To Celebrate NFL In The UK We Tackled The London Blitz
To celebrate the NFL coming back to London and the game's growing roots in the UK, we put our hosts through a series of American football challenges.
Pepsi Max enrolled one of the UK's leading amateur American football teams, the London Blitz, to put our two hosts, Josh Denzel and Cheeky Sport Dave, through their paces in three challenges designed to test their throwing, kicking and tackling abilities. Their first test is a Crosspost Challenge, an American twist on a British classic, and sees the two hosts learn how to kick before trying their luck at hitting a post from 25yds.
To get a sense of how far the sport has come in the UK and to understand what it is that makes it so special to so many Brits, I met with London Blitz kicker, Ben Scarisbrick, at their stadium in Finsbury Park.
When we meet, Ben is sorting through the pads and familiar blue and white Blitz uniforms from the containers near the field goal posts.
"What's the appetite for the sport here in London?" I ask him, and he tells me that every year 20-25 new players turn up here looking to get a taste of the tackle and master their own Cam Newton-style touchdown celebrations. In fact, half of those people will stay on with the team until the following year, when another new 20-25 recruits show up.
As we carry the pads onto the field Ben explains: "Honestly, the most joyous thing about having two squads is that [all players] in one of the squads started as a beginner about four or five years ago and we've learnt as we go.
"There is literally no bottom level," he continues. "It's just come, enjoy yourself, try out the game. If you enjoy it you can come and play for the whole season. If not, then you've tried it, it's not for you and you can go back."
It strikes me that this is an integral part of why American football is so popular here in London and in other parts of the UK - people are just figuring it out, having fun and expressing themselves. For those that do progress and want to take it seriously, the Blitz have two squads and this allows for a constant slew of recruits from which to discover talent.
The NFL has become increasingly popular in the UK. The games are featured on Sky every Sunday, there is a regular highlights show on the BBC twice a week or you can catch the action with NFL Game Pass.
On the field, training is in full flow and you can see the enjoyment the players get from playing the sport as balls stream through the air and padded figures juke and dive past each other. It's enough to make me want to go long for a throw.
I ask Ben what advice he has for a young Brit who wants to get involved with the Blitz.
"Just come down. If you come down it doesn't matter how bad you are. It really doesn't matter. I came down and I didn't know anything. You just do a few drills: learn how to throw the ball, learn how to catch the ball, learn how to run with the ball or tackle and you'll find something you're good at."
And with that he leaves to join the rest of the squad.