In the wake of the NFL’s Superbowl on Sunday, many of us may have changed our opinions on American football. I’ll come out and admit it right away – I’m a fan. But I know there are many sceptics out there who will snort in derision at ‘America’s Game’ defiantly in favour of ‘real’ football or rugby.
I’ll let you in on a secret – I was in the same boat until September this year.
Sky Sports’ Super Sunday had finished and my usual, beloved La Liga viewing was not on their schedule for the night. NFL Live was though. Bored on a Sunday and being a sports fanatic I finally decided to give it a go. Moreover, hearing about Lawrence Tynes’ success – a Greenock lad playing for 2012 Superbowl winners the New York Giants – gave me something to relate to.
That right there is how we can learn to enjoy a sport. If we can relate to its players, its teams or its history in some way, we can learn to love it.
The main reason why many of us here in the UK disregard American football as ‘Hand Egg’ is down to exactly that – we find it hard to relate to. For starters, I’ll admit, it isn’t strictly ‘football’ is it? The ball is shaped like an egg and looks more like a brown version of what you’d see on a rugby pitch. Furthermore, the whole ‘foot to ball’ thing only happens now and then – the majority of the game is played with the ball in hands. It isn’t looking good for America’s Game so far.
Another thing which puts many of us off the NFL is its complicated nature (compared to ‘real’ football) and the big hits – we already have rugby so why do we need another confusing sport played by big burly men who spend over an hour kicking and shoving the stuffing out of each other? All this “1st & 10” and “3rd & 2” nonsense is far too complex for something that is just a game at the end of the day, and the madcap tackles followed by the overly exuberant celebrations at the end of every fecking phase of play are just TOO much – am I right? Is this sort of sport just for the Americans, with their attitude towards everything having to be bigger and better exemplified in this egg-shaped ball game perfectly?
It doesn’t have to be. But why, I hear you ask, if those silly Yanks have called the sport something it never could be, and we have our own beloved sports – football, rugby and golf, and cricket, tennis and boxing – should we even consider branching out?
Any given sport in any given country, is directly intertwined into the history of that country. We, for example, invented ‘real’ football so it will obviously mean a lot to us. On top of that, football allows nations to divide in support for club matches, and collaborate for international ties. How often have we seen us Scots don the See You Jimmy hats, strap on the kilt and head off ‘Down the Road’ in support of the national team all in unison (granted, only to be disappointed)? Or, how much have we enjoyed (sorry – I mean sympathised with) the masses of those down South who big up their expectations every four years only to be brilliantly (damn it, sorry, cruelly) eliminated, usually on penalties? The love and the rivalries, the banter and the arguments, the passion and the excitement – all of these are abundant in our national sport. They’re present in American football as well but the key advantage that association football has is simplicity. It’s not called ‘The Beautiful Game’ for no reason. I’m first and foremost an association football fan and that will never change, but the NFL has been creeping up on my radar rapidly in the past year. The game is so easy – two jackets for goalposts and a ball (in fact, just anything you can kick) is all you need. Professionally, the breathless and flowing nature of association football is something the NFL cannot even match. It’s unpredictability and ability to fill the brain’s capacity for magic moments is something we all savour. Nevertheless though, it’s time for us to broaden our horizons.
As I’ve said, a sport is enshrined into a country’s culture along with its history. That’s why it can be so hard for us to accept it and embrace it. The history of American football actually takes inspiration from rugby and association football. So there we have it – something else for us all to relate to.
We all have a love for entertainment. The Superbowl – the grand finale of the NFL season – is a prime example of this. We can rely on Messi and Ronaldo, but half-time shows at the Superbowl have featured the bootylicious Beyonce and the marvellous Madonna in recent years. By captivating audiences and year in year out, the Superbowl is one of the most watched television programmes worldwide. Yes, that’s all television programmes, not just sporting events. The only thing that comes close is football’s Champion’s League Final. The World Cup and Olympics also tend to draw in more views but they only happen every four years, and they also last for longer periods of time. The Superbowl is one night of amazing sporting spectacle, breathtaking musical performances and stunning atmosphere. It’s about more than just the game itself. It’s all about pleasing those who watch it and inspiring them to keep doing so. Even a regular game is complete with fireworks and cheerleaders.
While many of those who stayed up on the night of the Superbowl to slag it off, it’s more than likely many of them have never seen an NFL game in their life. And if they have: I too was a patron against the ‘stop-start’ nature of the whole thing. However, once you start to understand that the game is not designed to flow like football and it is supposed to be played out methodically like chess – even if you don’t fully grasp the rules – you can involve yourself. Each player has a different role to do on each phase of play and each of these roles must be carried out to perfection for success. We can all appreciate perfection and that is exactly what happens on the field of American football with each passing play. Running backs and wide receivers need to be strong and athletic while Quarterbacks must be decisive and quick-thinking. That quells the myth that it’s a sport only for huge massively muscled men. While association footballs requires many skills like dribbling, passing and shooting as well as physical fitness, American football requires different skills like throwing, catching and running in addition to the physical aspects. One isn’t more physically or technically demanding than the other.
One of the main attractions to association football is that anyone can play. The costs are minimum for equipment and ticket prices are low – well, SOME are *cough*Arsenal*cough. Nevertheless, despite rising ticket prices, football is still one of the cheapest sports to play and watch. A young cyclist inspired by the likes of Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins could have to pay around £500 for even a standard road bike. For competition, the cost of bikes can be well up to around £15,000. Then you have to add in repair kites and such. Gold is another example – a new set of clubs can set even a beginner back a fortune and tickets to see the Open this year range from £65 to £660. Another important factor is location. There is a football team for every town, whether at amateur or semi-professional level, and a professional team is usually not far away if not on your doorstep. Tennis for example is only really available to the majority us once a year, at Wimbledon, and most of us can’t afford or don’t have the time to travel all the way down to London to support Mr Murray.
The NFL however, can be available to all.
While it would be absurd to suggest that American football is easily accessible location-wise – it’s not impossible for us to support one of the teams. Many of us may have ancestors or relatives in America – indeed the Scottish contribution to American history is well noted. There is definitely somewhere in that big country we can relate ourselves to. Whether it’s an uncle who lives in San Francisco or ancestors who moved to Carolina, there is bound to be a connection somewhere. We all have that one city in America that we love. Many of you I’m sure admire the busy life of ‘city that never sleeps’ (New York), or love the proud motown music history of Detroit, or have a soft spot for the cowboy traditions in Dallas. These cities and many more across America have teams that we can all find a way to relate to in some way or another.
American football is all about giving people a chance. Many of the players come from humble and poor backgrounds, perhaps even ghettos, and rely on their skill to obtain a sports scholarship at college or university which allows them to begin their career and go on to play in the NFL. We can all relate to seizing or wanting chances to do better in life and American football is instrumental in giving many people an opportunity to do this through their talent and love of the sport. There are plenty of amateur teams in Scotland in the East, West and North to go and watch in your free time, some of you may recall the Scottish Claymores winning the ‘World Bowl’ of NFL Europe in 1996. There is a website specifically for UK fans – http://www.nfluk.com and two games will be coming to Wembley this year for anyone who wishes to go and see the show live. With games broadcast live on Sky every Sunday and Thursday, on Channel 4 on Mondays and BBC Red Button on Tuesdays there are plenty of ways for us to take our own chance. Each of the networks have experts on their panel who are prepared to explain aspects of the game or answer questions they may believe to be basic. They are giving us the opportunity to involve ourselves not just in another sport, but another culture. Every American football team has a story and each and every one is inspiring. This year’s Superbowl winners were motivated by Baltimore and NFL legend OJ Brigance who suffers from the fatal ALS disease and current player Michael Oher was the subject of Academy Award-nominated film The Blind Side. This is just one of many inspiring stories we have the chance to involve ourselves in.
America is trying, however gradually, to accept our greatest export (‘soccer’) into their culture. We should do the same with American football. Look at it this way – America has long since overtaken Britain in just about every aspect. They’re richer, they’re more powerful and they’ve got all the latest gadgets and technology. We also often hear them bragging about how they won the Second World War for us. While I have no disdain towards Americans at all, I’m surely not the only one who wouldn’t mind winning in this sporting mini-war? Let’s accept, embrace and enjoy American football as America’s greatest sporting export, before they do the same with ours.