x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The greatest show on turf

Even the highly drilled professionals of the International Rugby Board's competition are likely to feel butterflies running out in front of the packed stands this weekend.

Former New England Patriots wide receiver Scott McCready in action for Al Ain Amblers.
Former New England Patriots wide receiver Scott McCready in action for Al Ain Amblers.

For many of the part-time players among the 161 teams heading to the Dubai Sevens, the prospect of playing in front 40,000 people in a final on Saturday afternoon would be the realisation of a dream. Even the highly drilled professionals of the International Rugby Board's competition are likely to feel butterflies running out in front of the packed scaffolding stands this weekend. If Al Ain Amblers, the side leading the Emirates League, the second tier competition of Gulf rugby, make it that far, at least one of their players is unlikely to feel daunted.

Scott McCready is still trying to learn the basics of rugby after joining the club when he moved to the garden city eight months ago. At 32 he is still a rugby novice, but is well versed in the pressure of high stakes sport. The region's most raucous rugby crowd will be a minor triviality compared to when he was on the winning side at the 2002 Super Bowl. Talk about living the dream: McCready has already lived it once, and now he is on to the next one. His fairy tale rise from two-hand touch gridiron in London to the ranks of the NFL culminated in him winning the biggest prize in American football with the New England Patriots.

Now that serious injury has ended that chapter of his life, he has turned his hand to being a pilot, which is what brought him to the Emirates. "It is a long way to get here, but I am pretty lucky to go from football player to pilot all in one lifetime," said McCready, who went through Etihad's cadet programme in Al Ain. The son of a F-15 pilot in the British Royal Air Force, McCready learned American football while growing up with his mother in England playing for a junior side called Heathrow Jets.

"I saw it on TV, and what first got me into it was I thought it was pretty cool all the kit they got to wear," says the Patriots wide receiver turned Amblers winger. "That piqued my interest, and I started playing in England when I went back, then did high school, college and the rest in the States." After moving to live with his father Lawrence at the age of 15, his game developed at high school in Florida, and, despite studying at a university, South Florida, not known for its football, he graduated to the professional ranks.

"Every kid hopes they can make it in whatever sport they do, you just play for as long as you can play," he says. "In the back of your mind you always want to be a professional. As a kid you see them on the TV with all the glitz and glamour, but you can only get there one step at a time. "The main goal in the States is to get your degree at the same time. You have to go through college, you have to study for three years to even be eligible to play in the NFL. I did five years at university, then I was one of the lucky ones."

He signed for the Patriots in 2002 and quickly found himself back in the UK when he was farmed out to the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe. On his return to the Patriots the pinnacle of his career arrived when they claimed the Vince Lombardi trophy with a 20-17 win over the St Louis Rams. "They were supposed to kill us, the greatest show on turf and all that," he says. "It was in New Orleans, and we stayed in a hotel near Bourbon Street. We weren't allowed out until after the Super Bowl, but we had a pretty big party after that."

His fall was almost as sudden as his rise, as a string of injuries forced him to look to a new profession. "I had the cruciate ligaments in both knees repaired, and three separate shoulder operations after tearing three out of the four rotator-cuff muscles completely off the bone. I was never going to be back to the point where I could play professionally," he adds. "It is a great life, I don't want to stand here and say that it is not. But there is a lot of things that come with that life that you don't really see. It is quite stressful.

"If you are a big money, big time player, you know where you are and you are going to be there for a while. "Once you get down to the lower end of the roster you literally would come in on a Tuesday morning and see if you still had a job. "You could lose your job from week to week. It was pretty tense. You always felt like you were a mistake away from losing your job and not supporting your family. That is it - career over. It was pretty stressful, but I have to say that I enjoyed every second of it." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae

Scott McCready is not the only former professional sportsman keeping their competitive spirit alive on the fields of the UAE Trevor Leota (Rugby) - Panic quickly spread through the Emirates League, the second tier of amateur rugby in the Gulf, when the Samoan wrecking ball joined Transguard Toa Dubai this year. The hooker spent most of his celebrated professional career banned from tackling practice. Sometimes his new teammates let him take conversions Andy Karacinski (Football) - 'Jesus', as he was nicknamed, became one of South African football's best known white players when he captained the Sowetan side Orlando Pirates. He played against Eusebio, before moving to the UAE, where he dovetails work as a general manager with keeping goal for his son's side, Real Bad, in Dubai's five-a-side leagues Tauseef Ahmed (Cricket) - In 34 Tests and 70 one-day internationals for Pakistan, off-spinner Tauseef was usually known as either 'their other spinner' - as he was overshadowed by Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim - or 'that one who looks like Lionel Richie'. He then relocated to the UAE and was a regular wicket-taker in Sharjah's top competitions