I traveled down to the NFLUK kids flag football tournament with much fear and trepidation, mostly as I had to fly – and I really hate flying – but also because I was about to have the opportunity to interview some of the biggest (literally) sports stars in the world. Just 42 hours earlier I had been too afraid to say hi and shake the hand of ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris in the airport, a hand of someone who had met John Lennon, Bob Marley and Joe Strummer. How was I supposed to find the words to keep the interest of a bunch of 20 somethings who I am certain just wanted to get the day out of the way and go and roll around the London Eye.
I began to get quite star struck as the likes of Nat Coombs and Mike Carlson arrived and relaxed myself with a wander round the event. I was quite taken aback that most media types simply hung around at the building while the flag football tournament was going on. What they missed were almost 1000 well drilled boys and girls competed quite seriously for their age against other schools in the area.
The tactics been employed by what looked like 10/11 year old’s must have been impressive to the guest coaches from the US, I saw some end around and wild cat formations, while others simply went for the good old Hail Mary every play. The game in the UK is needless to say continuing to grow in popularity.
I cut my teeth with a quick couple of questions to Stefon Diggs of the Minnesota Vikings. A friend of mine is a huge fan and was interested to know a few things so I was well armed and confident in my questions. He had the look of a very confident guy who had been in this position a number of times. I would also suggest that he looked wary of giving anything contentious away and determined not to have anything he said misconstrued by the British media. When I asked who he would prefer to be catching passes from this season he simply said that both quarterbacks were extremely talented and of huge benefit to the team, also that Teddy Bridgewater was recovering well from his injury.
The focus now upon me it was my chance to shine, I caused a wry smile by pointing out how close Diggs got to 100 catches in the past season – indicating perhaps his frustration at not quite achieving a target – I asked if he had an eye on the 122 catch record set by Chris Carter. Diggs told me that his focus is 100% on the team and helping the Vikings get to where they want to be together, that any records that might happen were just a bonus. I believe that, however the steely look in his eyes also tells me he knows exactly what the records are and I believe he wants them just as much as the team success.
Next I came across probably the cutest interview of the day as a very young boy and girl were taking it in turns to interview the Rams’ Johnny Hecker. This was organised and filmed by Ticketmaster who want to show the family side of the sport. If I could offer any advise in helping attract families, perhaps something can be done about ticket resale where prices currently sit at around £800 for Dolphins/saints.
My turn came with the Rams punter and it resulted in my first one on one time with a player. I initially struggled to find my words but he was very nice about it and I quickly got comfortable. As a Seahawks fan I had to resist mentioning the time he was chased down by Mike Bennett and Cliff Avril and quite unceremoniously hit the deck before taking a hit – and to be fair who wouldn’t! I instead took a different tack and asked given the teams relative success against Carroll’s Seahawks was there anything that the team did differently to prepare for these games. I sensed genuine honesty when he suggested that they did not do anything special for these match ups, and that simply their strengths match up against the Seahawks weaknesses, and that the rivalry may just motivate the team further.
Anyone who has watched the recent All or Nothing series featuring the Rams will know of the atmosphere surrounding the team at the end of last season, both with the loss of Jeff Fisher, and a lot of uncertainty of their jobs with the new coach coming in. The positivity that I got from Hecker was a complete turnaround of that from players on the show. When I asked if he was ready to throw this season and how was the arm he told me “I’m ready to go, if coach McVey calls on me then I’m ready and willing”. He also made reference to still having special teams coach Jon Fassell with the team so that for his particular unit they would be ready to provide us with more entertainment when it comes to special teams.
Please, return to the site in a few day as I tell you about some interesting conversations with Tyrann Mathieu about the Cardinals 2017 motivations and some geeking out about the offensive line with Joel Bitonio.