- David Fleming, ESPN Senior Writer
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In the crazy, topsy-turvy world of the NFL sometimes fans just need someone to talk to. So once a week Mag senior writer David Fleming will exchange emails with one lucky (we think) reader. If you'd like to have an email exchange with Flem, click here and pour your pigskin heart out. Go ahead, Flem's listening. And be sure to check out the weekly Flem File on Page 2 tomorrow and every Wednesday.
I just finished reading your latest e-mail exchange and I just wanted to say that I am from Ireland and I have never set foot in the USA and I've never experienced a live NFL game in person. But when I was a kid, they used to show highlights of the NFL games on TV and that got me hooked on football.
-- Rev. Paul Murphy, Bengals fan born in Ireland now living in Spain.
FLEM: I really appreciate your e-mail Paul, because everyone was getting a little tired of "Dear Flem" becoming a whinefest for fans of bad teams. I noticed that you're a Bengals fan and an ordained minister. Is that right? And, if so, have you administered last rites yet?
REV. PAUL: No I'm not a priest. I became a Reverend through one of those websites for a bit of fun. Apparently I can legally put the word reverend before my name so why not?
FLEM: Dude, help me out here with the whole online theology thing: did you need a new nickname and did all this so people would start calling you Rev?
PAUL: Ha! The truth is I took on the whole reverend thing in the hope one of my friends would want a Vegas wedding and I'd get a free trip in exchange for performing the service! I'm from the Cork area, which is in the very south of Ireland. Beautiful countryside down there, I highly recommend a visit. I was working in a bar there, and some regular customers of mine knew some people who were opening a bar here in Spain and asked if I would be interested in a job. I jumped at the offer, figuring it would make a nice change to get some sun for a year or two, and those couple of years have turned into seven years almost to the day now.
FLEM: Oh my God—sorry fake father, Gosh—you're a bartender who can perform weddings? That's awesome. I must have the coolest readers in the entire world, seriously. We'll get to the NFL in a minute but, first, give me your favorite drink and best hangover cure.
PAUL: My favorite drink is Becks, and the best hangover cure is a big greasy breakfast then back to bed for the day!
FLEM: Okay, so, a while back when I was in Barcelona, I asked a cab driver where the (old NFL Europe team) Dragons played, and the guy said, "No, no, you are mistaken, there are no dragons in Barcelona!" What's the interest level in the NFL in Ireland and Spain?
PAUL: Here in Spain, there doesn't seem to be a huge following for the NFL. But in Ireland, it has quite a steady following, and these days you have the choice of watching between seven or eight games through digital TV. There's even an amateur league in Ireland, just don't ask me about the standard because I've never seen a game. But there's quite a few teams considering the size of the country.
FLEM: I'd love to hear more about how an 8-year-old kid across the pond somehow becomes a fan of the NFL. Was it a secret? What drew you to it?
PAUL: Back when I was a kid, I had to rely on a highlights program that was on every Monday night for an hour. In that hour, they would show extended clips of one game and brief highlights of five or six others. This would mean you would get the final score of your team but not necessarily get to see them play!
FLEM: Besides those highlights (were they just mesmerizing, the color, the violence, the giant athletes?) was there any other way to get NFL news? Did you feel guilty and try to hide it from your friends and pretend you loved soccer?
PAUL: What attracted me was just the whole spectacle of an American football game—the gigantic stadiums, the colors, the violence, the sound of helmets crashing together, the athleticism (e.g. a punt returner bringing it all the way back for a touchdown just like Stanford Jennings!).
FLEM: Stanford Jennings? Nice old school Bengals reference.
PAUL: I didn't try to hide the fact that I liked the sport. On the contrary, there was a group of about 15 of us (boys and girls) who would play football after school every day!
FLEM: So is there a favorite NFL team in Ireland?
PAUL: I remember a lot of Bears fans as well as Redskins, and 49ers. There were a couple of Cowboys fans who would play, but one stopped coming after complaining that we didn't pass him the ball enough. The other got grounded for trying to pick a fight with his babysitter.
PAUL: I couldn't tell you who would be the most popular team in Ireland, I think it's really varied why people might choose a team, because they have family in a certain city or they spent a summer in a certain part of the country. As you know, this past weekend there was a game in Wembley, and I know that quite a few Irish people traveled over to see it.
FLEM: How does the NFL effect the way people in places like Ireland and Spain think about the United States? Are they impressed by the enthusiasm and the magnitude of the sport, or do they think Americans obsess over athletics and spend too much time and energy on something as frivolous and violent as football?
PAUL: I don't honestly think it has a huge influence on how you are seen here. The majority of people probably don't understand the rules. The most common thing you hear from people is, "I tried watching a game once but there were too many stoppages and ad-breaks." Don't forget that over here the people are pretty enthusiastic about soccer, and you also have rugby which is a pretty tough sport. But I hate it when people over here try and compare NFL to rugby. They're both great sports, but apart from the physical aspect and the shape of the ball, they have nothing at all in common.
FLEM: In 20 years, could you see the NFL with franchises in London, Dublin and Barcelona? I did a story on Manchester United a while back, and people were speculating that they might add a New York team to the Premier League. Honestly, NFL teams are flying four hours from coast to coast already, what's two more hours? I used points to upgrade on my last trip to London, and when the plane landed I was like, 'Oh, man, can't we stay on the plane a little longer?' It's so funny when you hear all this analysis of team travel hurting performance, as if the Chargers were flying the middle seat in coach and connecting through Atlanta with just enough time to grab a sack of Krystal burgers before their next flight. So I think an NFL team outside the US is gonna happen sooner than we think.
PAUL: It's hard to tell how an NFL franchise would do over here. It would have to be in a big city like London or Berlin, and I think it would need a major PR exercise on behalf of the NFL for it to work. The problem is it would need to compete with other sports whose season runs at the same time as the NFL. So if, for example, a franchise was to start up in London, then they would have to start laying the groundwork years beforehand, because having to compete with soccer and rugby over there would be a big task. And like I said above, in Europe, people tend to be used to sports where there aren't so many stoppages, and they are a bit more free flowing. (Which does not necessarily mean more exciting. There is nothing worse than paying good money to go and see a 0-0 soccer game.)
FLEM: Amen to that. So which sports fans are the worst inside a bar: soccer, rugby, football, golf?
PAUL: I don't think there is a certain sport that attracts worse types than other sports. The more fans there are the better the atmosphere is usually. There have been times when Valencia soccer team have had to play English teams in European competition, and some of those fans can be a bit of a handful.
FLEM: You got time for a few more more world views on some hot NFL topics? Here's one: Cowboys: Super Bowl or super bust?
PAUL: Cowboys? This weekend against the Bucs was huge for them. All is not lost.
FLEM: What city outside the US, besides London, should the NFL go to next year?
PAUL: If we're talking about Europe, I think a city in Germany or maybe Amsterdam probably deserve a chance at hosting a game. In the final days of NFL Europe, only Germany and Holland had representative teams, so I guess there is a market there.
FLEM: The NFL in Amsterdam? Not. A. Good. Idea. Current player with the most international appeal?
PAUL: I guess somebody like Tony Romo, Tom Brady or Reggie Bush. The funny thing is I remember in the 80s if you asked most people who William Perry, or Walter Payton or Jerry Rice were, they would have answered "American footballers." Now if you ask who Tony Romo or Tom Brady is, the average person on the street is just as likely to say "oh yeah, he's the boyfriend of that bad singer" or "He's going out with Leo DiCaprio's Ex."
FLEM: Interesting. I don't know if that's good or bad for the NFL, though. International athlete you'd like to see tryout for the NFL?
PAUL: The South African rugby player Brian Habana. He could be a good little running back. He's fast.
FLEM: Didn't that guy race a cheetah or something? What percentage of people in Ireland and Spain know who the Tennessee Titans are?
PAUL: I reckon somewhere between 5 and 10% could tell you who they are.
FLEM: And, finally, the most important question of all. Rev. Barkeep Paul, if I'm ever in Valencia, I drink for free, right?
FLEM: … Paul?
PAUL: All you have to do is let me know when you are in Valencia, the drinks will be plentiful and free! (The food here is outstanding as well.)