Tue | Jul 17, 2018

Orville Higgins | NFL fever pitch

Published:Friday | February 10, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I am not a big fan of the NFL. I grew up on the traditional Caribbean sports of cricket and football and track field, and American football was just simply never part of my upbringing.

I never liked certain things about the sport from the outset. I wasn't too gung-ho about some big men running around in tights, jumping all over each other. The game seemed to place a greater premium on brawn rather than brain. In short, I just wasn't impressed.

When I first started hosting a call-in sports programme on KLAS way back in the early 1990s, nobody in Jamaica was discussing NFL on radio. I didn't think I needed to know the intricacies of the game when I again became a sports talk-show host a little over a decade ago, again at KLAS, but this time rebranded and now a full sports station. I didn't think Jamaicans would ever be too big on NFL. I was wrong. Very wrong.

For a few years now, the callers to my radio show have been imploring me to learn more about American football. I have, perhaps, half a dozen callers who constantly talk about NFL and I merely "hmm" "mhmm" and "is that so?" through much of those conversations! My callers are very demanding, however. They wanted me to be an active participant in those discussions.

So quite reluctantly, I decided to watch at least the Super Bowl. The first year I watched, which was three years ago, I wasn't sold. All I could see was grown men in tights tumbling over each other while one was given the responsibility of throwing the ball. Last year, I again suffered through it, and had it not been for further prodding by my callers, I would probably miss the Super Bowl this year.




There was much greater hype on Sunday. Tom Brady, of the New England Patriots, will always be in the conversation as to who's the greatest quarterback of all time. Prior to Super Bowl LI, we were told by all and sundry that if he won this year, the argument would be settled. He would then have five titles and would put everyone else struggling in his wake.

I didn't particularly like Tom Brady. I was quite suspicious of him when I first heard about the 'Deflategate' scandal. I subconsciously wanted him to lose and hoped the Atlanta Falcons, with their MVP campaigner Matt Ryan, would be good enough to whip him in the Super Bowl.

Most of the pundits told me that Ryan was too inexperienced. They felt the Super Bowl had to go to the veteran Brady. I simply went along with the crowd and said publicly that I thought Brady and the Patriots would win.

I was, therefore, not unduly bothered when Atlanta jumped into a 21-0 lead. I found myself saying, "What happen to the great Brady?" In the second half, as he helped claw his team back, I couldn't help being impressed. I was first struck by his temperament. He was ice cool, not flustered, not allowing anything to bother him, and then he started making some highly accurate throws under pressure.




I found myself cheering both for, and against, Brady at the same time! When the game went into overtime at 28-28, I was spellbound. It may well be one of the greatest comebacks in modern sport. All of a sudden, I was really WATCHING the NFL. The result didn't matter really. I didn't have a dog in the race, but I finally understood what the hype was about. The finish was breathtaking.

The next day, every single solitary caller to my show, except one, was discussing the NFL. Tuesday and Wednesday, the NFL discussions continued unabated.

I won't say I'm a fan yet, but now I understand why others are. NFL fans in Jamaica are bigger than I thought. The sport is here to stay!

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.