19 Jul My NFL Origin Story
As an international fan of the NFL, I am always asked by US fans what got me into football and why I chose the 49ers as my team. Allow me to explain.
My story begins in the mid 80s in England. I was just being allowed to stay over with my friend Steve, and obviously we would stay up as late as possible. We would watch whatever movies were on late, like those early 80s horror films or Monty Python. We also watched a lot of sports, especially soccer as we played as much as we could until it got too dark to see the ball. One night we stumbled across an NFL game and were fascinated with what was going on. I remember being awed at the size of the players; from the 300lb+ DTs to the kickers, who looked more “regular”. I remember looking at the players on the sidelines dwarfing the coaching staff, yet hanging intensely on every word. We were hooked. The intense violent activity at the line of scrimmage at the snap, the expectation as the QB dropped back, surveying the routes being run by swift fluid receivers. The roars and chants of the crowds and how they seemed to know the subtleties of the game with each flag thrown or lack thereof.
It’s often said that Europeans have a problem with how there is a play for a few seconds, then a reset for longer, then another play and then a 3 minute ad break. This may be the case for a lot of countries’ sports, but we were trained for this: we had cricket! A sport where a game can last 5 days and even then possibly end in a draw. The play resets were honestly huge for me, as this bonded the dichotomy of the light and dark in football; the savage, brutal, high speed physical side, and the nuanced tactical side. This was and is truly the king of sports.
Then there was the fact that each player had a much more defined positional role than, say, soccer. I would often, in those early days, focus on one position and try to understand his role in the team and was particularly intrigued by the O-line, especially with sweeps and reverses and when a FB was in – the timing and footwork of those big guys is incredible!
These days, following the NFL is easy. I can watch all the games either live or on demand later with NFL’s GamePass. Back then, there’d be one game a week and you got what they gave you. I didn’t even consider having a particular team to follow at first, as I was just a fan of the game.
At that time, the most commonly shown teams were the Dolphins, Bears, Steelers and the 49ers. After a few games, we got to know a few players. There were even some preseason exhibition games played at Wembley Stadium. I think if you ask any UK based fans who got turned onto the NFL in the 80s, chances are they support one of those teams. It was due to my love of Roger Craig, Tom Rathman and that O-line that I chose the Niners. I came to appreciate the receiving corps very quickly, but my eyes were always glued to the line of scrimmage.
I also have a photo of my face photoshopped onto the body of an in-game Jeff Kemp, which I got at Disneyland much later.
I was also advised to pick a team whose city was a good place to visit, and I really considered some options seriously, but stuck with San Francisco, which I still have not managed to visit to this day. So much for that advice.
We all know that there have been some lean years for us 49ers fans, especially after Jeff Garcia and excluding Colin Kaepernick. Right now, though, has the distinct feel of a strong, competitive 49ers team here for several years, thanks to Jed York’s handling of the HC/GM situation, and the amazing job done by Paraag Marathe and his team.
Football is much more widely followed in Europe, and here in Germany where I live now it is not uncommon to see fans wearing caps and jerseys of their teams, and having casual conversations about the NFL is a regular occurrence.