Tag Archives: American Football

Gridiron try-out: a rookie gives American football a go

American football is growing rapidly in Britain and it’s doing so right in front of our eyes.

With the overwhelming success of the International Series, the National Football League now claims to have more than three million ‘avid’ UK fans.

This got me thinking, as one of those avid fans, wasn’t it time I give it go? After all, how hard could it be?

68 adult teams compete in three tiers in locations spanning the length and breadth of Britain but one team in particular caught my eye — the Leicester Falcons. I live in Leicestershire, so geographically they made the most sense and they compete in Tier 2, so in my head, they seemed a perfect fit.

Smashed to pieces?

Rather fortuitously, the Falcons were holding Saturday ‘try outs’ for veteran and rookie players at Fullhurst Community College, just a stone’s throw away from my beloved Leicester City’s King Power Stadium.

Rugby wasn’t my sport growing up, so would I get smashed to pieces, or could I call on my cricket background to cling on to some one-handed stunners? In my head I was going to be the Odell Beckham Jr of British gridiron. In reality, I’d be lucky to come home in one piece.

Saturday was upon me, and so was the anxiety. Would I be made to look like a fool? I weigh 75 kg, have no oval ball background and little idea about the sport’s intricacies.

Alas, after a motivational speech from the mother, which would rival the likes of Martin Luther King and Sir Winston Churchill, I was ready. Thanks to mum, I now knew just how the people of France felt after Charles de Gaulle’s rousing  ‘Appeal of 18 June’ speech summoning the resistance.

Rookies only

Picture this. Your stereotypical sports playing field in January. Bare, lifeless, rock hard and a skinny lad (me) standing there in nothing but a t-shirt and shorts. This wasn’t going to end well.

As I jogged over I was immediately greeted by one of the coaches who asked, “Veteran or rookie?” “Rookie,” I said and was pointed in the direction of what looked to be a pack of lost individuals who, like me, were wishing they were sitting in front of the fire at home.

I introduced myself and it became clear rather quickly that we were going to be part of a ‘rookie only’ practice session. We were asked what positions we wanted to play. I opted for wide receiver, so we  split up into groups based on those positions.

The drills were basic. We’d run a simple slant route and take a catch from the coach, acting as the quarterback. My handling was good, as I expected it to be, but what I didn’t have was breakaway speed.

Many of the guys were in fact speedsters, but didn’t have the handling skills which I guess, levelled the playing field.

Nod of approval

The second hour of practice was by far the most enjoyable. Our opposite numbers, the rookie cornerbacks, joined our group as we played ‘mini games’ of seven versus seven.

The objective was simple. Beat your man, get into space and make a catch from the quarterback.

Space however, was hard to come by. Due to the small area we operated it, to say it was congested would be an understatement, but with a shimmy or two, I finally managed to get the hang of it.

The highlight of the day was when a ball was inadvertently tipped by another receiver and I clung on to a one-hander right under the gazing eyes of my opposite number who, to be fair, gave me a nod of approval.

As practice came to an end, we headed over to the much larger group of veterans where the session was ended by a team huddle and some feedback from the coaches, which was, in the main, very positive.

Give it a go

It wasn’t until I got home that I started to reflect on my day.

What didn’t strike me at the time, but did hours later, was the fact that complete strangers engaged in a huddle just a few hours after meeting each other.

Why doesn’t this happen in other sports? My thoughts are that because the sport is so physically demanding, respect between players is immediate.

For those, who like myself, may be anxious about trying American football, don’t be. Give it a go. It may just surprise you.

Oh and Odell, I think you’re safe. For now, anyway.

To find an American football club in your area, visit the britishamericanfootball.org website.

Premier League needs to go with the flow on streaming

Anyone serious about watching American sports in Europe these days, will have become used to streaming games via subscriptions packages, which allow fans of both big and small teams to access every game live and on-demand for a yearly fee.

It’s only going getting bigger and increasingly fitting to the busy life of a modern-day sports fan.

When I first discovered the joys of American sports, I started watching the NHL (National Hockey League) back in 2004, all I could see was one game a week on Channel 4 through the night on a Wednesday. As a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes – a relatively small franchise –  that meant I could only see one, maybe two games a year.

Nowadays, and only a few years after I fell in love with the sport, for roughly the price of a couple of DVDs a month during the season, I can see all the games, and every post-season game involving not only the Hurricanes, but every team live and on-demand via streaming.

Not only that, but it’s available not just on my laptop, but on almost every device I own that can connect to the internet.

One sport, multiple devices

I now watch NHL plus NFL, MLB, College Sports and the NBA in my room, on the train, in the car, on my TV via a streaming box and while I’m abroad; all for one price, using one service for each sport.

“It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!”

Watching the Hurricanes has never been easier; and it’s the same with all the major professional American sports and who year-on-year expand on their already versatile streaming services.

On the flipside, watching my BPL team Tottenham Hotspur seems way too difficult for a sports fan in 2015.

Unable to see every game in full, I, and most other fans who choose to watch their teams legally find ourselves having to constantly juggle between BT Sport, Sky Sports and the BBC’s Match of the Day to see our teams each week during the season.

It’s expensive, time-consuming and at times downright confusing. What’s worse, I can’t even see the full games!

It baffles me that those of us who don’t have the time or money to see live games often should have to go through so much to see our team each week.

UK Premier League fans are forced to watch 3pm games from the stands
The only way to see every Spurs home game is to be at White Hart Lane

A successful trial

“It was amazing,” said Daniel Greear, a Washington Redskins fan living in Virginia after the Bills-Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium last October.

The NFL made the game available for free via Yahoo! to a global audience, broadcasting it over the internet for the first time.

It enticed millions of fans who would normally watch the NFL on TV to try a new way of watching the sport without having to pay.

“Usually I watch games on TV, but being able to access a high-quality broadcast on my phone and tablet made the experience of watching a game that didn’t matter as much to me extremely convenient.

“Does it make me want to pay for an NFL Gamepass subscription to see the ‘Skins as well as all the other games I don’t usually watch on a Sunday? Absolutely, if I can watch them anywhere, it’ll make my lunch break at work fun during the season.”

The viewing figures were staggering. Across the world, a game between two teams that didn’t make the playoff, had 15.6 million viewers online. 33% of them, came from fans outside of the USA. (According to Yahoo! Sports’ public data)

“The current Premier League TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive”

This, for the league’s first attempt at mass-streaming was extremely encouraging and has sparked a bidding war to secure streaming rights between Apple, Verizon, Yahoo!, Microsoft and AT&T. The price for the Thursday Night Games – which are touted to be the first big prospects for free-streaming going into next season – are therefore likely to be high.

“The streaming quality is fantastic,” said Marcelo Fujimoto, a Cleveland Browns fan who watched the Bills game in São Paulo, Brazil on Twitter. “It’s just like watching a game on TV.”

Easier said than done?

In the UK, the current BPL TV deal is both lucrative and restrictive. For one, Sky and BT are paying between £7m and £10m for the rights to each live game, and unless they got a piece of the pie for a very small fee, wouldn’t be interested in someone cannibalising their viewing figures.

“Outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind”

The FA also want to encourage people to attend the games not shown during primetime. This is a totally different issue though. No 3pm games on a Saturday are televised domstically due to a fear that attendance figures will be hit. Instead, in an average week, just six BPL games are shown on TV, out of a possible 20.

The NFL created a similar system known as the ‘Blackout Rule’ during the mid-00s, meaning each team wouldn’t be broadcast in its own market if the the game didn’t sell out (the rest of the country still saw it however).

However, a couple of years ago, the NFL eliminated the rule and found that, according to Colin Cowherd’s investigation on Fox Sports Radio: “Attendance only dropped a couple of percent. It was a similar sort of fluctuation that happens each year anyway.”

Flexible

Across the world, outside the UK, Premier League coverage continues to expand, leaving its home market – where it is most popular – behind.

” I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…”

“I can watch every Premier League game, on every device, and I get all sorts of pre- and post-game coverage,” explains Jake Swann from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“It works perfectly, as it’s on in the morning before other major sports start. I’ve adopted a team off the back of it. American coverage is both flexible and entertaining.”

Some 3,000 miles away from Lambeau Field, I can see every moment of the Green Bay Packers season. Four miles from White Hart Lane, I can see one Spurs game every two weeks if I’m lucky.

It’s a shame. I long for the day I can sit down at 3pm on a Saturday and watch Harry Kane play without a ticket to the game…

On The Road With My NFL Team

Going on the road to watch your team in the NFL is a strange thing.

As with all the major sports in the USA, the distance between each team can be anything from sharing the same stadium, to travelling almost 3,000 miles across a single country and multiple states.

But the main difference is that the NFL is king in America, and travelling to see your team play away from home is more like a pilgrimage; it’s taken very seriously. And I didn’t realise that fully, until I flew from London to Charlotte to see my NFL team – the Green Bay Packers – play the Carolina Panthers away from the team’s home field.

The Panthers aren’t the most storied team in the NFL, having formed as part of the League’s expansion in 1995, but its fan base are about as passionate as the rest, despite it needing a bit of growth. Bank of America Stadium is also a really cool place to catch a game, if a little generic for a downtown stadium.

It seems to suit the team, the structure is new, and exciting, but lacks any character gained from a lengthy history.

None of that mattered though, as joining the thousands of Packers fans outside – who had also travelled an incredible distance to see the team play – made Charlotte feel like the streets surrounding Lambeau Field back in Wisconsin, proving that Pack fans really know how to make anywhere in the USA feel like a home from home.

Small market, big support

“Oh yeah, if the Packers come to town it’s always the biggest game for us,” said Adrian Green, a sales assistant at a sports retail store local to Bank of America Stadium.

“They just come in droves and it’s actually a real positive for our business round here. I mean, even the Panthers’ rivalry games don’t attract the same sort of support as the Packers, wherever they play, it seems like the entire fanbase converges on the city.”

IMG_8709
Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium

And he really wasn’t joking, as the tailgating scene surrounding the stadium was littered with people of all ages donning ‘Green and Gold’.

“Oh, it was only a 14 hour drive down,” said one Wisconsinite in a worn-out Packers jersey, while grilling a bratwurst beside his truck. “We try and do one game a year outside of Green Bay, it’s just really fun to see new places and cheer on the team as a road warrior.”

The pre-game festivities have become an essential part of every NFL gameday now, as everyone meets up and parties in the huge parking lots or bars near the stadium.

Back in Green Bay, Lambeau Field is quite segregated from the rest of Wisconsin and its major cities Madison and Milwaukee. It’s a small town, in the middle of an agrarian part of America; so gameday is a day which eight times a year, brings everyone together in celebration of the smallest market in the league.

Tailgating in the middle of a city is so different. Charlotte is very much cosmopolitan, and densely populated, so the areas where fans party are tightly packed and spread out. It didn’t detract from the experience though, as per usual, I was constantly offered all manner of food and drinks when walking around, between the various set ups soaking it all in.

“Has the game started yet?” one fan asked me. “No,” I replied. “There’s still an hour until kick-off.”

“Brilliant,” he said. “More time for beer!”

Warm welcomes

The atmosphere in the stadium was also a friendly one. Whether it’s just a ‘Southern Hospitality’ thing or not, it was really encouraging to see both Panther and Packer fans alike cheering, chatting and sharing the game experience together.

There’s no segregation in America, which to a UK fan may seem very alien, but out in the US it’s normal. I didn’t have to be quiet when the Packers scored – partly because there were so many of our fans, and partly because Panthers fans were very accommodating.

“American sport sets itself apart from other countries when it comes to fan culture”

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever shouted louder during a game, despite being surrounded by fans wearing black and blue jerseys. The Packers started strong, but played awfully after leading at the end of the first Quarter. Until the final 15 minutes of regulation, Carolina were firmly in control, leading by three scores, but the Packers battled back and made for one of the more exciting finishes to a football game I’d ever seen.

Down just one score with two minutes to go, Green Bay’s Demerious Randall intercepted Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton to give the Packers extremely favourable field position for one last shot at victory.

The section I was in erupted, with a unique mixture of groans and jubilation. I’ll never forget jumping up and down, screaming and high fiving all the fellow fans around me. What seemed like a foregone conclusion at halftime was suddenly turned on its head; I guess that’s the sort of drama which gets so many people make the trips to opposing teams’ stadiums.

Incredible experience

In the end it wasn’t meant to be though, as the Packers turned the ball over just a few yards from the score. My team, our team, Wisconsin’s team, had lost; and it was somehow gut-wrenching, despite all of us having accepted defeat seemingly hours before the game’s conclusion.

Those of us wearing green were left with long journeys home ahead of us, including an eight-hour flight back to London for me.

But it was worth it. Seeing the NFL for what it really is behind the TV screen, and in its native country is always an incredible experience.

American sport sets itself apart from other countries when it comes to fan culture, because it’s always such a great experience for families, as much as die-hard fans; it’s closer to Bundesliga, than it is Premier League.

“Better luck next time,” one of the Panther fans said on the way out of the stadium. “You guys are good, and we’re just riding high. See you in the playoffs hopefully? It’ll be a great game!

“Oh, and thanks for making the trip,” he added just before turning an opposite way to us onto the street outside the gates. “You guys made the atmosphere special today.”