The 2012 NFL season started last month. It’s always huge news in the United States, the country’s biggest sporting attraction. In Colombia, there is football too. I’m not talking about fútbol either. I’m talking about American football.
The game that has become America’s passion is trickling into a country in which the most popular sport is what we in the states call soccer. I’m not saying American football is overtaking soccer in popularity here, not even close. Probably never will. But because of a small group of football enthusiasts, the game could find a niche here.
I found out about this Colombian football league through my friend Ferney, a guy who spends most of his Sundays at La Esquina de Basco, a Belén restaurant that shows the NFL games each weekend. Like most paisas, Ferney is very friendly so we got to talking about the game and how he came to love it.
He told me he started watching it about six years ago and immediately was enthralled by it, by the speed and power and teamwork in the game so popular in the states. His favorite team is the Miami Dolphins. He even learned to speak English from watching football. (If I haven’t mentioned it before, paisas are not only very nice, but smart too.)
Later he said there is a league in Colombia of six teams: three from Bogotá, two from Medellín — Ferney plays for the Lobos — and one from Manizales. Each team has about 30 to 40 players, a little less than the 45 that suit up on game day for an NFL team.
These people really love football because they rely on donations to pay for their travel, their equipment, their existence. Right now the Lobos are selling hats with the team logo to raise money to go to their next game on Sept. 29 in Zipaquirá, just north of Bogotá. Players also pay 15,000 pesos per month (about $8) for team membership.
They even have to take shortcuts to make the game work. For example, some of the players also serve as referees because they can’t find enough officials. If I remember correctly, the NFL is having a bit of a problem fielding referees too, but this isn’t a story about Commissioner Roger Goodell’s arrogance and incompetence ruining football.
But maybe Goodell could learn something from these Colombians. These people are playing because they love the game, not for anything else. They don’t make money by doing this. In fact, they’re probably losing money. But some things in life are just worth the investment.
I’m interested to see how this develops. I’ll tell you more as it does.