Game day with Claire Da Bear – by Jonathan Howell

Going to an NFL game with Claire is an experience. Her knowledge and passion for the sport is clear and it’s easy to be swept along with it all. What does that mean for me? It means that there’s never a dull moment.

Claire, better known in the NFL community as Claire Da Bear, introduced me to the UK NFL games back in 2008. I was lucky enough to see only the second game played at Wembley. It was not only when I started supporting the New Orleans Saints but the nail-biting end to that battle with the San Diego Chargers got me hooked. The tension as the whole of Wembley collectively held its breath was astounding.

I remember first learning about the joys of NFL from the Channel 4 round-up which managed to distill a week’s worth of highlights into an action-packed show. However, the intervening decades had erased most of the finer points of the game from my memory. Going to a game with Claire soon solved that. She managed to see my looks of confusion and instruct me as to why a yardage penalty had been given, or why possession had changed.

A game day with Claire is always a long one. It doesn’t matter if the match is early in the afternoon or in the evening, we need to be up at the stadium in the morning. There was always opportunities for signings and ever since she set up Giveaway HQ she’s been dedicated to getting those autographs. But it’s got bigger than just that.

Claire Da Bear is now recognised, famous in the NFL fan world. She’ll go dressed in an outfit that has bloomed over time. First it was just the Chicago Bears jersey. Then I found I’d become an enabler by ordering her the orange and blue Foamhead hat, which makes her practically visible from space. Year by year more gets added. The Bears trainers, the cape, and the camo trousers all appeared. Claire is now top to toe a Bears fan and it certainly gets her noticed.

Out and about on game day, there’s always a steady stream of people coming up and asking for a selfie with her or just to say “Hi, I follow you on Twitter”. It’s like being out with a celebrity. Usually Claire’s a private person and quiet with it, but not on game day. You can feel the nervous excitement from her, which only intensifies when it’s the Chicago Bears playing. I think if there was a way to sleep over at the stadium the night before then she’d take it.

Although the UK doesn’t do tailgate parties in the way that the Americans do it, there are still events to be a part of. This can include the stage where players and cheerleaders come and entertain the crowd, the array of food on offer (the queue for Po’ Boys was unsurprisingly full of Saints fans), or the signings. Claire wants to be a part of it all and it’s impossible not to be swept along with her. On the other hand, it’s easy enough to grab some quiet time by depositing her in the queue for autographs, knowing full well she’ll happily be there for hours, chatting to other fans.

Going to a game with Claire is a bit like being in the middle of a gentle storm. So many people greeting her, or the exchanges of friendly banter between opposing teams. There’s always the customary “abuse” shared back and forth between her and a Packers fan who always sits near her at Wembley. It’s all part of the atmosphere, all part of the experience, all part of what it’s like to spend a day with Claire soaking up everything an NFL game has to offer.

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