Ryan: American football is the greatest game ever invented

Ireland’s Cricket World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan is playing away on the TV in the background as Rob Ryan sits in the Clanna Gael Fontenoy clubhouse in Dublin, gripping a hurley, and holding court on all things American football.

Ryan: American football is the greatest game ever invented

He’s a good talker and an even better self-promoter.

For 13 years straight he was employed by one of six NFL clubs in a coaching capacity. That was until he was among those flushed out of the Buffalo Bills organisation in December 2016 when the plug was pulled on his brother Rex’s term as head coach.

Rob has spent the time since as a pundit for Fox Sports and Sky Sports and it’s his role with the latter that brings him and four high-profile players to Dublin for today’s NFL UK Live event, presented by Subway, at the Convention Centre.

TV is a gig he enjoys, but it’s just what he does for now. Coaching is who he is and he delivers the most definitive of responses when asked if we can expect his flowing grey locks back on the sidelines next season.

“Oh yeah, I know it will happen. I have too much experience and I am too good a coach not to be. Not too many coaches have 13 years’ experience in the NFL and won two Super Bowls,” he says.

“I’ve been co-ordinator of the year in the NFL and in college — the only one ever to do that. So I know I am a special coach and that I’ll get my chance. It’s just gonna take the right people.”

Ryan lacks nothing in confidence. He is Jamie Heaslip dialled up to 11.

One of his two Super Bowl rings, both won in his time as a linebackers coach with the New England Patriots, sits up off his right hand like a boil on the Terminator’s knuckle.

It is the Jabba the Hutt of rings, a monument to the chutzpah of the man and his chosen sport.

But the game itself has hit a wobble.

Ratings have been suffering in recent seasons with the controversy over player protests during the national anthem and a queasiness over concussion-related problems for ex players among the issues dulling the polished gleam of America’s Game.

Few families are so embedded in the sport as the Ryans.

Rob’s brother Rex won his own Super Bowl coaching with the Baltimore Ravens and their late father Buddy was the man behind the legendary ‘46’ system which acted as the cornerstone to the ferocious and feared Chicago Bears defence in 1985.

Ryan Sr knew that playbooks were worth little without aggression.

One former player of his, Gerry Philbin, said he was the best coach to “bring out the animal” in him and Rob still sees that physicality as key despite what he describes as the “watered down” game we see now.

“You still have to be aggressive,” he explains. “There are still ways to tackle and to hit and impose your will. The rules are great because the best thing about the NFL and all professional sports is the athletes themselves.

“And if this is doing damage to them then you have to protect them because they are putting it out there between the lines. There is always a place for aggression. You don’t have to like the rules, you just gotta play by them.”

The game isn’t for everyone, but 3,000 people applied for the 2,000 free tickets available for today’s event in Dublin, which will be hosted by Sky’s Neil Reynolds, and the depth of knowledge among the small but devoted church in this country is second to none.

The Philadelphia Eagles, reigning Super Bowl champions, will be one of six teams featuring in regular-seasons games in London next October as the sport tightens its embrace on a foreign audience and Ryan is adamant that the love affair will stay strong Stateside, too.

“Well, I think football is the greatest game that has ever been invented.

"I was born into it, but it will always be that way. It’s because it is the most entertaining sport there is, it is the most competitive sport, it is played by our best and most talented athletes and our toughest.

“By our alpha males. It is played that way. Just like Gaelic football and hurling has your toughest guys. And the boxing and the Ultimate Fighting guys. There’s your toughest athletes and American football has our toughest and best.”

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