Bleary-eyed in the office, late Sunday nights becoming the norm for Danish NFL fans

Although this past Monday, many were more teary-eyed after calling it an early night watching Super Bowl LI

One of Denmark’s most successful clubs is the Copenhagen Towers (photo: Michael Quist)
February 7th, 2017 8:00 pm| by CPH POST

Super Bowl LI was arguably the most exciting game of American football ever, but spare a thought for the many Danish fans who decided to call it an early night with the Atlanta Falcons leading 21-3 at half-time and then 28-3 during the third quarter.

It can be a tricky business watching gridiron whilst holding down a regular job, and on Monday morning there were many who were more teary-eyed than bleary-eyed that they had missed one of sport’s greatest ever comebacks as the New England Patriots stormed back to win 34-28 in overtime.

The Zulu effect
It might still a fringe sport in this country, but the Danes and other Scandinavian nations have had a historically significant impact on the sport, and the future of gridiron in Denmark is bright.

The current upswing in popularity of the sport in Denmark is largely attributed to the ‘Zulu effect’, named after the TV station that started airing NFL games more than a decade ago. However, even before the sport took hold, it enjoyed a small yet loyal following in Denmark.

READ MORE: Gridiron glory: NFL beckons for Danish US football talents

Long-established league
The Danish American Football Federation (DAFF) traces its origins to the late 1980s and has grown exponentially since the first Mermaid Bowl, the Danish equivalent of the Super Bowl, in 1988.

The DAFF now counts over 4,000 members and approximately 70 clubs, exhibiting growth that suggests that an even bigger explosion in popularity might be forthcoming. The Mermaid Bowl is now televised, which can only add to the popularity of the sport in Denmark.

Ideally suited
Denmark is ranked in the top 10 in the world. While it is often remarked that the tall, strong, and athletic Danes have the perfect attributes to play sports more physically demanding than handball, their mental capabilities are often overlooked. As a nation, they are more likely to fight with tenacity and less likely to feign injury than many of their European counterparts, and this suggests a national identity of toughness that is an essential element of gridiron. Perhaps these traits are, in fact, more suited to American than European football.

If you are interested in watching a game, go and check one out in Denmark, where you can see the speed and physicality of the game the way it is supposed to be played – without the commercial breaks of the NFL. Those commercial breaks can slow the game to a grinding halt, and it isn’t hard to see why the NFL has had trouble expanding to a European market that isn’t accustomed to watching sporting events with such interruptions.

If Denmark embraces the sport, there is no reason to believe that they cannot excel. In a sport requiring strength, toughness and efficiency, Denmark might just be a perfect match.

Norse influences in American football

– One of the most historically significant coaches in the history of the sport was Knute Rockne, a native Norwegian. Rockne’s exploits are well documented.  Born in Voss in 1888, he moved to Chicago at a young age, and eventually turned Notre Dame University football into one of most iconic sporting symbols in America.  He revolutionised several aspects of the sport – from the pre-snap shift to the forward pass – and still has the highest winning percentage of any major college or professional American football coach, winning 102 games, losing only 12, and drawing five.  When he died in a plane crash at the age of 43, President Herbert Hoover called his passing “a national loss”, and King Haakon VII of Norway attended his funeral.

– The Minnesota Vikings were named to reflect Minnesota’s status as a centre of Scandinavian culture in America.  Certainly, the image of the historical Viking – powerful and dominant – translates perfectly to American football.

– The most well known native Dane in American football remains Morten Andersen.  Born in Copenhagen and raised in Jutland, Andersen was a star youth athlete in Denmark before using his powerful left leg to embark on a 25-year NFL career.  No-one in NFL history has scored more points or played in more games. And just last week he was finally welcomed into the NFL Hall of Fame.

– Many Americans with Danish roots have made their mark as players.  This ranges from Merlin Olsen, the Hall of Fame defensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams, to Greg Olsen, the ultra-athletic tight end currently playing for the Carolina Panthers.

– It doesn’t take long to find a Danish surname when watching American football, whether it be in the NFL, or in the traditionally Danish-rich major college teams in Utah, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

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