Super Bowl LII: Ajayi can provide UK fans with reason to cheer
This year’s Super Bowl is expected to be seen by a TV audience of well over 100 million in the United States alone.
But British NFL fans have more reason than ever for staying up late on Sunday to watch the New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis.
London-born running back Jay Ajayi will be taking his place behind the Eagles’ offensive line, with many believing he will have to play a significant role if Philly are to come up with a formula to beat the legendary Pats partnership of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
Ajayi, who is also a lifelong Arsenal fan, was born in London in 1993 and moved to Texas at the age of seven.
The 24-year-old first impressed at high school and then became a college star with Boise State, becoming the only player in their history to rush for 200+ yards in three separate games.
In the 2015 NFL draft, he was picked up by the Miami Dolphins, and he began the 2017 season with the Florida outfit.
However, a surprise trade in October saw him move to Philly in a deal which gives Miami a fourth round 2018 draft pick in return.
Foles steps up
The Eagles went on to have a fine campaign, ending the regular season 13-3 and losing only to the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
However, when star quarterback Carson Wentz was sidelined in week 14 with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, Eagles fans feared the worst.
But experienced back-up QB Nick Foles has stepped up, with the help of the NFL’s fourth ranked defence – as well as Ajayi’s explosive running style – and their 38-7 demolition job of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game was particularly impressive.
Meanwhile, this will be the eighth Super Bowl for the Brady-Belichick partnership, with victories for the Patriots coming in 2002, 2004, 2005 2015 and 2017.
Despite establishing a winning dynasty since the turn of the century, New England have failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter of seven of those Super Bowls.
But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and the Patriots – who also went 13-3 in 2017 – have Super Bowl experience in abundance, unlike Philadelphia.
In their two previous appearances in the NFL showpiece, the Eagles lost to the Oakland Raiders way back in 1981, and again (and narrowly) to New England in 2005.
So will it third time lucky for Philly as they attempt to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time in their history?
Not if the wily Belichick has anything to do with it. And with Brady now an elder statesman of the game at 40, his coach’s talent for assessing opponents on the day and adjusting his game plan to exploit their weaknesses will be more important than ever.
New England are the favourites in many people’s eyes, but may not have things all their own way.
The combination of the success that Foles has had in the play-action pass game, along with the added dimension Ajayi provides for the Eagles, could just make them unpredictable enough to outfox Belichick, Brady and the Pats.