Week 3 – Washington @ Philadelphia: Hillbillies and Croissants (the view from Cameroon)

 

Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday 21st September, 2014

I land my Corolla in the car park of Rain Forest International School on the outskirts of Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. It’s wet season and I’ve navigated the potholed roads leading to the school. The last mile or two is rough, red mud track, undulating and slippery. Most people prefer to come in a 4×4.

One of the school hostels is vacant. So Dan Cawley, the school’s IT department head and New England Patriot’s nut, and his small family live in this huge dwelling designed to house about 15 people. Surrounded by lush, green forest, the school is home for kids from missionary families who serve in the region from North America, Europe, Australia, Korea and other parts of Africa. With the expanded living space, we project the game-of-the-week about four metres wide up onto the living room wall.

In Cameroon, if you bothered to subscribe to the cable TV, the main sports you would get are soccer, soccer, and soccer. So Internet streaming is a welcome treat. Tonight we’ll be watching the Redskins’ game on delay, downloaded by Dan. While everyone else in this country with limited infrastructure struggles to find a workable Internet connection, our computer whiz somehow downloads NFL games each week in High Definition with all commercials and game breaks edited out. He’s a man with priorities.

We’ve found our NFL oasis in the desert of soccer fanaticism. The Rain Forest school itself also has a strong soccer tradition, boasting some of the best sports facilities in the country. By this, I mean to say that it actually has a full size, flat, fully grassed and lined soccer pitch, with covered benches for the substitutes, and netting on the goal posts. This is impressive by local standards.

For it’s not that Cameroon isn’t crazy about soccer, but the money available for building facilities seems to disappear in the cracks of local corruption. The national soccer federation president this year spent time in jail. And in June, when the heroes of the national team once again made the FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil, their arrival was delayed by one day when the players refused to board the plane for Rio until they received their cut of the money made available by FIFA up front.

So last week, in search of proper facilities, the Cameroon female national team arrived here at the school to play a warm up match against our high school boys. The Lionesses needed a grassed surface hit-out before their upcoming African Championship matches against Ghana, Algeria, and South Africa in Namibia next month. So from among our meager 70 students, our coach, Jordan Cone (an American brought up in DR Congo hunting rogue elephants,) selected our best eleven to provide the Lionesses with some rigorous competition. The Lionesses put on a classy display winning 6-3. The score line would have been less flattering to us but for some late consolation goals set up when we put onto the field our 21 year old assistant coach, Michael Antonesko, older brother of one of the Swedish kids, who had played second division soccer in Sweden.

But in the school’s hostel tonight, we’re transported to the Liberty Bell city. Since Kevin, the school’s English teacher and Redskins fan from Baltimore is among the group, we’re watching the game from Philadelphia on the big screen with the sound on, while Dan also puts a smaller TV under the big screen so he can watch Oakland v New England with the sound off. Watching these two Sunday games simultaneously give us that ‘live’ feel despite the two day delay. And no one knows who has won either game.

As an Australian, Kevin has to explain to me some football history, of how he abandoned the Colts when the Baltimore team moved to Indianapolis. And since he could never get a feel for the Ravens, like others, he has adopted the Redkins as his team.

Washington start off with the ball and quarterback Kirk Cousins moves it seamlessly, effortlessly, and almost continuously for 1st downs for most of the first quarter. So much so that his opposing quarterback, Nick Foles, doesn’t get to even touch the ball until there’s only 2:01 left in the quarter. Cousin’s receivers: Roberts, Paul, Jackson, and Garçon are catching everything. The yards gained are 159 to zip. Yet this hasn’t translated into dominance on the scoreboard due to a 102 yard coast-to-coast return by Chris Polk after the kick-off between the two Redskin touchdowns.

It’s half way through the 2nd quarter before the Philadelphia defense finally stops Cousins on a third down. Even then, Forbath arrows the long field goal attempt and Washington’s ten point lead (17-7) seems minimal given their time in possession.

Foles finally starts stringing together some passes and 1st downs for Philly. But when the Eagles first run the ball into their end zone after a pinpoint throw by Foles, it doesn’t count. A flag is called against the heavy set offensive lineman, Jason Kelce, who has needlessly pushed a defender in the back after his receiver had already opened up a clear run at the touchline. The ball must come back about 50 yards. The expat Americans here in Yaoundé are all big fans of Duck Dynasty. So it’s easy to forgive Kelce when he takes off his helmet letting down his Robertson clan style beard and hillbilly haircut. He was just having some fun.

I’m extremely impressed with Redskins wide receiver, Pierre Garçon. I love his graceful run and bravery to keep his eye on the ball, happy to be the salad in any defender sandwich, and then come out with his hands grasping the ball. Though I wouldn’t advise that he comes to Africa. A few people here, less than one in a million, have caught the Ebola virus. He’d find a way to catch that too. But here in Francophone Cameroon we especially like the way he has his clothing manufacturer print the little cedilla under the ‘C’ on the back of his shirt, GARÇON. Every time he catches one, Troy Aikman seems to take great delight in pronouncing his name, ‘Pierre Garçon’, like his chewing on a baguette on the Champs-Élysées.

Cousins is still finding his targets with his passes, and Morris and Young are also running well, but now the Eagles are keeping pace. Foles finds Riley Cooper with a long throw and then Jordan Matthews with an 11 yard pass into the end zone. At 17-14 it seems odd that Philadelphia are nearly level on the scoreboard considering the little time they’ve had the ball. Nearing the 2 minute warning in the first half, it has been 20 minutes to six possession in favour of the Redskins.

Kevin, the English teacher sitting beside me, is lost for words when Matthews finds the end zone again to give the Eagles the half time lead.

I don’t know whether it’s that I’ve never before seen football in High Definition on a big screen or if it is just this game in particular, but today’s game seems really tough. My American friends often tell me that they think Australian football is tough seeing as though they don’t wear padding. But today I believe I’ve seen more hard hits than I’ve come to expect: lots of crunches and front on collisions; lots of penalty flags; lots of players taking injury time, and a few not coming back on, including key offensive lineman, Jason Kelce.

The scores are tight in the third quarter and the tension is building. With 10 minutes left in quarter 105 yards have been called against Redskins in penalties. The Philadelphia defense is now stopping Cousins frequently on 3rd downs. Cornerback Cary Williams manages to tap one away from Garçon’s sticky fingers, and we sense that the new Eagle recruit, Matthews, may be becoming the wide receiver most likely to sway the result of game. Foles is finding him often, but is taking many heavy hits with his weakened offensive line.

Towards the end of the quarter, Cousins finds DeSean Jackson who has sneaked behind all defenders and catches a huge throw to complete an 81 yard touchdown play. I can’t imagine anything sweeter for Jackson as he prances into the end zone running backwards. Jackson took pain killers before the game for his injured shoulder, desperate to play against his former team and coach who cut him from the Eagle’s list a few months ago. In the 1st quarter, Jackson drew a penalty after his first reception against his former team, when Eagle defensive back Malcolm Jenkins hit him late when he was already on the turf. Now Jackson was able to pay back the not so nice welcome home. Scores tied, 27-27.

In the 4th quarter Forbath misses a field goal from 30 yards, which would have given the Redskins back the lead. He’d made several from much further out already today, this time hitting the post.

A key moment occurs when a Foles’ pass is apparently intercepted by a Redskin defender who falls in catching the ball. He probably knew he didn’t catch it cleanly, as he stays down for a little while. Wondering whether anyone else would know if he caught it cleanly or not, he gets up and starts running with it. In the confusion, Redskin lineman, Chris Baker, barrels into Nick Foles from his blind side. Eagle offensive lineman, Jason Peters, retaliates, which begins an all-in brawl.  It’s a first for me to see such a brawl in the NFL, and I’ve also never seen a player ejected from a game, which is the immediate fate of both Baker and Peters. With Peters now off the field, the line in front of Foles is getting weaker all the time. At 6”6’, Foles is a big guy. But the ejection is justified. If defensive linemen were allowed to blindside quarterbacks in situations like that, there wouldn’t be any quarterbacks left by the end of the season.

The interception is deemed to have been grounded on review. The Eagles get back the ball, and Foles then throws some excellent passes to Jeremy Maclin who scores to break the tie. 27-34.

Foles is throwing amazingly well considering the battering he’s taken. And that is possibly the difference between the teams in the last crucial minutes. While generally Cousins has thrown pretty well today, successfully passing to seven different receivers, his last quarter efforts were errant, with his last throw being intercepted when in good field position and having a chance to either tie or regain the lead.

Philadelphia wins 34-37.

Philadelphia becomes the first team in NFL history to win their first three games after trailing by 10 or more points in each game.

 

Sept 21

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia PA (69,596)

 

Washington   14 6   7 7 – 37

Philadelphia   7 14 6 10 – 34

 

Passing: Kirk Cousins (WAS), 427 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: Alfred Morris (WAS), 23 car, 77 yds

Receiving: Jeremy Maclin (PHI), 8 rec, 154 yds, 1 TD

Pigskin Almanac “Salad Baguette Award” : Pierre Garçon

 

 

 

 

About Michael Viljoen

My work (Christian missions) has allowed me to visit and live in different countries and continents, but none near America. I think I hold the world record for having the most number of American friends without ever setting foot in America. Consequently I am obliged to know something about the NFL. I view the game itself as a curious combination of testosterone and chess. I like it.

Comments

  1. Wow, great post and very interesting to hear about what’s happening in Cameroon.

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