Late-Night Punts

Watch the game live. Because time zones are for pussies.

Late-Night Punts

Watch the game live. Because time zones are for pussies.


You could not feel more like an American than you do right now. You are drinking
beer in a smoky bar at 4 a.m. – not to dance or get the hookup, but because
The Game is on. It could be the World Series, it could be the NBA Finals, but
this is January, so it must be the National Football League playoffs.

This is not what makes you feel so American. Czechs, of course, are no less
obsessive about their sports, no less prone to gather for the latest Gambrinus
Liga or international hockey match. But they can follow the big game in the
afternoon or evening, when human beings were meant to be glued to the tube drinking
beer. For the U.S. sports fan six or eight time zones from home, catching the
action means trawling darkened streets by night, looking for a fix.

At the moment – around 4 on Sunday morning – that means sitting in the basement
batcave of Zlatá Hvězda (The Golden Star), a long block up Ve Smečkách from
Vaclavské Náměstí, watching the Atlanta Falcons pound the sorry carcass of the
Green Bay Packers into the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. This is unexpected;
even with their flash rookie quarterback Michael Vick, the Falcons are not supposed
to be doing this to the heavily favored Packers in the deep Wisconsin chill.
Every time Green Bay shows a spark of life, the Falcons snuff it out.

Most of the half-dozen hangers-on in the basement are glum, but nobody is leaving.
Nobody has an urgent need to be in a nice warm bed rather than in a cold cellar
watching a game whose outcome is obvious. One guy vents in a Southern accent
about the Packers’ crap play, rails about a bad call in the first half that
helped turn the game around. But he is not leaving. There is a lonely quality
to being a football or baseball addict in a city so indifferent to your passions.
If The Game is on, you will find it and watch it. The sports all-nighter a ritual
here, and as disorienting as it can be to find yourself watching live sport
at 4 a.m., it is a comforting one.

We’d started out here six hours earlier. One of a handful of places in the
center that cater fitfully to our type, Zlatá Hvězda styles itself more than
most as being all things jockish, but its rep among displaced sports junkies
is spotty. Everyone has a story about arriving for some advertised late-night
telecast only to find an unannounced cover, the satellite on the fritz or a
curt declaration that the bar is closing.

But tonight the Golden Star is on its game. In the crowded main room the TVs
are all on, and the kitchen, which usually shuts down around 10 p.m., is still
cranking out decent-looking pizzas. The sets are divided among U.S. football,
European football, and diving. This last seems wonderfully whimsical, the notion
of fans gathering in a saloon to get rowdy over the 10-meter, but nobody is
paying attention to the aquathletes. The most tube-tuned patrons are by the
big screen, on which the New York Jets are hammering the Indianapolis Colts
into jelly.

There’s another big screen in the basement, but Friday and Saturday are disco
nights there. The TV is off; a bored-looking DJ spins for the benefit of a lone
couple making out under black-lit psychedelic murals. We sit upstairs in the
small room outside the main bar with a single TV suspended in a corner, eight
or ten Yanks and a couple of baseball-capped Germans. The décor is inexplicably
Roman-themed, the feel just this side of grungy. Our room is cramped, but our
needs are met – game on, play by play audible, beer cheap (Gambrinus for 21Kč
and Kozel dark for 24; Pilsner runs 35). A Jets rooter yells “Rip his head off!”
We are happy.

Around midnight, with the Jets up 24-0, we swing by NHL star Jaromir Jagr’s
joint near the top of Wenceslas Square, but the sports bar-cum-celebrity shrine
has already called it a night. Clearly, these people are not serious. At least
the chill of early evening has abated when we dodge the hookers and cabaret
barkers en route to Old Town’s Legends.

Occupying prime tourist real estate in the Ungelt courtyard, Legends is where
the visitors go to make sure vacationing in Prague doesn’t mean missing the
Cowboys or Man United this week. Sure enough, on half the 14 screens in the
bar Jets linemen are still hounding Peyton Manning. But most of the youngish
crowd is here for fun, not games. MTV beams silently on the big screen, the
DJ spins past-tense dance-pop (Criss Cross’ “Jump Jump” and The Bloodhound Gang’s
awful “Bad Touch”), every now and then a strobe pulses. Prices are high (45
Kč Staropramen, burgers from 220), but the service is brisk and attentive. The
patrons are also considerably more attractive than at the Star, which provides
alternative entertainment in lieu of a game actually worth watching. As the
Jets’ lead climbs to 41, we scan the booty-shakers and the murals, athletic
icons (Ruth, Ali) alternating with scantily clad pin-ups.

As the clock mercifully runs out on the Colts, we step outside to take the
air while awaiting the 2 a.m. kickoff for the Packers game. When we return,
three guys are sitting at one end of the bar, including a dude in a black Falcons
jersey. He is seriously pumped. (“Playoffs, man!”) We are unexpectedly touched.
We couldn’t care less about the usually desultory Falcons (although we soon
see that Vick is indeed electrifying), but here is a kindred soul: a guy a long
way from home, more or less cut off from His Team. And if His Team is playing
for a shot at glory, he needs to be part of it, even if it means overpaying
for drinks in what amounts to a cheesy disco. We, too, find ourselves rooting
for the Falcons.

Despite the presence of a large crowd, Legends closes at 3 sharp, the DJ signaling
the end with the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” Not quite ready to call it a night,
we head back to Zlata Hvezda, rationalizing all the way: It’s only the second
quarter; the Packers can still make it interesting. The doors are still open,
a few TVs still on. We toast the Star, forgive its trespasses. In the low-slung
brick basement the DJ is still working but the big screen glows with sport.
We settle in with a bag of peanuts and our new compatriots. We bluster casually,
like we know all there is to know about football, and think, what a wonderful
world to offer such succor at such an hour.

But as the Packers sputter toward their fate, so do we. Around 4:30 the Southerner
has finally seen enough and gets up to leave, offering up the fresh beer he
can’t even finish. At 5 a.m. the game is over and the bartenders gently shoo
us out. Time to go home.

“It’s crunchtime!”

NFL playoff games will be shown at the following sport’s bars. Call to confirm.
Shirts required.

Zlatá HvězdaVe Smečkách 12

(off Václavské Náměstí) in P1

Tel: 222 210 124


T''n 1, Ungelt in P1

Tel: 224 895 404

JámaV Jámě 7 in P1

Tel: 224 222 383

Divisional Playoffs

Saturday, January 11

Pittsburgh at Tennessee, 10:30 pm

Atlanta at Philadelphia, 2:00 am

Sunday, January 12

San Francisco at Tampa Bay, 7:00 pm

N.Y. Jets at Oakland, 10:30 pm

Conference Championships

Sunday, January 19

NFC Championship Game, 9:00 pm

AFC Championship Game, 12:30 pm

Super Bowl XXXVII

Sunday, January 26

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California

Kickoff at Midnight

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