For many people, the annual International series is their introduction to the great game of American Football. For others it’s one of the key dates in the calendar (Super Bowl aside!) as we get some of the greats of the game playing in our country!
But for those who fall into the former camp, there’s a lot to wade through before you get into the game. You might have worked out the rules, but what do you really know about the upcoming games, and how do you ensure you can look as informed as the next football fan?
Well we teamed up with Chicago Bears fan (who are not playing in this International Series so feel there is definite impartiality!) Claire Ball to get her view on the games in London this series and also asked some other NFL questions for you to use at the water cooler after the weekends game!
So Claire, which do you think is going to be the key game this international series?
Without it wanting to sound like a cop out answer – all of them! No seriously, each game has something to offer, so while fans of each of the six teams will say theirs will be the one to watch, trust me, if you’re only going to one it will have something to offer.
Each of the games have somethings special to offer and I’m not just saying that.
For instance the Colts versus the Jags mean we will get to see a meaningful divisional match up again. The AFC south has really spiced up nicely. With the Jags coming to London each year. We’ve been able to watch that team grow and develop in front of our eyes, while in the Colts we’ll get to see the 2012 number 1 draft pick Andrew Luck, who spent some of his youth in the UK, play in person.
The first NFL game at Twickenham will be a fantastic spectacle. The Rams have some great players in Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin, and they also got the number 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff play, lets hope he takes the field! I’m excited to see Super Bowl winners Eli Manning and Victor Cruz play for the Giants, but for those of you not familiar with the game they also have Odell Beckham Jr who has the most spectacular one handed catch. There is nothing I’d like to see more than Odell take a catch at the endzone I’m watching from!
For game three, neither the Redskins or the Bengals have played in the UK before so this will be an exciting event for both teams and their fans. On paper they look like they’re pretty evenly matched so it could turn into a slugfest or a shootout. Either way it will be tasty. But on a personal note, my Dad is a redskins fan and this is the first time he will have seen them live so I can’t wait to enjoy that experience with him.
What does the International series mean to you?
I absolutely love it! It showcases the sport that I love but to the most part sits under the radar so it’s great that it gets the attention and sparks up interest. I’d watched a lot of games in the USA before the International series came along but somehow watching a team live here took my interest to another level. The teams who come really embrace the occasion here too, and if that brings more interest into the game then all the better.
Who would be your team to watch in the coming NFL season?
Although they won’t be in London this year, I would say to people to keep an eye on the Raiders. They are a team on the up and have been clever with the draft in recent years and picking up on free agents. And hey, they’ve got a Brit on their team in Menelik Wilson are on the up for sure. They have used the draft well recently and got the most out of this season free agency. I also like that they have a Brit done good on there team Menelik Watson. Who out of all the NFL players I’ve been lucky enough to meet he’d be the one I’d go to the pub with for sure.
So, tell us then who is your all time favourite player?
This is tough as trust me there have been so many greats and so many Hall of Famers. But as I’m only allowed one, then that one would be “Iron Mike” Ditka. When he joined the NFL it was to be a tight end which at that time was a new position. He really made it his own and his playing style can still be seen today. After playing for the Bears he went on to the Cowboys to start his coaching career and then came back to Bears as Head Coach. And after two decades of despair he was just the man in 1985 who took us to the big dance and won. He really appealed as a tough working class for a tough working class team. Among his accomplishments was one Super Bowl as a player, two as a coach and 5 x Pro Bowl. His shirt was retired by both the Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Panthers.
What was it like having the Chicago Bears –play in London? Would you like them here every year?!
Having the Bears in London was one of the happiest moments of my life. Seriously, I said to my boyfriend who bought the tickets for my birthday that we need to be so in the game we’ve got to be close enough to get blood or sweat on us! So the seats he got were fantastic and we WON! It was a great game, the Bucs almost got back into it but am sure the amount of noise I made (I was hoarse for days afterwards) must have helped. There was huge celebrations afterwards and I was disappointed they weren’t the home team as there is a lot more attention to them but they were still there. Previously I had seen them play in Chicago in weather so cold that the beer freezes (no word of a lie) and they’ve lost so this was amazing. If I could see them each year more regularly like the Jags fans do that would be amazing.
People talk about an NFL team eventually being based here, what do you think about that?
I know people might think this strange with me being such a huge fan, but honestly I wouldn’t like it at all. I think the logistics and the travelling could be really difficult and not sure if players would want to be drafted to the UK. I think the team would always be at a disadvantage as they’d be constantly be having to go back and forth. I know a lot of current NFL fans in the UK wouldn’t switch allegiances if a different team were based here so not sure if it would hold people’s interest.
So, is this the year for the Bears?
Well like every football fan you live in hope that this is the year. Then you get week 2! No, all jokes aside, I know we are rebuilding as a side and therefore taking the Super Bowl isn’t realistic but perhaps if we can get a wild card spot this year then that’s a fair achievement. As for other teams then you know the Seahawks are looking as good as they ever did and when they’re at home they are in a different league. In all three phases of the game they have their game together and their coaches are doing a great job. I think you’d have to really dislike the Seahawks to not say they’ve got a good chance.
What’s missing for people in this country?
Well a couple of things – from a fan’s perspective there is little merchandise compared to the States and fans over there have better access to players to get things signed. But also the DVDs! If we could only get ones that played on our machines over here! Really frustrating.
The other side is getting more people in the game. We need to teach it in schools in the UK and we need to have a free to air game each week at say 6pm or 9pm so more people have access to the game. I think that would get more people having a greater understanding of the game and make it seem longer lasting than just the International Series and Super Bowl Sunday.