On Sunday I wrote about my excitement at my team, the Washington Redskins, returning to relevance with their first division title, and first home playoff game, since 1999. Sadly the excitement was short-lived, as the season came to a shuddering halt, along with quarterback Robert Griffin III’s injured knee. Fingers crossed it’s not as career threatening as it looks, but it’s definitely a nasty one.
My post-season blues were very quickly shrugged off, though, as I had something else to look forward to – an NFL fan night to be held in Edinburgh the following evening. Although I hadn’t been lucky enough to secure tickets, my friend Ian had, and so it was that we headed through to Auld Reekie not really knowing what to expect.
We arrived at the venue, the rather magnificent Hub, about 10 minutes before the evening was due to begin, and found ourselves decent seats in the middle of the hall. I reckon about 200 fans were in attendance, mainly decked out in NFL jerseys or other merchandise, and with most of the league’s 32 teams represented – exactly the kind of thing I expect the organisers were expecting to see.
After a brief welcome from Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds, the evening began with a film, Barry Sanders: A Football Life. Now I love NFL Films, who’ve been setting the standard for sports documentaries for a long, long time. And this retrospective of one of the best running backs of all time (third best, according to his own father!) didn’t disappoint. The mix of archive footage and interviews, mixed with modern day interviews was perfectly presented, and I learned a lot about a player I remember fondly but didn’t have much opportunity to see play.
After the film it was on to the main event, a chalk talk and Q&A with coach Jeff Reinebold and NFL legend Mark Brunell, who just happens to be the last Redskins QB to win a playoff game! This portion of the evening was let down slightly by technical issues – Reinebold appeared to be having problems with his telestrator. Instead we got a live action demonstration of zone read blocking, during which he managed to “offend” Edinburgh Wolves head coach Don Edmonston with a jibe about offensive linemen’s athleticism. Other topics covered included the upcoming NFL games at Wembley and a look at each of the teams still in the hunt for this year’s Super Bowl, as well as answering questions from the floor.
Things came to a close about 9:45,, and after getting pictures with Reinebold and Brunell it was time to head for home. I really enjoyed the evening, and felt like I learned a lot. Reinebold is a charismatic presenter, who makes even the complicated aspects of the game easy to understand (the game itself, he says, is actually pretty simple – something I’d agree with) and had the audience in the palm of his hand. As you’d expect of a 19 year NFL veteran, Brunell had some stories to tell, and it was great to hear first hand accounts of guys like Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Drew Brees. Reynolds, too, was excellent, keeping the evening moving and throwing in some stories of his own.
Similar events are being held tonight and tomorrow in Birmingham and Leeds, and I’m sure all those in attendance will enjoy them as much as I did. It’s great that the NFL are putting on events such as those, and bringing the game closer to far-off fans. As I wrote the other day, it’s all a far cry from the week old highlights we watched back in the 80s, and long may it continue!
I’m already looking forward to the next event, whenever or wherever it might be. Glasgow would be nice!
Tickets for this year’s NFL International Series games at Wembley are now on sale. Visit http://www.nfluk.com/tickets-events/nfl-wembley for more information