Many red-blooded American boys (and girls) grow up aspiring to put on the helmet and become a professional football player. On fall Sundays (and Monday nights and Thursday nights and some Saturdays) they put down their tablets and stare at a television screen while the best athletes and tacticians in the country chessbox on the gridiron. The smarts, the physicality, the grace, the choreography of football has made it the most-popular sport in our country. That said, the NFL is our best warrior poets in motion. But beyond watching the contests, playing Madden NFL and going to a vacant lot for a pick-up game (yes, kids do still play outside if given a ball and some buddies) while emulating Pro Bowlers (“Eli Manning fires it to Beckham in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown”—a 12 year-old in Paramus, NJ, says of himself while throwing to his friend who is not named Odell Beckham), there are few ways to be immersed in the NFL. No longer.
Welcome to the NFL Experience Times Square (20 Times Square at the corner of 7th Ave and 47th St). The new interactive attraction gets you closer to the game than the referees working the down and distance markers. Kids—from young to Terry Bradshaw’s age—walking into the building instantly get butterflies in their stomachs like a rookie walking down the tunnel of his first game.
The first experience puts you in front of a green screen where you are on the field during the Super Bowl. You are coaching your favorite team and you are winning. The clock now reads 00:00. Whoosh, you get hit with a (digital) Gatorade bath and the camera snaps away for a souvenir.
Then you are lead to a hall of The 32’s, where each team has a locker full of memorabilia and you can vote on your favorite players of all time. To be as guileless as Bill Belichick answering a reporter’s lazy question, this is the most lackluster part of the attraction, as the team’s trinkets are more wall tchotchkes at a theme restaurant than Hall of Fame–worthy ephemera, but The 32’s is basically just a holding space before entering The Stadium.
Now you are in an 180-seat 4D theater. The simulation is epic. You are in the game, and when a safety hits you on a crossing route, you feel it. The 10-minute show is a thrill ride of sights, sounds, smells and seasons (the weather element made this 35-year-old man shriek externally) that makes conventional VR look like JUCO Ball.
Then it’s time to test your skills. The rest of the NFL Experience is hands- and shoulders- on. You hit a dummy to see how long you can hold a block, test your standing jump like you are at the combine and whip your arm in the Quarterback Challenge, where you have three attempts to throw to your favorite receiver. Mixed in are other interactive stations such as having your face superimposed on a fully suited-up player so you can visualize your childhood aspiration and a coaching lesson from Chucky himself, Coach John Gruden, after which you implement in a scrimmage.
As the game clock runs out, you experience the euphoria of winning the Super Bowl replete with confetti celebration and photo ops with a Lombardi Trophy. The whole NFL Experience is a social media poster’s dream. If the carpeting in the Super Bowl Celebration room doesn’t immediately make you question your predilection to hardwood floors, we can’t be teammates.
Then you walk through the the Postgame Tunnel and into an area with NFL merchandise, a bar and concessions. The food isn’t your stale Aramark fare but rather a rotation of dishes curated from all 31 NFL stadiums (remember, the Jets and Giants share MetLife Stadium) dependent on which team is playing the big game that week.
Oh yeah, you can watch a game at the NFL Experience. While I walked through (and went a perfect 3-for-3 in the Quarterback Challenge) the bar was still a work in progress, but it is on my list of potential bachelor party spots for a buddy who still thinks that he’ll be the next Mike Singletary—even though he's in his mid-30s, has bad knees and lacks the on-field instinct of Samurai Mike.
The NFL Experience is where football dreamers go. And if you want tickets to an actual NFL game? We have those right here.