While most people crawl out of bed, crusty-eyed and reaching for the sleep button, last Monday morning I found myself springing to life with one thing on my mind – “It’s Sunday Night!” That’s when I knew I had officially fallen in love with American football. But in Australia, not everyone is a fan.
To those who don’t follow the NFL, being excited about ‘Sunday Night’ on Monday morning probably doesn’t make much sense, but basically it’s when One air live games direct from the USA’s National Football League on NBC.
I wasn’t always this into American football.
I vaguely remember coming across the sport during the Denver Bronco years in the late 90s, fuelled to find out more because of the repeated mention of John Elway in South Park.
Then a few years later, I stumbled across the Super Bowl being aired on SBS. Glimpses of Damien Lovelock’s dog Rocket and the amazing 100K-plus crowds, was pretty much the reason I stuck around.
God knows I didn’t understand one bit about the actual sport.
In fact, I recall rooting for the team I thought had the nicer colour scheme.
But I’ve come a very long way since then.
I now have a favourite team (New England Patriots) and even a couple of favourite players (Tom Brady & Danny Woodhead). I watch as much NFL as I can, and try and keep up with the talking points of the game.
And having just recently finished watching every episode in Emmy Award-winning series ‘Friday Night Lights’, it’s fair to say footbaw has become a bit of an obsession of mine lately.
Surprisingly though, most people I’ve spoken to about NFL (including Australian sport journos) are indifferent and completely unappreciative of what it has to offer sporting enthusiasts.
Of course every person has the right to choose what they like and what they don’t like. But it’s my belief that half of the people who quickly dismiss the value of American football and the NFL, just haven’t taken the time to properly appreciate the nuances of the game.
Having once related to the following pet hates, here are some reasons American football probably doesn’t float your boat.
1. The stopping and starting – Australians are used to watching football of the AFL, rugby league, rugby union, and soccer variety. These are all sports where the ball is constantly being passed around, in play, and often at pace.
Interchanges are limited, and generally the moment to consult the coaching staff is at quarter/half time.
This isn’t the case in the NFL. After each and every play it’s not unusual to see players going on, coming off, the offense and defence consulting the sideline, before getting into their respective huddles, and then re-setting to do it all again.
It takes too much time, it’s hard to keep track of who is on and off, and it hurts the flow of the game. Then there’s the amount of timeouts they’re allowed to use, making it one of the few sports where a team can realistically still win with just 30 seconds on the clock.
2. The equipment – Helmets, shoulder pads, knee pads, thigh pads, hip pads, gloves, tail pads, neck rolls, rib pads and elbow pads are all used in American football.
The equipment is there to help avoid players being injured, but ironically it’s the equipment which has been condemned for actually causing more serious, career-ending damage, such as the injuries caused by players tackling helmet-first. On top of that, players cover this bulky plastic protective gear with brightly coloured, tight-fitting, spandex and nylon. It’s all a bit much isn’t it?
3. Rigidity of the playbook – American football is a highly structured sport. Each player has a particular job and the coach’s playbook says what their job will be for each play.
Though I understand what they’re trying to do, even I find it irritating at times when I see a running back handed the ball only to run straight into traffic for zero yards gained; especially when he could have easily improvised and made a first down by running around the line of scrimmage.
To better get our heads around this we shouldn’t think of this sport as a game of “football”. As I say to everyone, think of gridiron as a game of chess. There are the obvious comparisons that can be made, such as the importance of protecting your king (the quarterback) while trying to outplay and defeat your opposition at the other end of the playing area.
But then there are the strategic elements of American football that relate directly to chess, like having to pre-empt and counteract your opponents’ defence and having select types of moves (plays) you can perform. Think of the game this way, and trust me, it will all make a lot more sense.
4. NFL players – Where to start? They’re overpaid, in oversupply and yes, some are even overweight. Big egos are also not hard to locate at an NFL game. With every successful catch, block, throw, whatever, at any moment NFL superstars will be ready to remind you of how brilliant they are with some sort of outlandish, self-obsessed celebration.
For the humble Australian sports fan ingrained with an incessant case of tall-poppy syndrome and the familiar phrase “full credit to the boys”, this is just a bit too much to digest.