Every Sunday morning during the National Football League season, Jason Croisier, Adam Helsberg and Bill Russell walk into a bar.
No, this is not the old joke. There is no punchline here. They’re having fun, but in many ways it’s serious business.
They arrive at a local bar at 11 a.m. – in time for the first NFL kickoffs of the day – and sit in the same seats at the same table cheering on their respective teams on the same TVs.
Lacrosse roots for the Cincinnati Bengals. Helsberg loves the Seattle Seahawks. Russell prefers the Pittsburgh Steelers. The three gentlemen are from Sheridan, a town 423 miles from the nearest professional football stadium in Denver.
They almost have to go somewhere else to watch the game. For most of the weeks none of their teams are shown on local TV and they would need to take a vacation to watch a game in person. Many sports fans in town exercise their fandoms in similar situations. Even the University of Wyoming Cowboys, the state’s only Division I school in Laramie, is a four-hour drive from Sheridan.
Thus, if one of the Croisier, Helsberg or Russell teams starts at 11 a.m. but another does not play until the end of the game after 6 p.m., they will stay in their chair all day. It’s especially interesting when two of their teams go head to head.
“We all support each other, even if we don’t like them sometimes,” said Russell.
Outside of fall and winter football Sundays, several bars and restaurants across the county never show anything but sport. Croisier, Helsberg and Russell also come often for Wyoming football games on Saturdays. Sometimes a few other friends join them – a few Cleveland Browns fans and a Denver Broncos fan.
“We get them to sit at the table behind us sometimes,” Russell said as they all laughed.
There is another group that follows a ritual similar to that of Croisier, Helsberg and Russell. A dozen Chicago Bears fans show up every Sunday to watch the Bears on the same TV from the same location.
Gage Rathkamp isn’t that picky. Yes, he watches his beloved Indianapolis Colts every weekend, but he at least moves around the bar. For the Colts’ first game in 2021, on September 12, he pulled out a bar stool himself.
Although Rathkamp is a born and raised Sheridanite, his family is originally from Minnesota. Most of those close to him love the Vikings, but Rathkamp wanted to be different. He grew up watching nationally televised Colts games that featured stars like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
He has another friend who encourages Indianapolis. They met when they were students at Sheridan College and often experience games together. Sometimes Rathkamp brings his girlfriend, who is from Caroline and a fan of the Panthers.
He usually orders the wings and a beer.
His only superstition: his jersey.
“If we lose I won’t be wearing this jersey for a while,” said Rathkamp.
He currently owns four Colts jerseys and chose a Darius Leonard version for Week 1.
Croisier, Helsberg and Russell each wear their favorite team jerseys. A few customers carry Josh Allen Buffalo Bills every Sunday.
It is a sea of different colors.
Jason Nicodemus wears a Minnesota Vikings jersey. Trish Penn wears Seahawks shirt. In week 1, Tammy Spaulding dodged the action, wearing a pink sweatshirt.
On September 12, Penn and Spaulding watched together. They seen old friend Nicodemus sitting alone, so they all gathered at a table. They have been watching Sunday games for four years.
“It doesn’t matter if you know someone,” Penn said. “If there is someone here and he speaks loudly, you will return to him right away, and you will be friends by the time you leave.” It’s true. I know it sounds cheesy, but you walk into a stranger and take out a friend.
Nicodemus grew up in Iowa with a Viking fan mother. Penn is originally from Bremerton, Washington, and has been a Seahawks fan since 1977.
“They used to be cool,” she said.
Spaulding is originally from Sheridan, but she never put down roots for Denver, the team the three agree is the most popular in town. As the two closest NFL markets, Denver and Minnesota games are shown on local television.
“Do you know why Wyoming and Montana don’t have professional football teams, Jason?” Spaulding asked.
“Why?” said Nicodemus.
“Because then Colorado would want one too,” Spaulding joked, tearing the Broncos apart.
She said she started to like the 49ers because of legendary quarterback Steve Young, well, later.
“I honestly think it’s more fun having people with different teams because there is always competition and heckling,” said Penn.
They know and recognize Croisier, Helsberg and Russell just by seeing them every week. They also know that one should not sit in the place of the boys.
In the Seahawks’ Week 1 game with the Colts, Penn and Rathkamp had very different reactions. Penn applauded Tyler Lockett’s two touchdowns and the Seahawks’ 28-16 victory.
“My granddaughter, when she knows Seattle is playing, she says, ‘Mom, I can’t go to Nanny’s because she’s going to scream,’” Penn said. “And that’s true.”
She let out a cry as soon as she finished her sentence.
“Oh, he didn’t get the first down!”
Rathkamp watched calmly.
“It’s not looking good,” he said a few minutes from the end of the fourth quarter.
He still stayed until the end of the match.
Without a prompt, while Spaulding and Nicodemus were talking, Penn picked up his phone and started typing and scrolling. A few seconds later, she put it down.
“Hey, Jason,” Penn said. “The Seahawks face the Vikings on the 26th. So we’ll meet up here at 2 o’clock?” “
“Yeah,” Nicodemus replied immediately.
“Ten dollars?” Penn asked.