Tag Archives: NFL

Why there is still a future in New England for Tom Brady

Fans at Gillette Stadium held their collective breath. Tom Brady had the ball with 15 seconds remaining, in his own end zone, the Patriots trailing by a point. We’d been here before. New England would find a way out of it, right?

Wrong. Brady’s pass went straight into the hands of former team-mate Logan Ryan, and the Tennessee Titans secured the upset. This time there was to be no miracle, no ridiculous pass down field, no trick play. The Patriots’ post-season ended with a whimper.

If that is to be the last we will ever see of Brady on a football field, it will be a travesty. Not all great careers have fairy tale endings, but one as good as his at least deserves better than that.

Struggles

On the face of it, it seems crazy that his future is even in doubt. Less than a year ago he was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy aloft, following victory over the much-favoured LA Rams. He has featured in the last three Super Bowls, winning two of them. It seems age really is just a number when it comes to the iconic quarterback.

However, the age factor is not something which can be ignored. At 42, he is unable to do what he once could. Much of his talent remains, but it became increasingly evident towards the end of the season that he is being overtaken by the younger generation.

Brady has previously stated on numerous occasions that he wants to play until he’s 45. Whether his body will let him do that is a question we cannot answer yet, but it would seem unlikely.

‘It would certainly not be fair to place the blame for this entirely on Brady. While he may have had one of his worst seasons by his own high standards, the Patriots offence in general was short on talent’

This season, the Patriots became extremely reliant on their defence. They conceded a mere 195 points in their 16 regular season games, considerably less than Buffalo, who conceded 237, and a huge gap to the third best defence, Baltimore with 270.

On offence, however, they struggled considerably. Six teams outscored them, with the Patriots managing just 420 pre-playoff points. In terms of total yardage gained, they ranked 15th.

Their early season form masked their flaws, with the team winning their first eight games against relatively weak opponents, before falling from 10-1 to 12-4, missing out on a first-round bye before crashing out in the wildcard round.

It would certainly not be fair to place the blame for this entirely on Brady. While he may have had one of his worst seasons by his own high standards, the Patriots offence in general was short on talent.

Tight-end Rob Gronkowski, one of Brady’s most reliable teammates who was with him for three of his Super Bowl wins, retired following their last title. Wide-receiver Chris Hogan, who was part of the Patriots team for their last two championship victories, departed to join Carolina in the off-season.

Other than Julian Edelman, the MVP of Super Bowl LIII, Brady had few dependable targets. Bill Belichick’s men did attempt to fix this with the signing of Antonio Brown, but that always felt like a move destined to fail, with the controversial wide-receiver lasting just one game before being cut amidst various misconduct allegations away from the field.

In many ways, it feels as if Brady was somewhat hung out to dry by owner Robert Kraft. At his age, talent alone was not going to be able to deliver another championship. Last year he was provided with the tools he needed to win, but this year too much offensive talent was not adequately replaced.

Future

So, what of the future? Can Tom Brady still win football games? Of course he can. It is the question of whether he is still capable of winning Super Bowls which both he and the Patriots must answer.

Brady will be a free agent come March 18th if he has not agreed a new deal to stay in Foxborough.

He will have no shortage of options should Kraft and the Patriots decide to move on, with several teams, most notably Miami, Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and the LA Chargers all actively searching for their next quarterback. Even with several talented options available in the draft, the prospect of adding a six-time Super Bowl winner to your team could be too good to turn down.

‘It would appear mutually beneficial for the Patriots to keep him. It would give them time to search for his successor, whilst giving him a chance to avenge this season’s disappointments’

But Brady’s heart belongs in Boston. It would seem wrong to see him pull on another team’s jersey. Never playing again would be a better ending than seeing him struggling with a rebuilding team with little to no chance of getting near a title game.

New England’s options at quarterback are limited. They don’t have a young superstar waiting in the wings to take over. Jarrett Stidham is their current back-up and not considered by anybody as QB1 material.

Had Jimmy Garoppolo not been traded to San Francisco in 2017, he would’ve been a natural replacement. But he’s long gone and unless they are planning something drastic, such as a costly trade-up for a high draft pick, it’s hard to work out what their next move would be were they to cut ties with Tom.

Keeping Brady would not be a costly exercise, as he would likely agree to a short-term deal worth considerably less than his last contract. Retaining him, for one more year at least, would seem the obvious thing to do.

In the end it depends as much on what the man himself wants as it does his team. Would he really be willing to play elsewhere? Moving his family across the country, for one last contract on a team most likely not ready to win, is something it would be hard to see him doing.

Following that loss to the Titans – who have also since dumped No.1 seed Baltimore out of the playoffs – he reiterated his desire to continue playing and all but ruled out retirement. Whether he would feel the same if an offer to stay with the Pats was not on the table remains to be seen.

It would appear mutually beneficial for the Patriots to keep him. It would give them time to search for his successor, whilst giving him a chance to avenge this season’s disappointments.

If Brady bows out, he will do so as the greatest ever to throw the ball. But don’t bet against him walking out at Gillette Stadium again next autumn.

Photo via Flickr by Keith Allison at https://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/3866185527

Viva Las Vegas: The future home of US sport

“It’s hard to imagine a bigger desert oasis than Las Vegas,” according to author Cinnamon Stomberger.

For the best part of a century, the neon-lit Nevada watering hole has drawn gamblers and pleasure-seekers in their millions.

On my flight to San Francisco late last year, Canadian tourist Jenny told me visits Vegas at least three times a year and has done for the past decade. She said there is nowhere else like it in the world and that it has everything that she could ever want from a city break.

But while boxing and, more recently, the UFC have thrived on ‘The Strip’, the one thing Vegas has never had historically is franchises from the big four US sports – the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

For many years, its ‘gambling capital of the world’ identity – with its shadowy connotations and clear links to organised crime – served to deter the major leagues.

But Las Vegas is now the 28th largest city in the US, with a population of well over 600,00 (and still rising fast), with that number swelled year-round by hordes of visitors from around the globe.

The saying ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ now seems to (mostly) belong to its sleazy past – its future is a lot shinier and corporate, making it prime territory for the big four sports.

Fight night

But those big fight nights are still a major part of the sports scene in ‘America’s Playground’, and being there in early October for the UFC 229 clash between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

Legions of Irish and Russian fans filled Vegas, having spent small fortunes on tickets, hotels and airfares to see their respective idols fight at The T-Mobile Arena.

The bad blood and feuding in the build-up to their bout almost inevitably led to ugly scenes in the aftermath of Nurmagomedov’s victory, with the Russian brawling outside the octagon with McGregor’s team, and the Irishman fighting inside it with his opponent’s entourage.

Both men received bans and fines, having sullied the UFC’s reputation – and by extension that of Vegas as a newly emergent location for respectable sports.

Afterward, the T-Mobile Arena went back to its regular role of hosting home games for the city’s first major league franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

The Knights made their NHL debut in late 2017 amid the backdrop of one of the most horrific massacres in American history, which occurred when a gunman opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Hotel on music fans attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 people and leaving 851 injured.

‘Vegas Strong’

Perhaps inspired by their mission to represent the city in the wake of this atrocity, the Knights went on to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

Becoming the first expansion team for half a century to reach the NHL showpiece, they lost the series 4-1 to the Washington Capitals.

The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas

But as head coach Gerard Gallant, reflecting on that first season, said: “It wasn’t about our team winning, it was about the first responders and the tragedy that happened the week before [the Knights inaugural home game].”

Knights forward James Neal said: “You’re suddenly playing for a lot more than yourself and the team. It goes further, it means more.”

The slogan ‘Vegas Strong’ became part of the city’s mantra and hangs on a flag as you enter the arrivals gate at the Macarran Airport. It’s on every other car’s bumper and has even become a popular choice of design in local tattoo parlours.

Driving around The Strip with ‘Native Las Vegan’ Brian Wall, it became clear just how important the Knights had become to life in Vegas.

“Growing up here, you would occasionally visit The Strip perhaps for a special occasion like a birthday. But now all that’s changed because of the hockey; every week you have 20,000 people coming out to support their team.

“Almost everyone in Las Vegas is originally from somewhere else, and we all bring our sports loyalties – Cubs, Cowboys, Lakers – with us. It’s great now with the Golden Knights to actually have a team that feels like it belongs to all of us.”

Raiders arriving

We drove past where the Route 91 Harvest Festival had been held; it was really just a massive parking lot. The thing that struck me was the distance that the attacker had been able to fire on it from was at least 400 yards. He fired more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition before killing himself.

The new stadium for the Raiders takes shape in Vegas

His murderous deeds could have destroyed the optimistic feel that permeates Vegas but failed to do so. Certainly, its sporting future continues to look bright.

Just 10 minutes drive down The Strip from the Mandalay Bay Hotel is the construction site for one of the most expensive stadium ventures ever undertaken.

In early 2017, the NFL’s Oakland Raiders announced that they would move to Las Vegas, building a stadium that will cost more than $2bn.

The move has met with some criticism, especially from the West Coast fans. However, NFL followers in Nevada and Utah are ecstatic about the changing sports landscape in Vegas.

The cost of the Raiders’ new home, due to open for the 2020 season, will eclipse that of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons, which ran to around $1.6bn.

It will have a capacity of up to 72,000 and plug yet more visitors into the massive range of surrounding hotels and attractions in the Vegas area.

More to come?

The arrival of the Raiders may not be the end of expansion by the major leagues into Sin City.

In the summer of 2018, rumours began to circulate that an NBA team could relocate to the Mojave Desert.

I was assured by Brian Wall that these rumours have been swirling around for some time but have only grown stronger with the success of the Knights and the incoming Raiders.

‘It’s clear there’s a love for the unique culture on offer in Las Vegas, perhaps the last city where the American Dream still feels real’

Adding substance to them is the fact that the MGM Group has a lot of partnerships in the NBA along with massive investments in Vegas.

The new Las Vegas Stadium (awaiting sponsorship naming rights) could also be home to an MLS team in the near future. In Atlanta, the Falcons share their stadium with Atlanta United FC.

With the MLS and NFL seasons running at different times in the year, it isn’t a stretch to see a ‘soccer’ team move or be founded in Vegas.

Whatever happens in the future, Las Vegas will surely stay good on its promise to never do anything in a half-hearted manner.

Sport has been a healer for this desert oasis; it has united a city probably for the first time in its history after something that could have torn it apart.

Speaking to visitors and locals alike, it’s clear there’s a love for the unique culture on offer in Las Vegas, perhaps the last city where the American Dream still feels real.

It is also very obvious that it is a united city pulling forward towards a bright and dazzling future.

Hunter S. Thompson, the author of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas, said that “A little bit of this town goes a very long way.” This statement is probably truer now than it ever has been.

Is it all over for Eric Reid?

Former San Francisco 49ers star Eric Reid claims his political stance cost him his place on the team after he joined Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality on minorities in America.

Both players have not had a club since the ‘take a knee’ protests. Many believe that the NFL has blacklisted them for their stance, while others claim it’s for footballing reasons.

At the age of 30, Kaepernick should really be in his prime as a quarterback, while strong safety Reid is younger at 26 and should not be short of lucrative offers.

Both have better stats than majority of the players getting signed by clubs in NFL in their positions.

So the logical assumption has to be that those clubs do not want the extra baggage that comes with two high-profile athlete activists.

Kaepernick has also not helped himself by filing a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming it is indeed blacklisting him. Whether you think this is brave or foolish, can you really seek to sue your employers but still expect to be employed by them?

So Kaepernick remains sidelined since the end of 2016, with the prospects of a return to the field receding.

Reid is similarly a free agent, and has indicated that he is reconciled with the possibility of replicating his former team-mate’s fate.

In December 2017, he said: “I would say I understand that’s a possibility, and I’m completely fine with it. The things that I’ve done, I stand by, and I’ve done that for my own personal beliefs. Like I said, I’m fine with whatever outcome happens because of that.”

‘Owners are the problem’

Picked in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Reid had enjoyed a successful career up until now.

In his rookie season, he was selected for the Pro Bowl exhibition game, and went on to establish himself as an integral part of the 49ers defence.

At the end of last season, San Francisco head coach, Kyle Shanahan said Reid had been “playing his best football”, and yet today he remains unsigned.

Even if one take on Kaepernick’s situation is that he’s older and ready for retirement (although the best QBs often play on into their late thirties), why is Reid being tarred with the same brush uif it isn’t politically related?

Reid is under the impression that it’s not staff on the playing side of things that are the problem, but teams owners instead.

In a tweet on March 15th, he said: ” “The notion that I can be a great signing for your team for cheap, not because of my skill set but because I’ve protested systematic oppression, is ludicrous. If you think is, then your mind-set is part of the problem too.”,

He went on add that “[General managers] aren’t the hold-up… it’s ownership. People who know football know who can play. People who know me, know my character.”

Some in the sports world have come to accept that Kaepernick is still a free agent because he isn’t top quality anymore, not because of his political protests.

But no-one is buying that line with Reid – a player who has been described as a “free safety, box safety, matchup safety, slot corner and linebacker. He’s a hitter who can also cover, both man and zone. He’s shown instinctive playmaking prowess. In no sane world is Eric Reid a back-up.”

So is an NFL team going to find enough courage to sign him up for 2018-19? Or are they really going to let one of the most talented players remain on the back burner?

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.

Philadephia's Nick Foles
Philadephia’s Nick Foles

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.

Unpredictable

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.

The feared combo of Brady and Belichick

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.

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NFL mid-season review

It’s a short regular season in the National Football League, and we’re already halfway through the 16-game schedule.

So it’s time to take stock of who’s hot, who’s not, who’s surprising or disappointing – and who might make it all the way to Super Bowl LII on February 4th in Minneapolis.

Best bet for MVP – Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles)

Let’s take you back to April 28th, 2016. For most of you, it was most likely to be just another uneventful Thursday, but for Philadelphia Eagles fans, it was the day they found their franchise quarterback.

 

As the draft approached, two young QBs were vying for the honour of being named the number one overall pick. Jared Goff of the University of California and Carson Wentz of North Dakota.

Luckily for Philly fans, the Los Angeles Rams selected the former, which meant Wentz was heading east to Pennsylvania.

In his rookie year, the North Carolina-born quarterback showed a huge amount of promise with very few offensive weapons at his disposal.

Wentz led his side to a 3-0 start, which included a hugely impressive week three win against Pittsburgh.

Results took a turn for the worse as Doug Pederson’s side slipped to a 7-9 record, but Wentz certainly showed why Eagles fans had reasons to be optimistic.

In the 2017 off-season, free agency allowed the Eagles to add the weapons Wentz had been craving.

LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery all joined the roster to ‘beef up’ their offence.

Wentz has responded in magnificent fashion by throwing a leasgue-high 23 touchdown passes, with a passer rating of 104.1.

The former number 2 pick has led his side to a 8-1 record – the best in the NFL – which puts them top of the NFC East, arguably the most competitive division in football.

The play-offs loom and, with quarterbacks’ careers often defined by post-season results, Wentz, 24, will have have a chance to begin cementing his legacy very early on.

Notable mentions: Jared Goff (LA Rams), Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots)

Outstanding Rookie – Kareem Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs)

Kareem Hunt had one of the most memorable NFL debuts in recent memory.

He fumbled his first career carry (against the defending Super Bowl champions, the NewEngland Patriots) before going on to break the record for most yards from scrimmage by an NFL debutant (246) – quite a way to introduce yourself.

Despite being the sixth running back taken in the 2017 draft, Hunt has shone with his electric speed and exceptional hands in the back field –  illustrated by his 800 total yards, the most by a rookie running back this season.

The former Toledo star has four touchdowns, which is the second most by a rookie and tied with the likes of NFL legend Marshawn Lynch.

Under the stewardship of Andy Reid at the Chiefs, Hunt is in the perfect place to learn, improve and ultimately, become a star (if he’s not one already).

Surprise package – LA Rams

Let’s not beat around the bush, the LA Rams were terrible last season and if we’re honest, they were always going to be with Case Keenum at quarterback.

 

Therefore it came as little surprise when midway through last season, Keenum was dumped for the number one overall pick, Jared Goff.

Initially, Goff struggled to come to terms with the professional ranks. He threw interception after interception in loss after loss which ultimately left question marks over his selection over Wentz.

However, the Rams were always going to give their number 16 time to develop given what they had invested in him and that faith is now starting to pay off.

The California born quarterback has transformed himself from a rabbit in the headlights into a calm, quick-thinking MVP candidate.

So, what’s made the change?

For me, it’s not what it’s who and that who is newly appointed head coach, Sean McVay.

The former Washington offensive coordinator has transformed a turgid, one dimensional team into statistically the best offensive unit in the NFL. His ability to get the most out of Goff and third-year running back, Todd Gurley has been a huge reason for this.

Gurley, the former Georgia university running back, has seven touchdowns so far, which is one more than he had after the entire 2016 season. His ability to occupy defenders has given huge amounts of space for the likes of Cooper Kupp, Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin to exploit.

The LA Rams really do have a well balanced offensive unit.

But what’s a great offence without a solid defence?

Led by Aaron Donald, this Rams defense is relentless at getting after the quarterback.

They stand sixth on the list of sacks but where they can improve is in the run defense. Far too many times have opposition backs been able to get into the secondary and keep the chains moving.

If they can improve that aspect then who knows, we could well be looking at Super Bowl contenders!

Underachievers: New York Giants

Warning! Look away now Giants fans…

If at the start of the season someone would have said the Giants would be 1-7, nobody would have believed them.

So how can a side that reached the play-offs last year now be talked about in the same breath as the Cleveland Browns?

The fact that Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen share the workload at running back contributes but the overriding factor is their quarterback.

I’m sorry, Eli Manning fans, but your man is past his sell-by-date. Yes, his offensive line isn’t great, but with weapons like Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepherd and Brandon Marshall at his disposal, he should be doing better.

To give some perspective, the Giants offence currently ranks 23rd and 27th in passing and rushing respectively – thats on Manning and the running backs.

Let’s take some of the heat away from Manning now as we ponder just why their defence has gone from the number one ranked last year, to the 26th ranked this year.

 

Has fatigue set in? Has all that time on the field because the offence cannot string consecutive first downs together finally taking it’s toll?

Or is it simply good players under achieving? Who knows, but what we do know is that head coach Ben McAdoo is on borrowed time.

The temperature in the Giants hot-seat is rising, and it will be surprising if he makes it until the end of the season.

Now, here’s where the fun begins. Lets dish out some mid-season awards…

Catch of the Season – Cole Beasley for the Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants

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Best Play – Kansas City/Tyreek Hill v Dallas Cowboys

I feel like we could have a whole section of awards dedicated to Tyreek Hill, given his special ability to make jaw dropping plays. This amazing team effort finished off by the speedster makes it to the top of the pile for best plays. Check it out…

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Memorable Trick Play – Seattle Seahawks v New York Giants

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Fail of the Year – Tyreek Hill v Denver Broncos

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Most Impressive Announcer – Tony Romo @ CBS

Tony Romo’s career as an NFL quarterback may be over (for the time being) but his life as an announcer is just getting started. Romo has breathed fresh life into CBS with his amazing knowledge of the game and unique ability to call out plays prior to the snap of the ball.

If you haven’t seen the video of him doing so, here it is…

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And finally…

Superbowl LII prediction: Eagles v Chiefs

The old adage, defence wins championships may have been applicable before, but not many defences can stop these two sides.

The Cheifs may be in the middle of a slight wobble, but under the guidance of Andy Reid, I believe they will be resurgent in the second half of the season.

Their main rivals in the AFC are the New England Patriots, who have struggled to replicate the form of last season, and I believe the Chiefs will pip them to the conference title.

Over in the NFC, it’s wide open.

The Eagles and Rams currently stand out to me but don’t discount Dallas, Seattle, New Orleans, Minnesota or Carolina of making a play off charge.

However, the Eagles are the best team in the NFL right now, regardless of records and stats. Carson Wentz is a superstar and I feel he will be the difference when games get tight.

Prediction: Carson Wentz and the Eagles to be wearing Super Bowl rings in February.

Feature image of NFL logo photo by Jonathan Moreau via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Five successful sporting switches

We all have an occasional urge to do something new to freshen up our lives, and trying out a new sport is one way of doing it.

But imagine if that urge could lead to a potentially lucrative and dazzling new career when you’re already made a name for yourself as a sportsman.

The most recent star to switch from one sport to another is former Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who made a successful WWE pro-wrestling debut in Munich.

We look at five other moves that paid off.

5. Andrew Flintoff – from cricket to boxing to cricket

Flintoff strikes a pose. Pic by Adam Cool© , flickr creative commons

Many cricketers have shown their talents for other sports. Dennis Compton, for example, played 78 Tests for England but also had a successful career as a footballer with Arsenal.

England legend Sir Ian Botham also played football whilst playing Test cricket, while South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes played hockey and was actually selected to represent his country at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A more recent familiar example is Andrew Flintoff’s decision to try professional boxing after retiring from cricket. The former England all-rounder made his pro debut in Manchester 2012 against Richard Dawson from the US.

It ended successfully for Flintoff as he won the fight, which was filmed as part of a TV documentary about his switch from the pitch to the ring.

However, ‘Freddie’ decided to quit while and he was ahead opted instead to make a cricketing comeback.

He came out of retirement to compete for Lancashire in the 2014 Natwest T20 Blast, and also went to Australia later that year to play in the Big Bash for the Brisbane Heat, before finally calling it a day.

4. Adam Gemili – football to athletics

Team GB sprint star Adam Gemili’s footballing career started at Chelsea as a youth player since at the age of eight, and he went on to ply as a defender for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC.

Maybe he suspected deep down that soccer stardom was out of his reach, so he opted to develop his other talent – for running fast – instead and left football behind in favour of athletics in 2012.

His most successful achievement on the track to date came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he finished second in the men’s 100m final.

Still only 23 years of age, he’s surely on course to add to his medals tally on the international stage in the next few years.

3. Fabien Barthez – from football to motorsport

MOTORSPORT - GT TOUR 2012 - PAUL RICARD - LE CASTELLET (FRA) - 26 TO 28/10/2012 - PHOTO : FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI - BARTHEZ FABIEN - TEAM SOFREV ASP FERRARI 458 ITALIA - AMBIANCE PORTRAITFormer Manchester United star Fabien Barthez was known as a fabulous shot stopper, and was named ‘keeper of the tournament as France won the 1998 World Cup.

He also helped his country to win Euro 2000, and won plenty of league titles and cups at club level for the likes of United, Marseille and Monaco.

After retiring in 2007, he swapped football strips for racing suits as he developed a successful career in motorsport.

He has competed in competitions including the Porsche Carrera Cup France, the FIA GT Series and Caterham Sigma Cup France.

In 2013 he was crowned French GT champion, and in 2014 took part in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari 458, he and his co-drivers finished 29th overall and ninth in their class.

2. Sonny Bill Williams – from rugby league to boxing to rugby union

Sonny Bill Williams has had an extraordinary career. An true icon to many, the New Zealander has achieved a ton of success in his time.

From winning two Rugby World Cups and several honours in rugby league, to remaining unbeaten in his boxing career, Williams is surely on of the greatest athletes in the world.

He started out in rugby league, playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters as well as for New Zealand.

He then decided to make a switch to boxing and was unbeaten in seven fights, winning them all, including three by knockout, and claiming the New Zealand heavyweight crown and WBA international belt along the way.

However, rugby union came calling again and he returned to the 15-man code in time to become part of the All Blacks squad which won the 2011 World Cup, helping them to retain it in 2015.

1. Brock Lesnar – multi-sport athlete

Not only he can fight, he can play American football too. Brock Lesnar has success written all over him.

Winning multiple championships in the WWE and New Japan pro-wrestling – as well as dominating the MMA/UFC scene – he also had a brief spell at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Lesnar signed with WWE in 2000, making his main roster debut in 2002. He went on to become the youngest undisputed WWE champion at the age of 25, a King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner as well as ending Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014.

Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Lesnar put his WWE career on hold in 2004 in order to pursue a career in American football as a defensive tackle. He was recruited by the Minnesota Vikings for the 2004-05 campaign and played several pre-season games but was then cut from their roster.

UFC came calling, and it was a fresh challenge for Lesnar. He had nine fights, winning six of them, but has now returned to the WWE and has a bout against Goldberg in the Survivor Series on November 20th.

How do you get your football fix?

With Sky’s live football audience figures down by a reported 19% so far this season, it seems our viewing habits may be undergoing a radical transformation.

Are we swapping watching whole matches – with all the over-hyped build-up, endless punditry and overdone post-mortems – for highlight shows, video clips on YouTube on other platforms, following the sport on social media or finding free (and illegal) streams to get our fix of the beautiful game?

According to some of the football fans, who spoke to Elephant Sport on the subject, the grip of ‘appointment to view’ must-see match coverage is being loosened as technology converges and we get our football ‘on the go’.

Joseph Mensah, 21, say if football is live on TV he will watch it, but adds that he will never go out of his way to view a match because there is always a highlights show on later.

“At home, I have Virgin TV which gives me both Sky Sports and BT Sports, which are the main broadcasters of Premier League football in the UK, so whenever football is on TV I will always watch it.

“I never bother streaming it from illegal websites because the quality is poor or the commentary will be in another language, so I would rather wait and watch the highlights where I can watch all of the weekend’s games at one time.”

Illegal streaming

Finding an overseas stream to view the action is becoming more widespread, despite Sky and BT’s best efforts to stamp out this illegal practice.

With the ban on televising 3pm Saturday kick-offs in the UK still in place to protect attendances at games across the country, the temptation to find a way of catching those matches as they are screened abroad is too tempting for some.

“In the past decade, the use of social media platforms and a growing number of apps to follow football has gone through the roof”

One viewer, who wished to remain anonymous, said  he has been using overseas streams to watch football for around eight years.

“Why would I pay for subscription TV when streaming is so easy? I don’t mind the lower quality on the screen because it’s free.

“Also with streaming, it allows me to pick and choose which games I watch, I don’t have to rely on the company’s TV schedule, which means 3pm on Saturday afternoons I’m watching the match for free, instead of paying to watch live commentary in a TV studio.”

Another factor in the rise in online streaming is the price of the sports packages on subscription TV.

The cheapest option on Sky is £42 a month, which is just over £500 a year. To add BT Sport to you Sky Package it’s an extra £21.99, so for both Sky and BT Sport it’s a £63.99 a month.

And don’t forget to add the cost of your annual TV licence (£145.50) to the total…

Social media

In the past decade, the use of social media platforms and a growing number of apps to follow football has gone through the roof.

Twitter alone has with 313 million active users (as of June 2016), and there is a community of football clubs accounts, news outlets and broadcasting companies that provide users with a live feed of matches.

Younger audiences are glued to their phones and social media accounts so live commentary of football matches on Twitter are quick and easy wBT Sport Twitter screenshotays to follow games. Twitter also allows users to have their say so people are able to reply and retweet.

Organisations such as BT Sport release clips of key moments such as goals, missed chances and sending offs in as little as two minutes after it was broadcast on live subscription TV (right).

Student Randy Adu, only consumes football through live Twitter feeds and highlight clips on Twitter accounts.

“I think Twitter is the best way to follow football, you can choose what games to follow. I also like that I can find clips of the key moments, which means I can skip all the boring bits.”

News outlets have also taken to social media to encourage fans to follow football using their “on the go” services.

The Times have put together packs which include different ways to view exclusive, video highlights, live feeds and expert analysis with chief football Writer Henry Winter as the poster boy of the campaign.

The ‘Classic Pack’ offers in print, on your smartphone and online 24/7 access to the latest news, with a complimentary Nespresso machine and many more offers available through Times + for only £7 a week.

Stats and timelines

Accounts such as Opta and Squawka always provide interesting match stats during and after games, and many people follow them to find out exactly what happened in the game rather than watching it.

Opta Joe Twitter FeedRandy added: “Opta Joe is fantastic. After reading their timeline post-match you feel like you’ve watched the actual game.

“You can also tweet them directly asking for specific stats and if you are lucky they get back to you with an answer.”

The way we consume football is undoubtedly changing, and there are many factors involved in this.

However, one thing that has not changed is the love for the game and that is emphasised by the lengths that people go to follow the latest action.

The NFL now gives access to live game coverage through Twitter – how long will it be before football supplies a similar service to its fans?

Concussion clouds gather over football

The C word has been growing in significance in sport for a few years now.

It’s always had traction in boxing, which is largely about blows to the head, but it’s now a major issue for the NFL and rugby union. Should football be taking it more seriously too, or is it a panic about nothing?

The first thing to understand is that it is repeated sub-concussive head impacts that can change the structure of the brain slowly over time and lead to problems in later life, as well as increasing the risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

A study by the American Public Service Broadcasting programme Frontline found that of 91 ex-NFL players surveyed, 87 showed signs of CTE, prompting more players to  challenging the NFL over its handling of the issue.

The worrying aspect surrounding this issue is that CTE can only really be confirmed in a deceased person. It does pose the question, as players get physically stronger and faster, what the situation would be like in 20 years?

Collisions

Extensive media coverage of the issue has helped forced the NFL to wake up and offer help and compensation to former players, but is concussion also an issue for football?

When we think of the beautiful game, we’re more worried about other injuries people get. Hamstrings, groin tears, sprained ligaments, etc, but there’s a legitimate reason to take more interest in the effects of sub-concussive blows.

With the pace at which the elite game is played of football speeding up as footballers get fitter and stronger, the potential for collisions is growing.

One way the modern development of football can lead to more is the idea of a ‘sweeper keeper’.

Up to the mid-2000s, goalkeepers seldom strayed beyond their six-yard box. These days, more keepers patrol their entire area, play passes out to team-mates and rush to make last-ditch tackles when their defence is exposed.

Furthermore, the concept of appearing macho or hard on the pitch is another parallel to the American game where fans and players alike treat some nasty-looking injuries as if they were minor. Newcastle’s tough-tackling midfielder Chiek Tiote suffering a head injury recently but describing it as scratch and was in the team for their next game.

Bad advice

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, millions of viewers around the world say Uruguay left-back Alvaro Pereira knocked unconscious and lie on the floor not moving.

When he came to, he was allowed to complete the game, and when it was over there was little or no mention of the incident or the fact that a player knocked out for five minutes had been allowed to return to the pitch?

“Football could learn a lot from how other sports have changed their protocols to better look after their players”
– consultant neuropathologist
Dr Willie Stewart

This is a product of poor advice, a lack of firm protocols, and lack of knowledge by fans, the media and players on the subject of injuries. It has gotten to the stage where people are criticising players, such as Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge for NOT playing through the pain.

West Brom goal-scoring legend Jeff Astle died aged 59 of a degenerative brain disease caused, said the coroner in 2002, by repeated minor traumas associated with heading old-fashioned football. His family have long campaigned for more research on the issue, an opinion shared by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart.

He stated that he was “depressed, disappointed and dismayed” by the incidents surrounding footballers and head injuries and also was critical of football’s approach compared to other sports.

“I don’t see much progress happening in football. It could learn a lot from how other sports have changed their protocols to better look after their players.”

My fear is how football seems to be following the same fate as the NFL. Public interest to resolve the issue still isn’t there, and we seem to be in a denial stage where we refuse to believe football is dangerous in this way.

The astronomical sums of money at stake mean governing bodies and corporations will of course will look to serve their interests. For the game’s sake, and the sake of those who play it, I hope every aspect of player safety is explored with the utmost care.

Baseball on the radio – an American love affair

Colleen Brenton’s road to working as a reporter on the Green Bay Packers for Wisconsin radio station WTMJ is a fascinating one.

As she told Elephant Sport, it was listening to the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team on the radio as a kid that changed her career path and life.

The baseball regular season is 162 games long, a baseball game lasts about three and a half hours, so keeping up with a team is difficult for most avid fans. If you’re a fanatic of Major League Baseball, you’ll spend a considerable amount of hours watching baseball each year.

“Bob Uecker changed my life, really”

To put that into perspective, if you watched every game of your team in full during a season, you’d be sitting down to watch for 567 hours, or 23 and a half days.

The very essence of the baseball’s lengthy format therefore leads fans to explore all the different methods of following games, whether it be partial season tickets, short highlights, condensed game highlights, or even just reading boxscores in newspapers.

But for Colleen Brenton, growing up over a thousand miles from her nearest team, she only had one choice when she was growing up in the 80s: radio.

An essential medium

Scully_GM
Dodgers commentary legend Vin Scully

Baseball is a very conversational sport. With notable gaps between innings and pitches, it gives commentators a chance to breathe, and share personal anecdotes. The best commentators often make the game seem like it’s being played around their spoken cues, and engage their listeners in their musings from their lives in the sport.

The continuing importance of radio coverage of baseball, has made many broadcasters famous down the years.

During the summertime, they’re heard in millions of American homes, in cars and while out and about over portable devices. Most people are too busy to invest multiple hours five days a week to watching the sport.

The best commentators – like Vin Scully, who has been calling Los Angeles Dodgers games for 66 years – feel like family to the fanbases they talk to, and employ a masterful sense of timing and pace.

“I swear,” exclaimed Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd last September on his radio show The Herd. “It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable. All his stories end perfectly with a catch.

“He’ll tell a nine minute-long story and then say: ‘and man landed on the moon… Oh, this ball looks like it’s headed to the moon, and it’s gone! 3-2 Dodgers, home run!’ That’s the power of his announcing.”

For Colleen Brenton, who grew up in Idaho, it wasn’t Scully who provided her window into the baseball but another US baseball broadcasting legend: Bob Uecker of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The first pitch

“Bob Uecker changed my life, really,” Brenton told Elephant Sport. “My parents were never interested in sports when I was growing up, so I pretty much had to fend for myself.

“The Boise State Broncos – who play college football to a decent standard – are the only relevant sports team in the whole state, so finding a team to follow was hard because there wasn’t a local pro team for me to latch onto. I had to look outside my state. That’s when I found the Brewers.”

“It’s like Dodgers players wait for Vin Scully to finish telling stories before hitting balls or throwing pitches sometimes, it’s unbelievable”

Milwaukee just happened to be the closest team to Brenton, as well as the smallest market in the Major Leagues. It suited her to be supporting ‘small town’ team after living in a state which is ranked 39th out of 50 in terms of population.

“They’re the underdogs. They don’t have the money to compete with the big teams, or the location. But that’s what makes the fanbase what it is, and it’s special,” she continued.

Heated rivalry

During mid 1960s, Milwaukee had it’s first taste of Major League Baseball, when the ‘Braves’ played at County Stadium. Financial issues forced the team to switch to Seattle as the ‘Pilots’ but they lasted just a single season before going bankrupt again and moving back to Wisconsin, becoming the Brewers.

That season away from the Mid-West came as a wake up call for much of the fanbase, who have remained some of the most loyal fans in the sport since.

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“I remember what happened, I was tuning the dial on the radio – I was 14-years-old and it cut to a Brewers-Cardinals game. Now the Brewers rivalry with the Cards is pretty heated, and it hooked me immediately.

“I’d never seen a baseball game before, I knew nothing about the team, or the sport but the enthusiasm of Uecker was infectious. I continued listening for the rest of the season and beyond.

“I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers”

“I find that baseball in many ways is better on the radio than it is on TV and even live because of the way colour commentators describe the game. I found that as I grew up Uecker was always there for me, almost every day, during the summer, through thick and thin, he was on the radio in my room.

“Maybe that’s because how I grew up following it? Back then it wasn’t even on TV in Idaho outside of the World Series.

“I then became desperate to see the game properly, after just hearing it for so long, so when I learnt to drive at 16 I drove to all the way to Milwaukee to see the team for the first time.”

Road trip

Going to your first baseball game live is a real milestone for many Americans, and it was no different for Brenton, when she saw the Brewers at County Stadium playing the Chicago Cubs for the first time.

“After falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream”

“Can you imagine being a fan of a team for years, and never seeing them with your eyes? I went to see the Brewers without having ever seen anything other than pictures of them in papers. I had only ever seen the World Series on TV.

“I remember Greg Counsel hitting a home run to give the Brewers the lead, jumping up and down and screaming in the aisles.

“When I left County Stadium, I had seen baseball – and sport – in a different light. It was that day that I decided it was such a big part of my life, that not only did I want to work in the sport, writing about it, but move to Wisconsin to be closer to it.

“And in 2012, after falling in love with the Green Bay Packers as well, I moved across the country to fulfil my dream.”

New beginnings

When she arrived in Wisconsin, finding a job covering the Brewers was harder than she thought.

Writing about baseball is by no means an easy job, as so many people want to do it. So instead, she took a different approach, taking an internship at WTMJ – a local radio station – which eventually allowed her to cover the Packers during the season for a full-time wage after years of writing for free.

“It’s my dream job, writing about sports. It’s even more of a dream because I worked so hard to get there. I’d always loved writing as a kid, and I didn’t know back then that writing about sports would be how I’d earn a living. I love it!

“I may not be writing about the Brewers, but it’s because of them that I’m writing about sport. Without Bob Uecker’s radio calls, I doubt I’d be living in Green Bay, Wisconsin right now, writing about American football for a living.

“And I certainly wouldn’t have a Brewers season ticket…”

VR’s future in sports and sports gaming

As we close in on the second quarter of 2016, the tech industry is eagerly anticipating the widespread use of VR (virtual reality) headsets.

With consumers on the cusp of being able to purchase hardware for themselves for video games via the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, just what does this mean for the world of sport and sports gaming?

While gaming has been a pioneer for certain types of peripherals and hardware throughout the years, the industry has rarely stuck with anything outside of the steering wheel and pedals and console controller. Historically speaking, consumers just haven’t bought into most of the bold new hardware to play games with.

There are plenty of recent examples of technology in a similar vain to VR, that arguably, failed to truly revolutionise the way gamers play.

A lasting appeal?

Nintendo back in 2007 tried to create a new way to play with the Wii and its Wii Remote, and Sony shortly followed with its answer – PS Move. But both were unsuccessful in revolutionising the way video games were played, despite being popular upon release.tony_hawk_ride_7

Nintendo sold over 60 million Wiis during its lifetime for instance, but both concepts didn’t evolve past their origin consoles: the Wii and PlayStation 3.

Motion controllers were good for simple games like Sports Champions and Wii Sports, but had limitations when being used for complex titles. Thus, players went back to playing with traditional controllers released with the current generation of consoles. It will give the impression that you’re actually in the game.

Using remote controls via hand motions to play games in the end, didn’t become an industry standard, despite being so popular with casual audiences.

Potential

Tony Hawk Ride’s skateboard also didn’t go anywhere, or sell well. Partly because it was expensive, and undeveloped. Critics across the board slated the game for being ‘unplayable’ at times.

The problem is skateboarding in your living room using a mock-up skateboard with no wheels in hindsight was unlikely to work, but that was clearly not accounted for by the publisher Activision.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that gamers just like using conventional controllers in their hands, they aren’t interested in waving remotes, using skateboards or guns in front of their TV’s.

“VR though could well be an exception to this rule,” Joystiq’s Mike Suszek told Elephant Sport.

So just what is VR aiming to do in gaming? And why does it have the potential to become part of the everyday lives and habits of millions of people across the globe?

Arms race

PlayStation and Oculus have both thrown tens of millions of dollars into developing headsets for consumers to wear, which will provide a sense of immersion never before seen in gaming. It’s an arms race to create the standard for a portion of the tech market which Goldman Sachs claims will be worth $80 billion by 2025.PlayStation VR goes on sale later this year

When wearing headsets, the user’s head movements will control the field of vision in the respective video games on the PC and PS4. Playing a first person shooter with a VR headset for instance, will provide you with a new way to survey virtual battlefields. It will give the impression that you’re actually in the game.

 

And in terms of sports gaming, it could for instance, make first-person golf and baseball games become possible.

“Baseball games could well be popular with PlayStation VR,” predicts Suszek. “If you were at the plate in a game with a view from the batter’s perspective in a baseball game, it would give the player a true sense of the pitch types and speeds. In today’s hardcore market for simulation sport games, that may well go a long way.”

“It’ll just be like effectively playing a game in a cinema”

“There are limitations though,” Owen Goode, tech and sports game reporter from Polygon countered to Elephant Sport.

“I don’t think gamers will want to use VR for first person soccer, or American football, because it will just make them feel sick, and that’s before we get into the difficulty of the controls in those sort of games.

“There’s obviously going to be attempts from sports games over the next few years to implement VR, partly because it’s creative, and partly because both Sony and Oculus will be subsidising and making it beneficial for developers to do so.

“But aside from games like that, and the ability to give users a feeling they’re not accustomed to at the moment, it’ll probably just be used as a screen strapped to the head of the user. By that I mean, head movements won’t control the game, it’ll just be like effectively playing a game in a cinema, no distractions with a huge screen the takes up your whole field of vision.”

Revolution

What’s truly intriguing about VR, is its potential outside just games. Certain industry’s like online dating, tourism, conference calling all have potential to use VR headsets. But the one that’s already putting ahead of the curve though is sports, and in particular, training.

“The NFL is so progressive, it’s almost inevitable it’ll use VR”

“I think it’s fascinating to see how athletes are using VR, we’re seeing people make software for the Oculus Rift to help train athletes,” Suszek expalined. “For certain sports like baseball, tennis, boxing and american football – where being able to review film between games is key for training, the foundations are already there.”

Stanford University’s quarterback Chris Hogan has been using the new programme STRIVR to help him prepare for opponents. By using footage from cameras from a first-person perspective in training, it meant Hogan was able to study defensive formations from his perspective with his coaches afterwards throughout the 2015 season, helping him get mentally focused before big games.

“Oh, I think it’s huge, all it would take is the NFL signing a deal with Oculus, and suddenly every player in the league will be using a headset,” said Goode.

Progressive

“I mean, the league is doing everything it can to limit injuries, and concussions. The guys at the top have done things like cut the hours of practicing in pads during the season each team does, so any sort of advantage like this could be invaluable.

“I don’t think people realise just how mainstream this technology will become”

“The NFL is so progressive, it’s almost inevitable it’ll use VR. I’ve demo’d it at conventions, and it’s not far from being usable in sports at the top level, and this is just the start.”

Within 10 years we could see so many sports and athletes across the globes utilise VR as it develops, and within a few months, everybody will have access to this technology for themselves when the headsets hit store shelves.

“It’s going to be fascinating. When VR headsets go to market, plenty of gaming’s hardcore audience will adopt it, and that’ll shape the next couple of years in gaming. But honestly, it’s the other uses, which will go hand it hand and improve it overall that I’m looking forward to most,” Suszek concluded.

“I don’t think people realise just how mainstream this technology will become.”