Every Sunday morning during the National Football League season, Jason Crosier, Adam Helsberg and Bill Russell walk into a bar.
No, this isn’t the old joke. There’s no punchline here. They have fun, but in many ways, this is serious business.
They arrive at a local bar by 11 a.m. — in time for the first NFL kickoffs of the day — and sit in the same seats at the same table to cheer on their respective teams on the same TVs.
Crosier roots for the Cincinnati Bengals. Helsberg loves the Seattle Seahawks. Russell prefers the Pittsburgh Steelers. All three gentlemen hail 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. During most weeks, none of their teams air on local television, and they’d need to take a vacation to go to a game in-person. Many sports fans in town exercise their fandoms in similar situations. Even the University of Wyoming Cowboys, the only Division I school in the state, in Laramie is a four-hour drive from Sheridan.
So if one of Crosier, Helsberg or Russell’s teams starts at 11 a.m. but another doesn’t play until the late game after 6 p.m., they remain in their chairs all day. It’s especially interesting when two of their squads square off against each other.
“We all support each other’s teams, even though we don’t like them sometimes,” Russell said.
Outside of fall and winter football Sundays, several bars and restaurants through the county never show anything but sports. Crosier, Helsberg and Russell often come for Wyoming football games on Saturdays, too. Sometimes, a few other friends join them — a couple Cleveland Browns fans and a Denver Broncos fan.
“We sometimes make them sit at the table behind us,” Russell said as they all laughed.
There is another group that follows a similar ritual as Crosier, Helsberg and Russell. About a dozen Chicago Bears fans show up every Sunday to watch the Bears on the same TV from the same spot.
Gage Rathkamp isn’t as picky. Yes, he watches his beloved Indianapolis Colts every weekend, but he at least moves around the bar. For the Colts’ first 2021 game Sept. 12, he pulled up a barstool by himself.
Though Rathkamp is a born-and-raised Sheridanite, his family is originally from Minnesota. Most of his relatives love the Vikings, but Rathkamp wanted to be different. He grew up watching the nationally televised Colts games that featured stars like Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
He has one other friend who cheers for Indianapolis. They met as students at Sheridan College and often experience games together. Sometimes, Rathkamp brings along his girlfriend, a Carolina native and Panthers fan.
He typically orders the wings and a beer.
His one superstition: his jersey.
“If we lose, I won’t wear that jersey for a while,” Rathkamp said.
He owns four Colts jerseys at the moment and chose a Darius Leonard version for Week 1.
Crosier, Helsberg and Russell each rock their favorite team’s jersey. A few patrons don Josh Allen Buffalo Bills garb on any given Sunday.
It’s a sea of different colors.
Jason Nicodemus sports a Minnesota Vikings jersey. Trish Penn wears a Seahawks shirt. During Week 1, Tammy Spaulding avoided the action, wearing a pink sweatshirt.
Sept. 12, Penn and Spaulding watched together. They saw old friend Nicodemus sitting alone, so they all joined up at a table. They’ve been Sunday game watching regulars for four years.
“It doesn’t matter if you know somebody,” Penn said. “If there’s somebody in here and they’re talking smack, you’re going to go right back at them, and you’ll become friends by the time you leave. It’s true. I know it sounds cheesy, but you walk in a stranger and walk out a friend.”
Nicodemus grew up in Iowa with a Vikings-fan mother. Penn is from Bremerton, Washington, and has been a Seahawks fan since 1977.
“Before they were cool,” she said.
Spaulding is from Sheridan, but she has never rooted 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?” Nicodemus said.
“Because then Colorado would want one, too,” Spaulding joked, ripping on the Broncos.
She said she began liking the 49ers because of legendary quarterback Steve Young’s, well, posterior.
“I honestly think it’s more fun to have people with different teams because there’s always the competition and heckling each other,” Penn said.
They know and recognize Crosier, Helsberg and Russell just from seeing them every week. They also know not to sit in the boys’ spot.
During the Seahawks’ Week 1 matchup with the Colts, Penn and Rathkamp had very different reactions. Penn cheered at Tyler Lockett’s two touchdown catches and the Seahawks’ 28-16 win.
“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 it’s true.”
She let out a yell as soon as she finished the sentence.
“Oh, he didn’t get the first down!”
Rathkamp watched quietly.
“It’s not looking too good,” he said with a few minutes left in the fourth quarter.
He stayed until the end of the game anyway.
Without prompting, while Spaulding and Nicodemus talked, Penn picked up her phone and began typing and scrolling away. A few seconds later, she put it back down.
“Hey, Jason,” Penn said. “Seahawks play the Vikings on the 26th. So we’ll meet here at 2 o’clock?”
“Yeah,” Nicodemus responded immediately.
“Ten bucks?” Penn asked.