Archive for the ‘NFL’ Category

The NFL truck in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England.

The NFL truck in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England.

It’s not every day that you take your train commute to work in the West Midlands of England and find a giant NFL branded truck parked outside your place of work, but that’s what happened to me this morning in Birmingham city centre.

I knew the NFL were touring the Midlands and the South of England, but have to admit I forgot what day they were coming to Brum (as it is affectionately known by local residents).

I walked past the truck before 9am this morning, and waited until my lunch break before coming out to see what the NFL had in store for the workers and shoppers in Birmingham.

Gotta love getting close to Vince

Gotta love getting close to Vince

The highlight for me was to see the Vince Lombardi Trophy (for the third time). It was situated in a perspex cabinet inside the truck, watched over eagerly by a rather large and burly security guard. I had my picture taken with the trophy, and also the lady taking the pictures took a few extra for me using my own iPhone.

This truck was at Wembley a few weeks ago for the Vikings v Steelers game, but at that time there was a one-hour queue to get the picture. Much better that I could just walk straight up the steps today and get within inches of the famous silver-mounted ball.

Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rookie signed this helmet

Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rookie signed this helmet

Along with the trophy was a signed Jacksonville Jaguars helmet, also in a perspex case. The helmet was signed by rookie OW (offensive weapon) Denard Robinson. As a huge NFL fan I was tickled that it was Robinson’s signature, as I had drafted the former Michigan quarterback in both of my 55 man roster fantasy leagues.

Colin Kaepernick signed a ball. He played in his first Superbowl earlier this year.

Colin Kaepernick signed a ball. He played in his first Superbowl earlier this year.

There was also a ball in the truck display, this one a San Francisco 49ers branded ball signed by its Superbowl losing quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The two pieces of memorabilia were on display to pre-promote the Jaguars upcoming ‘home’ game at Wembley against Kaepernick’s 49ers, taking place later this month. Unfortunately I will not be there as the budget only allows me to attend one NFL game in London a year, and I would always select seeing Adrian Peterson over Maurice Jones-Drew. Sorry Mo-Jo, I still love your little legs.

I was disappointed that there was not that much to do, and the freebies handed out by the NFL were ok, but not amazing. They gave out Football 101 guide books which I have to say are a cracking introduction to the NFL for new fans. I also helped myself to a couple of sets of under-eye stickers that were NFL branded.

IMG_2192There were no NFL players there when I attended (not that I expected anyone apart from maybe a retired or injured player), instead the NFL All-Star cheerleaders were there, probably wondering why they were performing to about 50 men with iPhones held aloft.

They were offering signed pictures of themselves, which was a nice touch, but I did not recognise any of them and did not really want a signed picture of some random women, who for all I know could be the American equivalent of a Pineapple Dance troupe.

IMG_2203There was a rather bemused DJ spinning some cheesy tunes, and a few inflatable NFL displays where you could throw a pass or try a kick, but they were a bit undermanned and looked a bit unwelcoming with no sponge or turf floor around them.

Overall a half-hearted effort by the NFL to try and spread the message about the greatest sport on the planet. I would have made sure schools were invited to take part and had some flag football displays, not just cheerleaders. Also some spot-prize giveaways would have been good, as would have been an ex-player or coach.

IMG_2197Don’t get me wrong it was special to see the Vince Lombardi trophy in the city I work in, but more could have been done to get the message across that this sport will soon (by 2020) have an NFL franchise situated this side of the pond.

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My pic of Adrian Peterson taking part in a pre-game prayer (that was answered)

My pic of Adrian Peterson taking part in a pre-game prayer (that was answered)

Having found my seat in the Club Wembley level (thanks again to my gorgeous wife for the ticket) I realised just how old I actually am (39), after I did the maths in my head and discovered it was 25 years ago that I first came to Wembley Stadium to watch some NFL football.

The game back in 1988 was a pre-season thriller between the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, won by the Fins courtesy of a perfectly executed bootleg from backup quarterback David Archer. That was my first live NFL action – on my 14th birthday.

A quarter of a century later and I am at the first of two regular season NFL games at Wembley, featuring one team who has won six Super Bowls and another who has the previous season’s most valuable player. OK the teams did arrive in London this September without a win between them,  but the opportunity to see Adrian Peterson in the flesh was worth the ticket price alone.

AP and his fellow Vikings backfield get together to compare fantasy picks.

AP and his fellow Vikings backfield get together to compare fantasy picks.

Having spent a good 15 minutes papping AP (but maybe not as closely as the snapper in the picture I took above) I tried to find Big Ben Roethlisberger. This was not a hard task. Big Ben is a beast of a human being, who would be my choice to be a pantomime giant in Jack and the Beanstalk once he passes his final pigskin.

I suspected the UK fans would be witnessing a declining Steelers team before the season began, but not a 0-3 team. I still found it novel to find Big Ben and Troy Polamalu warming up. If you look hard enough you can find them both near each other in the bottom picture of this post. Bit of a Where’s Wally situation.

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#69 Jared Allen scratches his sweaty mullet - what a romantic image eh!

#69 Jared Allen scratches his sweaty mullet – what a romantic image eh!

Bit far away but here are the Steelers warming up

Bit far away but here are the Steelers warming up

Time for my annual guess at a Super Bowl winner - this time the luck winner is the Atlanta Falcons

Time for my annual guess at a Super Bowl winner – this time the luck winner is the Atlanta Falcons

Forget the calls for a three-peat or for ‘one for the thumb’, there is always something special about an NFL franchise winning its first ever Super Bowl.

In my lifetime I have seen (live on tv in England in the early hours of the morning that is) seven teams with their inaugural Vince Lombardi Trophy;

  • New York Giants (1987) – first of four
  • Denver Broncos (1998) – first of two
  • St Louis Rams (2000) – only title
  • Baltimore Ravens (2001) – first of two
  • New England Patriots (2002) – first of three
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2003) – only title
  • New Orleans Saints (2010) – only title

Now I am not including the 2007 Indianapolis Colts in this list as they were the Baltimore Colts who were winners back in 1971.

So why the lengthy reminiscence? Well I am convinced we are going to add another new team to the first-time trophy club this upcoming season.

NFL FAN IN ENGLAND’s 2013 NFL 2013-14 SEASON PREDICTIONS

NFC East – Washington Redskins

NFC West – San Francisco 49ers

NFC South – Atlanta Falcons

NFC North – Detroit Lions

NFC Wild Cards – Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks

NFC Championship – Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

NFC Representative – Atlanta Falcons

AFC East – New England Patriots

AFC West – Denver Broncos

AFC South – Houston Texans

AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals

AFC Wild Cards – Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Championship – Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans

AFC Representative – Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl XLVIII winner – Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl MVP – Matty Ice Ryan – QB Atlanta Falcons

Offensive Player of the Year – Colin Kaepernick QB San Francisco 49ers

Defensive Player of the Year – Luke Kuechely LB Carolina Panthers

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Eddie Lacy RB Green Bay Packers

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jon Bostic ILB Chicago Bears

NFL MVP – Aaron Rodgers QB Green Bay Packers

Comeback Player of the Year – Darelle Revis CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coach of the Year – Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals

Most Improved Team – Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Disappointment Team – Toss up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Atlanta Falcons were so close last season to reaching their second Super Bowl last season that they could almost taste the promised land. This was with a starting running back that was slower than a snail without an agenda.

Now the Falcons have Steven Jackson in the backfield, admittedly no rocket launcher, but certainly a huge upgrade with soft hands and a ‘win it all now’ attitude following a decade in St Louis that many consider wasted.

Future Hall of Fame tight-end Tony Gonzales is back for a Balboa-esque ‘one last shot’ at a title, having finally shaken the playoff win monkey off his back last season.

I know that defense wins championships and the Falcons defense is certainly no ’85 Bears vintage, but they have the playoff experience, the hunger and a nice blend of veteran experience (DE Osi Umenyiora and CB Asante Samuel) youth (rookie starting CB Desmond Trufant) and those with experience who are not household names but play hard (LB Akeem Dent and DE Kroy Biermann).

It’s hard to equal the talent of Atlanta’s number one and two wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.

The biggest problem for the Falcons is quality of depth. If one ore more of the big names goes down with injury then this will have a huge effect on the team being able to get a 13-3 regular season record. If they remain fully fit and can get a bit of luck, then the likes of the 49ers and Seahawks will be beatable.

The trend for multi-dimensional quarterbacks will not go away this year, and studs like Russell Wilson, RG3 and Colin Kaepernick will make lots of headlines, but you don’t win conference championships with wideouts like Golden Tate, Josh Morgan or Jon Baldwin.

Joe Flacco went from lukewarm to boiling hot in the playoffs last year, I think that Matt Ryan can do the same, and having the feeling of being a touchdown away from a Super Bowl will have been on his mind for the last nine months.

I raise my glass of  (Matty) Iced (Georgia) Peach to my Super Bowl XLVIII paper champions the Atlanta Falcons.

Cue the ridicule…………………..

IMG_1124[1]I am an optimist, someone who will always see the glass half-full.

It’s the reason every few months I will do a random search on Ebay for rare NFL merchandise, especially items from the 70s or 80s.

It’s the reason I love browsing in second-hand bookshops, the reason I like going to bric-a-brac stalls at Summer Fetes and the reason I always look for an NFL treasure.

As recently as yesterday I was at work, in a new office in Birmingham, England, when I found out there was a book exchange in the ground floor foyer opposite the staff canteen.

Not sure if other companies do it, but this is where people bring second hand books for you to read, keep or give back, and then donate to.

I made a comment to my manager that it would be amazing to find any sort of sports book, hoping for something like a former Premier League football player or manager biography.

As I cast my eye over an eclectic range of second-hand books, from a text book about AIDS to the usual heavily thumbed Danielle Steele novels, I almost fell over when sitting on the bottom shelf was the book I have pictured in this post.

Yep I had willed a book about the greatest sport on the earth to be there on the metal shelf.

I snatched it up and found it to be the American Football Annual 2 by Ken Thomas. I immediately realised that the Minnesota Vikings player on the cover, number 81, was someone I actually didn’t recognise, so the book must have been published in the early 80s.

I was right, this annual was published in 1984, and to put me out of my misery I checked on page  and found out the Vikings  cover star was Joe Senser, a 5th year tight-end from West Chester State.

Having looked up Mr Senser he went to the Pro-Bowl in 1981, but it all went downhill after that. It looks like he suffered a similar fate to those NFL players who were cover stars on the Madden game.

Firstly he had only 15 more catches and zero touchdowns in his NFL career after featuring on the cover, with a career that ended at the conclusion of the 1984 season. Coming into the recent past Senser’s wife is currently in jail  having been found guilty of killing someone in a hit and run in 2011.

Senser also owns a chain of self-named restaurants he started in 1988. For those of you who want to have a heart-attack you could try his special – The Beast – a 2.5lb burger on a 10 inch bun, served with 1.5lb of chips (yes that is what we call fries in England!).

Senser is one of only eight players from his college, the West Chester University Golden Rams, to have played in the NFL, the most recent, former two-time Pro-Bowl linebacker Lee Woodall, a Superbowl winner with the 1994 San Francisco 49ers.

Back to my recently acquired annual I browsed the full 1984 Vikings roster and perhaps the most remarkable name I came across was that of a 14 year veteran quarterback, number 4, Archie Manning. Yes the same Archie Manning who is now the father of two Superbowl winning sons.

Another standout name was another tight-end named Mike Mularkey. Yep the same Mike Mularkey that was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was sacked at the end of the 2012 NFL season.

So somehow I have managed to link an NFL book published in the UK 1984 with the fact that the Jacksonville Jaguars are playing at Wembley Stadium, England in October.

On top of my fortune of finding the book I also had a much anticipated email from the NFLUK offices confirming that I have two tickets to meet five NFL stars who are visiting Birmingham (England) next week.

One of them had to be a Minnesota Vikings player, and I will have the pleasure of meeting the mullet stubble beast with the 69 on his chest – none other than defensive end Jared Allen.

Can’t wait….and it’s only July.

For the first time ever, the NFL will be playing two games in London during the 2013 season. On September 29th, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face off against the Minnesota Vikings, while on October 27th, the San Francisco 49ers will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite both teams having plenty of games beforehand, here is a preview of how those two games should play out.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings
As far as being competitive, this should be the better of the two games at Wembley Stadium this season. The Vikings are coming off a playoff season, and they feature the reigning MVP and fantasy football superstar Adrian Peterson on their team as well. Although the Steelers struggled in 2012, they have won a pair of Super Bowl titles in recent memory and they look to get back in contention again this season. This will be the first time either team has made the trip to Europe, so this should be the more anticipated game. The Steelers have gained quite a following worldwide thanks to their multiple Super Bowl rings, and Peterson is one of the biggest stars in the NFL today. When it comes to the game, the Vikings actually have the chance to be even better in 2013. Last season, Peterson had to carry the offense, but with a more mature Christian Ponder and the addition of Greg Jennings, Minnesota should have a balanced offense. Their defense is also stellar, but so is Pittsburgh’s. That means that London fans will probably see a low-scoring affair. Take the Vikings to come away with the victory though.

Prediction: Minnesota Vikings 17-14

San Francisco 49ers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Even though this will be the 3rd trip for the 49ers over to London, many of the players will be making their first trip ever. However, the 49ers have plenty of other advantages when it comes to playing the Jaguars. Last season, the two teams basically had opposite years. The San Francisco 49ers made it to the Super Bowl, while the Jaguars struggled to win the few games they did. Although Jacksonville was able to obtain some young talent heading into 2013, this should be a game the 49ers win. Fans of defense will love the 49ers, and they might have the best defense in the NFL this season. Of course, they also have plenty of offensive firepower, headlined by Colin Kaepernick at quarterback and Frank Gore getting most of the carries on the ground. If Jacksonville is going to challenge, they will need some of their young talent to step up and gain momentum going into this game. Luke Joeckel and Jonathan Cyprien, their top two picks, should step in right away and provide value, but neither one of them play glamorous positions. The Jaguars lack star power, which could hurt the attendance numbers somewhat, but the appeal of the 49ers will make up for it.

Prediction: San Francisco 27-10

My picture of former #1 overall pick Carson Palmer playing in Miami in 2012.

My picture of former #1 overall pick Carson Palmer playing in Miami in 2012.

The last time i tried to do a Mock Draft (in 2012) I think I got about three or four picks correct and one player matched to the right team but at the wrong slot.

This time around I’m not going to make a fool of myself and hazard a big ol’ bunch of guesses, considering     the only college game I have any clear recollection of watching was the BCS title game.

To be fair to myself I have done a fair whack of reading about this year’s class of college athletes, from news sites to going on candidates college team websites.

This draft class by most estimations is a bunch of duds. That is if you believe what cynical reporters say. The fact of the matter is that they are just bitter that they cannot predict the order of who will go where, as there are no Andrew Luck or RGIII’s sitting there amongst the cream of the crop.

It’s true not many offensive linemen are used to front up national advertising campaigns, but they do something far more important, they win teams football games, and winning in January helps you get to a Super Bowl.

So what if there is not a big bunch of quarterbacks and running backs projected to go in the top ten (or even 20 to 30) teams in need of improving or even dragging themselves back from the brink need to build by getting quality offensive and defensive linemen.

This draft is rich in big bodies, newly sculpted big bodies, ones that look like walking oak trees. Bulk is on it’s way out and being replaced by athletic, toned and nimble men who eat right, train hard and are highly intelligent.

2013 may not go down as a classic for big names and big buzz, but the moves made on Thursday and Friday may be the ones that turn around the fortune of a franchise. Just ask the St Louis Rams. Their two trips to the Super Bowl may have featured a once in a lifetime group of skill players such as Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce, but without the blocking of Orlando Pace I would say that we would not have seen Dick Vermiel lift a Lombardi Trophy.

I’ll be fast asleep when round one takes place, but I do have a day off work to pour over the first round selections on Friday morning.

The first 32 picks will include plenty of twists and turns I am sure, with teams jockeying to move up and down, making any kind of predicting absolutely futile.

My advice, just sit back, crack open a beer and enjoy the draft unfolding in front of you. With all media partners agreeing to not spoil the pick announcements with ‘green room’ coverage the moment big ginger G goes to the podium will be both entertaining and surprising.

If the Redskins want to make my day they could always try and trade up into the first, but regardless it will be a fun event and   one I will watch plenty of highlights of on Friday morning.

 

Anyone following North American sport cannot fail to acknowledge the NCAA College basketball tournament, where it is all about surviving in order to move on.

Unlike the debacle that is the current NCAA College football post-season, the basketball post-season is at least simple to follow. It is a simple knockout tournament. You win you stay alive. You keep winning you get to the ‘final four’ and then a chance to lift the shiny trophy.

The NFL have tried to capitalise on this wave of ‘bracketology’ discussions by launching their own knockout competition to decide the greatest ever NFL play.

With the parallel timing of the ‘final four’ NFL plays and the ‘final-four’ NCAA College Basketball games it’s all about getting to the final this weekend.

I am a little saddened that the final four NFL plays are dominated by modern-day plays; Marshawn Lynch running ‘beast-mode’ (2011); DeSean Jackson’s game winning punt-return touchdown (2010); Troy Polamalu’s ‘over-the-top’ tackle (2010). The remaining play is from 1988, Steve Young’s insane run through the entire Minnesota Vikings defense, and it is without doubt the best of the four (in my eyes).

If I had it my way I would have made the top 64 plays far more eclectic, with one play from every year over the last 64 seasons.

So where would I go with my top plays of all time? It’s a tough call and I don’t know the order quite yet, but here I go with some of my personal favourites…

  • Leonard Marshall forcing a fumble by Joe Montana in the 1991 NFC Championship game. I was 17 at the time and thought Joe Montana was invincible. That single play knocked the stuffing out of ‘Joe Cool’ and it was five Giants field-goals that gave the visiting team the win.
  • Darrell Green’s punt-return in the 1987 Divisional playoffs. Withe the scores tied 14-14 and a minus 10 wind-chill factor Green picked up a punt around midfield and ran it back for a score. Green had been playing cornerback all game and even tore his own rib cartilage half-way through the return after hurdling over a wannabe tackler.
  • Eli Manning’s 10 yard touchdown run at Wembley in 2007. For the 81,176 fans at the first ever regular season NFL game played in England it was the realisation of the dreams of fans like myself, who fell in love with the sport at a very young age but never even imagined they could see real NFL teams in a real NFL regular-season game. Manning’s scramble and the whole game may have been soggy and scrappy, but right there and then the NFL had truly ‘touched-down’ in England. 
  • Santana Moss’s 70 yard touchdown catch in 2005. Under four minutes left, down 13-0 and in Texas, Redskins wideout Moss caught not one but two bombs delivered by Mark Brunell. The second, a 70 yard catch, was the winner and helped his team to make it into the playoffs (later in the season).

More to come soon, but what do you think so far?