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Friday Five: 5 Reasons to Follow American Football

Tamba HaliI'm an American Football fan. I wasn't as a kid, but by the time I hit high school, it was inevitable. That's what you do in Kansas City. Eat. Watch football. Eat while watching football. Eat while waiting for the football to come on. Eat to drown your sorrows about the football. Etc. GO CHIEFS.

Now that I live in the UK, my relationship is a little more distant - I still watch the games I can (including tomorrow's playoff game). And, if the remoteness of the action is a shame, it is made up for by the fact that I've discovered a horde of other estranged football fans, both in London and on the internet. Tweeting enthusiastically isn't quite the same as getting decked out in red, eating a whole pig and yelling til my throat hurts... but it'll do. For now.

So, here you go - five reasons to follow football:

“Like chess with violence”

There’s a lot of emphasis on the hitting, but football is really about strategy. You have 25 seconds between plays. During that tiny period of time, the two teams try to outmaneuver one another. They change players on the field. They run around. They try to second-guess the play that’s going to be called. Then, when the ball is snapped, everyone executes their crazy strategy and all hell breaks loose. It is like a turn-based war game. With a ball. Kasparov agrees.

Given that the best ways to watch football are actually over the internet (not through Sky), it is easy to follow both the action and the tactics. NFL's Gamepass is a blast (and there's always a 'try a game free' promotion going on somewhere). Alternatively, if you search, you can generally get games through their local radio stations, which is a lot of fun (and free) - you follow the stats and the video highlights live online through, while listening to the teams' announcers. 


The NFL has some terrific rules having to do with the draft, the salary cap and revenue sharing. Everyone’s got an equal shot - you can’t throw money at problems and buy a championship. There are still ‘dynasties’ where teams are good every year, but those are down to exceptional players and coaches, as well as excellent, well, resource management. And the bad teams always have hope - they get the most exciting new players through the draft, and they aren’t stuck at the bottom. (Unless they’re the Browns. Sorry, Cleveland.)


I made this case when I set ‘sports’ as the monthly Fantasy Faction writing challenge in October, but sportswriting can teach a lot to budding genre writers. Sportswriters are people that fundamentally describe action for a living. More than that, the great writers - like David Halberstam and Grantland Rice - found ways to imbue said action with emotion and significance. Handy lessons. They could not only describe throwing a ball about in a way that made you feel like you're there, but they make you care about it. That's a handy trick. 

Geeks love it

There are loads of sneaky NFL fans already through science fiction and fantasy, including Clarke nominee Drew Magary, wargamer/former player Chris Kluwe (bonus: follow him on Twitter during games) and Giants/Jets bigamist GRRM (just so you know, that sort of behaviour explains a lot about ASOIAF). Did you know that Tywin Lannister is based on the coach of the New England Patriots? And that Tolkien's Ringwraiths were inspired by the Dallas Cowboys? Or that Kvothe is Tim Tebow fan-fiction? ALL TRUE FACTS.

Football is coming to the UK - might as well get on the bandwagon now

The NFL is now throwing all the money it can on breaking into the European market (in case you haven’t noticed the zillion-pound Regent Street takeovers and the like). But the whole story is actually a bit more interesting...

The best comparison, of course, is the X-Men.

CyclopsImagine the NFL is Cyclops and Los Angeles is Jean Grey (insanely powerful, completely bonkers, #2 TV market). They have a wild, passionate relationship that ends with her untimely death. Over and over again. Once she even comes back from the dead as Madeline Pryor, who turns into the Goblin Queen and moves to Oakland.

Cyclops still has feelings, and in order to get Jean’s attention, begins a manipulative dalliance with Emma Frost, the London market - British, foxy, extremely hard to get. Jean Grey, meanwhile, is making up for lost time with Wolverine - shorter, scruffier, prone to misbehaviour - LA’s wildly popular college football teams.

And that’s pretty much where we are now. Cyclops is entangled with Emma Frost, who, despite the perpetual sarcasm and derision is starting to warm to his all-American enthusiasm. Jean Grey is still rolling around in the hay with Wolverine, but his bad-boy charms are starting to wear a bit thin (college football = more fun when you win).

Plus, there’s the ticking time bomb of the Jacksonville Jaguars, that is to say, Beak - the universally acknowledged crappest member of the X-Men, who has exactly zero fans. If Beak leaves the team (and, please leave the team), there’s a new opening - which means Cyclops can promote either Emma or Jean to active duty. But he can only choose one, and after that choice is made, he’ll alienate the other forever.


So there you go. Football is like Game of Thrones and the X-Men and it is free and it is inevitable and it is smart and it is awesome. What else do you need?

Leave your own reasons to watch football in the comments - and if you're a fan of a particular NFL team, please share!