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- My year and the NFL

Ian Hetherington February 9, 2006
Ian Hetherington
NFL Columnist

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This time five years ago, I didn’t know what a Denver Bronco was, the mysteries of the “downs” system were…well, mysteries to me. If you’d told me that “The Super Bowl this year had a dodgy PI call, a ‘phantom’ holding decision” and that “Roethlisberger was short of the line from 3rd and goal for the Steelers touchdown”, I’d not have understood a single word. NFL terminology? No. Know the name “Roethlisberger”? Not a chance, let alone have any idea what the hell a “Steeler” was.

Now, however, thanks to the powers of my brother-in-law, and a game of Madden a few years ago, all that’s changed. I’m now writing this as a proper Super Bowl viewer, coming off the back of following the past NFL season (as best I could) from the British side of the pond. It happened all of a sudden, to be honest. I had a team- Denver- based on the Broncos’ logo being cool when I saw it on Madden, and I knew as far as that the Broncos were alright and the Patriots were the team to beat. I even watched the Super Bowl before last, but to be honest, I only really went to watch it for the prospect of alcohol and food. And yet, here I am, preparing to write an article about my experience in my first year properly following the NFL, which will culminate in my view of an ultimately disappointing Super Bowl.

So it all started in September last year. With the wonderful University of Paisley in Scotland having cheerily informed me that they couldn’t provide me with accommodation, I moved in with my sister and brother-in-law for the semester, who I’m sure couldn’t have been more delighted. 24/7 (or as good as) exposure to a Redskins fan who loves NFL (and has been watching it for the best part of two decades if I remember correctly) was always going to have an effect. Pre-season came and went without much fuss in terms of the Broncos, and not much interest on my part. However, by the time the season had started I was signed up with the Pick’ems contest so generously hosted by Chris Pokorny on this here website (click the Google ads!), I was in a Yahoo Fantasy NFL league, various NFL websites were in my bookmarks to follow either results or news stories, and I was raring to go.

That didn’t last long. The Broncos promptly went and got a drubbing in Miami that- I’m not gonna lie to you- dampened my spirits somewhat. 34-10 isn’t a pretty sight if you’re on the receiving end. But, I had predictions to make and a fantasy team to attend to, so I soldiered on like the trooper that I am. And my perseverance was rewarded with AFC West wins over the Chiefs and the Chargers. Now this was more like it! The Broncos rumbled onwards, with only a second defeat- a fourth quarter pounding causing a loss to the Giants- to add to their losses column, until they beat an out of sorts Philadelphia. Which leads me neatly onto my next proper “firsts”.

The thing that struck me the most about this season was the controversy with Terrell Owens. It wasn’t so much his out-spokenness (is that a word? Who knows) or the earlier contractual issues that surprised me, as these happen in any team sports with mass-media coverage. No, it was the sheer amount of devastation he managed to cause, compounded by the later injuries to McNabb. The coverage of what he’d done, the actions taken by the Eagles, the eventual case being judged, the speculation of his future, the eventual situation he was put in for his misdemeanours. The whole thing surprised me a little with its longevity. And the other thing that happened around that time was the injury to Daunte Culpepper, who at the time I knew was a starting quarterback, and that was about it. I don’t have anything much to say about this, just it was the first big injury that came to my attention during my “first” NFL season, and thought I’d mention it. It’s my article and I’ll have as much uninteresting stuff as I like in it!

Anyway, moving on from that fascinating interlude (and hurrying things along, for all I know I’ve lost anybody who was reading it by this point), the Broncos only suffered one more regular season defeat (in Kansas), and everything was just dandy. The Patriots revived themselves, the Colts ended their unbeaten run with a splutter at 13-0, and the final playoff spots were fought for, and by various teams won and lost. I’d lost interest in the actual NFL games mostly by this point as the Broncos had already qualified. I saw bits and pieces of actual action, though only a single full game that I can recall. It was mostly following play-by-play updates on the internet, a few bits of highlights from the few recorded games we got on terrestrial TV in Scotland, complemented by the poor highlights videos from the official Broncos website. Despite this, however, it was still a surprisingly enjoyable way to follow the season.

So, with the Broncos having booked their first playoff game at INVESCO already, my attentions turned to the Yahoo Fantasy League, in which I managed to turn a deteriorating situation with my high-scoring team into a 3rd place finish, delightedly beating my brother-in-law in the playoffs after he’d thumped me earlier in the season with the help of 5th-string Samkon Gado of the Packers.

So here we go into the playoffs, and the Broncos have ended up with the Patriots. I have little to say about the game that hasn’t been said (mostly that the Broncos survived as much as they won), aside from that, this game provided me with my first “on my feet” moment in NFL viewing: when Champ Bailey intercepted from Brady and charged down the line, only to be smashed off the turf by a super-charged Ben Watson. After the Broncos stumbled their way to a win they then went onto the AFC Championship game to face the Steelers, who themselves were coming off the back of a nail-biter against the much-hyped Colts team. Denver of course lost 34-17 to the Steelers amongst the initial refereeing decisions that warranted study by the media in the days following the game. Unfortunately, bad calls seemingly ended up as the story of the playoffs.

The Broncos didn’t deserve to win in any way.

I’d rather not talk about it.

And so to the Super Bowl! The snacks were in the bowls, I had a frosty beer in my hand with smells of chicken wings and hotdogs floating in from the kitchen. Perfect for getting ready to watch the greatest spectacle of the year in my newfound viewing-fodder. There were no ulterior motives for me here. The Yahoo Fantasy League had been and gone with my triumph of 3rd place a mere memory, I was never going to win the PFCritics Pick’ems contest now. It was all about the game. Unfortunately. I think if I’d been wanting some of the players to be shadows of their usual selves because they were on a team facing me it would have been more enjoyable. Now, I’m no expert, but I wouldn’t have thought that, a few plays aside and a period either side of half time, heated discussions about “bad” calls should be the high-point in ANY game, let alone the centre-piece of the sport. But, nonetheless, I enjoyed it enough at the time, and as my first season of following the NFL came to a close, I began to reflect on what I’d seen.

Shattered hopes…new hope… the primal nature of the sport as regards the physicality of it… the roller coaster of highs and lows provided by teams each week for the masses. That’s not true. I didn’t think about any of that. Made that up. I was too busy worrying about a story I’d read on the internet and what kind of hell T.O could cause in Denver if he joins in the off-season. But that sounded better, right? Anyway, all this now means I’ve got my first off-season of drafts, hirings and firings, more controversy, injuries and whatever else is thrown into the NFL boiling pot for my spare time.

One thing I have decided is that to be a big NFL fan outside the U.S. takes more work. In the States you’ve got plenty of coverage on the television and in the papers, etc. The rest of the world really need to go out of their way more to find out what’s going on by way of satellite television (aside, now, from the Monday Night Football games on terrestrial T.V) and the internet. You need to make a point of finding out the scores most of the time, you’re unlikely to just come across the results from the night before.

But I’ve got some good news to finish on! If Denver don’t sign Terrell Owens and want to avoid all that potential controversy and trouble-making, then they might take an interest in Miami running back, Ricky Williams. Oh. Oh dear Lord…

Anyway, for you chosen few who have lasted through to the end, I thank you for bearing with me, and hope you enjoyed this ramble through the NFL season from my viewpoint as an NFL “newbie”, and I hope to provide more thrilling insights in the future, you lucky dogs!

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