Belfast American Football Writing

I write a column on American Football for a local paper - here you can read the reports a couple of days before they go in print; and my confused waffles...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

No quiet time

THERE’S no quiet time on the gridiron – as American Football enthusiasts look forward to the start of a new season locally, the NFL Europe kick off and the frenetic activity in advance of free agent transfers and the NFL draft.

Locally the Irish American Football League kicks off on March 12th, while NFL Europe gets under way a week later, with teams aiming to reach World Bowl XIV in Dusseldorf, Germany on May 27th.

Training camps for the teams are underway throughout Florida – and almost all are open to the public – details for fans who are holidaying in the area can be found at

And the German teams will be looking at an intense period in which to try to overturn the Amsterdam success of last season.

The Admirals secured their first World Bowl with a 27-21 victory over the Berlin Thunder, and will be eager to retain that crown in a league that is less and less NFL Europe and more and more NFL Germany, with one Dutch team added on.

While the criticism may hold valid there can be no doubt that the NFL’s European experiment is proving valuable in identifying players whose potential may have been missed, as well as offering a way for players who don’t quite make the grade another opportunity.

The NFL draft takes place on April 29th and 30th in New York, and even for those players who make it to the draft, and are allocated to a team, there’s no guarantee of making it to the NFL.

By September 2nd each team must cut its roster down to 53 players – and when it comes to trimming away players, coaches tend to go with what they know, rather than rookies.

For some the door to NFL Europe will be opened – for others their NFL dream will be over.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Team Ireland try-outs

See below my American Football Column which will be appearing in Saturday's 'Ireland's Saturday Night', hence the references to today for a the try-out session which gets underway on 18th Feb at 1pm

Team Ireland try-outs

AFTER the excitement and entertainment of Super Bowl XL, local American Football fans and players are preparing to get down to the nitty gritty of practicing for the March kick off in the all-Ireland league.

But before the season gets underway players will have the opportunity to try out for Team Ireland.

Previously the side was known as the IAFL All-Stars; but with the decision to take part in the 2007 European Championships comes the name change, and a new coaching team.

Coach Phil DeMonte’s coaching staff includes some very well known names including coaches with NFL, NFL Europe and EuroBowl experience.

His offensive coordinator is ex-NFL and USFL wide receiver Greg Anderson who is also coach of the North Dublin Marshals, with Darrin O’Toole as defensive co-ordinator.

Players from throughout the island had their first chance to meet the new coaches at the upcoming session at ALSAA Sports Ground, Dublin, earlier today (Saturday).

The session was open to all Irish players regardless of whether or not they have tried out before.

Players had the opportunity to be assessed using drills similar to those used in NFL Europe testing.

The coaches also ran individual positional drills.

The Northern Ireland teams are already in training, with the Belfast Bulls first league game scheduled for March 12th, and the Carrickfergus Knights getting underway on April 2nd.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Dreams can come true

SUPER Bowl XL proved many things, but for one man, it proved that dreams can come true – Jerome ‘The Bus’ Bettis.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers overcame the Seattle Seahawks with a 21-10 victory, there many remarkable firsts – the first team to win after qualifying for the play-offs as a wild card; the first win for the longest serving head coach, Bill Cowher; amongst many others. But it will be forever ‘The Bus Bowl’ now.

Unfortunately that will overshadow the remarkable game that Super Bowl Xl turned out to be. It wasn’t an all-guns blazing aerial shoot-out, nor was it a hard running smash-mouth line battle. Instead it was an intellectual battle between two coaching staffs desperate to out-smart each other.

Bill Cowher’s play-calling – as well as some resilient performances eventually won out. However, ultimately the Seattle players did their best to defeat themselves, despite the best efforts of coaches.

Mike Holmgren will look back ruefully on a game that, in the first quarter, looked to be a perfect execution of a game plan; a slow and steady capturing of field position.

Seahawks fans can moan about the refereeing calls – of which the officiating crew got too many wrong – but needless penalties called back too many plays. The Steelers conceded almost as many penalties; but they did not give up the yards in critical areas.

Mike Hasselbeck, after playing an exemplary first quarter simply didn’t get it done, because he and his offensive line could not adopt when the Steelers began to make adjustments.

They were unable to individually take responsibility, and when Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker escaped for a 75-yard run – it was not just the defence that looked deflated, it was an offence that looked out of ideas and frustrated.

Each time the Steelers showed Hasselbeck a new look they either failed to see it, or simply did nothing to address it.

The Bus, in the end, didn’t play a huge part in this game; Ben Roethlisberger deserves most of the Steeler’s offensive credit. But it would be churlish to deny Jerome this time. For in sports sometimes emotion can trump anything else, and there can be no doubt that Bettis’ desire to win that one last game, one last time in his hometown helped ever Steeler rise to the challenge.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Penalty killer

While the Steelers played hard and competent football, behind the romance of The Bus, it was the Seahawks who lost this game rather than Pittsburgh winning it. Massive penalties on big plays and two missed field goals cost Seattle the title

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The biggest and set to be the best

Below is my column for the Ireland's Saturday Night in advance of Super Bowl XL. Like any sensible pundit I'm not committing to print who I think will win, but here in the blogosphere I can offer up this view - Seahawks by 7....

SUPER BOWL XL kicks off in Sunday night in what is set to be a all-American feast of football and entertainment – and it could be one of the best finals the NFL has seen.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are aiming to be the first team to win a Super Bowl as a Wild Card play-off qualifier.

The Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren is aiming to be the first coach to win Super Bowl with different teams.

Add into that a stellar array of players, mini-stories, and emotion, the fact that the Rolling Stones are the half-time entertainment almost pales into insignificance.

It could be a story of running backs. The Seahawks Shaun Alexander has been
one of the best backs of the season, but few noticed him racking up the yards on the west coast.

Then there is Jerome ‘The Bus’ Bettis, coming back to where he played college football in what will be his last game. But it is Willie Parker who has been the unsung star of the Steeler’s rush attack.

Quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck of Seattle and Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh are both stars with points to prove. Hasselbeck wants to show everyone that he is more than the man who was Brett Favre’s stunt double at Green Bay; while Roethlisberger aims to be one of the youngest ever to lift aloft the Vince Lombardi trophy.

But with all these offensive stars both teams field defences that are resolute and built upon having depth and, at times, unique schemes to stifle and frustrate.

The battle to win this Super Bowl in Detroit lies with the offensive lines. The line that protects their QB, opens the right lanes at the right time for the rush, and the line that concedes the fewest penalties will decide who lifts Super Bowl XL.

With Mike Holmgren a coach with his heart in offence, his line holding out will be the decisive factor, meaning the Seahawks should just about edge this game. But with such emotion and so many sub-plots it would be a brave pundit who would claim to forsee the result.

In the early hours of Sunday morning viewers in almost 250 countries will know which team can claim the Extra Large Super Bowl.