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UKNFL Interview- Jason La Canfora

Yes folks, we’ve snared a genuine NFL Network hero. If you’re anything like the UKNFL team you’ll spend a significant portion of your life watching NFL Network either through their channel or the NFL website. And if so, you’ll be familiar with, and be a big fan of Jason La Canfora.

Not only is he one of NFL Network’s top men, but Jason is a big tweeter, soccer lover and a lovely bloke to boot and we were thrilled when he agreed to give us an interview. So here it is…..

Hi Jason, massive thanks for giving us an interview. Working for NFL Network that must be living the dream right? Is that what you wanted to do when you got into journalism?

It is truly a blessing and I can not think of a cooler job, getting to report on football, travel to games and work alongside such a tremendous group of people, on camera and off. I always knew I wanted to be a sports journalist and was hoping to do both newspaper and TV work in my career and I’ve been lucky enough to have careers in both.

Growing up in the US (unlike over here) you must have been surrounded by football from an early age, what are your earliest memories, favourite teams and players from the NFL?

Without a doubt, football is such a big part of the culture here and I was born and raised in Baltimore, when the Colts were here and they were so tied to the fabric of the city. I remember going to training camp and games as a 4-year-old. Bert Jones was fairly iconic around these parts in the late 70s and Johnny Unitas was still always around at his restaurants. When the Colts left town I became a Chargers fan. They had such an amazing offense and I worshiped guys like Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, John Jefferson and Wes Chandler.

And are you, like the rest of us frustrated players, or do you much prefer watching?

At this stage of my life – I’m gettin old fast – I’d much rather watch! This is a physically demanding game and short of kicking, maybe, aint no way I would even think about trying to play in the NFL. The men who do are a rare breed.

What’s been your highlight of your time working for NFL network?

Its hard to pick one. Being on the field and sidelines for the Super Bowl is pretty hard to top, though, for our pre-game show. That’s a pretty amazing rush.

I’m guessing the current lockout  must be fairly frustrating (as it is for all of us) what does it mean for yourself?

I feel awful for people who have been laid off, or furloughed or had their salaries slashed because of the lockout. That’s been an unfortunate reality for a lot of everyday people who work for teams or the league office or for NFL Films or NFL Network.
For me, personally, it has stripped us of prime content like free agency, etc, and pretty much shut down the news cycle. Its been a very unusual offseason to say the least.

Where do you see the endgame of the lockout going? Do you think we’ll get a full, or any, season?

I expect a resolution in time to preserve the normal start of the season. And I think in future years the game will continue to grow and revenues will soar and this will seem like more of an economic blip.

Now away from football, followers of your twitter will know you’re also a soccer (though I’d still call it football) fan, how did that happen, who do you support and why?

I love soccer. It was my first love. Grew up playing and following it what were in many ways The Dark Ages for the sport in the US, as the NASL collapsed and well before the US hosted the World Cup and MLS began.
The US National team is who I mostly deeply support. As for club teams, its Leeds United. We just started to get Prem and Champions League games on TV here in the late 90s, and Elland Road was loaded with young talent at the time. I’ve stayed with Leeds ever since.

Can you see anyway that one sport could learn from the other, for example, could the NFL ever impose a transfer system like that of football?

Without a doubt in terms of global marketing, sponsorships, scheduling, merchandising there is a lot that could be learned. Adaptation of a salary cap model, transfer fees, etc, as well as promotion/relegation are all models that could prove educational and helpful between the two worlds of football.

If you had to pick a favourite sporting moment outside of the NFL, what would it be?

Watching US ice hockey defeat the USSR in the 1980 Olympics and watching US Soccer march to the quarterfinal in the 2002 World Cup (and very nearly the semis) are without a doubt the greatest non-NFL moments I have witnessed. Oh, and my Red Sox finally winning a World Series in 2004.

And finally, it’s a long way off even happening, but give us a sneaky superbowl prediction for next season.

Wow, that’s tough with this lockout making things wacky and with no free agency yet. I haven’t given it any thought yet, but I think New England/Green Bay would be a heck of a game. What do you think?

I agree, that would be good to watch. Thanks so much for that Jason!
A top bloke I’m sure you’ll agree. If you’re not already following @jasonlacanfora  on twitter. I do not know what is wrong with you. But the same applies to @UKNFL

And @JamieCutteridge

As I wrote this.

2011 Draft – Day 1 Thoughts

Well, that was certainly interesting. It would seem past pick number 5, teams we determined to make mock draft authors worldwide look very silly. At least it wasnt just us…

Here are a few thoughts from last night.

The first few picks were as expected; Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus & A.J. Green all going very quickly. I was a little surprised to see the cardinals pass on Gabbert but they clearly decided they wanted the best player in the draft and duly picked Patrick Peterson.

From there on, all hell broke loose. The Falcons traded up to the Browns spot (giving away a second pick this year and 2 picks in 2012) to grab Julio Jones, seeing him paired with Roddy White should be quite a spectacle. The Titans took Jake Locker with the 8th pick. I had to check this again when I woke up this morning cause I still couldn’t believe it. It was particularly amusing that his highlight reel footage was him throwing an interception. All the talk is they really wanted him, but what I dont understand is why they didn’t trade back. Noone expected Locker to go that high, and this is all with Blaine Gabbert still on the board (the 49ers passed on him aswell to take Aldon Smith).

Gabbert was gone soon after though (after Tony Romo got his human shield with Dallas taking Tyron Smith), the Jaguars traded with the Redskins to take him at 10. The mental hour continued with the Vikings making Christian Ponder the 4th QB to be drafted so far this year. As our own Jamie Cutteridge put it, the only good thing about that pick is that it made the Titans taking Locker look relatively sane.

My favorite pick of the first round was the Lions taking Nick Fairley at 13. So he’ll be lining up alongside Ndamukong Suh on the Detroit D-Line this year. I think even Aaron Rogers will be scared about that, so can you imagine how Jay ‘I got sacked 52 times last year’ Cutler is feeling right now?

It was almost as you’d expect from there on. There were some other suprises,  Prince Amukamara fell all the way to the New York Giants at 19, the Saints traded with the Patriots to take Mark Ingram at 28 and Da’Quan Bowers, having been touted as a potential 1st overall pick for a while, is still on the board going into the 2nd round.

For those interested, we hit on 7/32 of our mock draft picks. However, thats including Jones at 6 & Ingram at 28 going to the wrong teams after trades. Still, we got the pick numbers right so I’m taking a gimmie on those!

Crikey, I want the season to start already.

Andy Stuart

The UKNFL 2011 Mock Draft

This is the one you’ve all been waiting for. With just hours to go till the 2011 NFL Draft, here are UKNFL’s predictions for the first round.

1 – Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton (QB) – Whilst not the most talented player in the draft, Cam has potential to be a legend. The icon, the entertainer will have lured the Panthers into his eyes by now.

2 – Denver Broncos – Marcell Dareus (DT) – Solid, dependable, basically the opposite of Tim Tebow. With madness on the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos will look for some reliability and power up front with Dareus.

3 – Buffalo Bills – Von Miller (LB) – One of the very best in this years draft. The Bills looked very shakey in the middle of the field last year. Miller will bring some much needed security on defence.

4 – Cinncinati Bengals – A.J. Green (WR) – At some point in this guys NFL career you will stand up and shout ‘A.J. THAT IS RIDICULOUS’ at your screen. With mystery surrounding Palmer and QB situation, the Bengals take a weapon for whoever is under centre.

5 – Arizona Cardinals – Blaine Gabbert (QB) – Probably the most NFL ready of the QBs in the draft, but perhaps not as exciting as Cam. Think the love child of Mark Sanchez and beige (yes, the colour). The Cardinals have obvious needs here. Larry Fitzgerald does a dance of joy.

6 – Cleveland Browns – Julio Jones (WR) – “He’s quick. I want him. I take him.” That will be the draft strategy behind whoever takes Jones. In this case, after failing to land Green, the Browns give McCoy a present.

7 – San Francisco 49ers – Patrick Peterson (CB) – Arguably the best player in the draft this year, he will start from day one and could be one of the leagues best from the offset. The 49ers dire need for a secondary makes this pick all but a lock.

8 – Tennessee Titans – Nick Fairley (DT) – A vicious defensive tackle with an eye for the quarterback and a bit of ruthless streak. While his draft stock has fallen, Fairley is still sure to go in the top 10, and Tennessee will be very happy to fill the Albert Haynesworth shaped hole.

9 – Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith (OT) – Tyron, you have only one job: Keep Tony Romo alive this year. No biggie.  If you can do it, you’ll probably go to the Pro Bowl.

10 – Washington Redskins – Jake Locker (QB) – He’s got accuracy issues. But the Redskins have issues when it comes to not alienating their best quarterback. Locker is taken purely on the basis of not being Rex Grossman.

11 – Houston Texans – Aldon Smith (DE) – Unspectacular, but the Texans cannot afford to go high risk. They need to sort out their defence and putting another end opposite Mario Williams will suit. With Wade Smith’s new 3-4 scheme, they take Smith with his versatility in mind.

12 – Minnesota Vikings – Robert Quinn (DE) – It is likely that health concerns cause Quinn to drop this low. A premier pass rusher, the Vikings will be delighted to have 2 top class ends to bring the spark back to a defence that struggled last year.

13 – Detroit Lions – Prince Amukamara (CB) – Amukamara is yet another player in this years draft who should improve his team from the first game of the season.  The Lions will hope to continue the first round success they have found over the past few years.

14 –  St Louis Rams – Da’Quan Bowers (DE) – A knee injury has caused his draft stock to plummet (He was tipped as the 1st overall pick for a while) and it could turn out to be a blessing for the Rams. If he falls this far the Rams jump on the chance to vastly improve their D-line.

15 – Miami Dolphins – Mike Pouncey (OL) – He’s not a running back, he’s not quite as good as his brother, but he’ll give the Dolphins some much needed strength on the O-line and protection for their non-existent QB.

16 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Cameron Jordon (DE) – The Jaguars go defensive end with their top pick for the 2nd year in succession, but in reality Jordan can play anywhere across the D-line, and this should be a boost for a lacklustre defence.

17 – New England Patriots – Anthony Castanzo (OL) – With no deal in place for Logan Mankins the Pats bulk up their offensive line to protect both Brady and his perfect hair.

18 – San Diego Chargers – J.J. Watt (DE) – The Chargers have one of the better defences in the league, but they will welcome Watt’s toughness on an unspectacular defensive line.

19 – New York Giants – Gabe Carimi (OL) – Carimi ought to help give Eli Manning a little bit more time in the pocket (to pick out opposing players)  and allow their already powerful running game to flourish.

20 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ryan Kerrigan (LB/DE) – Kerrigan has the ability to get after opposing QBs from either end, but is versatile enough to fit in as a linebacker which is also a need in Tampa Bay.

21 – Kansas City Chiefs – Akeem Ayers (LB) – Ayers will add some much needed speed off the edge for the Chiefs. He won’t be the greatest run defender, but his athleticism could cause problems for opposing quarterbacks from first game of the season.

22 – Indianapolis Colts – Nate Solder (OL) – Nate Solder has the coolest name in the draft and is a perfect fit for the Colts whose offensive line took a beating last year.

23 – Philadelphia Eagles – Jimmy Smith (CB) – In comparison Jimmy Smith’s name is boring, but will give the Eagles some much needed help at Cornerback where Ellis Hobbs is unlikely to return after his injury. Smith is clearly very talented but there are concerns over his character. Step forward the Eagles clinic of Philadelphia. (President: Mr M. Vick).

24 – New Orleans Saints – Justin Houston (LB/DE)– A versatile edge rusher, Houston may be a long term project in New Orlenas, but could form a very strong partnership with Jonathan Vilma.

25 – Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Mallett (QB) – The cliché surrounding Mallett is that he has a big arm. He might not be a first round talent, but the Seahawks will reach for him as the long-term replacement for Matt Hasselbeck, knowing he may not be there at this stage in the second round.

26 – Baltimore Ravens –  Torrey Smith (WR) – The Ravens current crop of receivers are ageing. Smith has all the right measurables and could prove to be the reliable downfield threat to go with Joe Flacco’s big arm.

27 – Atlanta Falcons – Correy Liuget (DT) – Liuget causes penetration against both the run and the pass and will complement the Falcon’s pressure from the edge that comes from John Abraham.

28 – New England Patriots – Mark Ingram (RB) – Ingram is the best running back in the draft, but it’s a show of the lack of backfield talent that he goes this late. Even so, in the right system Ingram could flourish. Many have compared his style to Emmitt Smith, the all time leading rusher. Not a bad note to have next to your name.

29 – Chicago Bears – Derek Sharrod (OT) – Jay Cutler is not unfamiliar with the feeling of being sacked. He went down 52 times last year, and the Bears will pray that Sherrod can bring him some much needed blindside protection.

30 – New York Jets – Muhammed Wilkerson (DE) – With Shaun Ellis an aging free agent the Jets opt for some help at defensive end and take Wilkerson who has emerged from under the radar to be a credible first round pick.

31 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Brandon Harris (CB) -Raw but talented would be the best way to describe Harris. He has the skill-set to be a starter in Pittsburgh but they may have to be patient with him.

32 – Green Bay Packers – Marvin Austin (LB/DE) – Austin was suspended last year but wowed at his pro-day and may flourish in a winning, settled side, whilst the Packers need some help on the edge.

So there you have it. Get the beer & snacks in and enjoy the draft. We’ll be keeping you updated live through twitter, @UKNFL, so come join us!

Jamie Cutteridge & Andy Stuart

We’re off to Wembley…maybe!

A few things over the last week or so have given some reason for optimism regarding the NFL season this year. The schedules have been released, and with them the annual NFL International series game has been announced! Now, of course this all depends on if the season actually happens.

The following popped up in our inbox a few days ago:

“The NFL’s International Series of regular-season games is set to return to the United Kingdom in 2011 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Chicago Bears, the NFL announced today.”

“The game will be played on Sunday, October 23 at Wembley Stadium in London at 6:00 p.m. local time (1:00 p.m. ET). “

“Our past four games in London have demonstrated the tremendous passion for NFL football that exists in the UK,” said NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL.  “We hope by staging another extraordinary game at Wembley that we can continue to grow our existing fan base and attract even more new fans.”

And what happens if no CBA deal is done? Well they were kind enough to tell us that too:

“Should the current NFL labour situation be unresolved by August 1, the game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.” 

It all sounds pretty ace! A few years ago this might have been a slightly more, shall we say, uninspiring fixture. However, this season (when it happens, remember: optimism, folks) it could be really very good. 

Plenty of reason for excitement & ‘lolz’, Jay Cutler & Co. of course have the potential to provide both in pretty large doses. The Buccaneers meanwhile are one of the most exciting young teams in the NFL. Raheem Morris won the NFLUK Coach of the Year award, and with players like Josh Freeman, LeGarret Blount & Mike Williams they should improve on their impressive 10-6 achieved in 2010. 

Here at UKNFL we’re looking forward to this game. A lot. We’re expecting to be at Wembley on October the 23rd, and if you live anywhere in the UK, we really recommend you register interest and try to grab a few tickets. If you keep an eye on http://www.nfluk.com there will be an opportunity to apply for tickets, that way you’ll stand a better chance of getting some when they are eventually released for sale.

We’ll leave you with that taster for now. Keep praying the season happens, Bears – Buccs seems to good to miss!

Andy Stuart

Podcast 2- She Fleeced Him….

We’re back! There’s no UKNFL lockout and podcast 2 is here with more chat, Tiki Barber and puns than you could shake a stick at. We chat Superbowl, draft and CBA in a UKNFL fashion. So download it from here (right click, ‘save target/link as’) right now! Either that or search for UKNFL on iTunes and subscribe you lot!

Apologies for the sound quality and bizarre editing, there’s a lot on the cutting room floor from where our mics played up including a brilliant interview with Sky Sports columnist Alex Ferguson, make sure you check him out on twitter over at @viewfromamerica.

The Superb Owl (Allegedly)

Brett who?

Well wasn’t that good! For the fourth year in a row we were treated to a close, exciting Superbowl between two teams giving it their all.

The UKNFL team could have been found at the Superbash selling jerseys, discovering the free bar and asking NFL players about the future of their franchise but in reality all those japes were just a sideshow to a great game that ended an utterly mental, yet brilliant season of NFL.

There’s no need to go into great play-by-play detail, that will be done far better in numerous places but just leave you with a few, very tired thoughts.

Whilst Big Ben couldn’t quite finish it off with a late scoring drive, this has to go down as a great Superbowl, momentum repeatedly shifted from team to team, especially in the second half, and for once, the final blow was not Big Ben’s (allegedly) . After a start from the Packers that seemed to leave the Steelers stuttering over their lines like Gareth Gates on opening night (We really need more people with stammers, Gates is an easy, early 2000s examples that does not reflect the normal elegance of my prose), the injuries that have dominated the Packers season reappeared and gave the Steelers a sniff. It was at this point that a more inexperienced side than Pittsburgh may have crumbled, but Mike Tomlin’s men scored a crucial touchdown late in the first half and when they opened up the second half by cutting the deficit to 4 the momentum seemed to have swung away from Green Bay and an unlikely comeback suddenly seemed inevitable.

The spirit in the Packers team cannot be undermined though and the scenes of Clay Matthews being fired up by his linebackers coach may prove to be one of the defining images of Superbowl XLV (aside from the quasi-communist show (with added neon) at half time), and a talk that inspired Clay to hit Rashard Mendenhall forcing him to fumble, stopping a Steelers drive that looked destined to give them the lead and instead giving Aaron Rodgers the chance to lead his team downfield to put them 11 point up, a difference that, despite being cut to 3, ultimately proved decisive.

Before praising the virtues of Rodgers and the Packers, a quick word on the Steelers. They remain one of the most impressive franchises in the league. Big Ben has now reached 3 Superbowls, and despite a disappointing first half, the way he got his team back into shows how good a player he is. Mike Tomlin has continued the Steeler tradition of creating a team that is tough to beat and one with hearth to match their undoubted ability, and even managed to perform at half time. Whilst they fell short on the final drive (against the second best defense in the league don’t forget) they will once again start next season as contenders, presuming Big Ben is kept under house arrest in the off-season, allegedly.

As for the Packers, well all season I have struggled to spell Aaron Rodgers’ name, but I can now confirm it is spelt MVP. A superbly efficient performance from Rodgers who, despite a wobble in the 3rd quarter and a set of receivers with more balls dropping than an all boys high school, recorded over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns, coming up with a number of big plays when it really mattered. For a player whose career started in the shadow of Brett Favre, this will looked back upon as the season where Aaron created his own, less perverted, shadow. The whole Packers team deserves credit, after a shaky start to the season and loss of key offensive playmakers Finley and Grant, they found form when it mattered most. And then just as they appeared to be on the cusp of the championship, the injuries struck again to key receiver Donald Driver, last season’s defensive MVP Charles Woodson, and seemingly every other member of their secondary. But they stuck to it, when the going got tough, they kicked Billy Ocean and Boyzone in the face and got going.

The Packers are one of the most impressive squads, teams, and franchises in the league, an entertaining team to watch with a number of likeable players and charismatic fans, few therefore (apart from Steeler fans, naturally) will begrudge them this victory, their first since 1996, and one that could lay the foundation for a dynasty over the coming years. For Mike McCarthy, a coach that does not get the plaudits he deserves, his achievement to create a team that could cope with all these injuries is remarkable, as was his ability to keep his team’s collective head together, when Big Ben appeared to be in control. The Packers, from a tiny city, punched above their weight impressively, the anti-Big Ben. (Allegedly)

So a great Superbowl, a great season, and not a bad first season for UKNFL. Thanks for all your support, we’ll be all over the draft, and who knows, hopefully we might have a next season! But for now, the last word goes to Commissioner Goodell, Vince Lombardi is coming home!

Jamie Cutteridge