American football, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is a competitive team sport where the object is to score points by advancing the oval-shaped ball into the opposing team’s end zone via throwing or handing it from one teammate to the other.
This concept is summarised in the format of flag football, which is basically American football minus the hard hits – although you wouldn’t know it watching one girl from Little Ealing Primary School truck an opponent at the National Flag Football Championship in Loughborough. With the opportunity to fly to Las Vegas and represent the United Kingdom in the International Flag Football finals at the Pro Bowl on the line, her bellicose style was certainly warranted and even admired.
Flag Football is a popular format of the game for those that love to play the game but want to avoid the physical issues that come with getting thumped around a pitch for 60 minutes (officially 60 minutes – it’s more like three hours). This means it’s the perfect game for 20,000 children from 300 schools across the country to get involved.
The NFL Flag National Championship was attended by a number of NFL stars, including NFL Flag ambassador and Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson. He was the star name and was joined by British stars Efe Obada, New York Giants punter Jamie Gillan, Minnesota Vikings K.J. Osborn, Houston Texans players Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Adedayo Odeleye and BBC Pundit and former NFL player Jason Bell.
Flag Football is reportedly in contention to be included in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and it is easy to see why when in attendance at Loughborough University. The sport engages people of all ages, genders, and abilities – and Obada was thrilled to know the format is being considered for a global platform.
When told about the fact the game could evolve into an Olympic discipline, Obada told Mirror Sport : “Amazing! The NFL doesn’t need help marketing itself, but there’s a huge wealth of talent around the world just waiting to love the sport. The more exposure the better.”
Asked if he would represent Team USA, Vikings receiver Osborn laughed: “That would be dope! I don’t know how it would work, but I’d be interested in seeing it.”
Osborn insisted it was ‘awesome’ to see the development of American football throughout the Flag Format format ‘all the way over here’ in the United Kingdom. With the likes of Odeleye and Baltimore Ravens rookie David Ojabo the latest British recruits to fly the British flag in the sport, Obada hopes the path across the Atlantic becomes trodden enough that young people around the country see the NFL as a viable option.
“Honestly I don’t even feel special anymore because there’s so many guys coming now from the IPP,” Obada added. “Before I felt like I was alone and there was no way for British guys to go to colleges and go to the NFL, but now there are guys in the Academy getting scholarships after they were exposed to the game at a young age.
“It’s beautiful to see; this sport has changed my life and to see how it can change other people’s lives is inspiring.”
For Odeleye, returning to his old Loughborough University stomping ground possessed an air of going full circle as he prepares to embark on his NFL career with the Texans. He described the feeling as both ‘strange’ and ‘amazing’, before praising the event as a way to develop the grassroots appreciation for American football on British soil, although the 24-year-old backed himself as a coordinator rather than a Flag Football player.
“It’s great to see kids this young being actively involved in American football,” Odeleye told Mirror Sport . “When I was this young, I didn’t know what American football was. Events like this will help develop the sport over here.
“I found out the winner of this gets to go to Vegas, so I’m trying to get involved!”
Nicknamed the ‘Scottish Hammer’, Giants punter Gillan agreed: “[It’s] great to see the competitiveness from the little ones and I hope it continues to grow. The NFL Academy are doing a great job in getting scholarships, which in my opinion is the most important thing. There are people in the UK who are athletic enough to play football.”
Little Ealing’s journey from west London to Las Vegas started back in 2019, when they played at halftime during the Cincinnati Bengals-Los Angeles Rams clash at Wembley during the 2019 International Series. Three years later, the school have secured ultimate victory as winners of the 2022 NFL Flag National Championship, which proved to be as inclusive as entertaining an experience with 53% of participants being female.
Which NFL team would win a Flag Football tournament? Let us know in the comments section.
There was an array of answers when the players were faced with the idea of an NFL-wide flag football tournament. Odeleye pondered the thought for a moment before suggesting the Cincinnati Bengals – led by Tiger King quarterback Joe Burrow – would ‘have a pretty good chance’ thanks to their talented receiving corps headlined by Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
Gillan was more measured in his answer, insisting he had to pick his Giants teammates while he would work as waterboy on the sidelines. However, Osborn was more direct and confident as he picked his Minnesota outfit – even though he has never played flag football before.
“Vikings would win the Flag Football Super Bowl,” Osborn said without skipping a beat. “Kirk Cousins wins MVP because it’s all pass plays and he’d be back there feeling it. I think I’d pretty good, too.”
As for the Washington Commander newcomer and British poster boy, Obada replied with a philosophical answer while a characteristic infectious grin crept across his face: “No comment – I don’t want to piss anybody off!”
With initiatives and events like the Flag Football Championship in Loughborough, quite the opposite of Obada’s intentions will happen. Fans around the United Kingdom feel closer to the NFL than ever, and it feels good.
Primary Schools all across the UK can get involved in NFL FLAG. Find out more information and register here: 2021 NFL London Games: American Football in the UK – NFL.com