I’m afraid to say I am watching an NFL game tonight. Well, I’m not afraid I am because I am rather enjoying it, even if the whole thing takes an eternity to play out. My friend, whom I shall only refer to as “Gary” in order to protect his identity, is wholly to blame for this. At a loss for anything else to watch on TV and being too lazy to do anything else, I found myself watching Green Bay Packers against the Chicago Bears. “Gary” has explained to me, with endless patience and passion, the merits of American Football and not for the first time he was right.
I know nothing about either team, I do not know a single player on either team and I know little of the complex machinations that are going on, but actually it’s a terrific watch. There are entire offensive teams and defensive teams who come on to the field depending on which team has the ball. I am guessing that they are different sizes too, rather like they are in rugby union. They all seem to be massive blokes to me and I doubt I’d survive the gentlest of tackles.
The quarterback is the star player. He’s the one who usually gets the ball and attempts to throw it with astonishing accuracy, at high speed to a bloke who is running at full pelt. He and his team mates must have countless plays in their heads which they activate with a serious of coded messages, a bit like Geoff Parling in the line out.
Happily for me, the commentators are explaining the various lines the players are running. There is so much going on, so many dummy runs (I expect there is a technical name for them) that I am just surprised the quarterback is not walking round with an iPad just to remember them all. As I write, the Green Bay coach is prowling the touchline, just about coming up to the waist of some of his players, waving round a piece of paper, which may or may not have something to do with the game, or perhaps it might be his bar request for post match drinks.
Although the game seems to go on forever – I think they squeeze an hour into around three hours, maybe longer – the crowd doesn’t seem to mind. There seem to be as many cheerleaders as players, there are people selling food and drink constantly to the extent that many spectators could actually be using commodes to save regular trips to the “bathroom”, as our American cousins call it.
The presenters are terrific, too. God knows there’s enough dead air time to fill, but they do it with relish, trotting out reams of statistics, facts and anecdotes. And unlike so many British commentators they actually add to the picture when they speak. No Ian Botham “that was a good shot” type waffle you get in the cricket when we know it was a good shot, but pointing out things we might not have noticed or drawing attention to things we would never have seen.
Put simply, I have to concede that it’s great telly. I apologise unreservedly to everyone I annoyed by referring to the NFL, sarcastically, as gridiron. I don’t want to call it a great product either because above everything I am learning it’s a great sport. And the teams who win the league do not get the pick of the best new players each season. The ones who don’t win get the first pick. We might not approve of the franchise nature of the clubs’ ownership but the way it is organised to guarantee genuine competition sets it above almost every team sport on the planet. There I said it.
Anyway, I’ve got another game to watch – Baltimore v Denver. The punt returner is getting ready. I’ll have to love and leave you for now. I’m all alone in the end zone. Where’s my hot dog?