Finding the NFL
Growing up in the UK, I took the traditional route of playing, watching and following soccer. I completed the 1998 premier league sticker album. I played Championship Manager, circa 2003, to the point I had Stalybridge Celtic winning the 2026 Uefa Cup. Soccer was my life and my life was soccer.
I am not sure when exactly, but I eventually noticed this other type of football. American football. Around the turn of the new millennium, I started watching late night coverage of baseball and, later, American football. This was all done clandestinely as a teenager, watching Channel 4 or 5 late at night, sometimes with the sound off but pictures on. This became something I looked forward to on a Sunday night – staying up to watch late night Channel 5 NFL coverage.
It took a good season of watching before the explanations of Mike Carlson helped me to grasp more than the basic rules. And then his in studio demonstrations and pre-game telestrations meant I could start to understand formations, tactics and some basic technique.
The next step
The first Superbowl I can remember was Superbowl 37. I turned off at halftime with the Raiders down 20-3 to the Bucs. At some point between then and Superbowl 40 I became an avid follower of the NFL.
One vivid memory was a Monday night game and being blown away that they were playing whilst heavy snow was falling. It was a Steelers vs Ravens clash at Heinz field. The terrible towels were going, the heat was rising from player heads, and the quarterback’s breath was visible in the night air. I went away after this and looked up the AFC North. I decided: I want more of that.
Around the same time, I realised I liked defensive football. Actually, to clarify, I liked, and still do like, defensive players that try and annihilate an opponent. Players that play with little disregard for their own body, whilst trying to destroy someone else’s body. The only offensive player I liked was Jeremy Shockey, tight end of the Giants. Otherwise Brian Dawkins, Adalius Thomas, Troy Polamalu, Brian Urlacher and Shawne Merriman were the type of players I enjoyed watching. These were the players I would sign to my Madden dream team on the Playstation.
With this new perspective I also began to enjoy watching the two lines go head to head. Players like Brett Kiesel, with his big beard, breaking Carson Palmer’s knee in the 2006 play-offs. Haloti Ngata as a young rookie going up against the gnarled veteran Alan Faneca. I still didn’t commit to a team though, and only parked my allegiance as far as the AFC North.
Every year I would follow the AFC North and then root for the division winners throughout the playoffs. This wasn’t a sustainable approach. I soon realised it was like supporting Manchester United, Manchester City, Stockport County and Oldham Athletic. I had to make a choice.
Becoming a Raven
Luckily for me this choice was made simple. Firstly, because the Baltimore Ravens are obviously the best team in the AFC North. But more pragmatically it is because in 2012 I became friends with a group of people from Montgomery County, Maryland. They invited me to visit Baltimore in November 2014 and as part of the trip I was treated to my first ever NFL game.
I was so fortunate to be given the full day experience with some Raven season ticket holders. The people, the tailgating, and the atmosphere were unlike any sporting event I’d been to before. And in the stadium the pomp, glitz and show didn’t stop. I was instinctively jumping up at every first down. Then screaming repeatedly at every rival third down. And even despite watching a late loss to the Chargers I came away buzzing, wide-eyed.
From that day forward I was purple. I threw myself at following the team. Following the draft, learning the practice squad players, trying to understand team strategy and study the history. And with great defensive players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and a team traditionally built around playing proper hard-nosed football I was sold.
That’s how over ten years I went from a soccer fan to an avid Raven fan.