Feschuk: You gotta know when to hold it

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

Going to an NFL game with your progeny can be a bonding experience. Just get club seats if either of you plans to pee.

On a whim, I travelled with my 12-year-old son to Pittsburgh so we could watch his favourite team, the Steelers, play my favourite team, the Buffalo Bills. During the flight, our conversations reflected a shared belief that the father-son bond is strengthened when we recognize what the other holds dear, and then mock it.

Will: Your team is terrible this year.

Me: Actually, your team is worse.

Will: True, but you’re old and will die before me.

Me: [Long silence. Realization that we may have raised this boy too well.]

Anyway, it was early in the second quarter when the single worst possible thing that could ever happen, happened to me. I had to go pee. At a football game.

If you’ve never been to an NFL stadium, you may suspect I’m overstating the horror of the situation. I am so not. Having attended Bills games since I was a boy, I can say with complete honesty that stadium bathrooms comprise three of the five worst things I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen J.P. Losman throw a football.

Entering the men’s room, you are struck by two things.

The first is the odour—the aroma itself, of course, but also its form. There is a wall of warm smell. It’s so thick it’s as though you can touch it—but DON’T TOUCH IT! You touched it? No problem, we’ll cut off your hands when we get back to the car.

Notes on Buffalo Bills restroom, 2013 vintage: an overpowering nose of urine and tobacco, with strong notes of sausage burps and Axe body spray, complemented by subtle hints of poop, vomit and bad decisions. Basically, it’s as though someone took a roomful of the foulest air and sealed it away for years, subjected it to abuse and deprivation, made it angry, turned it evil and then set it loose in the world to have its revenge on man. It’s not a smell—it’s a creature from a Stephen King novel.

The second thing you are struck by as you enter the men’s room is your own fist as, in an effort to escape the smell, you try to render yourself unconscious so this horrible experience will end with the comparably enjoyable act of wetting yourself while blacked out.

The sights of the men’s room aren’t any better. Our forebears strived heroically to acquire the technical know-how needed to build the urinal—but at many stadiums today, men are jammed together, shoulders touching shoulders, obliged to relieve themselves into a long metal gutter. Below, the river runs so strong you half expect to find Brad Pitt standing knee deep, casting his fly rod. Many depart with the vacant stares common among victims of PTSD—post-trough stress disorder.

After finishing up, you will of course want to wash your hands (and face, and clothes, and soul). Fortunately, there is a big communal sink that you activate by stepping on a metal bar near the floor. Unfortunately, the sink is always broken—which is just as well since there is usually someone urinating into it.

It is with these dark memories in our minds that my son and I made the trudge towards olfactory doom at Heinz Field. I gave Will a look that said, “Well, you’ve had a good run, kid, but this will forever change you.”

Then, suddenly—a realization! The seats I’d purchased on StubHub were on the club level. The crowd was smaller, the concessions were nicer—dare we dream about the men’s room? We entered, with trepidation and held breath. We turned the corner. Urinals abounded! And sinks—individual, functioning sinks into which, from all evidence, no man had whizzed! My son, expecting the worst, asked, entirely too loudly, “Why does it smell good in here?”

My team lost that day. It lost badly. But I’ve never left a football game feeling more like a winner.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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