The last time politics engulfed the Super Bowl

Joe Staysniak played on the Offensive Line for Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV & XXVI

Super Bowl XXV lives in football folklore for the Buffalo Bills’ kicker, Scott Norwood’s infamous field goal miss in the dying seconds of the game.

It was Buffalo’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance and Hall of Famer, Thurman Thomas, was set to become the game’s MVP. The score was 19-20 to the Giants when Norwood was given the seemingly simple task of kicking the ball between the sticks.

He missed and the rest, as they say, is history.

There’s a political buzz around the present Super Bowl (LI). President Trump, now two weeks in office, took the shine away from Media Night on Monday.

The last time politics dominated football’s biggest game was January 27, 1991. It was Super Bowl XXV; the Buffalo Bills vs New York Giants. It was the height of the Gulf War and the USA stood united in patriotism.

Joe Staysniak was a rookie offensive lineman playing for the Bills. In a recent interview with the 5thDownUK podcast he shared his memories of that game, “In Super Bowl XXV Desert Storm had (just) started up, so there was an enormous feeling of patriotism with the Bills wearing red, white and blue uniforms and the Giants had red, white and blue uniforms,” Staysniak recalled.

You can hear Joe Staysniak’s Super Bowl memories here:

“Whitney Houston singing the national anthem, it was the greatest rendition that people had ever seen and it was such an awesome game” he added.

Staysniak played in Super Bowl XXVI the following year, a game that the Bills lost to the Washington Redskins 37-24.

He acknowledged that the players felt that the game versus the Giants was more than just football, “you know, everything that was going on we were doing our own little part just as football players, because we knew the world was watching, to help the military folks that were overseas to bring them a little bit of something from back home.”

“I don’t think I will duplicate anything that feeling we had for that game. That and, in addition, the way we lost it was extremely painful.”


What makes a franchise?

Jim Steeg was the Executive Vice President of the San Diego Chargers from 2004 – 2010

Following the San Diego Chargers’ decision to leave the city and move to LA the 5thDownUK podcast’s Anthony Wootton and Dave Oliver spoke to the team’s former Executive Vice President, Jim Steeg.

Jim stepped down from his role in 2010, but holds San Diego close to his heart. In an open and honest interview he confirmed that he will never attend Chargers game again, whilst they’re in LA.

The man known as Mr Super Bowl revolutionised football’s biggest game and turned it into the massive global event it is today. He shares some interesting stories, including the booking of Michael Jackson for the half-time show in 1993.

You can hear the full interview here:

Subscribe to the 5thDownUK podcast on iTunes, Acast and Stitcher.

2017 London games announcement expected around Thanksgiving

75,00 fans filled Twickenham Stadium for its first-ever NFL game on Oct 23

This weekend sees the 2016 London NFL International Series draw to a close.

Despite a couple of dreary games the demand for regular season football remains high on this side of The Pond.

Alistair Kirkwood said he’s hopeful of unveiling the 2017 London schedule at around Thanksgiving

The last Wembley showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars saw the third-highest gate in the 2016 NFL season, so far. That for a game between two teams that had one win between them by the time their Week 4 showdown came to town.

Colts vs Jags attracted one of the highest NFL crowds of the season 

A game between two poor teams attracted 84,000 fans. 75,000 turned up at Twickenham to cheer on two mediocre sides with 3&3 records. It doesn’t matter which teams turn up, the fans will come. Music to the Commissioner’s, Roger Goodell, ears with news of decreased prime time viewing figures making headlines back in the States.

For UK fans, our attentions now turns to who will come in 2017 and how many games will we get? We were hoping for four games this year, but didn’t. Could next year be the year that we get a quarter of a season’s worth of games in London?

Before fans started flocking towards Twickenham for that historical game on Sunday, 5thDownUK spent some time with NFL UK’s Managing Director, Alistair Kirkwood.

In an honest and open chat he talked about the difficulties in getting teams to come over and to confirm the stadia for the weeks those teams are available.

Will we get four games in 2017? “We’re currently talking about three or four games internally,” said Kirkwood. “Some of it will be based on stadium availability at both Twickenham and Wembley.”

“We looked at the Olympic Stadium 2/3 years ago, but it was a stadium built for specific things around the Olympics. The stadium wasn’t brilliant.”

He explained, “if you think that you get three or four teams who put their hands up and say they’re willing to put up a game, but then they say their conditions are they want a late bye week or an early bye week, or something else. Then you look at stadium availability amongst other things and then you go back to the teams to actually work out what works.”

So what Alistair is saying is that it’s a lot more difficult than people think. It’s like a complex algorithm, “then you’ve got a situation where you’re asking teams based on the opponents you desire”, he continued. “You will notice that we’ve had a couple of division games recently. They take up a heck of a lot to determine because until we played them there was a lot of nervousness.”

“So basically I don’t know.” It’s not quite the answer fans would be hoping for, but does he have a date for an announcement in mind? “The best guess is the end of November. I hope that I will know by the end of October for sure.”

With two stadia to play with the NFL now have options in London. There would be no way we’d be having four games at Wembley in 2017; it might even struggle to host three because of the venue’s commitments to soccer.

Alistair explained, “you have seen this year that Spurs are playing Champions League games at Wembley. Next year all their games will be there. Chelsea are being rumoured to be there as well. We don’t own our own stadium, we’re tenants and we go where there’s availability.”

“We looked at the Olympic Stadium 2/3 years ago, but it was a stadium built for specific things around the Olympics. The stadium wasn’t brilliant. There would have been considerable more work for us to get it ready. I can’t see a situation in the near future when we’ll have to play there.”

England has two World Cup qualifiers at Wembley during the 2017 NFL season on October 5 and November 11. That might rule out a Week 4 game there and will definitely prevent a Week 10 game from taking place at the home of English football.

The autumn internationals for England’s rugby union side take place throughout November, thus limiting access to Twickenham from Week 10 onwards.

The latest an NFL fixture has taken place in London is Week 10, so there’s every possibility of a game happening late in the season. But, that is the business end of the campaign which could make it more difficult to convince a team to give up a home game. The last bye weeks are in Week 11.

Options will increase in 2018 when Tottenham open their new stadium, designed to cater for the NFL. NFL UK will have three options with a commitment to at least two games at Wembley, two at Tottenham and one at Twickenham.

Fans wanting more than three games in 2017 might have to wait a year, but as Alistair Kirkwood said, “basically I don’t know.”

“Hardly anyone knows how complex it is,” said the NFL UK MD, “and how difficult it is to move things to get these games going.”

“If I was a betting man, and if I was allowed to bet as a league employee I would probably say that around Thanksgiving would be the most likely time (for an announcement).”

As the saying goes, everything comes to those who wait.

Week 5: Who is in Backup Purgatory?

Week 5 is in the books, and 6 backup QBs were earning their money this weekend.

Despite the absence of their highest profile player, which teams have kept their season on track?


Derek Anderson for the Panthers

Anderson might not have expected to start in Monday Night Football until the surprise early announcement that reigning MVP Cam Newton wouldn’t progress out of the concussion protocol in time. Anderson is one of the better backups in the league, but consistently made poor decisions throughout an ugly home loss to the Buccs. The Panthers will hope to have Newton back next week, but their season is already on the rails following a shocking 1-4 record.

Charlie Whitehurst for the Browns

Clipboard Jesus seems to have a career that will never end, but his time in Cleveland might be over after just 1 game. Whitehurst was only brought into the building a week ago, with the Browns already having RGIII, Josh McCown and Cody Kessler struck down in the opening 4 weeks, but he was forced to look into the abyss, as Tom Brady returned to guide the Patriots to an easy win. Charlie’s performance will be instantly forgotten in a game no-one expected them to win, while one of McCown or Kessler will surely be back on the field in week 6. But with a 0-5 record, who is starting under centre is just one of the Browns many problems.

Brian Hoyer for the Bears

The Bears looked like a rudderless ship under Jay Cutler in the opening games of the season, but while they suffered another defeat, Hoyer (with a little help of surprise breakout RB Jordan Howard) is reinforcing his reputation as a strong backup / low level starter. Hoyer kept his side competitive through Week 5, albeit against an equally average Colts side. The Bears seem to finally be looking at life beyond Jay Cutler, but Hoyer isn’t going to kill them while on the field, and it seems he might keep the job for a longer spell despite the imminent return of #6.

Drew Stanton for the Cardinals

Stanton has not been a lucky charm for the Cardinals, but he managed to get the job done in Week 5. Despite only throwing for a measly 124 yards, he managed to lean on the skills of the evergreen Larry Fitzgerald, and the boisterous running of David Johnson to get the Cards a priceless division win over San Francisco. I’m not sure even the Cards think he can repeat the act, and they’ll be desperate for a healthy Carson Palmer this week.

Paxton Lynch for the Broncos


The Broncos aren’t just the reigning SuperBowl champs, they’ve been the best team in the league for over a year, and so far this season the unlikely starter Trevor Siemian has been the surprise success story. Ultimately the long term job should end up in the hands of 1st round pick Paxton Lynch, but he looked nervous and unprepared against the high flying Falcons. With Siemian due to return, expect things to get back to normal in Denver, but this preview of the future already has some concerns.

Dak Prescott for the Cowboys


Some might have already forgotten that Prescott is a backup – the rookie has started the season like a seasoned pro, and Cowboy fans are already talking about the next superstar QB/RB combo in fellow rookies Prescott and Elliott. But on the sidelines there is a big grinning reminder of who really sits at the top of the depth chart – Tony Romo is sure to return when finally healthy, but this might be his last year to try and win something with the Cowboys – Prescott is building a glowing resume, and won’t be holding the clipboard for long.

Victor Cruz: The Long Road to Recovery

The NFL hasn’t seen Victor Cruz for a long time.

It was Oct 12 2014 in fact when we last saw him in a Giants jersey. He went down with a knee injury in Philly; a patellar tendon tear to be precise. It was a game his team lost 27-0.

If reports are to be believed, then this wideout who was once considered to be the best slot receiver in the league, is coming back. Cruz took part in practice this week, and he’s looking good.

“[Eli] understands that his year the Giants staff has offensively done some great things to put some players around him to make things happen”

– Victor Cruz on the 5thDownUK pod last month

A groin injury hampered the start of training camp this summer, but you’d be forgiven if you thought it was deja-vu, because we were being told about his imminent return all last summer. This time though it’s for real, and there’s a good chance we’ll see him line up against the Jets this weekend.

Last month, KB & Dubs caught up with Cruz in London when recording the 5thDownUK podcast. He said “It’s been too long, I’ve missed me”.

When asked if he’s being overly optimistic, like last year, he boldly replied, “I’ll definitely be out there playing, I’m excited to get back out there. It’s been a long time coming (to get to 100%) but I’m feeling good, I’m back, I’m running around. This year is going to be a special one.”

Giants fans will be hoping it’s as special as his breakout year in 2011, when Cruz burst onto the scene as an undrafted free agent to make 82 receptions for over 1,500 yards, and an impressive nine touchdowns (not to mention grabbing a Super Bowl ring in the process).

The 2016 Victor Cruz is looking sharp. It’s been a long road to recovery for #80 and he’s grown off the field. The 29 year old told us about his philosophical approach to rehab: “most people think that playing games and making routes is the biggest thing, but the biggest thing for me is being in the locker room, on the bus on the way to the game, being in the hotel the day before. Those are the things that you miss and those are the things that I want to get back”

When asked about what kept him motivated to get fit, he said: “Seeing my daughter grow, and seeing my mom. Everyone that’s a part of my fan base and a part of my family. I just want them to see me back out there, so that they can cheer me on and gloat to their friends, which I know they love to do. Allowing my friends and family to be a part of something special with me is all that matters”

He admitted that if it wasn’t for his family, and the Giants staff pushing him, he wouldn’t be back at 100%. Things have changed on and off the field since he last played; gone is the head coach who selected him. There’s also a new superstar in the team, and Cruz has nothing but praise for his fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr: “he’s great, he’s full of energy and always trying to put a smile on people’s faces, joking and making us laugh. He’s a good dude”

Expectations are high amongst Giants fans for this coming season. Eli Manning certainly has some weapons to work with in 2016 and Cruz knows that; “it’s indicative of how good we can be this year. If it’s all on him (Beckham) then I can do some great things, likewise if it’s on me he can do some great things. And then if it’s all on both of us then Sterling Shepard can do some great things too”

For all the changes since his injury, Cruz knows there is still one constant in his offense – his QB: “Eli should be ready for us, which I know he is. He understands that his year the Giants staff has offensively done some great things to put some players around him to make things happen”

It’s a new season, and a new start in New York. Tom Coughlin was fired in January after the Giants finished a disappointing third in the NFC East, with Ben McAdoo ascending to the top role from Offensive Coordinator. We asked Cruz whether much had changed? “It’s definitely a fresh start and new philosophies with the new coach. He’s been with us the past two years, so from a philosophy standpoint there’s nothing new offensively although the defense has to get to know a new person, a new guy telling them what he expects from us” 

It’ll be a welcome sight for football fans if Victor Cruz takes to the field this weekend. It’s been a long road to recovery for the once-explosive receiver. We’re yet to see what he and a more experienced Beckham can do together on a football field; we can just imagine the damage they can cause if everything clicks with Eli.

Cruz believes they can go all the way; “our expectations every year is to win the Super Bowl. To do that we have to win the division. We’re in a division that anyone can win so we have to make sure that we’re in a position to take it.” 

“Hard Knocks ’16: Ep1” – The 5th Down UK review

hardknocksLet’s make one thing clear – at the 5th Down UK, we love Hard Knocks. It’s been brilliant for the UK market, and has gradually got more accessible, starting on Channel 4 with the ’13 Bengals, through to the last few seasons on Sky Sports. It’s also helped newcomers to the sport understand what it takes to be a professional footballer in the NFL just as much as it highlights what it means to the players who aren’t able to make it. It’s with this affection in mind when we say that the 1st episode of the new 2016 series was massively disappointing.

We’d be very surprised if the nickname “Hollywood Jeff Fisher” catches on

The Rams are a side who haven’t had a winning season since 2003. Head Coach Fisher (who we see literally fishing in the opening scenes) hasn’t coached a winning team since 2008. For all their talent, this is a team established in mediocrity, and we worry that this series, as with the fates of the Rams, may end up in the shadow of the superb “All or Nothing” series that covered their NFC West rivals, the Cardinals and their effervescent Coach Arians.

Part of the backdrop of the series (and presumably a big reason why the Rams were selected), is the new location of Los Angeles – the Rams going back to a city they left in 1995 because of lack of fan interest, and a long spread of mediocre play. The NFL have a lot invested in the Rams being successful in LA, and when Les Snead sold the house in the draft earlier this year to bring in a big name QB in Californian Jared Goff, it was surely to try and reignite some excitement about pro football in such a big media market. The jury will be out on Goff until he actually hits the field, but as this episode highlights, he still has to win the starting job.

kushOn the positive side, Hard Knocks has always thrown up some unlikely stars, and the brightest moments of the opening episode see Aaron Donald show how much he cares about table tennis, and Eric Kush walk us through his wonderful collection of tanks. This was all classic Hard Knocks.

We hope as the season goes on, we see more of Donald and Kush, and a little less of Gurley and Goff, who both seem to be overly aware of the cameras. As Fisher says – there is a little too much “7 and 9 bullshit” around this team. Let’s hope this season of Hard Knocks can avoid the same fate.

Hard Knocks will be on Sky Sports later in August, and episode 1 is now up on NFL Game Pass, and new episodes go up every Friday.

Interview with Bengals’ Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons

Darrin Simmons is in his 14th season leading the coaching of Cincinnati’s special teams, he became Special Teams Coordinator in 2013

It could have been so different for the Cincinnati Bengals last season if their players had just kept their composure in that infamous wild card game at home to Pittsburgh.

Shall we recap? Sorry Bengals fans, but in case you need reminding:

The game was seemingly sealed with the Bengals 16-15 up. The Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones threw a bad interception, but the Bengals fumbled the ball right back as they were trying to run out the clock.

Ben Roethlisberger came back in the game and, though his arm appeared to be hindered, led the Steelers down to the Bengals’ 47-yard line with 22 seconds remaining after a 12-yard completion on fourth-and-3 to Antonio Brown. That’s when the Bengals committed two penalties that will live in infamy.

Vontaze Burfict laid a malicious, head-hunting hit on Brown, thus handing the Steelers a free 15 yards. Then cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones gave the Steelers another 15 with a personal foul. Now at the 17-yard line, Chris Boswell easily booted a chip-shot game-winning field goal to advance the Steelers.

It’s been a long offseason for the Bengals and the players will be desperate to get their first preseason game under their belts when they host the Minnesota Vikings tonight.

Cincy drafted well in spring. William Jackson III, the athletic CB from the University of Houston, has been highly praised by Bengals coaching staff this summer. Expect to see Jackson line up on special teams at some point, but he’s going to have to earn that spot, “it’s almost like becoming a freshman again, he’s (Will) got to work his way up” said Special Teams Coordinator Darrin Simmons in an interview with KB & Dubs on the 5thDownUK podcast.

“We’ve got some veteran guys here who aren’t going to let him just come in here and take their jobs,” added Simmons, “he’s going to have to earn that spot and we’ve been very successful.”

Simmons is aware that his rookie CB didn’t play much special teams in college but he told us that he’s going to be ready for it now.

The Bengals’ coach is in his 14th season leading special teams, and for the fourth straight season in 2016, he carries the title of Special Teams Coordinator.


Simmons is a farmer’s son from south west Kansas and, despite the riches of professional football, that’s his favourite place to unwind. “I go back home to my parents’ farm and I help my dad with the wheat harvest,” said Simmons.

We spoke to him before OTAs finished and asked him how he spends his vacation before the intensity of training camp and the new season kicks in. “I view being a coach in the NFL as a gift. It’s not something that’s continuously given, I have to earn that so I always feel that I have to outwork the other coaches that I go against.”

Darrin Simmons has built one of the strongest special teams in the league, but he remains humble, “I can never sit back and enjoy the position I’m in because I always feel that there’s someone after that position.” It’s that winning mentality that makes him successful. He aspires to one day become a head coach himself, but for now he’s committed to bringing success to Cincinnati, “It keeps me going (success), it fuels me, it makes me feel like I have to keep ahead of everyone else.”

But for five weeks of the year he goes home to Elkhart in Kansas and does the things he did as a child, harvesting wheat. “It’s really neat. It’s fun; it’s what I grew up doing so it’s what I know.”

“I can go back there, it’s a vacation for us and I never think about football. I just think about getting that wheat cut before there’s any kind of storm,” added Simmons.

Now fully rested he’ll be hoping the Bengals will hit the ground running in a tough AFC North to prevent the storm clouds from circling over the Paul Brown Stadium.



“Last Chance U” – The 5th Down UK review


Last Chance U is the story of the 2015 Eastern Mississippi Community College Lions.

The Lions are no ordinary team, having won 3 national championships under head coach Buddy Stephens in the previous 4 years.

They are also extraordinary in that they accept student athletes that no one else wants – a team of misfits and outcasts. And they don’t just beat everyone – they thump everyone. To make it to a National Championship, you need a perfect season with the biggest point spread. It’s because of this that they are also the most hated team in the state.

If you, like us, are mourning the end of the recent “All or Nothing” Amazon series, then this is the wrong place – you’ll have to wait for the upcoming “Hard Knocks” series for an inside look at the world of professional athletes. Last Chance U has more in kin with  Friday Night Lights, or the superb Oscar winning documentary Undefeated.

Outside of the draft, there is little coverage of top College football in the UK, so it’s likely few are aware of the Junior College system. These colleges offer students a 2 year, post-high school education. Most Ju-Co students will receive a vocational associate degree and head off to work, others will go on to a bigger University to complete a full degree. Ju-Co athletes meanwhile, are looking to get a scholarship at a Division 1 University that for some reason eluded them in previous years. Top talents like DJ Law and Ronald Ollie didn’t have the grades, while QB John Franklin III transferred from Florida State for an opportunity to play football.

Set in the rundown backdrop of Scooba, Mississippi, we meet the young men who hope the 2015 Ju-Co season will provide them with one final chance of a pro-football career. They need to make the grades, and win another National Championship to gain the attention of the big College scouts. Don’t expect to love these kids – they are equally frustrating and obnoxious as they are talented. Don’t expect to love Buddy Stephens – he is as explosive and divisive as he is ambitious. But you will fall for the story, especially as the show reaches the 3rd act which is teased in the opening scenes of episode 1.

The real star of the show is Brittany Wagner, the college Academic Advisor who has to chase these athletes around campus to ensure they make class, make grades, and make the field. Just as Coach Taylor’s wife Tami was the star of Friday Night Lights, Wagner is the heart beat of the College, and the only reason Coach Stephens is able to field a full roster each week.


The production quality of the show is superb, with the EMCC marching band providing a poignant sense of local community. The features on the people of Scooba are inspired inclusions; with accents so thick that half of the series requires sub-titles, seeing behind the scenes at Scooba reinforces just how important this school is to a deprived area of Mississippi (although one of the featured Scooba residents does seem to be an Eddie Murphy character from Coming to America – see if you can spot the resemblance!). What the series does miss though is the other side of the College sports system, how the school is able to afford such top class facilities in such a poor area of the country – often it seems the Lions wear a sparkling new uniform in every game, which contrasts badly with how deprived the town of Scooba is, and the social background of most of the players.

Overall, Last Chance U is a fascinating piece, which grows the recent trend of extremely high quality documentary series on the game of football. After watching All or Nothing, this series is essential watching to see how difficult it can be just to make it to the top.

You can find Last Chance U on Netflix


Stephen Tulloch praises his friend, Calvin Johnson

Johnson in practice during the Lions’ visit to London in 2014

He was the fastest player in the NFL to reach 10,000 receiving yards and he owns the record for most receiving yards in a season.

Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, hung up his cleats this week. The 2007 second-overall pick called time on his career at the age of 30. He spent all of his nine years in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.

What makes Johnson’s achievements even more remarkable is that the Lions only reached the play-offs twice during his time in Detroit (2011 & 2014).

Former Lions LB Stephen Tulloch spoke exclusively to 5thDownUK

We’ve been in touch with Johnson’s former team mate, LB Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch, who is currently a free agent, exclusively gave us this tribute for the wide receiver:

Over the past 5 years since I joined the Detroit Lions I gained a friendship with Calvin Johnson. Not only was he a great player but he was a great team mate as well. I’ve always been in awe of his constant professionalism on and off the field. He is the true definition of a humble superstar a superstar the game of football will miss.

UK fans missed out on seeing the star receiver in 2014’s last-gasp victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley because of injury, but he featured in 2015’s 45-10 drubbing by the Kansas City Chiefs. Johnson had five receptions for 85 yards in that International Series game.

Some sceptics aren’t convinced that Megatron has retired for good. Whatever happens he will be a strong contender to be a first ballot hall of famer.

Key dates this spring

The season may be over, but the path to Super Bowl LI has already begun.

There’s plenty to look forward to this offseason:

Feb 16 – First day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

Feb 20 – NFL Regional Combines in Phoenix.

Feb 23-29 – NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

Feb 27 – NFL Regional Combines in Baltimore.

Mar 1 – 9pm (GMT) deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

Mar 5 – NFL Regional Combines in Minnesota.

Mar 9 – 9pm (GMT) free agency signings can be made.

Mar 12 – NFL Regional Combines in New Orleans.

Mar 20-23 – NFL Annual Meeting

Apr 22 – Deadline for Restricted Free Agents to sign offer sheets.

Apr 28-30 – NFL Draft in Chicago