RIO DE JANEIRO -- Quarterback Ramon Martire hopes that with luck and with practice, the No. 4 he wears might someday draw comparisons to another No. 4: future NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre. But right now, Martire, a 23-year-old design student from Rio de Janeiro, must content himself with steering his local team, Fluminense Imperadores, through its practices on the beach here in Rio.
Martire is one of a growing number of Brazilian men and women who are embracing U.S.-style football, still a distinctly alien sport in a country known worldwide for its stylish mastery of soccer.
I see the sport with a great future in Brazil because of the aggressiveness, the energy, the determination and the amount of dedication put into the game, he said. This represents Brazil.
Martires Imperadores are one of the three mens teams that play full-contact American football, with pads, in Rio. Flavio Cardia, 35, an auctioneer who serves as the executive director of the Brazilian Association of American Football, said there were more than 60 other teams across the country.
The association, established in 2000, also runs a Brazilian national team and has the backing of the International Federation of American Football, which promotes the game around the globe.
Known worldwide not only for soccer but also for volleyball and Formula One racing, Brazil perhaps isnt the first country that comes to mind for American football. But Brazil has welcomed other American sports such as basketball, mixed martial arts and rodeo that have become part of its sporting culture. Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa are among a handful of Brazilians who play in the NBA.
American football is just getting started here. It was first played here in the 1980s, reputedly introduced by a Rio native who learned the game while on vacation in the United States and began playing with friends at Copacabana Beach.
As far as local officials can determine, Brazil has yet to produce an NFL player, nor is it exactly a major stop on the tour of American college coaches looking for recruits. Perhaps its best-known player is Maikon Bonani, a native of Sao Paulo whos a kicker for the University of South Florida.
Another Brazilian star already is playing pro football in the U.S., but not with the NFL. Her name is Deniele Barbosa, and shes the starting quarterback for the Miami Fury of the Womens Football Alliance, a full-contact womens league.
In the 1990s, Brazils national sports channel carried a weekly broadcast, Cardia said. ESPN has broadcast American football games here and plans to add college football broadcasts this year, Cardia said.
But getting exposure has proved to be only half the battle.
Finding a Portuguese copy of the rules of American football is extremely difficult. In crowded cities, few athletic fields arent already devoted to soccer. Equipment is expensive if bought locally, so teams rely on players to bring back equipment when they travel to the U.S.
Players such as Martire, the quarterback, often buy their own equipment, and it isnt cheap. A full set of pads shipped to Rio from an American outfitter costs about $240, while a helmet costs about $214. Bigger equipment, such as tackling dummies, has yet to arrive.
These factors drove the sport to where just about everything else in Rio ends up sooner or later: the beach, where space is free, the need for equipment minimal and a ready audience rarely lacking. Thus Brazilian beach football was born.