American football is the United States’ most popular sport and the NFL obtains the highest television ratings among major sports nationwide.
Even though the United Kingdom has its own beloved, proper shaped, football equivalent, the American version of the game has had a fairly substantial following in Britain since broadcaster Channel 4 began showing weekly NFL highlights in 1982. An estimated four million people tuned into watch Super Bowl XX between the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots in 1985.
A year later Wembley Stadium hosted its first ever NFL game between the Bears and Dallas Cowboys.
The World League of American Football (later renamed NFL Europe) took off in the early 1990s with the London Monarchs and Scottish Claymores holding UK fans’ attention.
In recent years, the NFL International Series has peaked further interest, with NFL regular season games being played at Wembley since 2007.
From next season games will move to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, while there has long been speculation that London will be chosen as the home of an NFL franchise one day.
In another positive move ahead of the new season, which begins in September, the NFL Academy will launch during the same month, aiming to create a pathway for a British kids to make it to the NFL.
The ‘NFL Academy: Stadium Showcase’ was held at Spurs’ new home earlier this month, with 150 teenagers taking part.
Although its aim is to create opportunities for future British talents, it might surprise you to know that the UK has actually already produced some excellent NFL gems. Six have even won Super Bowls.
Let’s check out some of the most successful, short-lived and weirdest British NFL exports:
New York Giants 2003-2012, Atlanta Falcons 2013-2014
Umenyiora can be considered right up there among the true modern great defensive players – perhaps not quite alongside the likes of JJ Watt and Brian Urlacher, but certainly a level down.
The elite pass rusher had 85 sacks during his career, 75 of them with the Giants, which places him fourth on the franchise’s list, trailing only Hall of Famers Michael Strahan (141) and Lawrence Taylor (132), and Leonard Marshall (79).
Overall he recorded 261 tackles in 161 games and forced 35 fumbles, recovering 13. He also holds the Giants’ record with three touchdowns on fumble returns.
London-born Umenyiora, 37, moved to Nigeria when he was seven, before moving to Alabama when he was 14 to live with his sister. Despite only receiving one offer of an athletic scholarship, he excelled at Troy University, moving from nose guard to defensive end. He was not invited to the 2003 NFL Draft Combine, yet was drafted in the second round (56th pick overall) by the Giants.
He was a part of two Giants Super Bowl-winning teams when they beat the Patriots both in 2007 and 2012, the first time a huge upset as they ended a previously unbeaten 18-0 season for Tom Brady and Co.
Miami Dolphins 2015-2017, Philadelphia Eagles 2017-2018
The 26-year-old running back was born in London to Nigerian parents and, despite moving to the States as a seven-year-old, is a lifelong Arsenal fan.
Ajayi was a high school star before attending Boise State from 2011 to 2014. As a junior in 2014, he became the first Boise State player to rush for 100+ yards in 10 games in a season.
He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft with the 149th overall pick by the Dolphins. He scored his first NFL touchdown in a 30-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers, playing in nine games and posting 49 carries for 187 yards in his debut season.
He featured in all but one of Miami’s 16 games the following season, rushing for 1,272 yards and scoring eight TDs. He was then traded midway through his third season to the Eagles, scoring a TD on his debut against the Denver Broncos and adding two more as the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII.
In one of the most spectacular Super Bowls in recent memory Ajayi rushed for 57 rushing yards as the Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33, giving them their first title in franchise history.
After his 2018 season was cut short by injury Ajayi is now a free agent and looking for a new team.
Kansas City Chiefs 2001-2002 & 2004-2006, New York Giants 2007-2012, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2013
Tynes has lived an interesting life. Born to an American Navy Seal father, Larry, and Scottish mother, Margaret, in Greenock, the family lived in Scotland until Celtic-mad Tynes was 10.
They then moved to Florida where Larry became a policeman, while older brother Mark got sentenced to 27 years in prison for smuggling drugs.
All this and we haven’t even mentioned the fact Tynes swapped the UK for the US version – eventually leading to two Super Bowl rings with the Giants.
He contracted MRSA due to unsanitary conditions after surgery to remove an ingrown toenail following a 2013 move to the Buccaneers. It ended his career and he received a settlement in 2017 from the Bucs.
Tynes’ road to the NFL was an arduous one. After attending Troy State he played in NFL Europe and the Canadian Football League before signing with the Chiefs. He made 190 of his 233 field goals attempted for an 81.5 per cent success rate.
Tynes is the only player in NFL history to have two overtime game-winning field goals in the playoffs. He kicked a 47-yard effort in the 2007 NFC Championship Game.
He’d previously missed two fourth quarter tries but crucially kicked the longer attempt to beat the Green Bay Packers 23-20 and send New York Super Bowl XLII.
In 2011, Tynes kicked another field goal in overtime to beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 and again send his side to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots 2001-2003, Carolina Panthers 2004, Kansas City Chiefs 2006
Today the New England Patriots are the NFL’s dominant force and their Super Bowl win last season over the Los Angeles Rams drew them level with the Pittsburgh Steelers on most titles in history – six.
But, prior to 2001, they’d not won one. Tom Brady was an emerging but unknown talent, but not quite as unknown as wide receiver Scott McCready, who became the first British national to win the Super Bowl when the Pats defeated the St. Louis Rams to lift their first Vince Lombardi trophy.
He was only a member of the practice squad so never actually saw any action during his two seasons with the Patriots – but the 42-year-old London-born receiver turned pilot at least has a ring.
Interestingly, McCready turned to aeroplanes after his career ended and actually became a pilot in the UAE for Etihad, graduating through their cadet programme in Al Ain.
He flourished as a rugby player in the Garden City – appearing with Al Ain Amblers at the 2009 Dubai Rugby Sevens.
An alternative career in the air force is perhaps not that surprising considering McCready is the son of an F-15 pilot who was in the British Royal Air Force and, growing up in London, he played for a junior side called the Heathrow Jets.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2006 & 2008, Miami Dolphins 2007
A distinguished career in the country of his birth didn’t’ quite equate to the NFL for Allen, who is a three-time BritBowl champion and also played in NFL Europe with the Frankfurt Galaxy, Rhein Fire and Amsterdam Admirals.
But the wide receiver was part of the practice squads for both the Dolphins and Steelers – he even earned a Super Bowl ring with the storied franchise in 2008 as they beat the Arizona Cardinals, even though he never saw any legitimate NFL playing time.
American football certainly runs in the family. Allen’s dad Tony is arguably the most successful coach in British American football history and the former director of international player and football development for NFL Europe. He is actually the new UK NFL Academy’s head coach.
Domonique Foxworth was born to American parents in Oxford, where his father was stationed with the US Army. Foxworth moved to the States as a child before going on to enjoy a six-year career in the NFL as a cornerback with the Denver Broncos, Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.
Graham Gano, who was born in Arbroath, where his father was stationed with the US Navy, has been the Carolina Panthers’ place kicker since 2012 and has kicked 224 of 273 career field goals. Appeared in Super Bowl 50 as the Panthers lost to the Broncos 24-10.
Visanthe Shiancoe, born in Birmingham, became a tight end for the Giants and latterly the Minnesota Vikings where he enjoyed a purple patch, scoring 24 TDs in five seasons. He had 27 overall in a career which yielded 245 receptions for 2,679 yards.
Born in Manchester, Menelik Watson’s first love was football before turning to basketball, moving to college in New York and California to play, only to then turn to American football and get drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2013 as an offensive tackle. Currently a free agent.
Linebacker Tim Shaw was a special teams coach’s dream, named in USA Today’s All-Joe Team, honouring the NFL’s unsung and underrated players, in January 2010.
Born in Exeter, he made 127 total tackles in his career with the Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Bears and Tennessee Titans. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2014.
Mick Luckhurst was one of the earliest British-born players in the NFL, playing for the Falcons from 1981-87. The Hertfordshire native scored a rushing touchdown on a fake field goal in their 1982 playoff game against the Vikings and retired as the team’s all-time leading scorer with 558 points, before being surpassed by the legendary Morten Andersen in 2000.
Currently the number four leading scorer in Patriots history, Oxfordshire-born John Smith played in New England from 1974 to 1983, the placekicker leading the NFL in scoring in 1979 and 1980.
Jack Crawford recorded 112 total tackles, 15 sacks, forced two fumbles and collected one interception during seven seasons in the league. Signed with the Falcons in 2017 after being drafted by the Raiders and then spent three years with the Dallas Cowboys, he was born in London.
A gifted rugby player in his youth, Lawrence Okoye was a member of both London Irish and London Wasps’ academies before turning to athletics. He represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, making the final and finishing 12th.
He was signed by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 but, after failing to establish himself, flitted around numerous other teams’ practice squads before dropping out of the league.
Born in Oxford, running back Sammy Morris put up impressive career numbers without ever really settling at a team. He had 3,053 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, with one receiving TD from 166 receptions and 1,258 receiving yards.
Obi Melifonwu became the sixth UK-born player to win a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots last year – appearing in two regular season games.
The London-born strong safety was selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2017 draft, but was cut and signed with the Patriots in November last year.
Also born in London, Jermaine Eluemunor grew up playing rugby and cricket but became interested in American football after watching the 2007 Miami Dolphins v New York Giants game at Wembley on television. He moved with his father to New Jersey and was drafted as a right guard by the Ravens in 2017.
Prolific former Wasps winger Christian Wade left rugby union last October to pursue a career in the NFL. Capped by England twice and a member of the 2013 British & Irish Lions squad, the Slough-born winger was signed as a running back by the Buffalo Bills in April this year.
With a public hearing looming and the threat of owners and league officials facing depositions, the NFL has settled collusion cases brought by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid.
The league, about to celebrate its 100th season, faced criticism from all sides thanks to the protest movement started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Kaepernick.
The league and Kaepernick’s lawyer sent out statements on Friday saying that “the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances” and that a confidentiality agreement would prevent either side from commenting further.
It remains unclear if the NFL admitted wrongdoing or how much money Reid, Kaepernick or others may have received. Considering the lost salary both players claimed and legal costs, the settlement could have climbed into the tens of millions of dollars.
Kaepernick and Reid filed collusion grievances against the league, saying they were blacklisted because of protests during the national anthem at games.
Kaepernick has not played in the league since 2016, while Reid missed three games last season before signing with Carolina. Kaepernick contended the owners violated their collective bargaining agreement with players by conspiring to keep him off teams.
A hearing had been scheduled for later this month.
It was finally supposed to be a changing of the guard, a new dawn for the NFL. After 18 years of utter American Football Conference domination, and it generally feeling like Tom Brady held the fate of entire NFL seasons in the palm of his glorious right hand, 2018/19 was supposed to be when the sand in his and the New England Patriots’ hour glass finally trickled out.
With a sixth Super Bowl ring against the upstart LA Rams on Sunday night in Atlanta though, Father Time instead proved he is still running like clockwork – even if the Patriots aren’t.
Offensively speaking, this is not a star-studded side. Bar excellent Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman the Pats possess a pretty paltry pass attack.
A banged-up, physically eroding Rob Gronkowski has soldiered on heroically in what could be his final season. The troubled yet extremely talented Josh Gordon was a mid-season acquisition, but was soon released and watched Super Bowl LIII from an in-patient facility in Florida following an indefinite suspension by the NFL for his latest run-in with lawmakers for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan meanwhile, are hardly names to strike fear into opposition defences. Rex Burkhead and James White, a post-season hero but still hardly considered glamorous, are the pass-catching backs. These are certainly not the star names of past fearsome New England receiving ranks.
Two years ago, Brady was without injured bull Gronkowski, but Edelman was ably assisted by Danny Amendola, now at the Miami Dolphins.
In 2015 he had Shane Vereen and Brandon LaFell. In earlier Super Bowls, Deion Branch, Corey Dillon, David Givens, Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk, Troy Brown and Daniel Graham were stellar and safe pairs of hands to throw to.
Even in defeats at Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, Branch and a young Gronk provided panache and poise.
Of course, Father Time didn’t exactly play to his accustomed superstar standards at Mercedes-Benz Stadium either. Like the bare arsenal at his disposal, the 41-year-old is not firing like he once did.
It was the only one of his six Super Bowl wins that didn’t produce a touchdown pass. His 262 yards passing was the third fewest of his winning efforts, while only in his debut on the grand stage, aged 24 in 2002 against the same opposition, did he throw fewer completions (21 vs 16 in 2002). His passer rating (71.4) was also his worst.
It was a microcosm of his season as a whole. During the regular season he threw more interceptions (11) than he had since 2013, and his rating dipped to 97.7, putting him 11th among NFL starters. He was 10th in touchdowns and seventh for yards thrown.
Yet even with a giant of the game’s powers diminishing, he still made the difference when it mattered most.
In one of the worst Super Bowls ever witnessed (the lowest scoring in history), he showed up, almost right on cue – delivering a 69-yard drive masterpiece that included two clutch throws to Gronk, another player somehow still ticking, before Sony Michel plunged into the end zone from two yards for the game’s only touchdown. Though he was far from ticking, Father Time struck just in time to deliver the game’s telling score.
Of course, a large slice of the praise must be shared with another veteran figure, his coach Bill Belichick, 66, who now surely has an unrivalled claim to the crown of best NFL coach ever. Perhaps even a stake as one of the greatest coaches to have graced any sport.
The NFL is somewhat in a state of flux, a little like men’s tennis. Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem appear on the cusp of challenging the dominance of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal. Yet they just can’t quite shift them.
It’s the same in the NFL, where despite the undoubted talent and arm strength of Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes among others, they can’t quite push the elder statesmen aside. The respective AFC and NFC Championship games featured Mahomes and Goff (23 and 24) but also Brady and Drew Brees (41 and 40).
It’s not that the new generation is flattering to deceive. A whole host of names impressed this year, none more so than vanquished Rams QB Goff and Kansas City Chiefs phenom Mahomes.
Their gargantuan promise was best encapsulated in a bizarre and brilliant encounter in LA in November, a game that ended in a 54-51 triumph for Goff’s Rams, shattering all kinds of records.
By season’s end Mahomes became only the third player to toss 50 touchdowns in a season – drawing level with Brady’s 2007 exploits. Only Peyton Manning’s 55 TDs in 2013 tops this.
Stats such as these steered Mahomes to the 2018 MVP on the eve of the Super Bowl. At 23 he became the youngest winner since Dolphins deity Dan Marino in 1984. Mahomes earned 41 of the votes. New Orleans quarterback Brees got the other nine. He had earlier beaten the Saints stalwart to the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award too, winning by 30 votes to 16.
Goff may not be quite as spectacular a player but also delivered on previous promise this season. His 4,688 yards were the fourth most behind Mahomes, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger, with 32 touchdowns enough for joint sixth and a passer rating of 101.1 good enough for seventh. All three were higher figures than Brady.
But when you’re up against arguably the greatest player of all time, it’s unlikely to be an easy task to push him aside.
Despite all the promise and stats padding of the emerging duo it was Brady, who is just six years younger than these two young pretenders combined, lifting a sixth Lombardi trophy.
At 41 time is no longer on Brady’s side. But his timely contribution to claim a sixth ring proves Father Time is not quite ready to be placed against a wall like a grandfather clock just yet.