When Kenya’s Daniel Adongo and his teammates strut down the tunnel and unto the pitch at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, US next Sunday, he will undoubtedly be carrying a two-layered burden on his young but strong shoulders.
Adongo will be having his inaugural match for the Indianapolis Colts, one of the National Football League giants that picked him from his college in Pretoria South Africa last month.
Indianapolis Colts will be playing the season opener against Buffalo Bills from Buffalo, New York at the 67,000 capacity Lucas Oil Stadium and Adongo, donning jersey number 46, is expected to feature in Manager Ryan Grigson’s line-up.
For the 23-year-old Kenyan, the first burden will be to prove to the Indianapolis Colts family that he deserved a place within the ranks of the Colts.
The second, but which he may not even be aware of, is that his featuring in the NFL will be a good opportunity to win himself, Indianapolis Colts and indeed the NFL, a fan base in Kenya.
It will be a chance for him to be to Kenyans what Yao Ming of the National Basketball Association was to the Chinese and Hasheem Thabeet to Tanzanians.
Adongo has been enlisted as outside linebacker. Outside linebrackers (OLBs) are one of the two groups of defense kingpins who roam between the space between defensive line and defensive backfield hacking down charging forwards of the opposite team and cutting off moves. The other lot is the middle linebackers (MLB).
Weighing some 257 pounds (roughly 120 kilos) and some 6 feet, five inches, Adongo is as good, big and strong as they come in the NFL and one likely to fit into the Colts’ declaration that the 2013 season “is all about running the ball”.
In comments posted n the Colts website, Grigson confesses that in Adongo he has raw talent that if molded, will take him to the top ranks of the NFL.
Asked about what he presumed to be Adongo’s potential, Grigson waxed optimistic: “He’s a guy we brought in that has a very raw skill set, obviously. But once you start seeing him move around with those long limbs, and you see the type of competitor and really the traits he has as a human being and just as an athlete, you have something to work with.”
That Adongo would need all the skills, strength and support to succeed in arguably the world’s roughest ball game, is not in doubt.
Watching from the stands – known within the NFL fraternity as bleachers – a new fan of American football would find himself gritting his teeth as he anticipates those crunching tackles from opposing players in the field.
To say that Americans are nuts about American Football and its merchant, the NFL is a gross understatement.
Call it a patriotic gimmick or whatever you wish but most Americans would readily switch off their television sets or try another channel if the game being shown was not American football, baseball or basketball, almost in that order.
All it takes for a stranger to be persuaded that NFL is the king of championships in the US is a flick through the numerous local sports channels beaming signals across the states.
Almost each football match, fills the stadiums to the rafters with crowds, yelling from game start to finish and commentators shouting themselves hoarse for the benefit of audiences back home, not to mention the glamorous cheerleaders.
Sports shops across US cities are simply out of business if their stocks do not include the helmets and vests of leading teams – professional or collegiate - in that particular city.
The helmets and the pads complete with the protective meshes inside, bring out the brutal nature of a game in which upending a rival in the most violent and teeth-jarring manner earns you points not reprimand.
Because of the arrangement of the lines across it, the 100 yard field is occasionally referred to as a gridiron in reference to the cooking grill with a similar pattern of lines.
For those conversant with American Football and what the players go through in the field for the entire duration of the game, the ‘cooking grill description is apt.
Down the decades in 1906, the violent nature of the game nearly made it banned as a sport of choice among colleges in the US because of the numerous injuries and in some cases death that it caused.
However President Theodore Roosevelt successfully campaigned against the blacklisting of the game but making it a little bit safer. American football does not feature in the Olympics’ menu of sports.
Whether President Roosevelt’s intervention made the game safer is a matter of opinion after one has sat through an American Football match.
Gems gleaned from Wikipedia and other online sports platforms, indicate that the teams score points by advancing the ball into their opponent’s end zone by running with it or throwing it to a teammate.
Points can be scored by carrying the ball over the opponent’s goal-line, catching a pass thrown over that goal line, kicking the ball through the opponents’ goal posts or tackling an opposing ball carrier in his own end zone.
But nothing brings down the roof in any American Football stadium like a touchdown - a form of scoring worth 6 points.
A touchdown or TD as it is popularly known, is scored when a player runs the ball into or catches a pass in his opponent’s end zone.
A touchdown is analogous to a try in rugby but unlike in the latter, a player does not have to touch the ball to the ground to score.
The score is registered anytime a player has possession of the ball while any part of the ball is beyond the vertical plane created by the leading edge of the opponent’s goal line stripe (the stripe itself is a part of the end zone).
Divided into three separate units
Though each team has 11 players on the field at a time, there are usually many more players off the field.
An NFL team has a limit of 53 players on its roster, 46 of whom can be dressed for a game.
However, teams may substitute for any or all of their players during the breaks between plays. As a result, players have very specialized roles and are divided into three separate units: the offense, the defense and the special teams.
It is rare for all team members to participate in a given game, as some roles have little utility beyond that of an injury substitute.
But of all these players, none serves as a team’s anchor and game changer like the quarterback(QB). He literally dictates the direction and tempo of the game whenever he gets that first pass from the starting offender known as the centre.
Little wonder then that quarterbacks are usually the much sought after players in American Football and therefore the most highly paid in the professional ranks. But QBs also attract the most flak whenever their teams loose.
For the fans in the bleachers a NFL match is a time to enjoy all that it comes with and it is not just the action in the gridiron.
There are the unending cheers, booes and chants, all depending on which team has made which move moves down in the field.
And of course, an NFL encounter is never complete without the cheerleaders in all their feminine glory, glamour and spleandour. Many a fan pack the stadiums just to see them spring and prance around the entire duration of the game, charging the fighters with adrenalise.
So high-octane and memorable is an NFL game that several months after watching the an NFL encounter pitting NFL giants: The Bengals of Cincinnati and The Broncos from Denver , Colorado, the images of the action in that game remain vivid in my mind.
Fans filled the 70,000 seat Paul Brown stadium in Cincinnati, and cheered from start to finish, the Bengals fans hoping for a win against the visitors.
However, Peyton Manning, the Broncos Quarterback who was in devastating form, silenced the home crowd with six touchdowns, silencing his critics and demonstrated why he is one of NFL’s best players with four Most Valuable Player awards under his belt.
Kenya’s Adongo may not be a Quarterback or anywhere near the calibre of Manning - yet, but by joining the NFL, he has made history. All that remains is how far his exploits in the field will take him.