In league with american football

Showing the way...Former NFL great Kurt Warner gives some lessons to Bangalore Warhawks players before an exhibition match at the Begumpet Police Stadium in Hyderabad.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The former NFL great, Kurt Warner, believes that American football will be a big hit in the days to come in India. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Helping American football get a foothold in India! Well, the Elite Football League of India (EFLI) could not have asked for a better personality than the National Football League (NFL) great, Kurt Warner, to help in this regard. Among the EFLI’s programmes to popularise American football in the country include starting the University National League championship next June and having a full season around the same time involving teams from India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Warner, 42, is some sort of a cult figure in the United States for his performances in the NFL that included two MVPs.

Warner, who had played for St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals, was quite excited on his first visit to India as part of the promotional campaign for American football. The renowned quarterback, who had also won the prestigious Super Bowl MVP once, dished out a few lessons for the players from Hyderabad Skykings and Bangalore Warhawks at the Begumpet Police Hockey Stadium in Hyderabad.

According to Warner, the sport will be a big hit in the days to come in India. “From my experience during this trip, I am confident of American football making a huge impact here. I always believed that this is the best team sport and I don’t think the Indians are far behind in terms of physical fitness. If you look at me, I might look like a giant, but when you have a closer look at the NFL players back home, I look very normal. So, this has nothing to do with skill. I believe the Indians have the mental toughness and the tenacity to make it big in this sport,” Warner said on the sidelines of an exhibition match.

The huge round of applause that Warner got from the Indian players as he walked into the Police Hockey Stadium was perhaps a reminder of his awesome record, which included an all-time high completion percentage (66.5%), first in yards per attempt (8.55), and second in passer rating (102.8), most passing yards (414) and most passing attempts (45) in a single Super Bowl game.

“Once the people understand the game better and the culture of the NFL, I am sure this will be a huge hit even in a cricket-crazy country like India. We are determined to promote this in a big way and I am excited to be involved in this and must thank Dr. Venkatesh Movva (COO of EFLI) for his great commitment in this regard,” Warner said.

“It takes time definitely to create a fan base, but given the nature of the sport there is a strong feeling amongst us that American football can have its own following here,” Warner replied to a query.

The former NFL great also spoke of taking every possible step to make the sport safer. “Yes, the option of making the optimum use of technology and the urge to constantly improve certain aspects of the sport to make it more popular in countries like India will be explored,” Warner said.

Referring to the locker room culture following the bizarre Dolphins controversy involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin and the dangerous trend of racism looming all over, Warner dismissed them, saying they were not alarming. “I have seven kids. If I bring home a bad apple, there will be some mess at home. Honestly, I had never seen any problems in my three decades association with the sport. I still believe that locker room presents a very positive environment despite the high levels of professionalism the players have achieved along with the stardom,” he explained.

“In the U.S., American football is the No. 1 sport as you can’t help but love it. And I see a great interest in the sport even amongst many NRIs of late. This is one of the reasons for looking to India as one of our next major destinations,” said Warner, who is also a TV commentator.

Looking back on his own career, Warner was of the view that the two MVPs in the NFL and the MVP in the Super Bowl were a few of those incredible moments he will cherish for a long, long time.

“The sport gave me a huge opportunity to blend with different people, different cultures, people from different backgrounds and work for the team’s cause. This is the beauty of team sport,” he explained.

Warner also took pride in reminding about Brandon Chillar, son of an Indian, who played for St. Louis Rams from 2004 to 2007. “I know that he is the first of Indian origin to play in the NFL. He was a fantastic player and is still involved in a big way in promoting the sport,” he remarked.

Dr. Venkatesh Movva said, “It is an incredible success story of Kurt, who worked in a grocery store for about $6 per hour, then in a graveyard shift before displaying his skills to be a superstar in the NFL. It is not just about sporting excellence, he is also involved in a lot of charity work with his wife Brenda through the First Things First organisation.”

According to the COO of EFLI, the first men’s professional American football league in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and the inaugural 2014 season, to be organised by EFLI, will feature eight teams — Hyderabad Skykings, Bangalore Warhawks, Colombo Lions, Delhi Defenders, Kolkata Vipers, Mumbai Gladiators, Pakistan Wolfpak and Pune Marathas.

“The road map for us includes not just hosting events but we are also focussing on creating the infrastructure, long-term coaching and player-related services too,” Movva concluded.