Football has become one of the few things I came to love this late in life. It became a force, a constant motivation and more important than that, it became a perfect way to connect with others and learn. And while there are so many great quotes related to football my favorite one is:
“Football doesn’t build character, it reveals character” Marv Levy
And that was something that football was revealing during those months in Shanghai, before our first official game.
The date was approaching and the whole team was shaping up pretty well. We had the numbers, players with experience and more important than anything we had (and still have) a lot of heart and love for the game. That and good friends, that is why the Nighthawks are my most beloved team.
But gameday was closing by, and while Sundays changed from a day where we will meet at the park and play the game with some friends and strangers to a 4-5 hours training schedule and running drills (and learning the rules of the game), it was as much or even more fun than before. Players with more experience were coaching every group, from basic terminology (what is a Cover 2, Cover 3 or Cover 1) to basic things that to be honest I didn’t know. One of the most memorable thing was that first tackle, wearing a helmet, repeating the basic motions in your head and then, when is your turn and you see your opponent run on your way, like in life, always remember to keep your head up.
Training was much more difficult with pads, between getting use to the added weight of the helmet (that actually is a lot heavier than what you expect), the reduced range of motion when you add the pads and the protection and the new pains for the next day after practice, well I can say there were days I couldn’t find a logical reason on why I liked this game so much. But I wasn’t the only one, there was a sense of pride on every good tackle made or on great TD, the team became much closer and we thought we were ready.
Then the Beijing Guardians arrived to Shanghai, and they came to do a scrimmage one day before the official game. I will not lie, their team seemed much more organized than us and I questioned myself if I would be ready for tomorrow. Even if I was not a starter. And then the time for our first official game arrived, at the NFL Experience Shanghai.
The game was schedule for 7 pm and most of the team was already there at 2 pm, mostly because there was a huge chance to meet an NFL Legend and there was no way we could stay at home waiting. If you ever get a chance to be in China for any of the NFL Experience/Home field events you should definitely drop by. The sun disappeared and the lights illuminated the stage for the game. I don’t think there is a good way to narrate what happened so I will leave a video I made.
It was a new experience for all us, football was growing in China and for a little bit everything seemed well. But there was something on motion, something that would bring a new rival to the field, a rival that was born from within our team.