1982 the ‘new’ UK national TV network, Channel 4 (sic) began to broadcast NFL games; anyone else remember when there were only three channels on UK TV? *oh boy*
Prior to the C4 coverage I’d only seen parts of a few intriguing but largely unfathomable ‘Rosebowl’ and ‘Gray Cup’ games on Dickie Davies’s ‘World of Sport (boy that is a whole other topic, too *parks it for later*).
So, it was a bold move at the time by the independent TV company, Cheerleader Productions, who produced the show, but it really paid off as the show became one of the top-raters on C4. But at least in one respect, they had less-than-impeccable timing in choosing to start airing that season – that’s right, 1982 was the NFL’s nadir, a 57-day strike that resulted in a fore-shortened 9-game season and saw millionaire players on picket-lines.
But it didn’t matter to UK fans … C4 showed games played in September – before the strike started – and soon the labour dispute was settled and normal play was resumed on Nov 21st.
Whatever … the Packers, started hot, faded to patchy and finally hit the buffers in a 36-27 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the Cowboys. That playoff spurt ended a 10-year drought (back to 1972) and started another one as the Packers would wait until 1993 for another appearance in the NFL playoffs *if only I’d known*.
But en-route to compiling that 5-3-1 record the Packers put-in a couple of improbable and thrilling come-from behind wins including overturning a 23-0 deficit to subdue the Rams 35-23 in the season opener (still a team record).
As fate would have it that game was on C4. I was glued. And I was hooked from the start as a Packer for life.
Ok it might have been tape-delayed second rate fare as far as the US was concerned, but in comparison to the briefest of glimpses of the game I’d had (see below) it was power glamour. The equivalent I guess to the nation’s more recent infatuation with the WWF and now ‘reality’ TV.
The show transformed mundane Sunday evenings. No more dodging between ‘Songs of Praise’ and regurgitation of the previous week’s news; no more slouching through black-and-white reruns of ‘The Glenn Miller Story’. Here was a vibrant, exciting sport. The highlights package format emphasised the strengths of the game and helped sell it to the uninitiated UK audience.
So that’s when the Packers became my team; they were the underdogs who fought back … at least to my mind back then. The more I found out about them the more I liked ‘em. Here was a small town team that held a dominant position in the tradition of the NFL, A blue collar fan base with a fanatical devotion to their football team. And in all of that I saw parallels with St Helens and ‘the Saints’.
Did I flirt with other teams as time went on? You bet! I loved Montana and Young and the 49ers. They were everything I’d thought the Packers were – an exciting vibrant team who never knew when they were beaten. It was great to watch. I really enjoyed Tampa’s success too because I remembered when they were the pits. I always wanted the Rams to put it together too – because of Dickerson I think – but it never happened … not in LA anyhow.
And Washington? They were big at the time but I couldn’t get into them really; liked Riggins, thought Thiesman was a gutsy guy but I never bought into the franchise as a liker.
And then there’s the Raiders, I liked them. And not ‘cos of any man-crush on Marcus Allen either … just ‘cos you knew they’d come round and get ya’ if ya’ didn’t.