Archive for the ‘ Interviews ’ Category

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.

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The Any Given Sunday Night – Paolo Bandini.

A great tool in increasing the popularity of the NFL in the UK is coverage in mainstream media. Paolo Bandini of The Guardian is the journalist driving forward coverage of the sport in the UK. Through his work on the Talkboards on the Guardian website, debate and chatter is whipped up into a frenzy on a weekly basis through a prediction league and other football-based anecdotes, and we thought we should try and grab an insight into Paolo’s personal experiences within the game.

Paolo obliged, and gave us a wonderful interview here at Any Given Sunday (Night), letting us know how he got into the sport, his thoughts on the season, and his predictions for the big prize at the end of the campaign.

Welcome to Any Given Sunday (Night), Paolo. Let’s begin by hearing a bit about your background with the NFL. How did you get into the sport, and which team, if any, do you follow?

I first got into the sport while visiting some family friends in Arizona when I was a teenager in 1997. I had been broadly dismissive of the NFL as a kid – football (or perhaps I should say soccer) was always my main sport, compared to which the American game looked far too complicated, as well as slow with all those breaks for adverts. But we were lazing around when a Cardinals game came on the television and I decided to try watching properly for once.

With a few pointers from my friends it didn’t take long to realise the sport isn’t as confusing as it looks, and when I got back home I decided to pick up a copy of Madden 97 on Playstation. It wasn’t long before I was totally hooked on that, and when I got chatting to another friend of mine at school (who I had known for years without ever talking about American football) he told me he was crazy about the NFL.

A few days later he came up to me and said he’d done some research and there was an amateur league in the UK. The next thing you know we were both trying out for the then newly-formed London Blitz youth team, along with one other friend we roped in. That was pretty much that – I wound up staying with the Blitz youth right through to 19, and even wound up as one of the captains for the Great British youth team as we bombed miserably at the European Championships!

Anyway, the NFL team I root for is the Cardinals – entirely because of where I was when I saw that first game. I probably could have been luckier in that regard, but hey – through my job I had the incredible privilege of being there to see them play in their first ever Super Bowl two years ago, and even though they lost that was something pretty special.

What are your thoughts on the season so far? Is this one of the most unpredictable seasons you have seen in a while?

Absolutely. The NFL has long prided itself on parity and this idea that any team can turn things around very quickly with the draft and free agency, but you wouldn’t have found a lot of people predicting that the Kansas City Chiefs would win the AFC West in preseason, nor that the Cowboys would go 6-10 (indeed, many had them going to the Super Bowl), while the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts would be scraping into the postseason on the last weekend.

I think despite this notion of parity we’re used to having one or two standout favourites going into the play-offs but while the New England Patriots are favoured right now, even they have had some funny games – most obviously getting blown out by Cleveland. Three weeks ago the Packers nearly beat them with Matt Flynn under center.

What’s notable to me is that in the last five seasons we have always had at least one team win its first 10 games. Everybody knows the – disputed – stories about players from the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins getting together each year and pop a bottle of champagne after the last team loses its perfect record. This season they were celebrating as early as week five. Nobody even got to 4-0 – the Chiefs were the last ones unbeaten and then only because they had a bye in week four.

The NFL regularly wows us with last-gasp victories and high-scoring match-ups. Personally, what is the greatest game you have ever seen?

God, there are plenty. The Cardinals’ win over the Packers in the wildcard game last year was preposterous but brilliant, and I was watching on television when the Titans pulled off the Music City Miracle in against the Bills in 2000, then again when the Colts came from 21-3 down to end the Patriots’ hoodoo over them in the 2006 AFC Championship game. I named that as game of the decade when I was doing an awards run-down last year, but if I’m being totally honest I think the one that will probably always stay with me and will always stay with me was Super Bowl XLII, when the New York Giants derailed the Pats’ perfect season.

I was covering the game for the Guardian, and it was the first time I had ever attended a Super Bowl, so I’m sure there’s a bit of that tied up in my memory of it as well, but I have been to a couple more since and if anything they have only helped reinforce quite how incredible that game was. The Steelers’ win over the Cardinals a year later had plenty of last-quarter drama but there was nothing like the reaction in the press seats to the one I saw when David Tyree came up with that catch against his helmet.

Media credentials for an event like that always state on them that you cannot make any public show of support for either side, but all around people were just losing control – shrieking, screaming, whooping. I think the context of the Patriots’ incredible season just made it all seem so improbable. When Brady led that scoring drive in the fourth quarter I just think everyone assumed it was done. Everyone except the Giants.

How far do you think the NFL has come in Europe in recent years with the invention of the International Series? Do you think London is ready for an NFL franchise?

Obviously as a fan of the sport I’m thrilled about the international series. I think there has been some naivety about the audience that exists in the UK on both sides of the Atlantic. I’ve heard and indeed spoken to US pundits who thought it wouldn’t last, that after a couple of games the curiosity over here would fade. What I don’t think they realised is that there is a significant community of people in the UK who really follow the sport and care about it passionately – indeed, at youth, senior and university level, American football participation has been growing significantly over the last few years. We may not be back where we were during that first wave of enthusiasm in the 80s, but I certainly don’t think they’re ever going to have a problem selling out Wembley for one game.

Whether there is enough support here yet for a London franchise is a different question, though. Would the many fans who come down from, say, Scotland, really make that trip eight times a season? Especially at the moment when money is tight (NFL tickets certainly don’t come cheap)? Maybe, I just don’t know. For me, a more realistic proposal in the medium term would be increasing the number of games in the UK to maybe three per season – I know the league has mooted something along these lines during proposals for extending the length of the regular season – and ideally holding them in different cities.

I have to admit I’m pretty sceptical about the practicalities of having a team in London. New York might be a manageable flight, for instance, but west coast teams would be at such a huge disadvantage playing road games here. That said, every owner I have had the chance to speak to about this has pretty much said it’s a question of ‘when, not if’ London will get a team.

How do you find the NFL compares to your other love, football? Are there factors you enjoy more in the NFL?

Ha – I’m not sure I even know how to answer that one to be honest. I love both sports, and they’re clearly very different. Having mostly played at centre-back in football and linebacker in American football, I will say that the one factor I always enjoyed more about while playing was getting to clobber people without getting sent off!

No interview would be complete without putting you on the spot for a Superbowl prediction. Who do you think will be lighting up Texas at the end of the season?

If the Eagles get on a roll with with Michael Vick I think they could overturn anyone, but I’m finding it hard to look past the Patriots. “Never pick against the Pats” has become the unofficial mantra among many posters on the weekly Talkboard I run for the Guardian, so I’ll stick with that.

Interview by David Dickson.

An Interview With…David Tuckman.

This week on Any Given Sunday (Night), we have an interview with Sky Sports NFL presenter and pundit David Tuckman. You will regularly see David debating the finer points of the game with Nick and Kevin on a Sunday evening, whilst in other areas, David covers poker on networks across the world and sits at the helm of Sky’s very-own NASCAR coverage. We spoke to David to ask him about his beloved New York Jets, his tips for the Superbowl, and his thoughts on a London franchise…

 

Welcome to Any Given Sunday (Night), David. Let’s begin by finding out about your own personal NFL background. Regular Sky viewers know you are a big Jets fan, but what path led you to support the New Yorkers, and what makes you proud to be a Jet?

My first JET game was when I was in my Mom’s womb. One of my basic rules of life: If you’re at the stadium after conception, but before birth, you kind of need to be a fan for life.

What do you think of the Jets season so far? Many predicted a fair degree of success for the team this year, but you must be pleased with how it has gone up until now?

Honestly I could write pages and pages about the Jets. I’ll keep it short. Coming into the season, the expectations were high and they had a target on their back. They were definitely setting themselves up for a letdown. They’ve responded, and with an 8-2 record, they are in good shape to make the playoffs.

They have a ton of holes that they’ll need to shore up if they want to get to where Rex believes they can go though.

What is your favourite story of the season so far? Randy Moss’ never-ending journey? The Cowboys’ self-destruction? Or something else?

My favourite story or the best story? My favourite story is the Brett Favre Saga. I feel dirty about it, but I’m kind of enjoying him go up in flames this year, probably only because I predicted it.

That and Mike Vick. I love dogs more than anyone; I had one for 11 years that I lost a little over a year ago and I’m very sensitive when it comes to animal cruelty. That being said, I’m enjoying watching Vick rebuild his life, his career and his legacy.

I think every fan has one particular play that is imprinted in their memory; that made them jump out of their seats. What is your favourite individual play of all time?

My favorite play of all time?! Wowsers, off the top of my head, I’ll go with a non-play. Dennis Byrd walking onto the field at the Meadowlands. I saw the game and the play that injured him and it still haunts me to this day. Watching him walk onto the field (I was there) was one of the most emotionally inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

On this very blog last week, we discussed the issue of a franchise in the UK. Would you support the idea? And if not, what are the major flaws in such a plan?

Of course I’d support the idea, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t some major flaws. Most have been talked about at length. I just wonder if a team could be competitive in the free agent market. Would players want to live in the UK? I would, but I’m not so sure about others. Travelling across the Atlantic every week would just be so draining for the players and the team. Logistically it sounds like such a nightmare right now. I do think it’s something that can happen, but unfortunately, my guess is that it’s not happening anytime soon.

What I am in favour of for now is each team playing an extra game – a 17th game.  The 17th game for each team would be played at a neutral site – many of which would be international.

In your experience, how do fans in the UK compare to those in the US? Now the ‘cult’ aspect is lifting in this country, are we becoming almost as obsessive with the sport?

Fans in the UK are great, simple. ‘Cult’? Well, it’s weird because some of ‘cult’ aspect of following a team in the States is because you’re from that area. It’s kind of like being a fan of Liverpool FC because you live 10 minutes from the stadium. Nothing beats the impact of growing up with a team in your backyard and cheering for them because your Dad did and his Dad did.

The team at NFL Sunday seem to increase in popularity every year. What’s it like to work with Nick and Kevin?

Thanks for that! I love working with on NFL Sunday. I am very lucky to have that opportunity. As for Nick and Kev, they are both great guys. They both know a lot about the game and they are very welcoming to new faces on the show. They made my transition very easy.

Finally, no interview would be complete with you giving us your tips for the ‘Bowl. Who do you fancy to bring some rare quality football to Cowboys Stadium this year?

My pre-season Superbowl pick was the Packers vs the Jets. Do I stay with it? Jets’ defense has been good, certainly not great. Green Bay have been decimated by injuries. Every other week a new team emerges as the favourite.

I think the season doesn’t really start until Thanksgiving. That’s when it turns cold and the contenders/pretenders start to show their true colours. Who is going to get hot at the end? Who will have that momentum heading into the playoffs?

The Patriots? I still don’t think a defense that inexperienced will be able to hold up come playoff time. The Ravens? A vastly overrated defense, but Flacco is for real. The Colts? Not sure they can overcome the bevy of injuries. The Steelers? This is team you can get behind, but they are struggling with injuries on their offensive line. The Jets? They’re still getting abused week in and week out by opposing tight ends, and Sanchez, whilst brilliant one week, shows his inexperience the next. They’ve been winning a bunch of close games and that should help them come January.

One of those 5 will represent the AFC and I see no reason to change my preseason pick yet.

In the NFC, Atlanta? If and only if they can get home field throughout, have you seen Matt Ryan’s home and away splits? New Orleans? If they can get more balance on offense. They need a running game. The Packers? So many injuries. Might be too much to overcome. Chicago? Really? Seriously?! I look at that team and wonder how they are 7-3. In fairness, their defense is playing lights-out ball. The offense is killing them. Running game too inconsistent and Cutler too mistake-prone.

The Giants? Defense is top notch and so well coached. Good balance on offense. Definitely a team to watch in January. The Eagles? They are everyone’s pick right now! Give top defensive coordinators a few weeks to figure out a game plan to stop Vick and then I want to see how Vick responds before I annoint them Champions. The Giants showed the rest of the league how to slow down Vick and the Eagles on Sunday night, and this is a copycat league. How does Vick respond? Finally, Tampa Bay? They’re not ready for big time yet, although I do like Josh Freeman.

Gun to my head, I have to choose one team to represent the NFC? I’d go with the Giants. Wait. And all New York Superbowl? It’s never happen…

Thank you for your time David, and good luck to the Jets for the rest of the season!

David Dickson.

Nat Coombs- The Interview!

We all know and love Nat Coombs. Face of Channel 5’s NFL coverage, sparring partner of Mike Carlson (with words not fists) and all round NFL fanatic.

Well to help us kick off the new site, Nat has agreed to give us an interview about what got him into the game, his all time favourite game, the possibility of a London Franchise, and what he’s up to nowadays.

Hi Nat. Why not start off by telling us how got into NFL, who your team are, and why?

Like a lot of people in my generation I grew up as a kid watching the coverage on Channel 4. I’ve always been a huge sports fan, and as a kid developed a fascination with the US, so it was a logical fit. I’m a Dolphins fan. The team from that era – Marino, Marx Brothers – was so exciting to watch, and being a West Ham fan I quite liked the cavalier style/never win the big one approach of Miami.

What draws you to NFL compared to your other love, football?

That’s a good question. The pace of the two games are very different of course, and I think it’s fair to say that NFL is far more complex, from a tactical perspective. As such, moving from a fan to becoming a broadcaster, and therefore studying both sports in much more detail, has opened up a whole new aspect and enjoyment for each respectively. I don’t prefer one or the other, to be honest and I love baseball and cricket too although there’s less NFL throughout the year, which gives it a slightly special edge.


What do you think of the Dolphin’s season so far?

Strange, promising and paradoxically disappointing in equal measure. I thought it was a mistake to bench Henne – much as I love Chad Pennington – and feel that because certain QB’s fly from day 1, there is an unrealistic expectation applied to how quickly someone will be the real deal. I guess in a situation like Miami, where a playoff berth is a chance – as opposed to say Detroit – then it’s a harder decision, and Henne obviously has had some bad games but overall I think he’s been good. There has been some odd coaching calls on 3rd down – passing more than any other team on 3rd and short apparently – but we’re still in with a chance of the playoffs which is par for the course really.

What about the NFL season as a whole?

Strange and brilliant. So many upsets, hardly any dogs, bizarre teams in the running (Tampa, KC, St L) and mega teams imploding (Dallas, Vikes). I really can’t call it any which way at this stage. Feel about 10 teams are at roughly the same level, although I have a sneaky feeling the Patriots may come good when it matters. I backed GB at the start of the year, and despite some terrible injuries, they’re shaping up well.

Who’s your favourite ever NFL player and why?

Hard to pick one. Marino for sure is up there. Loved Sweetness. Am a Favre fan, no doubt. Admire Ray Lewis as a player immensely. Prime too. So many! Coaching wise Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Mike Martz.

And what’s your favourite game you’ve ever seen?

Probably the 51-45 Jets/Dolphins game from the 1980’s. Despite the Dolphins losing, it was an amazing performance from O’Brien and Marino. Proper guns blazing football. O Brien was an interesting player who never really fulfilled his potential.

What do you think of the idea of a London franchise?

I love the idea but it’s not without its complications. An expansion franchise is probably going to be poor for 2/3 years and it’s a concern that the level of interest would sustain back to back losing seasons. I don’t buy this “we’ve already got a team, so why would we support London” argument. Just talk to people in LA. So many of them aren’t from LA and so have 2 teams, in NBA, MLB etc. And when LA gets a new franchise, which it’s bound too, it’ll be packed.

Now we all know you from the channel 5 NFL coverage, but be honest, Is Mike Carlson the most knowledgeable pundit you’ve ever worked with? If not, who is?

The great thing about Carlson is that he’s entertaining and informative. That’s a hard mix to deliver. What I loved about our time at FIVE was that we were able to riff and go off topic, but I still think we delivered smart, savvy football discussion. He’s a great broadcaster and a really intelligent analyst, but when we have a beer, we’re as likely to talk movies, books or comedy as we are Sports.

And whereabouts can we find you doing your NFL thing nowadays?

Am doing less NFL than before as I’m busy doing lots of football (soccer) for ESPN now including a weekly chat show called Talk Of The Terrace (Mondays, 6.30PM ESPN) but still keeping my hand in with NFL, mainly for the BBC (Radio Five Live Xtra) which I’m really enjoying. I hope to stay involved for years to come with the NFL, but the nature of the business I’m in means that sometimes that’s not always possible.

And finally, give us your Superbowl pick!

Pariots/Packers – Pats to win.

Nat, thanks so much for that!

Nat Coombs is a broadcaster and writer who works for ESPN & the BBC, his website can be found at www.natcoombs.com and he is well worth a follow on twitter- @NatCoombs.

Jamie Cutteridge