The NFL: A True Story

Ben SharpeCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2008

Keeping up to date with the NFL wasn't easy when I was a boy. Without trying to patronise the youth of today, please just humor me while I explain how things were back in my day.

I remember being a young lad, trying to listen to the big ball game on my transistor radio. The signal kept cutting out and every few minutes I'd have to rotate the wireless a few degrees to get it back. Then, by the time the 4th quarter came, the announcers were so faded by crackles and foreign voices, I'd have to move myself and my radio into the worked better in there. 

As for TV, well, we had the luxury of an hours worth of yesterday's highlights once-a-week. They were presented to us in a fantastic - but very basic - form, by a former local gridiron hero.

A weekly newspaper was all we had to keep us up to date with training camps, college picks, trades and controversies. Yes, the printed press kept us abrest of all things Pro-Football back then.

The real treat would be an annual thing though.

Once a year my old man would take me to a game. Fair enough, it was a pre-season contest, but we didn't live in a franchise city, so when the NFL circus came to town we relished it.

It was a golden age. We didn't have a lot to go by, but it was a time of wonderment. An era long gone. Never to return.

I am not, however, referring to the Midwest of the 1930's and 40's. No sir!

I am describing what life was like in the early 1990's, being an NFL fan and living in England.

Let me explain.

The radio coverage was from AFN (Armed Forces Network), which always managed to interrupt German radio talk shows. The listener, would regularly be treated to audio treats, such as: "Ich habe eine...MARINO...schwester...PUMP FAKE...sie hast brau...END ZONE.....TOUCHDOWN!!!!...augen

It was the only regular live link to America's Game that we had at that time. I loved my radio. I loved Marino. I loved that German dude.

TV was also great. Mick Luckhurst presented NFL Highlights once-a-week on Channel 4. My dad and I watched the games as if they were live. Luckhurst was a British bloke with a strange accent. He was once a kicker for the Atlanta Falcons, apparently their all-time leading scorer. He always came across as a nice chap. I've heard he's doing well.

The newspaper I mentioned earlier was called First Down. It was superb! My dad had a mate who used to supply me with stacks and stacks of his old copies. I'd spend hours reading up and studying the NFL and the characters that occupied it. Now defunct, I sincerely miss First Down. Reading from a computer screen just isn't the same.

And, of course, we had the American Bowl. A yearly exhibition game at the old Wembley Stadium between two top NFL teams. Yes, the games were meaningless, awful to watch, and downright patronising to the customer who was paying good money for tickets. But I can always be safe in the knowledge that I saw the true greats of the era play the game: Bruce Smith; Reggie White; Steve Young; Joe Montana; Barry Sanders; Emmit Smith...

It geunuinly was a lovely era. A time I shall never forget and will always cherish.

But are things better these days?

Now, in the UK, we obviously have the internet and internet radio. Also, Sky Sports show over 100 live NFL games a season. There's even talk of NFL Network being broadcast on UK screens next year. Hell, even the bloody BBC are showing live games!

Don't get me wrong, I want for nothing now. I love being up-to-date on all things NFL, I love the coverage, I love being in-the-know. But I sometimes think back to those days and miss the thrill and the buzz of being so far away.

The innocent excitement from getting a rubbish radio transmission for the big game cannot be equalled by simply logging onto the internet. It's too easy now. Sadly also, Luckhurst is no longer on our screens. I genuinely liked that man.

In short, the world is a smaller place now. Information can be sought from anywhere. But I love this game, I always have. Whether it be through a crappy old radio on AFN, an ol' newspaper, 50" Plasma with Hi-Def or whatever, the NFL is a great game. A game for the ages.

Before I sign off, here's a point of note:

My father has recently retired and for his retirement gift, I'm taking him to the Saints/Chargers game at the new Wembley Stadium this October.

We haven't been to an American Football Game together for over 15 years. I hope he likes it as much as he used to. I know I will.