The new National Football League season begins this week over in the United States, and I thought I would tell you why I think you should go watch one of the greatest sports leagues in the world.
American Football (just football for you American types) is one of the biggest sports in the world. Played primarily in North America, the sport is simply huge in the USA, but American football has an enormous international fan-base, too.
The UK is probably the largest 'market' for American Football outside of North America, and the NFL has recognised this in recent years by hosting several regular season games at Wembley Stadium (and has guaranteed that this will continue until, at least, 2016). There has even been talk of expanding into the UK further by creating a London NFL team, but this is unlikely to happen any time soon.
The NFL is responsible for the greatest annual sports event, the SuperBowl. If the only thing you know about the SuperBowl is that the Black Eyed Peas were terrible when they performed in the half-time show a few years back, or even the Janet Jackson 'incident', then let me fill you in. The SuperBowl is the end-of-season final match between the two teams who have battled it through the 16-game regular season, and then proceeded to win the two or three knockout play-off matches which lead to the SuperBowl. The team who comes out on top in the SuperBowl is crowned as not only the NFL Champions, but the 'World Champions'. I have no idea why they are given the title 'World Champions', seeing as only teams based in the USA participate in the NFL but, hey, it sounds cool, right?
The sport itself is simply fantastic. Admittedly, if you're a first-time viewer, then I suggest reading up a bit about some of the basic rules, but you will gradually pick up the more obscure rules and regulations. All you really need to know is that the team with the ball has four attempts (downs) to move the ball ten yards from where they started. If they do this, then they get four fresh attempts to move it tens yards, and so on, until they fail to move it ten yards or score. Basically, if you already know what a Quarterback is, then you are well on your way.
Games are often fast and physical. Tackling in American football isn't subject to anywhere near the same kind of restrictions that exist in rugby, resulting in tackles which can only be described as a legal form of assault. Just have a quick search on Youtube if you don't believe me. It's great to watch, in the most sadistic sense.
I suggest that you watch a few matches and find yourself a team to support. As with all sports, it's much more exciting if you have a favourite team which you can root for throughout the season. The selection process for choosing a team is entirely down to personal taste, but I first picked my team (San Diego Chargers) because I really liked their jerseys. Not much of a reason, I know, but I've been supporting them for the past seven or eight years, and I'm happy with my choice. You might pick a team because you like a particular star player, the state or city that they play in, or even just the team's name. I mean, how could you not like the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Cincinnati Bengals?
One thing you should watch out for is the signs that supporters make, and take with them to the games. If the camera pans onto the crowd, which it inevitably will, look out for the 'D-Fence' signs which literally consist of a 'D' and a fence. Yup. If you watch American Football for nothing else, watch it for this reason alone.
The NFL regular season begins on Wednesday 5th September when the Dallas Cowboys travel to play reigning NFL Champions, the New York Giants at Giants' Stadium. The other 30 teams get started on Sunday 9th and Monday 10th September.