As NFL, Rugby World Cup Kick-off, Pick Up The Ball And Run!
Aficionados and lovers of football–of the oval-shaped variety–are in seventh heaven this week with the start of the American NFL season and the Rugby World Cup in Paris.
Today, September 7, ruling Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, led by the brilliant quarterback Patrick Mahomes, get the American Football season underway by taking on the Detroit Lions; while tomorrow, Friday, in the glorious 80,000-seater Stade de France, Les Bleus challenge world Rugby’s dominant force, New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks.
Has there ever been such fortuitous confluence between two great sports, one indubitably the progenitor of the other?
In a year, moreover, when Rugby–and American Football, by extension–celebrates not just the quadrennial World Cup but the decisive moment 200-years-ago when schoolboy William Webb Ellis, a pupil at the famous eponymous private school in the Midlands, picked up a (round) football and ran hell-for-leather at goal, effectively inventing a new sport.
No surprise, then, that the bookies have made New Zealand, followed by South Africa’s Springboks, both three-times winners of the men’s Rugby World Cup, as favourites to lift the trophy, named for Webb Ellis.
Ireland, current Six Nations champions, and France, with their thrilling, explosive, running game, are also in the mix.
Wracked by internecine strife, a mid-stream change of coach, England, who famously won the cup in 2003 with fly-half Jonny Wilkinson’s last-second drop kick, are nowhere to be seen.
Twenty teams, also representing Australia, Wales, Scotland, Italy, Argentina, Japan, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Portugal, Uruguay, Georgia, Romania, Chile and Namibia, begin their campaigns this Saturday or Sunday.
Any Given Sunday
Across the Atlantic, American Football is most famously played on “any given Sunday”.
Some 32 teams from America’s National Football League (NFL)–split between the respective North, South, East and West divisions of the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC)–compete in a bone-crunching odyssey to win the storied Super Bowl, which is effectively the sport’s world championship.
Over the course of the next 18-weeks, there will be 272 games in the so-called regular season, with teams vying for the play-offs to contest their conference championships and the winners battling for what will be Super Bowl LV111 (58) at the Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada on Sunday, February 11, next year.
The same Paradise, incidentally, that’s home to so many of our top gambling companies.
This will be the first season for some two decades that American Football will not feature the unerring precision throwing of Big Dog quarterback Tom Brady, record-holding seven-time Super Bowl winner with first The New England Patriots and latterly, in what proved to be an ‘Indian Sporting Winter’, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
‘Ma Man’ Mahomes; Jalen Hurts, of last year’s losing Super Bowl finalists, the Philadelphia Eagles; Josh Allen, of perennial also-rans the Buffalo Bills; and Lamar Jackson, of the Baltimore Ravens, are all quarterbacks who have the smarts and dazzling skills to succeed at the very highest NFL level.
But will the likes of Tom Brady and legendary coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots trophy-winning bulldozer ever be seen again?
And it’s probably for the best, making for a more open and exciting season as it does when odds are narrowed.
Fourteen teams, led by the aforementioned Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Eagles and Lions and also the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, have been given more than a 50 percent chance of making the play-offs by the Stateside bookies.
Personally, I love the excitement, improvisation and unorthodoxy that Patrick Mahomes brings to the great American game.
But watch out for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who’ll be flanked by two killer wingmen–wide receivers Odell Beckham Jnr. and Zay Flowers–this season.
And once again, in all likelihood, you can dismiss the chances of America’s richest and most popular team, the Dallas Cowboys: The Manchester United of American football, gassed on past glories, whose only consistency is that they continue to deceive and flatter — season after season.
Language, hype and a love of football, in all its varieties, are not the only things we share with our American friends.
So pick up that oval ball — and run!