“They don’t even know we play, they’d actually be quite shocked! That’s their problem.”
That is the surprise admission from NFL journalist and Sky Sports analyst Neil Reynolds, 39, who believes the British game is on the right track, even if the Americans are oblivious to the fact we even play the sport at all.
Mr Reynolds was kind enough to speak to FightForTheYard and give his views on everything football.
“I got into the sport the way most people my age did, staying up late with my dad in the eighties, watching all the best teams on Channel 4. After about a year I decided I liked the San Francisco 49ers”.
While the 49ers led by Hall Of Fame star Joe Montana were appealing at first, they held no real place in Neil’s heart, that spot belongs to the Miami Dolphins. When asked why he chose the Dolphins Neil could only laugh, “I like a good quarterback”. As most of you will know, Miami was home to one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Dan Marino but in more recent times players such as Matt Moore and Chad Henne have held that position and on the whole, failed.
“Obviously we’re not doing very well at the moment but Marino stood out for me and has to be my favourite player of all time. I believe the quarterback position to be the hardest in the NFL, so respect to those guys that do it”.
Having admiration for the position, Reynolds can only admire the great work that newly crowned league MVP Aaron Rodgers has done in Green Bay, “I love to watch great quarterbacks play football and this guy is special. Green Bay have a lot of weapons and are brilliant to watch at the minute”.
Watching the game is all very well and good but to fully appreciate and understand what a player is thinking, you have to have experienced the hard hitting and ferocious nature of play which Neil has.
Starting out with the Medway Mustangs in 1991, Neil played as wide receiver before moving on a year later to the Invicta Eagles where he spent four years as a tight end and kicker, a position he would hold at every team he played for.
After leaving the Eagles at the end of the 1996 season, Reynolds moved to the Kent Exiles where he would finish his playing career before being offered a job at NFL Europe.
“Again I played tight end and kicker but I also had a go at defensive end which I was awful at, I couldn’t tackle at all but loved trying to get at the quarterback. I liked to be tackled for some strange reason so that is why I was mainly on offence. My favourite tight end was Mark Bavaro of the Giants in the 80’s, the picture of him running twenty yards with three men on his back is still etched into my memory”.
Only last year Neil was offered the chance to return to the Exiles for their 21st year Anniversary, an invitation he was pleased to accept, “I went back for the anniversary and was inducted to the All Star Team ring of honour as a tight end which was great”.
One thing Neil doesn’t miss about his playing days are the aches and pains from playing a hard game, “When I was younger I would ache for a day or two afterwards but as I got older I would ache until the following Friday, that wasn’t fun”.
“I do miss being part of a team though, that was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole experience, being in the locker room before the game, getting psyched up and then the elation or despair afterwards. To enjoy it you really have to love the game”.
“I always had a fascination with journalism at school and at age 14 I decided that’s what I want to do, so I did”
As most aspiring journalists will know, getting a gig for a company like the NFL requires a lot of hard work, “I did a week’s work experience at First Down magazine in 1991 which was brilliant and I continued to work with them by freelancing and covering the London Monarchs game’s in the 1991/92 season”.
“From there I worked for the Kent Messenger and literally started off as the tea boy, it wasn’t pretty but it was necessary, I’d cut out the stories I had written and stick them in a scrapbook and by 1996 I was fully qualified journalist, visiting flower shows to write about the goings on in the flower world”.
Neil’s tea making days were firmly behind him when he got his first big break, “I became a reporter for First Down magazine and I did that for three years, I loved it, writing about football was what I had always wanted to do. One day I received a call offering me the position of PR Manager at NFLEurope.com I was so pleased to be headhunted for the position”.
“I was there from 2000/02, I enjoyed it a lot. I also helped to launch NFL UK, so overall it was a fun job”.
Currently Neil writes for NFL UK and is also a permanent fixture on the Sky Sports NFL shows. “I love the job that I am doing at the moment, maybe one day I’ll take Rich Eisen’s place on the NFL Network, I have the hair for it anyway”, he says jokingly.
“When doing this job you can’t please everybody and I’m aware of some criticism but at the end of the day I’m being paid to watch football and talk about it on television so I’m not too bothered”.
Taking a trip across the pond is another perk to the job, “I get to visit America for around two weeks of the year as part of my role, which isn’t as much as I’d like obviously, but it’s still more than most. I go for a week during training camp and then I go again for Superbowl week which is manic”.
Since 2007 the NFL International Series has been played at Wembley Stadium giving hope to the idea of having a London based NFL franchise, something which Neil is backing, “I think it is definitely a possibility especially with Roger Goodell as commissioner of the league, he really wants it to happen”.
“Part of the business plan is to have a team play multiple games in the UK and see how they connect with the fans. It could take ten years or so to develop but it would be fantastic”.
With the recent news that the St Louis Rams will take on the New England Patriots next year and then return for another two years it seems the Rams are that team.
Continuing with the British game, Neil spoke favourably about the work being done in this country to raise the profile and standard of the game.
“The game over here is growing and growing and that is a great thing. It is probably helped by the Wembley game being such a big event which in turn has increased participation at both university and senior league level”.
He continued; “I’d love to see more of our players make it over to the States and receive scholarships at colleges but the reality of it is playing in BUAFL is the best it is ever going to get for many but that shouldn’t detract how valuable an experience it is. To the players padding up with friends means everything to them and they give it their all which I think is brilliant”.
Being a journalist, Neil has interviewed plenty of famous faces but his most treasured moment came a couple of years ago when by chance he came face to face with NFL Royalty, Joe Montana.
“I was in California and had a spare day to myself; I knew Joe Montana lived close by so I thought I’d ring his agent asking for an interview. He said he’d ask Joe so I thought nothing of it thinking that would be that. Not long after I received permission to go to Joe’s house and speak with him. I nervously made my way over to his house and he gave me a guided tour while telling me stories. I spent an hour there and got the interview, it has to go down as one of the greatest and most surreal moments of my life, I had to pinch myself afterwards”.
When asked who he would like to interview most out of the current crop of football stars the answer was instant.
“Ray Lewis, it has to be Ray. He is so intense and fascinating; he can get a little carried away but what a character”.
If Neil could be in Roger Goodell’s hot seat for just one day he would change only two things, “Coaching time outs drive me crazy, if you’re losing by more than two touchdowns in the 4th quarter then what’s the point? It slows the game down and puts new fans off”.
Another rule change that would be implemented is the victory celebration;”Why is it okay for the Packers to jump into the crowd and perform the ‘Lambeau Leap’ but Chad Ochocinco gets pulled up for a silly dance? I agree pulling mobile phones out of goal posts is too far but let them enjoy the moment”.
All this talk of celebrations reminded Neil of a time when he scored a touchdown and went a little bit too far, “When I used to play, one of my coaches used to make us run up this steep hill in training as a punishment, so one time I scored a touchdown and the hill was positioned by the end zone so I ran to the top, put my hands on my hips like Superman or something and had the whole offensive line running up after me, it was hilarious”.
FightForTheYard would like to thank Neil Reynolds for offering his time and commitment to this interview.