When February dawns and the Super Bowl makes its return to end the NFL season, there always seems to be a number of new football fans that come out of the woodwork and clamor to organize parties to watch the big game. People you would never in a million years expect to care about the Patriots or the Eagles suddenly are posting selfies with Tom Brady and Carson Wentz jerseys on. An estimated 103.4 million people watched Super Bowl LII play out in real time, and I’m willing to bet more than a few of them were there having been drawn in by the allure of the legendary Super Bowl commercials. Although from where I was watching, there weren’t any commercials at all. Imagine that!
Welcome back to my weekly Oxford column, where I use my experience in the Bing Overseas Program to compare the perception of sports in the UK to what we’re accustomed to in America. Just kidding, this isn’t my column, this is a Tide ad. See, I only understand that reference because I watched a 20 minute compilation of advertisements the day after the game to stay up to date.
In the UK, only specific, important NFL games are broadcast nationally on a network called Sky Sports. Sky is a subscription TV service, like HBO, so it has no reason to run general advertisements, and approaches broadcasting the Super Bowl quite differently. They pay to show the live NBC feed during the game, but during breaks, they cut to an analyst desk of experts who show replays and break down the game. It’s honestly pretty interesting. I enjoyed it more than traditional commercials, if only because you got to see key plays (like Tom Brady butter fingering an easy catch) over and over again. For the Super Bowl, Sky Sports had Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman on the broadcast, and it was great to get his personality injected into the game, even if it meant sacrificing seeing Peter Dinklage rap.
In honor of the Super Bowl, I decided to do some investigative journalism into the popularity of American football (there’s sort of a monopoly on the word “football” over here) in the UK. And what better way to do that than by attending a Super Bowl party hosted by the Oxford Lancers, Oxford’s American football team? Of course I had to watch the game, (even though my beloved Jacksonville Jaguars fell just short of greatness): I’m from Philadelphia and the Eagles were playing!
Unfortunately for me, the game didn’t begin until 11:30 p.m., so my Super Bowl Sunday was mostly a Super Bowl Monday morning. Fortunately for me, the Lancers had rented out a local tavern with a giant viewing screen. The venue was packed to the brim with transplanted Americans and local Brits alike. It wasn’t just Patriots and Eagles fans either, football jerseys of every kind dotted the landscape. I saw a Flacco, a Polamalu, a Montana, a Vick, a Zeke and of course, I was wearing my own Blake Bortles jersey. Never leave home without it.
When I got there, I managed to sit down and record an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime interview amidst the noise of the tavern with Josh Allen. Yes, you read that right, highly touted Wyoming QB prospect Josh Allen was at the Oxford Super Bowl party. Ok not really, but I did manage to speak to a different Josh Allen, one of the captains of the Lancers, third year safety Josh Parker Allen, a UK native.
Josh had no experience with American football prior to coming to Oxford, simply stumbling onto the sport by chance. “We have like a recruitment fair at university that all the first years go to that I sort of rolled up to. I met the guys and fell into it really. I’d seen Friday Night Lights, that’s about the extent of it.” Josh had his Lancers jersey on at the party, and wears number 33, like the legendary high school fullback from the TV show, Tim Riggins.
He hadn’t even been an NFL fan prior to joining the team, but has now found himself absorbed into the world of pro football, particularly by playing fantasy football with his teammates. “It’s been 100 percent huge as of this year pretty much. There’s only so much exposure you can be exposed to before it becomes a part of your life, and then it’s like oh s***, I’m now into it.”
Similar to other Oxford athletes I’ve talked to, Josh values football as both a social outlet and a way to deal with the stress that studying at Oxford can bring along with it. “It was good to be part of a team initially, and then I accidentally became like not too bad at it, and then I had a place on the team. It’s good to do something physical and cathartic in the Oxford, sort of, super stressful environment. I quite like being able to take out my frustration and stress doing something very physical.”
As the game started, I asked Josh who he was rooting for, and he answered 100 percent correctly. “Anyone but the Patriots.” Even as a fledgling NFL fan, he already knows who the bad guys are. But Josh doesn’t have a team of his own to root for yet. After I attempted (and failed) to convert him to the Jaguars, he revealed his plan of how to choose. “There’s a guy called Josh Allen coming up in the draft, right? That’s my name, so I figured whichever team he goes to, I’ll be inclined to choose it. So long as it’s the Browns. I kind of want to be a Browns fan.” Please send him your thoughts and prayers.
The game was exciting, fast-paced and full of incredible moments, but you all already knew that — you saw it too, only not at 2 a.m. Honestly, the viewing party felt exactly like watching the Super Bowl in the states, just a lot of passionate sports fans enjoying a good game and good company. When the Eagles pulled off the victory, the room went ballistic. The highlight of the night? The four Eagles fans at the party and myself stood on a table and sang “Fly Eagles Fly” at the top of our lungs. I would’ve killed to be celebrating in Philadelphia, but my night wasn’t too shabby either. Until next week, enjoy this preposterously warm California February and waiting for Black Panther to come out four days later than it does in the UK.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.