The Guide to NFL in London

NAT COOMBS, SEPT 2017

With the NFL in town for the first of 4 regular season games to be played in London this season, the football fan base from all across the country will be flocking the capital over the coming weeks to pay homage to the superstars. And it’s a tribal business, being a British NFL fan. Don’t be fooled that the 80,000+ at Wembley are made up of curious Brits in tweed wondering what on earth all this noise and bravado from their American cousins is all about.

We’re talking a hard-core fan base out in force – the sporting equivalent of the guys who queue for 29 hours to get front row at a Springsteen gig – and when they rock up at the famous stadium, they make some noise and enjoy the party, like any self respecting die hard should when their heroes are in town.

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You’ll see shirts from each one of the 32 teams in the league, no matter which two are playing. On the back will be the names of legendary veterans, current day superstars and obligatory cult heroes in equal measure. Gridiron lovers stick together pretty fervently – a growing band of die hards, who revel in the leftfield status of the sport in this country.

But as the game gets more mainstream, and more of a foothold internationally, it means more newbies – or rookies, to be precise – are catching on, and you may well be one of them, whether you’re going to one of the games, or catching it on TV, or radio (check the plugs for my shows at the end of the piece!)

So, to help you tell your quarters from your quarterbacks, your cut blocks from your (Jay) Cutler’s (he’s a Quarterback in case you didn’t know!) here are 5 things to look out for if you’re new to the game:

The Quarterback is King: Yep, believe all those high school movies you’ve grown up on. A Quarterback in the NFL runs the show Jay-Z style, with a huge influence on how a game goes, perhaps more than in any sport going. Just don’t tell the defense. No wonder the QB’s get paid the biggest bucks (Detroit’s Matthew Stafford just inked a 135-million-dollar contract).

Points are what count: You can score a touchdown (worth 6 points plus a 1 point conversion) in the end zone or a field goal (a kick through the upright for 3 points), which teams try from 50 yards or nearer if they want to bank the points rather than risk coughing the ball back to the other side.

With a little help from their friends: Helping the QB score are the wide receivers – the speedsters, who the QB targets with his throws and who are often the biggest smack talkers as well – and running backs, pretty fast themselves, but usually bigger, and meaner, who get handed the rock, and told to move it down the field.

The (big) other guys: While the offense tries to get lucky, the opposing team’s defense tries to kill them. Imagine the following – you’re a guy trying to pick up a girl in a bar, but the girls’ 11 brothers are in your way and they’re angry, 22 stone with 4 per cent body fat and carrying a bowling ball in a big sock. That’s pretty much how it works.

The guvnors: And bringing it all together – they hope – are the coaches. From old school drill sergeant to the new breed – the current coach of the LA Rams is just 30 years old – NFL head coaches come in all shapes and sizes, with an entourage of coordinators helping them plan and plot the complexities of the game. If you think you work hard, these guys usually put in 18 hour days, 365, other than their mandatory week long fishing trip in the Florida Keys. And even then, they’re probably watching ball at night.

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You can see Nat Coombs anchor live coverage of the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints on BBC2, Sunday 1st October 14.00 and listen to his show – The NFL Show with Nat Coombs – every Tuesday night, 22.00pm on TalkSport2

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