Diary of a foreign NFL fan: Choosing a team

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For the new foreign NFL fan, one of the first orders of business is choosing a team. This is easier said than done — unlike homegrown US fans, we are not indoctrinated from childhood to support our hometown or parents’ team. Some folks go for years without a team and just root for the game itself, but it definitely is more engaging to have a team to cheer for.

With 32 teams ripe for the picking, here are some tips on how to choose the team that’s right for you:

1. Through NFL 360

NFL 360 is a website by the NFL aimed at its international fans. One of its features is an interactive team picker that offers three ways to select a team.

Pros: Quick and easy. And the rest of the site is great, with lots of helpful info and videos for newbies.

Cons: Random much? Parameters include making you choose between The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys…not exactly the most relevant way to forge a lasting attachment to a football team.

2. By location

Pick a city or state you’ve been to, would like to go to, or have friends and family in. This is how I picked my first team, the Dallas Cowboys — when I first got into the NFL, I happened to be visiting my cousin in Texas, who lives less than 10 miles away from Cowboys Stadium. Naturally she took me there for a tour, where I proceeded to be amazed by American Decadence™ at its finest. We certainly don’t have TV screens like this in my corner of the globe:

Pros: If you have friends and family in the area, you’ll have a place to stay and someone to go with if you make the trek to watch an actual game.

Cons: The team of your preferred city could be a losing or middling team.

3. By performance

Not having any strong hometown or familial team obligations, foreign fans have the luxury of not having to root for perpetually losing teams like the Cleveland Browns.

My Cowboys fandom was short-lived for this reason — at that time, Tony Romo was injured and they were sitting at an ignominious 0-2…not the most enticing beginning to a brand-new fan. My interest in the NFL waned for the rest of the season until Super Bowl XLV, the first full game I ever watched. I didn’t know anything about the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I transferred my tenuous loyalty to the former, because hey, they won.

Pros: Obviously it’s easier and more fun to root for a winning or promising team. Nobody wants to go through this:

A winning team also has a higher possibility of making the playoffs, giving you more games to look forward to beyond the regular season. Who knows, they might even win the big one.

Cons: As history shows, a team’s rosy streak of winning seasons could abruptly turn for the worst when its top playmakers retire, are injured, or go to another team. For the most recent and glaring example, see last season’s Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts, who went from perennial playoff contenders to worst team in the NFL.

4. By appearance

If you’re going to root for a team and watch their games, you’re going to be spending a lot of time staring at the team logo and the players’ uniforms, so it definitely helps if they appeal to your aesthetic sensibilities. This eliminates teams like the Arizona Cardinals:

…no thanks, I think I’ll pass on the funny-looking chicken bird. I could not sustain my enthusiasm for my second team, the Packers, for this reason — the combination of those shades of green and yellow (or “gold” as they call it) together is simply atrocious:

Same goes with the Cowboys — while certainly bedazzled by their swanky stadium, I cringed when I first saw their uniforms with the too-shiny, unmanly pants:

Pros: You’ll probably be wanting to buy team jerseys and other apparel in the future. Your vanity is at stake — if they don’t look good on the players, it doesn’t bode well for you.

Cons: Apparently there will be new uniforms by Nike for the upcoming season, so the look you like best right now might not be around for long.

5. By personnel

For homegrown fans, it’s always “team first”. They stick with their team, no matter if its players are crackheads or rapists. Many US fans seem to hate their own players; see Exhibit A:

Foreign fans are not held hostage by such hometown or familial ties, and are free to choose a team with players they actually like (or who are less criminally-inclined). Thanks to the sublime NFL Films, “the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America” per Sports Illustrated, we are given plenty of opportunity to get to know the players up close and personal. The NFL is not just the best sports league in America; it is arguably also the country’s best reality TV show. It has characters galore to suit every taste — The Golden Boy, The Drama Queen, The Saint, The Loudmouth, to name a few. With guys like these, who needs Jersey Shore?

Pros: As you follow a team you become more invested in them, so it definitely helps if you like the players — and coaches and owners — as people. You might find it difficult to support the Philadelphia Eagles if you’re a dog lover.

Cons: This is the NFL; there will always be ex-convicts and a-holes on any team. And if by some miracle there aren’t, it’s only a matter of time before a member of your chosen team, perhaps even your favorite player, shoots his own leg, punches a woman in the face, or runs over a pedestrian. You are also faced with a dilemma if your favorite player goes to another team. Do you, for instance, remain a Colts fan, or jump ship and follow Peyton Manning?

This is how I chose my third and final team, the New York Giants. I became a fan after watching the story of the 2007 team on America’s Game: The Super Bowl Champions. It also happens that they fit all the previous criteria:

NFL 360: One of the teams I got was the Giants.

Location: I have a cousin in New Jersey who is also a fan.

Performance: Since Eli Manning became the full starting quarterback, they’ve never had a losing season, went to the playoffs five times, and won the Super Bowl twice.

Appearance: Forgive me if I go all Project Runway, but I’ve always thought they have the best uniforms in the league:

Rich shades of blue and red that blend well together, a logo that doesn’t look ridiculous on their helmets, no crazy stripes and patterns — they appeal to my minimalist aesthetic. Same goes for their away uniforms. The clincher is the pants, which are in a complementary shade of gray. They’re neither shiny, white, nor matchy-matchy — three things that ruin the look of all other NFL uniforms.

Now, a lot of things could happen — Victor Cruz could turn into a bigger diva than Terrell Owens, Nike could change their uniforms to psychedelic messes, Eli could go down and the Giants become the next season’s Colts, the Mara and Tisch families could move the franchise to Alaska — but I think I’m set. Go Giants!

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