Former England and British Lions rugby union hooker, Brian Moore, joined Nat Coombs and Mike Carson on the sofa for Channel 4’s ‘American Football Live’ clash between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins late on Sunday 1 December/early Monday 2 December.
This second part of this article features Moore talking about his love for American Football and the similarities and differences between the NFL and rugby union.
Nat Coombs: So you’ve been following the NFL for about 30 years?
Brian Moore: Like many British people it was 1982 when it started I think on Channel 4 and I was at university and it was a bright new thing and I just fell in love with it. I’ve followed it ever since, I think it is one of the most, if not, the most professional team sports in the world.
Nat Coombs: What was the perception of it amongst your teammates back then?
Brian Moore: It was so new that I think a lot of people were quite shocked – and it is still the same today – they had to get used to the breaks in play; that it stops and starts.
I just found it interesting in a tactical way, it is tremendously complex, which I like, and of course, being an athlete, well, a former athlete, of some sort, I do appreciate just how skilful these players are.
A lot of people say ‘oh, they’re soft; they wear pads’, which pad your joints, your ligaments and your skeleton. The fact is when you stand next to these guys – they’re 22, 23 stone and the linemen can’t literally run a mile, but over 40 metres they are quick, they are sharp and they hit each other very, very hard.
Nat Coombs: What can the NFL learn from rugby union and vice versa?
Brian Moore: The NFL has led the way in lots of things; conditioning, psychology, analysis so there’s lots of things rugby union can learn from American Football. I just think the standard of analysis, when you see the video libraries that they’ve got, it’s all exceptional.
The difference is possession is so precious in American Football so you could start saying they could be more freer with the way they move the ball laterally but the consequences of losing the ball are so high that the sort of runs and cuts you make in rugby union are so high risk that they are not applicable really.
American Football is one of those games where you really do have to put some time in to learn at least the basic laws, basic tactics, when they are talking about read options etc otherwise you are just left completely blank and it overwhelms you in a way in which people who are first introduced to cricket have the same thing, it’s just incomprehensible – they’ve got to take time doing that.
Nat Coombs: Has rugby become more like the NFL tactically speaking?
Brian Moore: Yes it has and one of the problems is that it has become almost too inflexible with people planning move after move and the best teams now are coming away from that saying ‘alright, we will set the ball up in two or three positions but thereafter we will make sure we play whatever is in front of us and we will run the defences wherever it is available’.
In a game where it is not stop-start and you don’t have the ability to rethink; you’ve got to maintain that flexibility.
Nat Coombs: The quality of tackling is much stronger in rugby union than the NFL…
Brian Moore: There is a difference, the inches matter when you get close to the downs so therefore you will see people miss tackles but that’s because they’ve launched themselves to stop a player dead. If they drag him down and he gets over and gets the first down then that’s no use.
The biggest difference I found in rugby union, and it started in 1995, is that you used to be taught to tackle forward with a man and use the momentum but now it is hit and drive but obviously if you’ve got bigger pads and helmets, you’re not safe, but it allows you to do that but unfortunately we are seeing the consequences in concussion and the toll it is taking on peoples’ bodies.
Union players are now doing things that are frankly unsafe like tackling with your head on the wrong side because you’ll definitely bring the man down, forgetting that they don’t have all this protection. If you did, then there is only so much the body can take.
Nat Coombs: In the England national team set-up did you try and bring NFL stuff into training?
Brian Moore: There was a guy I used to train with called Dave Croddie (Ed’s note: not sure of name here) who was with the San Diego Chargers and he used to come and tell us exactly what they were doing.
He said it was so specific that the linemen used to go to the coach and say ‘if you want me to go and play four downs then I will last eight weeks, three downs – twelve weeks’ and going down because they knew.
He used to say that the strength of these people resulted in him taking the dumbbells in two hands – just totally different.
When I started with England it was very amateur, it got a lot better and it’s kicked on massively to the extent that practises are properly scheduled and players know what they are doing every minute of the day.
Nat Coombs: If you played in the NFL would you be on the O or D Line?
Brian Moore: Neither. I’m quite aware of this; I’m too small, I’m not quick enough and whilst I can throw a ball, I simply too short; I couldn’t see the lines and the trajectory of the ball would be wrong.
Obviously I would have loved to have played and would have loved to have tried.
Nat Coombs: As a rugby player do you have an affinity with American Football?
Brian Moore: The defence probably; (I like) just hitting people. If you play today you can just throw it where you like.
I know that George Bush played rugby at Yale…it’s a pity I didn’t play against him ‘cos I would have… (Tails off).
He was a full back, which, prefaced to later life, he’s at the back whilst he sends out everybody else to the nasty work and get injured.
Nat Coombs: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given from coaches?
Brian Moore: It was, actually; ‘if you don’t calm down, not only will you not make it you will go to prison’, so I remembered that.
Also, from an English teacher when I was about 14 and he was doing an act from a play or something and me and other people were sniggering so he called me out to the front of the class and he said; ‘Moore, there are two types of people in this life, those that do and those who sit on the side and actually snigger at people doing things. Do I have to tell you which one gets more respect?’
So I try to remember that when I am being a critic because players are actually doing it.
Nat Coombs: The NFL are rumoured to be looking to set up professional rugby union in the United States – do you see that working?
Brian Moore: Well, there’s the money there…the one thing that has always held USA Rugby back is that it is generally played on the two coasts so the distances, and therefore the costs, are enormous and totally disproportionate to any income, so it’s going to have to start with big money to get over that.
There’s no reason why (it cannot work), the only problem they’ve got is that you don’t have the structure coming up whereas in American Football they play to High School and drop out and never play again, they go to college and never play again; because they don’t have amateur, they don’t do that.
If rugby is going to succeed there it is going to need to pick these players up earlier so they can learn the rudiments of the game earlier, which is very similar to American Football here in the UK.
Nat Coombs: Who would win in a game between an NFL team and rugby union team if each half was played according to their rules?
Brian Moore: They’d win each half, it’s obvious. I did watch the Bath against Wigan game, the two codes. It was skewed a bit because Wigan were professional then and Bath weren’t. Actually, Bath chose to play in a different way; they couldn’t play the union game in just driving things and just scrums and mauls and they just chose to play the ball and, of course, Wigan were a lot better than that, so Wigan hammered them.
Nat Coombs: One of our viewers just emailed in to say ‘I am a hooker and fit, what position should I play in the NFL?
Brian Moore: He might just make a quarterback but he’s got to be at least 6ft 2”.
Nat Coombs: Should we always judge how good a player is on the number of Super Bowl rings they have won, as opposed to how good they are individually?
Brian Moore: In the end it’s got to be because winning is everything in sport – yes it is, virtually because that’s the only demonstrable measure of success because everything else is subjective, that isn’t.
I understand that you have to put it in the context of a team sport, because you can be a very good player in a not very good team, particularly when you are talking about quarterbacks when they rely on so many other things, but again I come back to the point in that that is definitive when other things aren’t.
I understand that you can make a case for people being quality players and very good but, ultimately, the purpose of sport is to win things and if you don’t actually get that, then there must be a limit on how well you can be regarded, certainly amongst your peers.
Nat Coombs: In rugby should it be the case that a referee puts his marker in the ground and has a base decision so you know where you stand, like the NFL officials do?
Brian Moore: I think so ideally, the difference here is that in American Football there are so many angles that the officials see from and they can pool their resources, the head referee, and then make a more informed decision.
Sometimes when you’ve got one assistant close by and then the referee it is actually possible for them to both to inadvertently be in the wrong position so as not to make any real informed decision, here you’ve probably got a real informed one and that makes a difference.
Nat Coombs: What is it about the NFL and rugby in particular that both sports have such a respect from the players to the referees?
Brian Moore: Sanctions. Sanctions creates, first thing, create consequences for anything you do. You talk here – bang, there are cards etc.
The resources are there in football but they just do not apply them. I speak at referees societies and they tell me they would like to but that they wouldn’t get the backing of their body as they would come under so much pressure from players and coaches, managers that they wouldn’t back us and I wouldn’t want to be the one who gives out 11 yellow cards, sends off three people and never gets a game again and I understand that, but that’s where it comes from.
Taking off yardage would work (in the Premier League), but they tried it and tried it lineally and they should have gone towards the goal, but the important thing they didn’t do was when it was in the penalty area it should have been a penalty, because a direct free-kick from six yards is no use at all and it would have been much worse than outside of the box.
What this breeds though is you get the respect of the players and it is self-policing.
Nat Coombs: When you were playing did you have any pre-game rituals?
Brian Moore: No. People have a lot of things they are superstitious about, but I tried to do things differently each time so I didn’t have a superstition but then I realised that was a superstition as well and I was a half-wit.
Nat Coombs: What is your view on the old, aggressive coaching method and new less aggressive coach?
Brian Moore: It’s all about man-management these days and people’s feelings and emotions. In American Football, because it is so prescriptive, they can say ‘I want this, this and that’ and players go out and do that. Only when things go wrong do you get, let’s say, laissez-faire stuff.
In other sports it simply isn’t like that. You can’t do that. So what you’ve got to do is equip the players to make their own decisions because you can’t do that for them like in each play.
Nat Coombs: What rookies have impressed you this season?
Brian Moore: Le’Veon Bell from the Steelers and Eric Reed from the 49ers.
Nat Coombs: Thanks for being on the show Brian, it has been really good.
Brian Moore: I’ve really enjoyed it – especially this; the standard of analysis and knowledge – it’s great to be with people who know what they’re talking about.
- England and Lions legend Moore: RGIII might as well put a target on his knee (aheadforthegame.wordpress.com)
- Nat Coombs (en.wikipedia.org)