Why I Like The NFL

(or, Peyton, I’m happy for you and I’mma let you finish, but Tom Brady had one of the best regular seasons of all time!)

Everything in this World of ours is flawed: politics promotes popularity and selfishness over policy, capitalist economics both reward and punish the bold and cautious alike, based solely on the results of their actions, and sometimes trollies don’t give you back your quid after you put it in at the start of your shop. One of the most flawed things is American Football, a sport which actively rewards massive weight gain and is ultra-violent in annoyingly specific ways, but I still love it; the combination of insane physical competition and Risk-style tactical wizardry means that I’m stuck to my TV, like those annoying bubble things that try to eat FLUDD’s nozzle in that level of Mario Sunshine where you have to take down Petey Piranha for the second time, whenever I’m watching a game.

Yes, the sport of illogical: it should be called hand-egg and not football for a start; but this madness is part of the game’s charm. Often, watching an NFL game is more like playing Ben Olding’s excellent Crunchball 3000, or watching a theatrical performance of what people think sport will be like in a century’s time: the armoured players, the pyrotechnics and smokily spectacular entrances of the home team, all of this creates a narrative that plays out throughout the game, and like all good stories, great games will only be settled right at the end. A lot of disinterest or dismissal of the NFL from us here in Blighty comes from the divide between the accepted and admired theatrics of the US game, and the illegal and dirty, foreign practice of theatrics in our game; I feel that we need to accept that professional athletes are a million times better than us at these sports, and can only get where they are through a combination of luckily hench genes and a lifetime of hard work, and while the Americans have accepted this and moved on to lionising their sporting heroes, we still think that maybe, just maybe, we can make it with the pros. Well we can’t, so accept it and learn to love this division.

Furthermore, the insane physicality of the US game makes it thrilling (when the ball’s actually in play) – people are almost allowed to tackle off the ball for God’s sake; and as much as I like rugby, a ball thrown sixty yards to a receiver jumping full-length to score a touchdown in the NFL is more exciting in that one moment than the usual means of scoring in rugby: pick and drive, or the wait-for-your-opponent-to-commit-a-penalty-within-range-of-the-posts tactic. Also, the physicality is kept in check by a series of daftly complicated rules, that include terms like ‘tuck rule’ and ‘the runner’s buttocks’; it’s only a touchdown, for example, if both of the receiver’s feet are in bounds as he makes the catch, leading to insane toe-dragging scores like this. This means that it’s not just brute force that’s necessary in the game, but that flexibility and suppleness are also key, making things much more interesting.

Similar to these dumb rules, the tactics of the game are both complex, and appreciated! In our football, it’s a common English mentality to take: stick a fast winger or a target man in the other team’s half, and let them do their thing. And you people, who are top of tour fantasy league, and think you know all about modern tactics because you put a left-footed winger on the right in Football Manager (you know who you are), often don’t even know what a regista is! Or about the Italian Broken Team model, or the importance of Cruyff on Barcelona’s modern approach, or the fundamental difference between attacking and defensive football that can be applied to any formation ever, or even who Johnathan Wilson is! In the US, however, to analyse a game either as a commentator or as a journalist, you need to know the difference between a wheel route thrown short and a check-down, and the weaknesses in the Tampa 2 defence. This means that while armchair tacticians are left to rot in their own Football Manager and Guardian comment section stews, NFL fans can debate the effectiveness of Cam Newton in reference to his pocket passing versus his improvisation and mobility, in a much more open way. Also, the depth of NFL tactics means that there is as much fun to be gotten out of playing with Xs and Os on a chalkboard as there is watching an actual game.

I’m not saying that sports are perfect as a form of entertainment, and the high risk of injury and merciless absence of a safety net for players who retire early (or even full stop) make the NFL clearly flawed, but these flaws mustn’t distract us from the brilliance of the game. It feels good to ignore the problems of our real World, and live in this theatrical fantasy land for a few hours, with the narrative of a good film, depth and reasoning of a well-played noughts-and-crosses game, and the massive hits of sheer senseless fun, the likes of which have only ever been repeated on British television with Total Wipeout. So basically, the NFL is Total Wipeout with pads and an accent, which is by no means a bad thing.

Links:

Crunchball 3000 (front-runner for ‘game that needs a sequel’ award every year for the past four years)

Keenan Allen’s toe-tapping touchdown (showing another great NFL idea that association football needs to include – the ability to review and challenge plays using video evidence!)

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