As promised, Part II of our Super Bowl weekend look at NFL franchises, and what soccer clubs they most resemble around the world. We now turn our attention to the AFC, which anyone who’s anyone knows is the NFC’s little, less tradition-laden brother.
Miami Dolphins – Arsenal: Invincibles = 72 fins, Marino = Cesc, except without the socialite love-child (as far as we know!) and of course Marino never went elsewhere and won trophies like Cesc ultimately decided to do. Van Persie isn’t really anyone- but he dared to depart, unlike Marino as well. Wenger is Don Shula, an innovator with a great mind and eye for talent. Wenger is even more like Don Shula when one considers that Shula’s teams were above-average to good, but never great, towards the tail end of his career and it didn’t really matter, because by the time his skills as a coach had slipped, Shula, like Wenger, was basically impossible to fire. Arsenal will hope that their post-Cesc, post Van Persie era is better than the fins post-Marino era, but outside of a 5-1 beautiful football display against West Ham United, we haven’t seen evidence it will be of late.
Buffalo Bills – Nottingham Forrest: A once great squad that’s fallen on hard times and found a way to stay well below the level that fans think they should be at. Fans are still loyal, even when management shows little commitment to opening the vault and bringing in the players to take the team back to the top.
New England Patriots – Manchester United: Only difference is that the Pats never had a first golden era. Other than that, it’s hard to argue with the comparsion. Tom Brady is every bit as effective as Wayne Rooney, and draws the ire of opposing fans in equal measure. Before he retired, Teddy Bruschi played the part of Ryan Giggs, the elder statesmen even your archrival’s fans found it tough to hate. Sir Alex Ferguson is a legend and a man whose former assistants now coach throughout England’s top divisions. He’s notorious for tactical brilliance and of course his incessant whining. This makes him more or less Scottish Bill Belichek.
New York Jets – (Bizarro) Manchester City: If you are willing to put aside the past year, where Tim Tebow was sent here to rot in a locker room whose dysfunction resulted in disaster, it’s a great match. They are (or we thought they were) defense first super-teams. If you have a question as to where a good player in question is going to land, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll somehow end up on the Citizens or the Jets. Prior to the last two seasons of strife and struggle, the Jets made it to the AFC Championship Game in back to back years, only to have their hearts broken. Typical City. And even though he’s just been sent back to Milan— it is difficult to argue the Ballotelli circus wasn’t a bit like the Tebow circus, except for the fact that Balotelli is by all accounts a diva and a lousy human being.
Pittsburgh Steelers– Liverpool. It’s tempting to say the crosstown rival of the Reds are a better fit, because Bill Kenwright is far more like the Rooney family in terms of his love for club and allegiance to the city the club represents. That said, the other similarities are too great to pass this up. Perennial contenders, competitive even in down years, immense championship history, snazzy but not outlandish uniforms, a tremendous homefield advantage, and a city that prides itself on being blue-collar but also increasingly modern and young. They even have loveable leaders alike in Steven Gerrard, one of the finer players of his generation, and Troy Polamalu, one of the finest defensive players of his generation.
Cincinnati Bengals– Bayer 04 Leverkusen– They’ve played in the Champions League final one time– in 2002, losing to Real Madrid in Scotland. In 1988, they won the UEFA Cup. In 1988, the Bengals won the AFC Championship, but lost to the 49ers in the Super Bowl. They suffered the same fate in 1981. Both teams are picked on as being inferior and shorter in history to their rival brothers– Bayern Munich and the Cleveland Browns. Both clubs have begun to emerge from pockets of misfortune- and in similar ways. The Bengals, hailing from a city proud of its working-class roots, were long a NFL team known for blue-collar, hard-working players who kept a squeaky clean image off the field. Anthony Munoz and Boomer Esiason come immediately to mind. They abandoned this for a team of renegades and rogues in the early part of this decade, and only recently have righted the ship, securing consecutive playoff appearances. Meanwhile, Leverkusen, another team from an industrial town proud of its working-class roots, abandoned those principles in favor of flashy expenditures by corporate owners who spent money just to spend it. The current team, captained by homegrown Simon Rolfies, is quite the opposite- a mostly German, hard-working and homegrown group that is growing up and getting better together, just like the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns– Bayern Munich– If the Bengals are Leverkusen, the Browns, one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, are Bayern Munich, one of Europe’s giants, with the extremely loud caveat being that the Browns are really the Ravens even though they aren’t really, so the current incarnation of the Browns, a young team trying to build through the NFL draft, are nowhere near as competitive as last year’s European finalists Bayern Munich. Like the Browns, however, Munich’s greatest teams played in an age long ago– the 1970’s European Champion teams led by Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller. Cleveland’s greatest years came with the incomparable Jim Brown at tailback. With Brown, they won three NFL championships. Brown left too soon, and many would argue, so did Beckenbauer, who fled for the NASL before he was finished as an elite player in Europe. Both teams feature rabid fan bases, wear the same boring uniforms year after year, and play in relatively new stadiums that are filled with reminders of old glory. Now if only Cleveland could have a renaissance akin to what Bayern has seen the last ten years or so…
Baltimore Ravens – Italy: If you are willing to forgive the fact that now he’s an aging giant at Sion, Gatusso is Ray Lewis, a cornerstone player with a champion’s heart. Both teams at their best play defense so smothering that it can hardly be matched by any team in the history of the sport. Ed Reed has a great deal in common with Daniele De Rossi too, and if you don’t think opposing attackers are intimidated by De Rossi, well, you obviously aren’t terribly familar with the fate of one Brian McBride. Plus, there’s love him or hate him Joe Flacco of the University of Delaware, who has every bit as much GTL in him as American turncoat Giuseppe Rossi.
Indianapolis Colts – Roma: Peyton, before he hurt himself and was cast aside by a franchise in a position to start over without really starting over, is Totti. Talismanic players that have the ability to change, nay, takeover, any match. But as Roma supporters have come to understand over the past four or five years in which Totti has become injury prone, no matter how good the pieces around him are, they don’t win jack without Francesco on the field. This is a hard lesson that Colts fans spent a whole season, prior to their Luck changing, figuring out.
Houston Texans – NY Red Bulls: Damn these squads look good on paper. They even put it all together on the field from time to time, but their time of looking good on paper is over. They’ll either deliver results NOW, or perhaps head in a different direction. And these aren’t small scale results, either. The Texans, who until two seasons ago had never made the playoffs, have had the Red Sea of the AFC South part for them, and I’d surmise that nothing less than an AFC Championship Game appearance will save Gary Kubiak’s job the next time around. Hard to fathom, but expectations may be even higher than than for RBNY, despite a coaching change and a good deal of personnel turnover.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Bolton Wanderers: Teams are overshadowed by their neighbors in a permanent way. Bolton – Manchester United& Citeh. Jags – Fins, Bucs, Gators, and even the Noles to an extent. Both teams struggle to draw crowds historically. With new ownership, the Jaguars appear prepared to do what is necessary to turn things around, and that meant showing longtime GM Gene Smith the door this winter. As for Bolton, well- things are going about as well in the Championship as they did in the Premier League, with another relegation battle looming, and manager Owen Coyle was fired in October, taking the fall for a team that is long in heart but short in talent.
Tennessee Titans – Columbus Crew: These teams have managed to defy the odds and transition from aging squads filled with former greatness, to young lineups, while still making the playoffs most years. Credit goes to the coaches. There’s also a great sense of community pride in each team, where, outside of Nashville’s hockey team, they are each the only ticket in town. Don’t believe us– well– see below. No, really. That does exist.
San Diego Chargers – Lyon: A team that got used to dominating it’s domestic league, or the afc west as it were, but could never find enough success against the other best teams in the world. Lately, they’ve lost some players and taken a bit of a backslide, but unlike their counterparts in San Diego, Lyon appear ready to end the backsliding this year after a great start to the Ligue 1 campaign.
Kansas City Chiefs- Glasgow Rangers FC — Both have fallen on hard times, with Rangers suffering through a financial liquidation that saw them drop to the third league of Scottish football (literally the wilderness of European soccer) only two years removed from participating in the sport’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League. Both had their most glorious periods in the 1960’s- Rangers becoming the first British side to win the Champions League in 1961; the Chiefs advancing to Super Bowl I in 1966 and winning the championship in January 1970 when they defeated Vikings 23-7. Both teams have storied rivalries: Rangers the Old Firm against Celtic FC and the Chiefs the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland again Raiders. And finally, perhaps most similarly, both teams have hallowed, historic stadiums, with the Chiefs playing in one of the NFL’s oldest (and still best) venues in Arrowhead Stadium and the Rangers playing in the glorious Ibrox.
Oakland Raiders- Newcastle United — As if there were ever any doubt. The Raiders fans are the most fanatical group of fans in professional football, and here’s the best part– they never win!! The Raiders don’t make the news that much, but when they do, it’s always something awesome and so, well, Raiders, like the recent stories about Bill Callahan essentially sabotaging the Raiders Super Bowl XXXVII game plan against the Buccaneers just 72 hours before kickoff. And seriously, only the Raiders would lose a Super Bowl to the Buccaneers. Both teams were hideous uniforms that are, for whatever reason, beloved by their cult followings. Both teams are famous for offbeat personalities, locker room infighting and high-profile signings that ultimately fail. Both teams have tortured histories– see the Raiders recent Super Bowl sabotage story or Newcastle blowing a twelve point lead down the stretch in 1996, and both teams always seem to slip up just when it appears things are getting better– see the Raiders in the later part of the last decade or Newcastle currently under Alan Pardew. It’s a tough life supporting either of these teams- but their supporters wouldn’t have it any other way.
Denver Broncos- FC Porto- Two sides that are ever present and generally successful- the Broncos being the greatest AFC West team ever and Porto holding the most trophies in Portugal. They don’t always win the larger trophies, but both have held the most prestigious title at least once, most recently Porto, who won the Champions League in 2004. Both teams current runs of success have also benefited immensely from turncoats– for Denver, Champ Bailey, who demanded a trade from the Washington Redskins in 2004 and surprisingly received it; for Porto, the great midfielder Joao Moutinho, who in an even more bitter backstabber move left Sporting for the (financially) greener pastures of Porto in 201o. Finally, in the championship years, both teams were led by innovative coaches who changed the sport: Denver by Mike Shannahan, whose zone-blocking concepts revolutionized the way people run the football in the NFL, and for Porto, Jose Mourinho, whose high-pressure defensive lines and focus on scientifically-based training regiments to deploy a constant high-pressure system remain his largest legacy and have been imitated throughout Europe.
Jon Levy is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of the Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you should follow his Twitter feed at @TYAC_Jon.