It’s Beer and Breakfast for NFL Fans Watching Games in Hawai’i
September 24, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
* Updated September 26, 8:07 AM
At 7:35 Sunday morning, with the birds chirping outside the open windows, tourist Annmarie Dzura from Pittsburgh orders her second Miami Vice, a red concoction in a tall skinny glass, at Ocean’s Sports Bar and Grill in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.
Dzura doesn’t even know what’s in it, guessing vodka and saying “It goes down easy and when you stand up, it hits your toes.”
Bar owner and bartender Shirley Hull quickly moves on to other thirsty customers. Her place isn’t usually packed this early in the morning. But it’s NFL game day.
And in Hawaiʻi, that means people who want to watch their favorite team play games that start at 1 p.m. on the East Coast have to get up with the sun.
It also means big — and early drinking — business for bar owners like Hull, who count down the days every summer until the season opening kickoff when the money and fun come rolling in.
Television screens, nine of them, hang on every wall and are tucked in corners to show most of the NFL East Coast games.
The birds compete with the sounds of cheering tourists and local fans, or those groaning after their team gives up a touchdown or interception. They wear team jerseys and other apparel to show who they support. Many arrive before 7 a.m. to get a good seat.
The National Football League is America’s most beloved sport and it has the economic numbers to prove it, generating $10 billion in revenue during the 2021 season.
But that was a dramatic drop from the pre-pandemic 2019 figures when it brought in more than $15 billion, which is where it is expected to return this season.
The league’s commissioner, Rodger Goodell, is eyeing $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027. Thatʻs more than the 2020 gross domestic product of dozens of countries, including Iceland, Jamaica, Palestine and the Congo.
So people love their football. There’s nothing new there.
But when it comes to watching games, as the whole nation does in cult-like fashion, does the Aloha State have it the best?
Early kickoffs, thanks to Hawai‘i Standard Time, mean fans drink beer while eating breakfast burritos. The state doesn’t have a home team, but that’s part of the fun. Transplants from all over bring their allegiances with them.
Inside Ocean’s in the Coconut Grove Shopping Center in Kona on game day, it’s a colorful sea of different colored jerseys and a roar of voices bellowing at different games on different screens at differing times.
This isn’t New England, where most everyone is a die-hard Patriots fan. This is Hawai‘i, a melting pot of fanhood. Some locals root for the Miami Dolphins because their star quarterback is Tua Tagovailoa, who was born on O’ahu. Other locals adopted a favorite team from the mainland, or had a favorite team before moving to the islands.
So unique is the experience that fans even blog about what it’s like following their team living thousands of miles from home. The blog Sports Fandom was created by a Hawai’i resident who said he has been a life-long Eagles fan because his parents moved to the state from Philadelphia.
“It’s so much fun,” Hull says while taking a break from pouring draft beers. “That’s why I opened up a sports bar. I love sports — everybody here loves sports.”
Oceans Sports Bar and Grill — which Hull built in 2004 with her husband Todd — usually caters to a late night crowd and is not open for breakfast.
But Sundays in the fall, Hull is up by 5 a.m. to help prepare the $15.50 eggs, pancake, rice and bacon buffet.
While Hull, a Bay Area native, is a loyal San Francisco fan — she even met her husband at a 49ers event — their bar became a Seattle Seahawks den nearly a decade. During Hawk games, the place is overrun with up to 100 Seattle fans who belong to a Facebook group of Seattleites and Washingtonians called the Kona 12s.
“It used to be a Niners bar,” Hull said. “We let them hang up one flag against the Niners one year, and they just took over.”
That was around 2007, when the two teams had a bitter, acrimonious rivalry. Such a takeover would never happen in Chicago for a Bears den, but Hull says with a smile: “It’s all business.” Hull says with a smile. “It’s all business at this point.”
By 8 a.m. and Dzura from Pittsburgh is draining her second Miami Vice. “My boy, T.J.,” she yells.
The Steelers’ All Pro defensive end, T.J. Watt, has just intercepted a pass from Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.
Dzura and her boyfriend planned their trip to Hawai‘i in the fall because of football. The early kickoffs, mixed fan bases and paradise backdrop is an experience they can’t capture back in Pennsylvania. So it’s become their tradition to travel 4,600 miles to watch NFL games on TV.
“Who wouldn’t want this every Sunday?” she asks. “This is so cool.”
New England native Don Goodman and now a seven-year Hawaiʻi Island resident Face Times his friends back home to show off the ocean backdrop outside of Laverne’s Sports Bar in Kona. By November, when temperatures in New England are frigid and darkness takes over by 4 p.m., the view of a golden midday sun reflecting off the blue water can be too much for them.
“So jealous,” said Goodman’s friend Melissa Boucher, who moved to the Big Island a year ago. “They don’t like us at all.”
Mick Shockley, a lifelong Raiders fan and owner of the Da Shark Shack bar on Ali’i Drive, keeps his game-day experience relatively low-key, serving steak and eggs for his Raiders friends.
While NFL games start earlier in Hawai’i, it also means they end earlier, with all but one game on Sunday done by 2 p.m. When the West Coast games wrap up in the islands, there still is plenty of time left in the day to go swimming in the bay, picnic at the beach or even knock out some weekend chores, which is what Shockey plans to do: clean his garage.
That formula holds especially true for the national primetime games. Thursday and Monday Night Football are done by 6 p.m. in Hawaiʻi, so fans can watch until the final whistle and still have enough daylight to go to the beach to catch the sunset.
For East Coasters like Goodman and Boucher, the six-hour time difference between back home and Kona means they can stay awake long enough to see the late games conclude. The primetime matchups back East don’t wrap up until sometimes after midnight, so they said they would rarely see the second half because “We’d be asleep.”
Making the transition from watching games on the mainland to Hawaiʻi’s earlier style can take some getting used to.
Rose Ferrante, Barbara Harlow, Susan Wood, Donna Adams and Jeanette Zarandona get together every Sunday to watch games. Visiting from Los Angeles and around the West Coast, they took in Sunday’s mornings games from a table at Ocean’s.
They plan to go shopping later in the day after the games are in the books, which is a nice treat to have so much day left, they said. But, they admit, it was tough setting an alarm to make sure they saw the opening kickoff.
“The afternoons are good,” Adams said. “But the morning sucks.”
According to Google Analytics, the top NFL team fans in Hawaiʻi’ root for annually is Hull’s 49ers.
Next favorite is the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, Shockley’s Las Vegas Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys, who once were “America’s Team.”
But there is a downside. The average number of DUI arrests on Sundays during NFL season is higher than Sundays during the summer.
Defense attorneys nationwide promote DUI awareness during the football season, saying the uptick is a nationwide trend. And the CBS8 news station in Southern California reported before February’s Superbowl that the day of the big game is one of the biggest drinking days of the year – with drunk driving incidents increasing by approximately 22% on game day.
On Hawaiʻi Island, the average number of DUI arrests on Sundays in 2021 in August was 2.8, according to 2021 data provided by the Hawai’i Police Department. During NFL season, the numbers increased slightly to an average of 3.25 on Sundays in September, 3 in October and 4.25 in November.
The NFL also lends itself to betting.
Couple Josh Hevelhurst, a Detroit Lions fan, and Chelsea Onori, who roots for the Eagles, circled Week 1 on their calendar in May, when they learned their teams would be playing each other.
Seated at Quinn’s Almost by the Sea sports bar, they made a $50 side bet that the loser picks up the breakfast tab – complete with a couple of cold ones. The date is going so well that Havelson doesn’t mind too much that the Lions are losing.
Even tourists don’t usually order a brew at 7 a.m., but for many fans football and beer go together like Tom Brady and Super Bowls rings.
Quinn’s Almost by the Sea owner Diane Palacol knows that. She gets up at 4 a.m. to prepare for the breakfast rush during the season, and her staff knows it’s all-hands-on deck during those days, pouring drinks and serving eggs.
“It’s a fun day to come to work,” she said.
But while watching the NFL in Hawaiʻi is a unique experience to mainlanders, transplants who are around fellow fans of their teams are provided with a connection to home.
Palacol made her restaurant, with a green exterior, a Green Bay Packers bar. The Wisconsin native was missing her Cheese Head family when she bought the place in 2004.
Homesickness made her plant a Packer’s flag outside the restaurant 18 years ago. Fans noticed, and slowly migrated. Now it’s packed with green and yellow every NFL game day.
Palacol built her own slice of home right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She said: “The flag is never coming down.”