Noon is too late. 11:55 a.m. is a tad risky. But arrive at Sam’s in Hillsboro Village at 11:50 a.m. on a Sunday during football season and you will have the place pretty much to yourself. You can pick a prime table, with perfect views of the largest TV showing your team’s game, and get in a drink order before the swarms descend.
There are sports bars—TVs, cheap beer and buffalo wings—and then there are sports bars—tons of TVs, pitchers of beer and, well, buffalo wings. Sam’s falls into the latter category, and its location adjacent to Vanderbilt assures its designation as a home away from home for sports-hungry transplants. (It also means you don’t need to worry about being surrounded by pesky Titans fans, who have their local broadcast and home couches keeping them busy.) The sprawling, dimly lit, sloppily decorated place provides all the cheap drinks and solid pub food one could need for surviving the many hours of a football game (often with a brain still hazy from the weekend’s excesses).Besides the large booths, the small tables clustered in the center of the room allow you to hog one all to yourself if you’re rolling solo (though don’t be surprised if someone asks to sidle up—especially later in the season when the playoff race heats up), or you can sit at the bar, where the panoply of screens allows you to keep tabs on pretty much every play being made in every sport in the country.
But the real charm of frequenting a sports bar like Sam’s is the bootleg community that develops. You start to see the same people every week, decked in their team colors—there’s that drunk Raiders fan that loves to shout at the refs in some very un-Sunday language, the kid in the glasses and full Browns garb drinking Coke and looking like he’s on the verge of some kind of botched-punt-return-induced seizure, or the couple in the Bucs hats that double high-five after every score.
Last year my Eagles started off strong, 4 and 1, and those in green and black would eye each other across the bar, offering the occasional high-five. Then things fell apart. McNabb, our star, our savior, went down for the season, and we traded woeful glances and shrugs of condolence as we endured unimaginable hardships, like that woeful 13-6 loss to the Jaguars. But then the unlikely hero—the aging, freckled, red-headed signal caller Jeff Garcia—took the reins, and the Philly phaithful began to commandeer a semi-regular area of the bar, introducing ourselves, jeering at Cowboys fans, talking about that ’05 Super Bowl run, cracking jokes about Bobby Hoying and watching our team win its last five and scoot into the playoffs.That’s the magic of a sports bar: whether you want to watch a midseason college basketball game or take in Yankees vs. Red Sox in the company of like-minded douches—oh…I mean souls—you can rest assured that one of the TVs will be able to hook you up. You can train your eyes on the same flickering images as the faraway folks you love, and feel a connection—both to home and to the diaspora of fans who also made sure to get there a little bit early.