Growing up in South Africa in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, we had a weekly NFL hour highlights package on the sports channel ‘Supersport’. As a sports-mad kid, this was something new and I was hooked! Back then there was no Google so it took me close on a full season to understand the rules but I loved it.
When you don’t know anything about a sport, it’s natural to support the best team and at that time, the best was without doubt the San Francisco 49ers led by Quarterback Joe Montana and his wide receiver, #80 Jerry Rice. The 49ers won consecutive Super Bowls in the 1989 and 1989 seasons, to make it four in the decade, and then another in the 1994 season to make them the then most successful team in NFL history (the Dallas Cowboys now also have five with the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the pack with six).
I’d been to a NFL game before in Tampa Bay, Florida, to watch the Buccaneers, but I’d never seen the 49ers and I was super excited, and a little embarrassed given the size of my jersey, as I made my way along with 85,000 people to Wembley. There was a large tail-gating area outside the stadium with heaps of food and beer stalls and the atmosphere was terrific. (It’s customary to drink in the parking lot before games in the States and this is known as tail-gating)
From the pre-game show led by Neo and accompanied by awesome lighting and fireworks to the Jags mascot flying off of the roof down to the field, the 32 Jags cheerleaders (the Jags were officially the home team and thus only they had cheerleaders!) and the anthems before the game, it was all done very well and the NFL certainly knows how to put on a show.
The game itself was a little one-sided with the 49ers running out comfortable 42-10 winners. The Jags simply aren’t a play-off team this year while the 49ers look like they’ll go deep in the play-offs again (they lost in the Super Bowl last year to the Baltimore Ravens). Nevertheless, it was a fantastic afternoon and I’ll be following the 49ers as the season continues.
Just 24 hours before, we’d been in Dublin to watch the International Rules Series, a combination of Gaelic Football and Aussie Rules. I’d never seen either sport on its own and I was engrossed by the high-tempo nature and speed of the sport and the skill and athleticism of the players. The Aussies unfortunately hadn’t sent over their best team and also they struggled with the round ball so again it was rather one-sided but all credit to the Irish who played really well.
Before this ‘Gaelic Football meets Aussies Rules’ we’d watched a Shinty-Hurling match. Shinty is a twelve-a-side game resembling hockey played with curved sticks and taller goalposts played mainly in the Scottish Highlands. It is derived from Hurling, the national game of Ireland, which is played with a shorter stick with a broader oval blade. Hurling is 15-a-side and it shares a number of features with Gaelic Football, such as the field and goals and the number of players.
This match saw a Scottish shinty side take on an Irish hurling side but given the curved blade and thus the ability to hit the ball in the air, the Irish always had the advantage and they won easily. Nevertheless, it was amazing to see – it is so incredibly quick (hurling is reputedly the quickest game on grass) and physical with players not wearing any protection (even helmets seem optional as not all players were wearing them). There appear to be very few rules and players just ‘get on with it’ – it was something to see and I definitely plan to head back to watch a competitive hurling match.
All told, it was an action-packed weekend to kick-off a crazy two months of sports. This week it’s tennis, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, and rugby, the Springboks takes on the Welsh in Cardiff, so look out for the blog on that next week.