It's Time To Write History
BEIJING - A little boy nicknamed Nono roamed the sidelines at the final practice for the East and West All-Stars prior to Sunday's All-Star Game here in Beijing. That little Chinese boy is only four years old, and he had never put his hands on a football before today. Once the pigskin hit little Nono's hands though, he was hooked. Immediately, he developed the hand-eye coordination necessarily to not just hold the ball, but catch it appropriately as well.
"Future star of AFL China in 2033," said AFL China's resident doctor, Dr. Scott Singer.
It might have seemed like a bit of a joke at the time, and it is anyone's guess as to whether or not young Nono will end up being an arena football player one day. However, it was at that moment that the goal became crystal clear.
The image that AFL China founder Marty Judge had in mind for bringing this great game to China wasn't just about playing this one game with AFL All-Stars on Sunday. It's about taking a massive step towards putting a league here, where not only will it become a sport that is wildly popular, but that it will become something that Chinese child across the country wants to strive towards.
When I was a kid, football icons were numbers – Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Reggie White, Deion Sanders… The list could go on and on. Of course, this little boy at the age of 7 was already idolizing Barry Wagner, Herkie Walls, Durwood Roquemore, and the likes.
I suppose that's why I'm here in Beijing. I'm a diehard for this game and this sport. And now, a nation of almost two billion people is going to be growing up with AFL China its version of the NFL. The names will be different – Nick Davila, Dan Raudabaugh, Terrance Smith, Bryan Robinson, Mario Urrutia, and Prechae Rodriguez could be amongst them. In two decades, young Nono could be the equivalent of Jerry Rice in China. The concept though, is going to be exactly the same.
What once seemed like a bizarre idea to almost everyone I knew (I'll admit, myself included) as recent as just a few months ago is now clearly coming together. Some have bought in. Some still don't believe. Others still really don't care. However, I'm here to tell you, after spending three days in this nation, the idea of bringing arena football to China is going to be a smashing success.
This is going to work.
"The country of China has been around for 5,000 years," said Judge during his introductory speech at Saturday night's gala. "Tomorrow, we will play the first ever game of professional football here."
The buzz around Beijing is tremendous. Reportedly, every single one of the roughly 18,000 available seats for Sunday's game have been sold, and a completely packed house is expected. Locals, government officials, and dignitaries will be on hand.
Everywhere we have gone, the locals have followed. Whether it be dreadlocks, the height of the players, the skill of the players, or just the fact that there are a group of Americans who play some goofy looking game wandering around the country, the Chinese people have embraced us all for various reasons.
China has been waiting forever for football. We are here to bring it to them.
In the past two weeks, I've gotten a sunburn on Waikiki Beach. I've been to a military base. I've stood at one of the most breathtaking lookouts I've ever seen. I've snapped thousands of pictures. I've spent about 55 hours traveling in a span of two weeks and have another 24 to go before getting home. I've been in Honolulu for seven days, Seattle's airport for seven hours, and Tokyo's airport for seemingly just seven minutes. I've stood in Tiananmen Square. I've taken a glimpse into the life of where some of the most powerful men the world have ever seen, the emperors of China, have sat. And yes, I've even scaled a piece of the Great Wall of China.
It was then, as I stood atop the Great Wall of China, that it all really hit me, and everything was put into perspective. Tens of years from now, and perhaps hundreds of years or even thousands of years from now, people are going to try to figure out how the sport of football made its way to China and perhaps across the globe. And when they do, they are going to be reading my account of the very first game ever to be played in this nation on Sunday, November 10th, 2013.
It's amazing just to be here. There are 37 players, five officials, and countless others on the staff both here in Beijing and back in Honolulu that will all agree to that fact. But to know that this indeed, is my place in the history of the game that I love more than any other, is humbling.
Regardless of what anyone else says or believes, we are at an historic moment, not just in the history of arena football, but in the history of the sport of football as a whole both here in China and in the rest of the world.
I don't know need to rewrite history any longer. Goodness knows that ArenaFan already did that last year.
I'm going to be writing a brand new history on Sunday with AFL China.