1985 was the year. I can’t remember the exact date, when I became an NFL fan first time around. William ‘The Fridge’ Perry was making headlines in the UK and The Chicago Bears were steamrollering their way to Super Bowl XX which was played co-incidentally on my 13th birthday – even though it was my first day as a teenager, my dad still didn’t let me stay up to watch it!
Like most UK fans, Channel 4’s highlights programme on a Sunday teatime was my route into the wonderful world of the NFL. The glitz. The glamour. The razzmatazz. The cheerleaders (I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager remember). The players. The big hits. The catches (back in the day when a catch was a catch). I was well and truly hooked.
My first ever NFL top was a home Dolphins #13 followed a couple of years later by a home Giants #56. I can’t remember the exact reason other than perhaps at the time they were both elite teams at various stages in the 80’s – just to quell any rumours that I am a glory-hunting NFL fan I am a bonafide 100% Buccaneers fan.
For the rest of the 80’s I was addicted to NFL, watched the highlights programme every week, played Head Coach constantly on the Spectrum 48K, even owned a Wilson junior football and then it stopped, nothing, zilch and I cannot for the life of me remember when and why exactly. What I do remember is that my mum and dad ‘only’ had terrestrial television back then and if the NFL coverage moved from terrestrial then this would explain it. No live streaming of Thursday night games on Twitter in the 90’s.
Fast forward to September 2012 to a throwaway suggestion by a work colleague with regards to my first family holiday in Florida and I find myself hooked again and now a Tampa Bay fan.
Having a 20-year hiatus in anything is interesting, having one in a sport, which changes as fast as the NFL is quite frankly mind blowing. Below is just a selection (limited to 10) of some of the events, which have happened during my 20-year exile from the NFL (1992-2012).
1) Expansion of the League – I was used to the old format; 6 divisions, 28 teams. Once I found out that the league had expanded to 8 divisions, 32 teams I was naturally interested to find out which new teams were playing. As it turned out, there were more than four new teams for me to investigate.
2) In With the New – The following teams have all been added to the NFL season since 1992: Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, and Tennessee Titans. When you look at the success of the new franchises, I can only assume that the NFL helped these new franchises more than when the Bucs and Seahawks entered the league in the 70’s as it took a long time for either of these franchises to flourish.
3) Out With the Old – The following franchises either moved or ceased to exist: Los Angeles Rams (moved) and Los Angeles Raiders, Houston Oilers, one of my all-time favourite uniforms in the NFL (ceased to exist). Still cannot believe that up until 2016, there has been no NFL team in LA.
4) At Least the Browns are Still in Cleveland – This was probably the biggest surprise when I found out that this was a new Cleveland Browns as the old ones moved to Baltimore. The Browns were one of the dominant AFC teams during the 80’s and always seemed to be just one play short of making the Super Bowl. They were one of the historic teams in the NFL and had the legendary ‘Dawg Pound’. I cannot imagine the hurt felt by a city when an entrenched franchise moves on and then proceeds to win the Super Bowl within a few years. Ouch! If any current franchise in the NFL deserves any success more than others it has to be The Browns
5) The Stadia – WOW! There will always be a debate with regards to the new Super Stadia when compared against the history, atmosphere of the old grounds but fans have probably never had it so good. Although it was nice to discover that the likes of Soldier Field, Lambeau etc. still exist.
6) New England Patriots are the dominant team of the 2000’s – Although the Patriots reached the Super Bowl in my first year of watching NFL, I would have never described them as a dominant force and they never seemed to feature post season other than SBXX yet now they are the team to beat especially in the AFC
7) The Denver Broncos win Super Bowls – The Broncos seemingly always got to the Super Bowl (usually at the expense of the Browns) but always came up short in the big game. I wondered who was their QB for the SB wins because in the 80’s it was a guy called John Elway who never got the ring he deserved. I’m assuming that as these 2 Super Bowls were won in the late 90’s, Elway would no longer be playing………..
8) The Return of the Title to Title town – During the 80’s, Green Bay seemed to be about as far away from their historical past as they could have possibly have been. All I knew about the Packers was that it was very cold at Lambeau and they used to be the dominant force. Actually enjoy seeing the Packers being successful again
9) Player Protection – I must admit, one of the attractions of the NFL whilst watching as a youngster was the big hits on the guys carrying, catching and throwing the ball. The NFL has changed so much since those days and although true aficionados probably miss those days, any improvements with regards to player safety and future well-being must be made welcome.
10) There is no Off-Season – Maybe this has always been the case but certainly the NFL only seemed to last for a few months. Now with global coverage, social media there is no off-season. From Free Agency, to Combine, to Draft Day, to pre-season, the NFL never sleeps.
There have also been some legends/characters who have came and gone over this 20 years. Below is a selection of players whose entire career I have missed (again limited to 10):
1) Brett Favre
2) Chris Carter
3) Derrick Brooks
4) LaDainian Tomlinson
5) Marshall Faulk
6) Orlando Pace
7) Randy Moss
8) Sean Taylor
9) Terrell Owens
10) Warren Sapp
On the plus side, although 1992 to 2012 will always be regarded as ‘the missing years’ thanks to NFL Network, Game Pass, and social media I have been indulging on all things NFL to make up for this period in my life and I must admit to being ‘A Football Life’ addict.
It is true what they say, ‘love is better the second time around’.
Stuart is a big NFL fan who loves the roller coaster of emotions that comes with being a Buccaneers fan. When he isn’t watching the NFL he is busy daydreaming about spending the rest of his days on Clearwater Beach with a Tampa Bay Cheerleader. P.S. Don’t tell his wife that. Stuart can be followed on Twitter @stuarty1973.