x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Breath of fresh air enjoyed when the NFL makes yearly visit to UK

Idea of the NFL in London has became a reality and it is delivered each year with gusto and conviction, writes Will Batchelor.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson, centre, holds off Jonathan Dwyer and Cortez Allen of the Pittsburgh Steelers during their NFL game played at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson, centre, holds off Jonathan Dwyer and Cortez Allen of the Pittsburgh Steelers during their NFL game played at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Jamie McDonald / Getty Images

Watching American football normally brings out my cynical side.

Like most people who grew up believing that a sport called “football” should mainly involve ones feet, I generally find gridiron games to be overly long, complicated and the passage of play maddeningly fractured.

Out of professional and patriotic duty, however, I chose to watch the NFL’s regular-season game between Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers in London. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It probably helped that it was a fantastic sporting contest, featuring a Hollywood-style touchdown from Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and some ridiculously long throwing by Steelers quarterback “Big” Ben Roethlisberger.

But it was more than that. There was also the context in which the game was played.

Namely, while the English football establishment was stamping its feet and gnashing its teeth at the notion of a one-off month-long winter break to facilitate the 2022 World Cup, here was the NFL, happily sharing its game with the wider world, as it has done every season since 2007. We Brits, who like to think ourselves so worldly and cosmopolitan compared to our American cousins, are more conservative than any Appalachian hillbilly when it comes to tinkering with our national game.

Of course, I realise that support for the London games was not universal among the NFL family.

Nonetheless, the idea became a reality and it is delivered each year with gusto and conviction. From the articulate and media-friendly players to the idea of encouraging all NFL fans to attend in their own colours, regardless of which “franchise” (yuck) they support, it felt like a breath of fresh air – even to a hardened cynic like me.

Yes, they use their hands. But at least they also use their heads.

sports@thenational.ae