The NFL’s unique mix of adverts, scantily clad cheerleaders and occasional bursts of activity rolls into Wembley for the latest step in a project we assume will one day end up in global domination and the establishment of the United Continents of America.
Now some trends coming from the less sophisticated side of the pond we do our utmost to avoid – the dropping of the brilliantly unnecessary ‘u’ in words like colour that we’re so fond of, How I Met Your Mother and any film starring Katherine Heigl to name but a few – but the NFL on Sky Sports has become as much of a part of our Sunday evening as quietly praying the office has burned down over the weekend. To the casual observer it may look like a series of excessively violent acts and borderline sexual assaults, but spend some time watching it and you begin to appreciate the precision and powerful elegance behind the game. And of course there’s the borderline sexual assaults.
The Tampa Bay Buccanners are making their second trip to Wembley. The Bucs – to use a name that makes it sound like we know what we’re talking about – are owned by none other than ‘destroyer of Manchester United’ (© every United fan between 2005-2010) Malcolm Glazer. Surprisingly, the fans’ plan to angrily wave Norwich scarves in his general direction hasn’t been enough to force him and his family away from their lucrative investment and as the flow of Premier League titles and defeats to Barcelona in the Champions League Final has remained strong, the antipathy towards him has largely abated. Probably because it doesn’t hurt his standing in the eyes of the American Football loving section of Red Devils followers, Glazer’s team become the first team to make the regular season trip to Wembley twice – a decision surely not entirely unrelated to the fact the game also takes place right in the heartland of the United fanbase – London.
After a few seasons of indifferent performances, there are signs Tampa Bay are on an upward trajectory. Although they fell short of extending their season into the Playoffs, they finished strongly and took the form into the new campaign. For the most part. Not too dissimilar to the modus operandi of his English Football franchise, the Bucs have the knack of coming out on the right side of tight games. The exception being the 49-3 tonking they got at the hands of San Francisco a couple of weeks back which is pretty much like getting beaten by a score-line of ‘7 – a half’ in football. They’ve made a good start to the season without being exceptional at anything. They could lazily be described as ‘jacks of all trades, masters of none’ and as we’re quite lazy, that’s how we are going to describe them. They’re mid-ranking on most offensive stats; they’re mid-ranking on most defensive stats; they basically couldn’t be more middle of the road if the workers from the local council came along and fastened a series of cats-eyes to them. That said, they’re a youthful team getting the job done and under the leadership of exciting young quarterback, Josh Freeman, they look to have a bright future ahead of them.
Their opponents are the Chicago Bears, a team with little connection to the UK other than the fact their winters aren’t dissimilar to what you’d expect to get in northern Scotland. They started the season spoken about as a team with the potential to go to a Super Bowl, but already they’ve dug themselves into a hole that means they’ve very little margin for error in their remaining games. Historically, the Bears have been synonymous with ferocious defence and that has the foundation for a couple of recent extended forays into the Playoffs. When the defence doesn’t get on top of opponents however, the offence isn’t prolific enough to compensate and that largely explains their 3-3 start to the season. Jay Cutler is their hunky quarterback type and although he’s immensely talented, his inconsistency has resulted in rather a few clumps of hair being pulled out around the Windy City. He’s capable of putting up some big passing numbers, but every now and then he throws in a stinker. In his defence however, this season his offensive line haven’t been a huge amount of help and he’s taken a bit of a pounding. He’s been sacked a NFL 2nd highest total of 19 times, which – sadly for the Bears – is one of the few stats where the team have a representative towards the top of the list.
The Bears are considered slight favourites to win the game, but regardless of who comes out on top, there’s probably no need for either team to Buc a trip to Super Bowl XLVI.