Desert Companion

Fandom: Cheers to Fans — of All NFL Teams

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Illustration of a bunch of pro team mascots having a beer together
Illustration: Tim Bower

Before the Raiders arrived in Las Vegas, local football fans flocked to restaurants and taverns affiliated with other NFL franchises. Guess what? They still do


THE HISTORY BOOKS will forever note March 27, 2017, as the day we became an NFL town. For it was on that date that the league’s owners approved the move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas by a Reagan vs. Mondale-like vote of 31-1.

But what if we told you that, despite the ubiquitous silver and black you see everywhere you turn, we are not exclusively a Raiders Town?

Don’t believe it? Perhaps Sarah Noback can convince you.

“After the Raiders moved here, I had people ask me, ‘Aren’t you going to be a Raiders fan now?’” says the born-and-raised Las Vegan. “You couldn’t pay me (to be)!”

See, for the past 22 years, Noback has worked as a server and bartender at Big Dog’s Draft House, a Wisconsin-themed restaurant/bar/brewery that has been the home for diehard Green Bay Packers fans for almost 35 years.

Noback herself has become one of those diehards. And she and other faithful Packer Backers aren’t the only local NFL fans who choose not to root, root, root for the home team. Likewise, the Draft House is hardly the only local establishment that isn’t painted silver and black.

Because unlike what the history books may say, Las Vegas was an NFL town long before March 2017.

PRIOR TO OUR CITY'S Great Professional Sports Boom that started with the arrival of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights five years ago, residents who followed pro sports fell into one of two buckets: natives who adopted teams from other locales and newcomers who brought their lifelong fandom with them upon relocating from places like Buffalo, New York; Madison, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Wichita, Kansas.

As Southern Nevada went through its “One of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities” phase from the mid-1980s into the early 2000s, the restaurant and bar scene took advantage of the valley’s geographic diversity. Some restaurant/bar owners who moved to Las Vegas opened establishments that offered a little flavor of their hometowns. In other instances, existing watering holes organically became a home away from home for transplants.

Before long, hard-core sports fans were flocking to these spots en masse, particularly on Sundays (and Mondays) in the fall and winter, when the NFL rules the sporting landscape. No matter where you lived in the valley, if you were a passionate fan of a popular team, you were just a short drive from like-minded fans for three-plus hours of nail-biting revelry. As the years passed, Las Vegas essentially became several NFL towns rolled into one.

Then the Raiders arrived and … nothing  changed. Entering this season, no fewer than 19 of the league’s other 31 teams have a “home” somewhere in Southern Nevada — and in some cases, multiple homes.

Besides the Draft House, Packers fans still flock to Jackson’s Bar & Grill and multiple Rum Runner locations. Buffalo Bills fans have Moondoggies Bar & Grill, Office Bar/Naked City Pizza, and Johnny Mac’s (in Henderson). Cleveland Browns fans have the Tap House and Sporting Life Bar. And Dallas Cowboys fans have Mr. D’s Sports Bar and Grill. (The list goes on.)

Yes, Las Vegas also has been home to several Raiders bars over the years. And, of course, dozens of other taverns now brand themselves as “Raiders Bars.” But the silver and black are hardly the only game in town — which Raiders fans will discover if they happen into the wrong place at the wrong time and ask for a TV to be changed.

Just ask Noback, who is at the Draft House for almost every Packers game.

“All kinds of football fans come in, and we’ll show other games when the Packers aren’t playing,” Noback says. “But when the Packers game starts, every single TV in the bar and restaurant — even on the patio — is on the Packers, with sound. And if someone says, ‘Hey, can I get the Raiders game on in this corner?’ I’m like, ‘Do you know where you are? No!’” Φ

Five (More) Bars With Team Spirit

JOE'S BAR

  • (2851 N. Rancho Drive)
  • Home team: Chicago Bears
  • Welcome in: Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, six beers on tap and, of course, ’Da Bears on more than a dozen 65-inch flat screens at this ode to the Windy City. Only thing missing: a stiff breeze off Lake Michigan.

JAKE'S BAR

  • (2301 S. Eastern Ave.)
  • Home Team: Denver Broncos
  • Welcome in: Come to this old-school tavern for 24-hour $2 draft beers and 25-cent pool tables. Stay to cheer on the blue and orange, as Broncos games are shown on 15 flat-screen TVs. (Sorry, no Rocky Mountain oysters on the menu.)

SCOOTER'S PUB

  • (6200 S. Rainbow Blvd.)
  • Home team: Seattle Seahawks
  • Welcome in: Home of the Las Vegas Sea Hawkers booster club, this is the gathering spot for local “12s” (as Seahawks fans are affectionately known).

NOREEN'S LOUNGE

  • (2799 E. Tropicana Ave.)
  • Home team: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Welcome in: You want official? Here’s official: This is one of a select few establishments in the U.S. sanctioned by the City of Pittsburgh as a “Steeler Nation” bar.

BLUE OX TAVERN

  • (58255 W. Sahara Ave.) & Blue Ox Central (6000 S. Eastern Ave.)
  • Home team: Minnesota Vikings
  • Welcome in: Menu items, including the 10,000 Lakes fish and chips, are served with a side of Midwestern hospitality at both locations, where you’ll find a sea of purple on Vikings game days.

 

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