weekend New York visited Dallas in a game that started in the East at 4:25. “But if Pittsburgh is still on and it overlaps, it’s a little bit of a struggle. Everybody knows they have to come to me and plead their case and look for the TV they want their game on.”
The man with the power follows the New York Jets.
“Normally, they’d be the big screen,” he said. “Being friends with the owners, I get a little bit of pull, but I’m outranked by Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh is on, the Jets are on one of the smaller sets.”
Some guys have easier jobs on Sunday afternoons. Mike Durdy was tending bar, and while the place was crowded, requests for refreshments were pretty easy.
Beer and wings
“Sunday is the best day to work, it’s all beer and wings,” he said. “Football fans are not a lot of mixed drinks, not a lot of fruity stuff.”
Glasses and bottles of beer covered tables. So did bar food like fries, wings and sandwiches.
On this Sunday, there was some discussion about the Steelers’ “throwback” jerseys, which made the fearsome players look like yellow-striped bumblebees. The Derochies, in their Giants gear, were giving harsh reviews to their Steeler pals, Dan and Susan Peter.
Even Susan agreed. Sort of.
“I think if you have something that ugly, you have to like them,” she said.