In 2009, a diverse group of guys, got together with varying levels of experience, and for love of the game began running around Safa Park in Dubai, throwing and catching an egg-shaped ball. I was among those guys wearing funny gear, catching the ball and tackling others who had. Many people assumed we were playing rugby. But we weren’t.
We were playing American Football!
In the coming days there would be ups and downs, starts and stops, as a committed group of players gathered each week to hone their skills and prepare for the chance to play the game in the UAE. That hard work and perseverance paid off and thanks to pioneers like former professionals Kai Trompeter and Dustin Cherniawski, in 2012 the Emirates American Football League had its inaugural season with teams in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Since then the sport has grown, with teams for men and boys. The league has even produced an all-star squad that has played games in places like Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, and India.
It was a privilege of mine to be part of the early stages of bringing the game to the UAE and when my job took me to Fujairah, I had a nagging desire to see the east coast represented in the league.
Since that time we have had various training sessions in an attempt to spark interest in the game. This year in particular we have committed to seeing a team developed through weekly workout sessions where we learn the skills of the game and work on becoming well-rounded athletes.
Currently the goal is to form a men’s team, with the hope of attracting the interest of youth as well. Our goal is by the end of October to have a team we can field for exhibitions matches against some of the current teams in the league.
What is American Football?
American Football is a team sport played with 11 players on each side, divided into offense, defense, and for some plays, special teams.
The aim of the sport is to outscore the opponent by getting a touchdown (6 points) followed by an extra 1 point (kick) or 2 points (run/pass). A touchdown is achieved by progressing the length of the 100 yards field to the 10 yard deep area called the “endzone”. If the defense stops the offense short, they can opt to kick “field goal” which is worth 3 points if successful. The ball is moved down the field by passing the ball forward or running it. The offense has 4 attempts called “downs” to move the ball 10 yards (harder than it sounds). Often, after three downs if the offense is too far for a field goal, they will drop kick or “punt” the ball away to the opposing team, giving them farther to travel to score. The team with the highest score wins. In its usual form it is a full-contact sport with tackling and the players where equipment that makes the game safer. There is also a non-contact, recreational form of the game which requires the defense to stop the runner by pulling a flag attached to their belt, this is aptly named “flag football”.
Steve Jennings is pastor of Immanuel Church of Fujairah and has been with his family in the UAE for 7 years. He loves the game of American Football, played previously for the UAE Falcons and Dubai Barracudas, and is a fan of the NFL team the Dallas Cowboys.