I’ve recently gotten really into American Football again. I watched the Super Bowl earlier this year and it just reignited a passion that I used to have for the game back in the 80s. It is a bit frustrating to get back into American Football at the Super Bowl to be honest because there aren’t any games for seven months after that! And there also hasn’t been quite as much scouting combine, draft and training camp action as you would normally get, due to Covid. But I have been listening to three regular podcasts and also watching All or Nothing and Hard Knocks. I’m ready and primed for the new season.

But I’ve also been looking back at what got me into the NFL originally back in the day. American Football had a massive surge of interest in the UK in the mid 80s. It really did explode onto the scene and that was mainly thanks to Channel 4 who started showing the NFL in the UK from 1982. The presenters I remember are Nicky Horne, who I believe was the first presenter, then Mick Luckhurst, who had Gary Imlach as a roving reporter, and then Gary Imlach took charge as the main presenter after Mick left. Here’s the great Channel 4 ident that I thought was the coolest thing ever at the time…

It must have been around 1984 or 1985 that I personally really got into the NFL. I remember having two books, one produced by Channel 4 and one by Touchdown magazine. I devoured these things. The Channel 4 one was a great introduction to the rules of the game. The Playfair/Touchdown one was a little book that had all the stats of all the NFL teams, including the names of the stadiums and head coaches. I learnt them all off by heart. I still know the names of most of the stadiums from when I read that book when I was about 9 years old. If only I learned all my school work with such devotion.

Another big NFL memory I have, growing up in the UK, was when William ‘The Fridge’ Perry appeared on Wogan in what I guess might have been around 1986. He was that rare celebrity who transcended the sport and became a household name in a country where the majority of people didn’t even watch the sport.

I also managed to get my hands on a souvenir Super Bowl programme in 1989 and I loved pouring through the pages whilst watching the Super Bowl that year. I absolutely loved the page that showed all the previous Super Bowl rings.

I love old magazines in general, so a couple of months ago I also picked up an old issue of Touchdown magazine off eBay.

I’ve always loved the NFL helmets and I have just recently ordered two mini helmets, of the Dolphins and the Bears. I’d love to get a full size helmet one day but they’re just so expensive.

The big teams to me in the 80s, from a UK perspective, were the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears, the Miami Dolphins, the New York Giants and then perhaps the Cincinnati Bengals too because of the Super Bowl in ’89.

Here are the players that I remember most from the 80s and into the early 90s, and my brief awareness of them back in the day.

Dan Marino
Marino just seemed cool, fun, exciting and arguably the best player in his position for several years. He is the reason that I feel an affiliation with the Dolphins more than any other team and it’s the Dolphins that I will be supporting today (I always like an underdog!)

Joe Montana
Pure class. Unflappable. The 49ers really felt like they were ’the institution’ and the top dogs in the NFL. They felt like Manchester United in the 90s. Montana to the 9 year old me came across as a bit boring but also totally cool and reliable as a QB. He seemed to constantly pull out game winning passes to save games.

Jerry Rice
Again, pure class, and possibly the greatest partnership ever with Joe Montana. He didn’t even really look like a footballer. He seemed more thin and graceful almost like he should be a track athlete or ballet dancer or something! But he had that speed, skill and grace that really set him above the rest.

William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry
The Fridge was a phenomenon. His fame probably eclipsed his effect on the field. He appeared on The A-Team and at WrestleMania. He had his own GI Joe action figure. I just remember seeing him more on TV and in adverts than actually affecting games. But he was still the most famous footballer in the world for several years.

Lawrence Taylor
Now we’re talking. LT to me was the epitome of cool, badass, impressive, professional. If I wanted to be like any player it was probably LT that I wanted to be like. When I played rugby I was a no.7 wing-forward (flanker). So I aligned myself with linebackers, defensive ends and the people who tried to sack quarterbacks. LT was the king of the blitz.

John Elway
When I think of John Elway I think of him lifting Super Bowl trophies and being interviewed with ticker tape around him. When you think of the Broncos you think of Elway. The man’s legacy is pretty impressive.

Randall Cunningham
I always found Randall Cunningham extremely exciting to watch at the Eagles. He was in that elite group of quarterbacks that people knew and enjoyed watching. Shame he never won a Super Bowl.  

Walter Payton
I only caught the last few years of Payton’s career but my association with him is of coolness and pure class. Very all round skills and an ever present for the Bears. Great that he got to win the Super Bowl in 1985.

Boomer Esiason
I never really knew much about Esiason or the Bengals, but like many UK viewers we really got to know teams during the build up to the Super Bowl. Their appearance in the 1989 Super Bowl was right at the peak of my interest in the NFL and I really liked Boomer, his name and the Bengals’ helmets, so I supported them that year! Shame they didn’t win. Pesky Joe Montana with his game winning pass with 34 seconds left.

I can’t wait for the NFL to start up in only a few days. Hopefully they will get to play the full season and I can follow along for the whole of it and not just jump on board at the Super Bowl as in previous years.