American football is not popular in Ecuador (厄瓜多尔), in small country with 16 million people the meaning of football is 99% associated with kicking a ball with your foot and that only the goalkeeper can use his hands*, so: how did I end up playing this sport in China? How did I get the chance to be part of the first ever adult-tackle match hosted by NFL-China? Well, as always everything started with an online forum.
First and what?
I was “trapped” in Shanghai, it was my first summer vacation in a while, I was not going back to Ecuador and my most of my friends were away from town. In other words “I was bored out of my mind” BUT! one of the advantages of living in this mega-city is that there is always something to do, so of course I logged into a forum for expats and searched for events happening that weekend, my first result was: Recruiting Football Players.
– Football? I ask myself
– Well, the place is 20 minutes away by metro and I don’t have anything to do so I jumped in.
Knowing almost nothing about the rules beside that you get 4 downs, your need move the ball to the in-zone and a few more things I arrived to the field. Well, maybe not a real field but I arrived to this grass area in Fuxin Park that seemed perfect for a game. There were a lot of players already by the time I got there, everyone was talking to each other and they were choosing teams. Perfect!, I felt like I was back in high school and now on top of being the n00b I was also confused by all terms they were using,
I was going to be picked last.
But then I met one of the guys I feel I can call a friend here in Shanghai, Erwin. A weird grind, a quick hand shake and the basic two questions:
Erwin – Did you play before? Do you know the rules?
Either the answers I gave or my face was enough information for him:
Erwin – You are going to play defense
I just needed to 2-hands touch the QB as fast as I could. At the beginning it was fast and easy until someone said: Let’s play tackle. People got more aggressive, a few shirts were ripped and as usual someone got a small injury. It became more dangerous but god-damn-it, it was fun.
3rd and goal
After that I didn’t miss a Sunday practice for months, I was hooked. The game was fun, competitive and the feeling of being part of a team was so much better to any other sport I have ever practiced. Some Chinese players started buying the whole equipment for full-tackle: helmets, pads, shoes, gloves, etc. Some of the other foreign players were helping them with techniques and tips, some others were buying or bringing their equipment from their home country. A real team was being born and I was going to miss being part of it.
At that time I didn’t have 2000 RMB (around 350 USD) to spend in something that I was not going to be able to use in Ecuador (This situation has change completely over the years), I was barely going out in order to save money to travel around China. I really wanted to play and keep improving as everybody else but I had to be responsible (
damn responsibilities!) . And then I got some help, one of our coaches in that offered to help me. Coach Chris said:
Let me help you buy the equipment, you can pay me back when you have the money or if you don’t want to bring it back when you leave Shanghai you can give me the equipment back and I will sell it to someone else.
I accepted his help, I order my pads at Erwin and Ben’s place, Sean brought them from the States and up-to-day I’m really thankful to Coach Christopher for his help.
What could be better than knowing I was going to be able to stay on the team and be part of all the drills?
Well, what about that the NFL was organizing a football event in Shanghai and the team from Beijing wanted to play against us? The Shanghai Nighthawks versus the Beijing Guardians. By that time (2011) there were less than 4 adult-full-tackle teams in a country of 1 Billion people. This was going to be big, I though,
at least in the football community in China.
A plus of playing football was that I wanted to learn more about the community so I logged into the main football forum in China, TDL100. But everything was in Chinese, EVERYTHING. But with some patience, some skills and a lot of Google translate I was able to log into the team sub-forum and get to know more about teammates like GK, Zhou-Zhou, Billie and Jack. I wasn’t learning only about football, I was finally enjoying or finding a reason to study Chinese.
The date was coming by, the team was getting ready and I was glad and proud to be part of this team: The Shanghai Nighthawks.
Old video of me playing (#25) Since most people don’t know what I do when I play