Adam Goldstein sat perched on the edge of his couch last Sunday as he watched the final moments of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Chicago Bears game on his TV.
Wearing his Walter Payton jersey, he pleaded with his Bears to stop Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from orchestrating a game-winning drive.
It’s a scene that could be set in any number of living rooms in America. The tension with the game on the line could be seen on Goldstein’s face. His eyes widened behind his thick, dark-framed glasses as the final snap of regulation was looming.
To his delight, the Bears sacked Big Ben and forced overtime. Then, they won the coin toss and scored on Jordan Howard’s 19-yard run to win the game 23-17.
Never miss a local story.
“That’s it! That’s it!” Goldstein exclaimed as the Bears celebrated in the end zone. “Well that was most certainly unexpected.”
Since the NFL began holding regular-season games in London in 2007, American football fandom in England has gained strength. While the future of a London franchise is unknown, Goldstein has fully embraced his passion for the sport and become a British ambassador for the American game.
For the lanky Brit, who works as an Oxford University student advis0r, football Sundays have been make or break since 1986, which is when as a 5-year-old he saw the Bears defeat the Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl 20 on TV. The big personalities of the Bears team that produced cultural artifacts like the “Super Bowl Shuffle” music video, captured his attention and changed his life.
“Back then, I think to a certain extent soccer in this country was having a bit of a bad time with hooliganism, and when I went to games it was very raw,” Goldstein said. “I think [football] was just exotic and it was something different and fun and I picked the Bears because you’ve got characters like Walter Payton, the Fridge [William Perry] and (Jim) McMahon.”
To follow the Bears and the NFL in the late ’80s and early ’90s in England, he watched highlight shows and read about the league in a British magazine called First Down, which is out of print.
The reality that football coverage was not readily available made the information more precious to him, and it also enhanced his fandom because of the leg work required to get the football news.
The tenacious attitude toward consuming and learning the game inspired Goldstein to schedule a trip to the United States in October 2006 to see the Bears play the Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football” in Glendale, Ariz.
His team was losing 20-0 at halftime and Goldstein decided to leave the game. The Bears staged a comeback and eventually won 24-23. That premature exit not only taught him a lesson about leaving a game early in disappointment, but also led to his discovery of tailgating.
“In this country, everyone is showing you what’s on the field and trying to convince you how good the game is based on the antics on the field,” Goldstein said. “When I saw the tailgating, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to show this to the world.’”
When considering if the NFL will succeed in Britain, observers often note that an American football game runs about an hour longer than a soccer game. But the difference only tells part of the story, according to Goldstein.
“If you go to a game, there’s all this tailgating and other stuff that’s pretty cool. And somebody that’s maybe on the fence would actually have a really good time as opposed to going to a soccer game where the whole experience is based on the field,” Goldstein said. “People here can’t believe that there is tailgating and they’re just like ‘Do people just go around stealing food?’ It’s just a very culturally different experience.”
His interest in the tailgating culture, combined with his love for the game, led to a plan to attend 35 NFL games during the 2008 season. To make it possible, he quit his job, sold his flat in London to fund his adventures and left behind his girlfriend Stephanie.
“I had the idea just before we started dating, so in my mind I wasn’t doing nothing wrong,” Goldstein said. “I just didn’t say on our first date, ‘Oh by the way I’m going to spank 35,000 pounds following around a bunch of men.’ I kept it quiet for a while.”
During an 18-week period, Goldstein traveled throughout the United States, experiencing tailgates and professional football stadiums. Eventually, Stephanie joined Adam on the trip and the couple is now married.
“It’s incredibly selfish to think that you can hold someone back from what they want to do just because I didn’t understand it in the first place,” Stephanie Goldstein said.
The success of the trip fueled Goldstein to hatch another plan, and in 2009 he traveled on a school bus converted into an “NFL shrine/tiki bar on wheels” where he cooked British food at NFL tailgates. The two trips produced two books, both available on Amazon, “Tailgate Heaven” and “The Tailgate Knight Rises.”
The same passion and excitement that Goldstein invested into understanding NFL culture, he has also invested in coaching and growing the game in the United Kingdom as the head coach of the Oxford University Lancers, an American football club team.
The Lancers are part of a seven-team, all-ages league that plays “kitted” football, which is the U.S. equivalent to full-pads, full-contact. The nearly 40-player team, which includes two women, is preparing for training camp and will kick off the season in November.
Stephanie Goldstein said the fact that her husband has gone from casual football fan to fanatic to coach is simply part of the sport’s growing continuum of popularity that she hopes will ultimately lead to an NFL team in London.
“Everything should be evolving and I guess the idea is to take a good idea and evolve it. Having a franchise here, maybe it will lose a little bit of something, some of that essence that comes from the States, but equally it will probably gain something,” she said. “Like in any story, people will add their own thing to it and as it gets told to the next group, they add their own thing to the story and it gets bigger and better and kind of grows with the people.”
Leon Valsechi is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State. The Curley Center is partnering with the Miami Herald to supplement coverage of the Dolphins in London.