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By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
When the NFL season finally returns, home team fans have plenty of game day options — cheer on the Cardinals in person at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, settle into the couch at home, or head out to any of hundreds of local bars filled with friendly fans.
But for millions of transplant residents who’ve made the Valley their home away from home, finding a suitable venue filled with like-minded loyalists may pose a challenge.
Fortunately for some, a variety of area bars are eager to accommodate their back-home football proclivities.
One such destination is the Buffalo Chip Saloon in Cave Creek, a cowboy bar which opened in 1951 as a farmers’ feed store and bait shop for anglers headed for Bartlett and Horseshoe lakes, according to their website, buffalochipsaloon.com.
From its birth as an 800-square-foot structure on a small patch of desert, the now-famous Western-themed venue has grown to encompass more than 6,000 square feet situated on five acres of land.
While the saloon features a full-menu steakhouse with concert venue and dance hall with live bull riding twice weekly, on game day the house belongs to football, according to Greg O’Donahue, head brew master at Dubina Brewing Co. in Glendale and a devoted, lifelong Packers fan.
“I knew who the Packers were before I knew what football was,” he said.
Born in a small town called Oconto, about 30 miles up-shore from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Mr. O’Donahue was raised in Milwaukee before settling in Phoenix in 2000.
He now enjoys an occasional reprieve from homesickness when he attends Packers games at the place he describes as “Lambeau South.”
“If you go there on any day that’s not football day, you’d never know that it’s the biggest Packers bar in the state,” Mr. O’Donahue said of the Buffalo Chip. “But on Sunday mornings, it’s as football and Packers-centric as you could possibly imagine. Especially being a non-home team fan, it’s really the camaraderie with fellow fans and, more than anything else, the absence of non-Packer fans we enjoy. It’s a controlled and environment, so to speak.”
Hundreds of fans turn out for Green Bay’s “home games,” when the festive pub is fully decorated, awash in fans bearing yellow-and-green jerseys, Mr. O’Donahue said.
“You have to be on a reservation list to get in with hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “They have the standard big screens. But they also have two people with TV broadcast headsets that sit at the front of the bar doing a play-by-play and they do giveaways, like for the fan with the biggest cheese curd, stuff like that.”
After the game, the place reverts to its usual Western décor, he added.
“As soon as the game’s over they start tearing everything down and it goes back to being as boot-scootin’ a place as you can imagine,” Mr. O’Donahue said.
The Cave Creek hotspot also accommodates loyal fans of the University of Wisconsin Badgers, as well. And other nearby Cave Creek venues offer a similar fan experience for Steelers and Browns fans, as well.
And while ASU fans may easily find local screens to cheer on their beloved Sun Devils, college football aficionados, like Surprise resident Chandler Brown, joined a local club to get that back-east, hometown feel and mingle with fellow Florida State Seminole devotees.
“There aren’t many FSU fans out here, so when you find some, it’s fun to get together to watch a game,” Mr. Brown said.
The Phoenix Seminole Club, a Facebook-based community, boasts more than 340 members and 30 to 50 avid fans typically show up to televised games at Half Moon Sports Grill near the Biltmore in Phoenix.
The popular social media meet up group also plans other events outside of game day, he said.
“I can watch football anywhere; but having a large group of fans around makes the atmosphere electric,” Mr. Brown said. “They do a ton of get-togethers during the year. Just recently, they had a night at a Diamondbacks game where one of their pitchers, who’s a former Seminole, greeted everyone before the game.”
On Thursday, Aug. 29, home team ASU kicks off the season at Sun Devil Stadium against the visiting Kent State Golden Flashes.
Florida State embarks on its new season with a Saturday, Aug. 31 matchup with Boise State at home in Tallahassee — Mr. Brown hopes to cheer them on with other local, loyal Seminole fans.
The first NFL game of the season features a classic, century-long rivalry as the Packers take on the Bears on Thursday, Sept. 5 in Chicago. And long-suffering Cardinals fans will follow along as the hometown team greets the Detroit Lions at State Farm Stadium in Glendale