Last Sunday I had the pleasure of sharing a social occasion with Boris Johnson. Just me and 84,004 of his closest friends were at Wembley, drawn like moths to the otherworldly light that was the NFL International between the New England Patriots and the St Louis Rams.
The Mayor of London was in chipper mood and his general feeling of wellbeing and bonhomie manifested itself in the best one-liner of the night. Not that Tom Brady’s brief in-and-out press conference nor Bill Belichick provided a great deal of competition, the Patriots’ head coach is about as cheery as that old Tex Avery cartoon character Droopy Dog – on downers.
So the stage was left for Boris the Buffoon to steal and so he did with his imperialist curtain-raiser in which he referred to American Football as a ‘most glorious descendent of Rugby football’. Quite right too.
But younger generations usually go on to out-innovate, out-develop and out-grow those who have gone before and if there was any imperialism happening on Sunday night, we were all the recipients.
The National Football League is a superlative monolith of a governing body with an excellent product and is over-brimming with ideas how to promote and export it.
I honestly believe it is only a matter of time before there is a London franchise and I look forward to that day because, even though I feel considerable unease aligning myself with virtually anything else American, I’ve been seduced by the NFL since the 1980s.
And so, in recent years, has rugby union. Having learned a thing or two from League after the advent of professionalism, the sport it most apes now is gridiron. There is a shared lexicon, phrases such as turnovers, tackle counts and sacks have been adopted into union parlance.
Prescriptive play-calling has also become an increasingly important aspect of union, often to the detriment of creativity and improvisation, and there is not a team in the land that doesn’t have its patterns and structures.
But union still has some way to go if it is to match the NFL in other areas. Media relations are light years ahead and even though Belichick actually sounded like he’d stepped out of an RFU briefing when he said “Every week is tough in this league,” his taciturn ways are an exception to general rule.
Especially in the locker room where journalists are invited in to interview players in various states of undress, within minutes of walking off the field.
To a man they are polite and articulate and if there is something saccharine about their demeanour I’d rather deal with them than some of the peacocks that parade around professional rugby union. The Patriots and Rams were superb ambassadors for their country and I’d welcome them back tomorrow.