TV Discussion

NFL – The lazy fan’s Starter Guide

It’s August. In my home (and so many other houses across the UK) it means one glorious thing: the football season is almost upon us.

You would be forgiven, of course, for not realising I’m talking about the upcoming NFL season. In this little country of ours, the only sporty thing that gets a more negative reaction than talking about American Football is to have the audacity to call English football, “soccer”. Both things I am proudly guilty of.

As the years go on though, the National Football League gets a bigger and bigger following in the UK; and as its popularity skyrockets, I commonly get asked the hows and whys of being a fan. So, in true Set The Tape style, I’ll use the things we love so much – films, TV, books – to get you a few answers and maybe, just maybe, tempt you along to the next fan tailgate party.


I just don’t get the rules

Football may be one of the most complicated sports to follow with an encyclopaedia of rules that change on a yearly basis along with tactics and gameplay so convoluted that to try and follow from day one would be lunacy. Instead, let me introduce you to Coach Taylor.

Friday Night Lights isn’t just great television, it functions as an idiots guide to football and the near-cult following it can get. A five season long story of a failing high school football team in Dillon, Texas, has one advantage over just Googling “what is a Wide Receiver”: the creators don’t assume you know everything about the sport. So, over the course of quite a few episodes, Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and his ever evolving team spoon-feed you the basics of the game at a pace that everyone can enjoy.

From here, you’ll get a sense of the insanity on the field and on the sidelines; you’ll get a feel for what every member of the team does and where they fit in to a coach’s playbook. But most importantly, even if your watching The Dillon Panthers lasts longer than your interest in the NFL, I’d have introduced you to the phrase that launched a billion goosebumps, uncountable lumps in throats and a never ending supply of single runaway tears.

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”

Further reading would include Netflix’s Last Chance U if you want an in-depth look at what players will go through to get on a team, The League, because it’s one of the best comedies no one has heard of and, if you want to do a real deep dive, NFL Network’s A Football Life series.

What is a quarterback?

In short? A leader.

Off the field and on the sidelines, decisions will be made by coaches after watching days of game footage regarding plays – set pieces, if you like – to put up against opponents this week. Figuring out whether to run or throw the ball against a defence, for example, will be meticulously planned in the days before the game.

But this is a game far more tactical than those screaming “it’s just Rugby with pads” will ever give it credit for. Decisions are also made on the defensive side and when those choices are going to lose you the game, offensive plays need to change. Quickly. The quarterback is the one making those decisions in real time. He changes plays on the fly and it’s his responsibility to pull it off properly. All the glory falls on him as the leader of the team; but all the responsibility for losses lands on his shoulders too.

Oliver Stone’s 1999 drama Any Given Sunday is the tale of a young quarterback facing adversity from his team, the injured veteran he’s replacing, the media and the team owners; and is one of the best football films ever made. A yearly tradition in our house, we watch the epic every Super Bowl weekend before the big game and it’s always a joy to watch. Jaime Foxx’s portrayal of young Willie Beamen, butting heads with Coach Tony Amato (Al Pacino) and old-school QB Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), is a truly engaging thing of beauty for fans and non-fans alike.

See also: Friday Night Lights, the movie that was the basis for the series. While not as good as the show turned out to be, it is still one of the best football based films to grace the big screen.

The Last Boy Scout: Very loosely a football film, but the Shane Black (The Nice Guys) written action comedy where a former quarterback (Damon Wayans) teams up with a private detective (Bruce Willis) to save the world should find its way somehow onto any list. It’s just that good.

Tom Brady featured on the cover of last year’s edition of EA’s Madden series.

Just who the hell is Tom Brady?

The greatest quarterback to ever live. Next question…

What team should I support?

Completely up to you. My favourite thing about the NFL community in the UK is that none of us are from the places we support. Much like the NFL community in the US, we are here for the sport. To start wailing on someone because the nylon shirt they’re wearing is a different colour than mine is just ridiculous. That said, the community has come up with some colourful ways to pick a team if you’re not sure.

Me? I’m a proud New England Patriots fan. A bit of a cliche in this country – I’ve heard “because it’s got England in the name” more times than I can count  – but they were the first team I saw play live. I saw them beat the New York Giants up close and personal in a pre-season game at their home stadium and that year they went on to win Super Bowl 36. 

If you’re new to the sport, there is no better place to start than with the Super Bowl. The winners of the first Super Bowl after the day you were born is common. It’s how my five year old has been labelled a Seattle Seahawks fan.

In the UK, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a big following. The team and their owner (Fulham FC owner Shahid Khan) have committed themselves fully to the UK fanbase, they have a long term deal with the NFL to sacrifice home games to one of the yearly Wembley games and they treat us fans like royalty. And to top it off, they are a fine team. You could do worse than to be a Jags fan.

Finally, one of my personal favourites: Get yourself a copy of the latest Madden iteration. EA’s second best selling sports title will guide you through every stage of your career as a fan, starting with the career mode.  Build your character, get that muscly physique you always wanted, get yourself some pads and start your digital training. Eventually, the game will draft you to a random NFL team to begin your life as a football superstar. That team, is now your team. Be it the Vikings, the Giants or the Cardinals; accept it, live with it and enjoy the ride. 

What is the Lombardi Trophy?

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”

The Lombardi trophy is the trophy handed to the winners of the Super Bowl. Named the Lombardi trophy after Vince Lombardi, the near-mythical coach who led the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 68 and entered in to the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 1971.

The very definition of legendary, Lombardi is the man all coaches aspire to be and as much as it pains me to praise anything that came out of Green Bay, his almost god-like status is well earned. If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend When Pride Still Mattered, the biography written in 2000 that tells you everything about the man that defined the sport so many adore. 

Further reading, if you really wanted to dust off your library card, would include War Room: Bill Belichick and the Patriot Legacy. It covers how the Patriots Head Coach influenced the way games are played and decisions are made from the draft to the Super Bowl. Finally, The Blind Side: The Evolution of a Game discusses the changes to offensive strategy in football and how that evolution led to the drafting of Michael Oher to the Baltimore Ravens. The film that it inspired isn’t half bad either.

Where can I watch the NFL?

Easy peasy. The NFL has a more-or-less exclusive deal with Sky TV for their live game coverage. Thursday night (Friday morning, for us) football, a choice of two games Sunday evening, and the Sunday night (Monday morning) game are all on Sky Sports. As is the Monday night (you get the idea) game. Sky Sports Mix also shows “Redzone” on Sunday nights. Live, rolling highlights of all the current games as they happen. The best way to get a feel for the action on the field.

The BBC have a pair highlights shows late on a Tuesday night and on a Friday and Saturday evening and are all available on iPlayer the morning after. The BBC also get to show the two to three games played in London every year, for those not lucky enough to get to Wembley for them. For those really getting into America’s Game, NFL UK put on a street parties, fan access shows and a whole host of other events whenever the NFL come to our shores. Family friendly events, they are all worth going to.

Finally, for those looking to overdose on all things NFL, the league has its own online subscription service. Gamepass will set you back around £140 a year and gives you access to every game as they happen (except for the ones exclusive to Sky on Sunday evenings) as well as replays of every game that season, access to all the NFL’s films and series and the constantly running NFL Network. The choice of the connoisseur, no doubt.

And so here ends your first lesson. Football season will soon be here, so grab some beers, some mates and warn work that you’ll be dog tired on Monday mornings. It’s going to be a fun 17 weeks.

Go Pats!

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