My love affair with the NFL began around 1986. Channel 4 in the UK had started four years earlier and, if my ageing memory serves me correctly, had started to show semi-regular game highlights.
Another pal of mine was into the NFL and we chatted about the games. What fascinated us both was the tactical side of this tough, rough sport. As a massive soccer fan and, at the time, a reasonably decent non-league player, I always pored over the tactics managers employed, particularly those used by smaller clubs to pull off an upset – an FA Cup giant-killing, for example. Watching the NFL, I realised that this game took tactics and game management to a whole new level. I was hooked.
Though I look much younger, (he says with a wishful look to the heavens), I was 17 in 1986 and the Chicago Bears were the team of the moment. Their defence is now legendary (though I would argue that the 2000 and 2012 Ravens defences were better) and even today many UK NFL fans will remember star names like Walter Payton and William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry.
Though I share a surname with The Fridge, I was never tempted to be a Bears fan. In fact, I didn’t develop a loyalty to any team. I’m really a sport fan first and a fan of teams second. I have my favourites, of course, but I have never been a fan who simply watches his own team.
As an aside – I find it extremely odd that American fans can change their allegiance from one team to another. How is that possible? En route to a Ravens game at the Giants last year, I got talking to a Giants fan fully decked out in his dark blue, number 56 Lawrence Taylor shirt – a legendary Giants player, for sure. The fan was in his mid-30s and told me he had been a dedicated Carolina Panthers fan until a few years before. I just couldn’t take him seriously after that. But I digress. Maybe the subject of fan loyalty is a subject for another day.
Of course, from 1984 to 1996, there wasn’t a Baltimore team at all. The Colts had left and the Ravens were yet to be. Quite honestly, I couldn’t have told you where Baltimore was on a map. Over the years, watching highlights and Super Bowls, I favoured a selection of teams. The green of the New York Jets always attracted me and that is probably where me heart would have landed if Baltimore had not appeared.
When I met the woman who is now my wife, I learned that her dad, Pete, had emigrated to the USA some 25 years earlier. It won’t surprise you to know that he lives in Baltimore with his wife, who is Baltimore born and bred. What’s more, Pete used to play American Football when he lived in the UK and has a fantastic knowledge of the game, so my love for the sport grew even more.
I went to my first game in at M&T Bank Stadium on 24th October 2010 and the Ravens were expected to comfortably beat the visiting Buffalo Bills. In typical Ravens fashion, they found themselves 24-3 down half way into the 2nd Quarter, with us shaking our heads at what was happening. Somehow they found a new gear and ended up with a 37-34 overtime win. What an incredible first visit to one of my favourite places in the world!
Nowadays I can boast a 5-0 record at home but, sadly, a 0-2 record away, having been to the New York games against the Jets and Giants in the 2016-7 season. We were awful both games, but despite living 3,000 miles away, I am not sure there is anything I feel as passionate about as the Baltimore Ravens.
They tick every box for me. I love the city, the uniforms, the way the organisation is run from top to bottom and the passionate fans that pack the stadium at every home game. It all feels right. Even though they don’t get it done all the time, they never hide from criticism, they always make me feel they are giving their all to get it right, and that makes me proud to be a Ravens fan.