With barely a few days to go for one of the biggest sporting events in the world, I’m getting super excited about this year’s Super Bowl LII. The New England Patriots are playing Philadelphia Eagles and it looks like an epic setup for a great game of American Football. I’d have loved to catch the game live on 2nd February, but unfortunately I’ll be travelling to Singapore for work and it won’t be possible for me. I’m so bummed out because of that! But why am I, being an average Indian from Gujarat, missing that game so much? Over the course of past 2 years, I’ve begin to love the game so much that now, I’m completely hooked to it. I see why Americans love this sport too much. I’ve never been to the United States. Never have I talked to a football fan before. Then how did the game grow over me? It’s an interesting story that I’d love to talk about.
I’ve been a sports fan in general. I avidly follow sports like Tennis, Formula 1 and of course Cricket. I know the current players, I’ve got my favourites that I root for, and I know the history of these sports like any hardcore fan would. I casually follow other sports like Wrestling, Football (Soccer), Boxing, Hockey, Chess. By casually I mean, I read about them in the newspapers if something big happened in those sports. But the above 3, I’ve watched them live several times in my life. Being an Indian, you can’t help but love Cricket. It’s in our blood since our country has given one of the best players the game has ever seen. It’s a religion, a cult that’s so impactful that it has almost obliterated the possibility for any other sports to grow in the country. But fortunately, since last few years, that story is changing and the younger generation of Indians are changing that story. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Now, unlike the unilateral love of sports of Indians, the Americans love several sports, and there are 3 of them that are at the top of the list: Basketball, Baseball & American Football. I had heard about all the 3 sports and I know the names of a few of the teams and players, but I had never followed any of those 3 sports. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, it was impossible to avoid hearing the names like Michael Jordan, the New York Yankees and Coco Cola. I didn’t know jack shit about them, but I had most certainly heard about them. Needless to say, Coco Cola was the clear winner around me in India, among all things American. But while I knew almost nothing about American Football and the NFL, I loved American movies that came out of Hollywood. I watched everything that the brilliant engineers at Pixar and Disney cooked up in their computers, or everything what the blessed minds of Spielberg, Scorsese or Tarantino created, or anything that was fast and furious! Through these movies, I learned a lot about the American culture. I came to know the bravery of American soldiers during World War 2, I came to know the gut-wrenching stories of Slavery, I got acquainted with the life in Wall Street, and I saw how Americans fought with the aliens from the outer space. But most importantly, I came to know that American Football is a big deal the United States. A BIG DEAL! So much that they own a day of the week.
I watched several football based movies. I understood from them that Football is a big part of the American culture. But what I didn’t understand from those movies are the rules of the game. Those movies showed epic games with players fighting for the ball and scoring points by taking it to the end-zone of the opposing team. I didn’t know how did they score to win, but the movies seemed pretty gripping, since most of them were based on true stories. That fascinated me!
The game seemed like Rugby, because the ball looked exactly the same, and the goal post was exactly the same. But everything else was different. Pardon me if I drew wrong comparisons with Rugby. I don’t know Rugby till date. I just know that Rugby players are massive, they get hurt a lot as they don’t wear any protective gear, and that the players from New Zealand do a scary Haka dance. That’s it. I guess I’ll pick it up after I’ve watched enough Rugby movies. For now, I’ve only seen Invictus & Forever Strong.
Coming back to American Football, the exact moment when that sport came to my attention was during Super Bowl 49. Patriots defeated Seahawks and next day I find that few of my Facebook friends from the United States are going crazy about some Malcolm Butler’s interception which eventually led to the Patriots to win the game. Today, two years later, looking back at that moment, I feel it was a pretty epic play that can go down in the history of the game as one of the most impactful plays of all time.
So, I dived into it to check it out for myself what the fuss was all about. To understand it better, I browsed a few other videos because at that point I still didn’t know what an interception was, or why was it such a big deal. The more videos I saw about that game, I realised that it was definitely a sensational game of football. Few days later, I found out that NFL’s YouTube channel had uploaded the entire game, courtesy to the amazing suggestions engine of YouTube. But before I could go ahead and see the entire game that my American friends couldn’t stop talking about for days, I thought of understanding the rules of the game properly. I didn’t want to spend too much time getting to know all the rules, because that’d turn out to be boring and I’d lose interest. So, I was looking for a crash course in understanding the rules for American Football. There was one video made by NFL themselves, but it wasn’t very informative. So, I looked further and I found this video:
With that crash course done, I was ready to go. I watched the Super Bowl 49 and enjoyed the game thoroughly. While I still didn’t understand a few bits of it, the biggest takeaway from that game was how much people revered Tom Brady when he won his 4th Super Bowl. People wouldn’t stop praising him. But that year, we also saw ‘deflategate’ happen against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. What a huge controversy it was! It kept me in touch with the news during the 2015 season. I’d watch the highlights of a few games here and there, but I still wasn’t a regular at the sport. I was still following it casually.
It had barely been a year since I had started this company, Creole Studios. So, I had more pressing matters to deal with than understanding a new sport. Entire season passed by and I didn’t give much attention to it. That year’s Super Bowl made news and I was brought back to the world of American Football. News beats kept dropping on my social media pages: Broncos defeating the Panthers and lifting up the Vince Lombardi trophy at the 50th Super Bowl, Eli Manning giving a weird reaction seeing his brother Peyton Manning win his last Super Bowl, Peyton Manning endorsing Budweiser immediately after winning the game, and Manning finally retiring soon after. Since there wasn’t much buzz about the game on my social media accounts, I didn’t care to see that game like I did for the previous Super Bowl.
But then soon after the Super Bowl 50 ended, Tom Brady was finally suspended for 4 games and was supposed to serve the suspension at the beginning of 2016 season. Everyone was looking forward to seeing the Patriots perform without him. It was a huge build up for the season. This time, I got curious and I wanted to get a better and deeper understanding of the game. But being in India I couldn’t watch them live. Neither did I want to stay up all night on a Sunday and watch the game at 4:00 am and then sleep through my Monday morning. I wasn’t that curious. So I start following the YouTube channel of NFL and I also start following the Instagram account of NFL. That was it! It opened the floodgates and I was taken away with that sport.
Every Monday, when I opened my YouTube, it’d be filled with the videos of highlights of all the games played on that Sunday. I started to get a hang of which teams were good and which teams were struggling. I started to know the names of a lot of players, mainly quarterbacks, wide receivers & cornerbacks since those were the positions getting maximum attention. I still wasn’t a fan of any particular team but I was following the news related to Tom Brady, so I never missed watching the highlights of all the matches of New England Patriots. They started off decently without him, they were a little sloppy but managed to survive that period with 3 wins and 1 terrible loss against the Bills. Then when he came back, the season became more interesting. They continued their winning streak barring the Seahawks game and stormed through playoffs as well. Once the Super Bowl 51 game set against the Atlanta Falcons, I decided to watch the game live.
It was to be my first NFL football game watched live in my life and with the way the season was going, I was rooting for New England as I didn’t know anyone from the Atlanta’s team except Matt Ryan, Julio Jones & Mohamed Sanu Jr. While on the other side, apart from Brady, I had already started liking several other players like Edelman, Amendola, Gronkowski, Hightower, Bennett, Cooks, etc. The game started and who would have thought that my first full live game would go down to be the most epic game of American Football that the world has ever seen! What a game that was! I mean, WHAT A GAME! Patriots coming back from 28-3 deficit with a little over 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter of the game and winning it 34-28 was almost a miracle. Football fans had ever seen anything like that before. I was jumping off my seat and social media was going absolutely berserk. If anyone who is still not following the sport, give it a try by starting with this game. You would thank me later. Here are the highlights:
Winning his 5th Super Bowl and winning it that way made Tom Brady immortal and he became the undisputed ‘Greatest Of All Times’. All the ghosts of Deflategate were buried and no one was raising a single finger on this man now. By now, I was a huge fan of him and the New England Patriots. Since the start of this year’s season, I loved the way Patriots kept defeating everyone despite having several problems with their defence, despite losing Julian Edelman, and despite trading all Brissett and Garoppolo and not having any backup QBs. But it wasn’t just Patriots that kept me interested in the 2017 season. Jacksonville Jaguars were very interesting to see, and so were LA Rams. They had great turnarounds compared to their previous seasons.But the most amazing turnaround according to me was San Francisco 49ers after they brought Jimmy Garoppolo on board. What was that! Joining a team that was 0-8 and ending the season on 6-10, that’s mind blowing. If there is anything that makes me look forward to the next season, its San Francisco 49ers and what Jimmy G does for them. But before that happens, we’ve got to see if Tom Brady and the Patriots can win another Super Bowl and make their already immortal legacy even more shiny and sparkly.
I already sound like a football fanatic! This has made me think a few times as to why do I like this game so much. Then doing a thorough analysis I’ve collected several reasons for it. Firstly, unlike Cricket, American Football can be played in any weather. Whether it is snowing, or raining, or anything, the game goes on! Following Cricket sucks at times when it rains on the day of the match. Secondly, I feel Cricket is struggling hard to stay relevant in today’s fast moving times. The 5-day Test match sounds just absurd. There used to be when Cricket stadiums used to be full for test matches. But times have changed now and I know that ICC is trying its best with T20 and also the day-night test match. Yet, I don’t see more and more nations picking up the sport and getting competitive. The only team that has gained mainstream attention of Cricket fans is Bangladesh in last decade. Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland, etc. have been playing the sport for longer than that and yet they struggle to build an internationally competitive team. This affects the growth of the fan-base and eventually the growth of the game itself.
NFL too has been struggling to make the sport popular outside the US. It has been trying hard to schedule games in the UK and promoting it in Canada and Japan. It has good viewership in a few South American countries. But they along with the major European countries are still very loyal to traditional Football (Soccer), which is played by over 200 countries on Earth. But what NFL has got it bang on is the League format. Despite such a small audience and player-base compared to Soccer, NFL has managed to garner a very loyal fan-base within just 1 country. That’s definitely a notable factor. Firstly it didn’t let itself get cannibalised by internal competition and the two major leagues got merged, which paved the way for the popularity and commercial success that the sport enjoys today. Secondly, they’ve got enough teams that gives the audience lots of options to choose and follow their favorite teams.
Cricket also adopted this league format a little over a decade ago. Seeing its success in American sports, it followed the same suit by creating a city-based structure. The most successful league in Cricket, the IPL has had 12 seasons so far and now it is struggling to keep its glory because there are several other leagues in the game competing with it. Also, IPL just has 8 teams ever since it began. They follow a long schedule during their season which leads to those team playing each other multiple times. Thus, their schedule of matches get repetitive and dull after half of the season passes by. It becomes predictable and boring. While in NFL, they’ve got 32 teams, and all of them have their matches on the same day. Half of them don’t play with the other half until the very end of the season. This makes it interesting on several levels. Also, the authorities managing the IPL have been too occupied dealing with their internal controversies to be able to help the league grow and flourish. If it goes on like this, I can’t imagine people watching IPL in 10 years time. I hope they learn from these American Leagues and evolve themselves over time.
In conclusion, I’d just like to say that I am enjoying this new found interest in American Football. It is a game that requires superb athletic abilities as well as mind-blowing strategic abilities. Hence you see players aged from 20 to 40 playing this sport together. Which other sport has such similarities? I certainly can’t think of any. I’ll try my best to see if I can catch the game live from Singapore on February 2nd. But even if I cannot, I’ll always have the highlights on YouTube.