The Aer Lingus College Football Classic hits Dublin this August, so we’ve put together a primer for new fans to brush up on their American Football knowledge.
As a child, this writer’s dad took him to a college football game at the old Lansdowne Road. Boston against West Point. I’m not sure I expressed an interest but it was a formative event, mainly thanks to the kindly American couple who invited us to sit next to them so they could explain what was happening to us. Even on a grey day in Dublin in 1988, the spectacle was evident and a hook was sunk deep.
College football returns to Dublin this year for the first time since 2012, offering a new generation an opportunity to experience the thrill of a live match and develop a new obsession. Short of finding an American to explain it to you in real time, here’s our guide to getting a good grounding in American football.
Friday Night Lights
As good as the film is, you can skip it and go straight to the series, which ran for five seasons between 2006 and 2011. The show takes place in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, a place where football usurps all else. Coached with paternal gruffness by Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) the Dillon Panthers go through ups and downs, from catastrophic injuries to family crises. It’s an excellent way to get a basic knowledge of football through a show that’s more concerned with the drama surrounding it. Plus, it features the best ever depiction of a married couple in Eric and Tammy Taylor (Connie Britton).
Last Chance U
This Netflix series is essentially the real-life Friday Night Lights, following the exploits of an American college that specialises in taking on talented players who have burned their bridges elsewhere. These are young men who have suffered in various ways and are mostly unaccustomed to the care and attention of academic advisor Brittany Wagner, utterly devoted in her mission to ensure the players stay in school and develop aspirations beyond the gridiron.
Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone’s 1999 film is the Citizen Kane of sports movies. Starring Al Pacino as veteran head coach of the fictional Miami Sharks and Cameron Diaz as the team’s no-nonsense owner, it’s a remarkable look at the machinations on and off the field. With a director at the top of his game and a frankly ridiculous cast, it’s a must-see even if you’ve no interest in the sport.
“Football doesn’t build character, football reveals character.” Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated is a true testament to the redemptive power of sport, especially in under-privileged communities. The Manassas Tigers are whipping boys, pure and simple, until coach Bill Courtney comes in to try and turn it around. His mission is more about the players than the result, making for an incredibly emotional film. One scene in particular will shatter the hardest heart.
Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team And A Dream by H.G. Bissinger
The true story that inspired both the film and the series is as much a look at small town America as it is about the sport but, in a way, that provides the perfect route into football and its role in American communities. Most people support their local or college side with the same passion as English people follow Liverpool or Manchester United, making for a fascinating dichotomy between local pride and immense pressure.
The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Lewis’s book is the ultimate read for fans or old. Firstly, he delves into strategy and the development of the position of left tackle through the arrival of one dominant player: linebacker Lawrence Taylor. It sounds like heady stuff, but Lewis makes it utterly fascinating and accessible. The second strand to the book is the one that most people will know from the Sandra Bullock movie, following left tackle Michael Oher from his hardscrabble upbringing to the dizzy heights of the NFL.
The Pat McAfee Show
Former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee hosts a podcast and YouTube show with regular guest A.J. Hawk, a former linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. The show runs the entire gamut of US sports but with a particular focus on football, given the hosts’ backgrounds.
The Irish NFL Show
The No.1 destination for Irish football fans, The Irish NFL Show has been running since 2020 and offers interviews, match previews and special episodes for draft weeks, the Super Bowl and more. Once you’re up to speed with the sport, this is an excellent next level to keep up with all the movers and shakers in the game. Check it out HERE.
Get to know the teams…
The Cornhuskers represent the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, slap band in the heart of the American Midwest. They boast the impressive record of having sold out every home game since 1962, a testament to the fervour that surrounds college football in the US. They’ve won five national championships, the 1995 winning side widely considered to be one of the greatest all-time college teams. There are currently 27 Cornhuskers playing for NFL sides, highlighting the team’s reputation for producing quality players.
The Wildcats represent Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and are considered Chicago’s team in the Big Ten championships. They’ve one national championship to their name and eight conference titles. Most recently, two Wildcats alumni were on the LA Rams’ Super Bowl winning side: Ben Skowronek and Earnest Brown IV. The current crop boasts two quarterbacks vying for the starting slot, Ryan Hilinski and sophomore Brendan Sullivan.