I got into the NFL after I bought a second hand copy of Madden from a video game store, with a gift card that I won in a pub quiz. Flicking through the teams and trying to decide who to play as, I decided on the Ravens, mainly because of my love of the TV show The Wire. Little did I know that these unknown names – Flacco, Lewis and Reed – would soon hook me in.
I played Madden throughout the summer and started getting into the sport. It was the off-season so I went on Pirate Bay and downloaded old NFL games to watch and learn more. My first season was 2010. I had no friends who were into the NFL so I watched alone, left heartbroken by our playoff loss to the Steelers.
The next year I got a few friends into the sport and found a few people in my home town, Liverpool, who followed it. I attended my first live game, too: Bears vs. Buccs at Wembley. Cundiff wide left ended that season in more heartbreak and that was when I knew I was going nowhere. Even though this bizarre sport was happening miles away, I was so upset that my team had lost.
2012, what a year! I left uni that summer and, with the UK gripped by a financial crisis, I headed for Canada and better opportunities. My one aim while living and working in Canada was get to Baltimore so I booked a return flight from Toronto for the Steelers game.
I arrived in Baltimore on game day and the city was buzzing. The train I got from the airport downtown was filling with fans. I dropped my bag at the hotel and headed straight to the game. Tailgaiting blew me away. I am a big fan of ‘real’ football in the UK and had never seen anything like it. Thousands of fans! When I told people I was from the UK I got free beer and food.
The game started and I was overwhelmed by the pre-game hype. Sadly my hero, Ray Lewis, missed the game through injury and the result was horrific. Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a win in a defensive slug-fest.
I headed to a restaurant by the Orioles stadium after the game and sat with a random group of Baltimore fans who were shocked by my knowledge and passion for the NFL.
I stayed in Baltimore for two more days and bought a ton of merchandise (including a Ray Rice jersey I later binned). I loved the city. It’s a beautiful place and the people really stood out. So many chatted with me for ages about my love of the Ravens. They bought me things, showed me round and a groundskeeper even let me into Camden Yards for photos!
When we won the Super Bowl I watched in my Toronto living room and danced around like a madman.
The next season, the Ravens played in Buffalo, which is just over the border from Toronto. Again I headed down, this time on a bus full of Canadian Bills fans. Again we lost to an awful quarterback – EJ Manuel this time. Flacco was horrible and the ride back, with abuse from drunken Bills fans, was a nightmare.
I moved back to England the next year and since then the NFL has exploded. So many people follow the sport and the games are a big feature. I have been to Chiefs vs Lions and Jets vs Dolphins in the past couple of years. And then I saw that the Ravens were coming!
I live in Liverpool and went down for the weekend, dragging my Cowboys-supporting best mate along. He became one of us for the weekend. London isn’t my favourite place on Earth but the trip itself was good. I got to catch up with some old friends. I just had to drink a lot to forget that Wembley game.
I don’t really believe in curses. I’m probably the least superstitious person out there but my bad luck with the Ravens is making me doubt that! I have now been to three Baltimore games and seen us lose to Charlie Batch, EJ Manuel and Blake Bortles.
I don’t think I can ever go to a Ravens game again!
Photo: Keith Allison