The American football love affair

When I was about 7 years old, my parents decided they wanted a bit of a change. Not a sea change, or a tree change, or any of those other silly things that people having a mid life crisis do. No, they stayed in jobs and professions, but moved family, schooling and work to Brunei Darussalam.

Smack bang in the middle of South East Asia, the little sultanate is a very rich country. It is odd though, because you look around Brunei and see such simple lives, misconstrued under a sheath of wealth and beauty.

Brunei showcases the wealth of royalty and the struggle of the everyday citizen. (Photo: Matt Walsh)

It’s something that now has a perennial connection with me which some people might not understand. There are many fond memories that I hold of this place, and will re live and remember for a long time. However, lack of activities and interests in a foreign country was one drawback, and I was forever in search of new and interesting things to capture my attention and imagination.

One school holidays when the family was jet-setting around South East Asia, we visited Kota Kinabalu. This is a city in Sabah, the Malaysian part of Borneo.

My memory can be tentative in what it remembers from ten years ago, but after a week or so exploring the coast, we were stuck in KK airport with a delayed flight, hot and bothered children making a nuisance of themselves and a lack of anything on the airport television screens.

So I went for a wander, of course, within eyes reach of my parents. I had always had a fascination with aircraft, perhaps because of the extensive travel I had been dragged along to when I was young.

I went up to the windows, looking at the planes, loading carts and ground crew, and sat watching for a while. Something caught my eye though, in the next “boarding lounge” area, a television screen had some sport on it.

Boy did that get me excited. I had been enduring an excruciatingly boring wait with my dumb stupid family, but there was SPORT to watch!

I ambled along and stood in front of the screen, but I was really quite disappointed, it wasn’t a sport I had seen before. I knew what it was… The Simpsons, American movies and TV shows taught me that it was American football.

All I knew at the time was that there was a quarterback, and you scored a touchdown. What perplexed me, and in fact still perplexes me today, is the fact that you don’t actually have to touch the ball down for it to be a touchdown. Americans, right?

So I watched this sport- shiny helmets, loud crowd noise and commentators getting excited. It could have been a replay, but it could have been live. It was a night game and the Dallas Cowboys were playing some team in red at home. For the brief time I watched this game, there were two things that sold it to me.

One was the physicality. I really enjoyed that one player, now known to me as the running back, would continually choose to ram himself into a pack of about 10 players every time he got the ball. What’s more, he celebrated every time he got two metres past them.

Secondly, and this is the kicker, there was a man holding up two signs in the crowd. A large, not at all inconspicuous “D” and a cardboard cut-out of a picket fence. Epic.

A fan of the Indianapolis Colts holds up a sign “D fence” during the NFL game in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I hadn’t seen anything like that before, but I loved it. Defence, get it? I was sold. This was a glamorous sport, a different sport, and a fierce sport.

When my family returned to Australia after spending three years in Brunei, my brother and I got given a Play Station 2 for Christmas.

One of the first games I bought on my own (when it came out) was Madden ’06. It was a pretty big purchase for a kid doing dishes and hanging out the washing to earn a keep.

I started out playing a career, unfortunately not with my adopted team the Dallas Cowboys, but that didn’t matter. I also didn’t know what to do. Jargon, moves, playbooks, players… were all foreign to me.

But every week I would watch the highlights from every game on the NFL’s website. Not just the Dallas games, I grew soft spots for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Carolina Panthers. The game day radio callers that were featured on the highlights were always so animated, it made it fun to watch, and try to understand.

In 2008, Ten, and their HD affiliate One began to broadcast games to Free To Air television in Australia. It is then that I begun to take my following of the sport seriously.

I purchased a cheap knock-off Cowboys jersey, and every Monday I got up early to catch a glimpse of the NFL games before school started.

It’s something I still do today, except I have purchased NFL GamePass which allows me to watch any game at any time, or live- in HD.

There are so many things I began to see when I started watching the NFL a bit more closely. Not only did it serve as my sports fix between the AFL and the international Cricket, but it was good.

The strength, athleticism, showmanship, finesse, speed, brains and brawn are all aspects which make this game such a fascination.

There’s just something about it. The commentary as well, started off so meaningless to me, but now makes perfect sense. There is so much to understand and to learn, and to be challenged physically but also mentally as a fan is one of the most powerful drawing aspects of a sport.

The technicality of each and every “play” is astounding. Each player has a defined role, and if they cannot perform that role, often the team loses. There are blockers, tacklers, runners, catchers, kickers, throwers and coaches. Lots of coaches. The sheer size of the team is hard to understand from an Australian perspective, but they’re all very defined in what they must do.

‘Guards’ and ‘tackles’ block paths for running backs to run through, as well as protect the ‘quarterback’ from being “sacked”. Receivers try to shake their ‘cornerbacks’ to make a catch and gain yardage.

The ‘linebackers’ need to negotiate the ‘tackles’ and the ‘guards’, so they harass the ‘quarterback’ into making an error. It’s a game of yardage, and defence is as important at the offence. Teams will do whatever it takes to move down the field, in front of fierce patrolling by the defensive team.

To analyse one game of American football, it is possible to get a grasp on what an interesting game it is. Some people claim it to be too long. Not really, and any breaks in play are used to examine the play, and get a feel for what is actually going on in the game. On television, and for a novice fan, it can often be the most useful part of a game.

NFL on television is big business, so broadcasters such as CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN pour truckloads into analysis, camera angles and experts. The commentary isn’t farcical like you get with Brian Taylor, or Dwayne Russell. It calls the game, analyses the play, and then moves on.

I still get upset at the television, and swear and fume and sit there in a silent swirling melancholy. But not because of the quality of broadcast and commentary like I do for the AFL here.

The first time that happened was when Tony Romo botched the field goal attempt in the dying seconds in the playoff game in Seattle. It would have won Dallas their first playoff win in years. I felt a genuine pang of emotion that day, and I still get when watching Cowboys’ games.

But from there, it only got bigger, and it only got better. Seeing things like the Patriot’s revered Flea Flicker, to more recently, the Bears’ ridiculous punt return play, NFL football is a performance as much as it is a sport.

Marshawn Lynch’s freakshow run shows what exceptional strength you need, and why he is nicknamed “Beast Mode”, whilst the touchdown scored by Cincinnati’s Jerome Simpson speaks for itself.

Now, as there always are, there are ups and downs in supporting a new code, new team, and new sport. The wake up times can be excruciating, but it’s worth it.

Granted, supporting the Dallas Cowboys is similar to supporting Richmond, but I love my boys all the same, and wouldn’t swap them for anything.

It’s a complete package, perhaps it’s your winter during summer- whatever it is, it’s worth taking a look, and getting into the 2012 NFL season.

For those wishing to start having a look, or looking for a team to follow, perhaps take into consideration the Carolina Panthers. They have this guy.

That’s how my love affair with America’s game started, and that’s where I’ll leave it.

Carolina host New York at 10:20am tomorrow on ONE.

Matt Walsh and his boring literature can both be avoided by not going on his Twitter: @MattWalshMedia

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