So, after another half-year run of touchdowns, gravity defiance and carnage, we’re less than 2 weeks away from Super Bowl XLIX (49). It all goes down on Sunday, February 1st at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots. It’s not exactly the most exciting match-up, the Pats reach the Super Bowl pretty regularly, despite not having won one in 11 years and the Seahawks won last year’s game, trashing the Denver Broncos 43-8. I’m sure that must have been fun for them, but it wasn’t particularly entertaining to watch. Let’s put that to one side for the time being though and take a moment to look back at the rest of the season, because lord knows it’s been an interesting one. Here’s what we learned:
Domestic Violence is Getting to be a Huge Problem
Sadly, this depressing story is what will likely remain the most memorable aspect of the year in football. Following footage of Ray Rice attacking his fiancee in an elevator getting leaked, the floodgates opened and dozens of scandalous, unsavoury cases of player domestic violence began to raise their ugly heads. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tried to stem the chaos but ended up looking impotent and floundering (or like a broken android, according to South Park). The only positive thing to come out of all this was an almost global public outcry for more stringent regulations that would hopefully prevent this from happening ever again.
Peyton Manning Makes History
If you stand in front of someone with only the vaguest knowledge of American football and yell a series of names at them until you hit one that they recognize, they’ll probably knock you unconscious, but if miraculously they end up tolerating your unpleasant behavior, Peyton Manning might well be the name they know. Alongside Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, he’s probably the most well-recognised quarterback in the game and some would argue the best, as would the numbers. In week 7, during a 42-17 whipping of the San Fransisco 49ers he threw his 509th touchdown pass, the most of any quarterback in history. This might well have been his final year, so it’s fitting that it was the one which secured his legendary status, otherwise he might have forever been remembered as ‘that guy from the Nationwide adverts’.
UK Goes NFL Crazy(er)
Meanwhile, closer to home, the NFL bug caught on more than ever before. Wembley Stadium hosted 3 games this year, more than any year previous and every single one surpassed 80,000 people. There’s still some disconcerting rumblings about transplanting an entire NFL team to the UK, but hopefully logic will prevail there and it won’t get any further. We were also treated to our first nailbiter game on British soil. Usually the match-ups are fairly unevenly weighted, since the hosting teams tend to be the ones that struggle to draw a capacity crowd at home, which usually means that they aren’t very good, whilst the visiting teams tend to be the more recognisable flagship ones that will definitely draw a crowd outside of the US. What this essentially means is that most of the Wembley games have been blowouts. Not so with the Falcons and the Lions. Atlanta came out flaming and scored 21 unanswered points in the first half, only for Detroit to slowly claw their way back into contention in the second. Ultimately it all came down to one field goal with a few seconds left on the clock. Lions kicker Matt Prater missed the first attempt and, thinking it was all over, the Falcons fans (including me) went ballistic. Our glee was short lived however, as a delay-of-game penalty granted Prater a second attempt and the record-breaking kicker doesn’t miss twice, sailing it between the uprights and pushing the Lions past Atlanta to a 22-21 victory. It was intense and from my point of view, deeply depressing.
Devon and Leah Still – The Feelgood Story of the Year
In amongst all the doom and gloom with regards to criminal charges and whatever other nastiness, one uplifting story did emerge. A couple of months before the season was due to kick off, Bengals DT Devon Still announced that he was going to be taking some time out, because his 4-year-old daughter Leah had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that only affects children. His teammates stood behind him and set up a scheme wherein sales profits from his jerseys would raise money for pediatric cancer research. To date, over $1,000,000 has been raised from this scheme. In September Leah underwent a successful surgery to have her tumor removed and then something beautiful happened. Shortly before the week 5 clash between the Bengals and the Patriots, a music video featuring Leah was played on the jumbo-screens and the New England cheerleaders donned Still jerseys to honor her and her father, who was moved to tears. Leah got to watch her father play a few weeks later.
J.J. Watt Becomes the Biggest Monster in the NFL
If there’s one aspect that’s garuanteed to make a player legendary, it’s being able to play on both sides of the ball. Deion ‘Prime Time’ Sanders famously operated both as a defensive corner back and an offensive wide reciever and he’s one of the most recognised, celebrated hall of famers there is. One day J.J. Watt will be too. On the whole, the Houston Texas feel like a team that are cutting a wide circle around true greatness, some of the ingredients are there but it just hasn’t come together yet. Watt is their crown jewel. This colossal defensive end has garnered a worth reputation for scaring the shit out of quarterbacks and for good reason, this year he sacked the QB 20 times and scored 5 touchdowns, the most of any defensive player since 1944. One came from a fumble recovery and another from an interception as you might expect, but he caught the other 3 whilst playing offensively as a tight end. He’s probably the most rounded, capable player in the NFL.
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