When two tribes go to war

Chris Cooley Redskins jersey

Believe it or not, I was a relative latecomer to American football. Channel 4 were well into their fifth season of NFL coverage before I decided to see what all the fuss was about, but it wasn’t long before I was hooked.

This was sport like nothing I’d ever seen, and it very quickly ousted “our” football as my favourite. Of course it helped that my adopted team, the Washington Redskins, were rather good at the time. My first year as a Skins fan they reached the NFC Championship game (the Super Bowl semifinals for the uninitiated). In my second year Washington not only got to the Super Bowl, but won it in convincing style, beating a heavily favoured Denver Broncos team 42-10, and setting all sorts of records, many of which still stand. Good times!

It should, of course, be pointed out that I didn’t pick the Redskins just because they were good. I’m not saying it didn’t help, but the biggest factor in that decision was having family who lived near Washington. I can’t remember if gifts of team merchandise were the cause or result of choosing the Skins, but it certainly didn’t harm, and 25 years on I still have all manner of programs, collectibles and newspaper clippings from that Super Bowl run.

Back in those days, NFL coverage in the UK was very different. We got a highlights show on a Sunday evening, showing the best bits of games that has been played the previous week. There were other ways to find out the scores though. Telextext was one, and there were multiple weekly papers with game reports and other news, not just of the NFL but also of games played closer to home, in the various leagues springing up around the country. And for the really dedicated, there was US Armed Forces Network radio which broadcast live games on a Sunday night. Unfortunately the AFN signal was pretty weak, and it was common to lose commentary just as things were getting interesting.

Things are very different today. Sky Sports have been broadcasting 2 live games on a Sunday night, and gradually other broadcasters have been getting involved as well. Most weeks this season had 5 live games shown across Sky, Channel 4 and even the BBC! And of course the internet has made a big difference, bringing us Brits the same level of coverage as fans in the US. 10 year old me would never have believed it would be so good in the future.

This year I signed up to the NFL’s Gamepass package, allowing me to watch any game I wanted to, live or on demand, which for the first time ever has allowed me to see every game the Redskins have played. And I couldn’t have picked a better year, as Washington put 20 years of mediocrity behind themselves (those glory days of yore didn’t last) and finally appear to be a force again. It’s been a lot of fun to watch, and via the likes of Twitter to feel part of.

Tonight, the Redskins will be hosting their first home playoff game since 1999, and only their second since winning Super Bowl 26 in 1992. To say I’m excited would be an understatement – I don’t think 10 year old me could be more excited. Poor Gem is fed up hearing about RG3 (aka Robert Griffin III)’s knee, or the state of the Redskins secondary. But I can’t help it – to get this far after so many disappointing years just feels so good.

I’ve even got Heather singing along to the team’s fight song, Hail to the Redskins. Does that make me a bad dad?

The Redskins go into tonight’s game against the Seattle Seahawks as 3 point underdogs, and most experts expect them to lose. So my playoff joy may be about to end abruptly. But we’ve been surprising people all year, and the experts aren’t always right. That’s why they play the games, after all.

Me? I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll get the win. As a fan, it couldn’t really be any other way.

Hail to the Redskins!

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!