Sports Sports Feature

First down: The rise of American Football in the Philippines

Every year, at the crack of February, millions of fans flock to their televisions to tune in to the annual Super Bowl—a sporting event like no other. With exciting plays, tackles, touchdowns, and captivating halftime shows, it is no wonder American football has a multitude of followers. However, one question still stands: just how popular is American football outside of America?

While the full-contact sport is played in numerous other countries, their leagues do not possess the same level of recognition as the National Football League (NFL) in the United States. However, this does not stop the passionate athletes worldwide from playing the sport. Far from the sport’s home country, Filipinos like Neil Fauni—a rookie in the sport—have created an avenue to express their passion for American football.

American football’s Filipino home

The Philippine Tackle Football League (PTFL) was a Philippine-based American football league founded in 2009. It started with four teams, but over time, it saw an increase in the number of players and teams. During its sixth season in 2015, however, a controversial dispute ultimately led the teams to exit, leaving the league obsolete.

With the folding of the PTFL, a new thriving league of tackle football emerged, known as the Philippine American Football League (PAFL). Founded in 2016 with only five teams, seven more teams have since joined, and the league only continues to grow. Fauni explains that each year, the PAFL season starts off with a double round robin. This is then followed by the top four teams proceeding to the semi-finals, and finally, the winners battling for the championship.

All of the teams in the league showcase their utmost strength in each of their games, but there is one team that stands out—the Wolves. The team has won back-to-back titles and remains the league’s strongest contenders, having breezed through the third season undefeated. With the fourth iteration of the PAFL underway, all 12 teams are undoubtedly looking forward to spending their Sundays on the pitch and grinding it out for the championship.

Professional kickoff

American football is famed for its physicality as a sport, and the PAFL has a lot to offer in this area. Having the players suit up to go head-to-head on the field, the league provides athletes with the full experience of the sport, similar to that of the NFL. Being a rough and tough game featuring strong tackles, playing competitively thus involves both the thrills and pains of a full-contact sport.

However, the sport is not only about physicality. In analyzing plays and making calls on the field while maintaining a tenacious mindset, American football is just as mentally demanding. These are multiple aspects of the sport that the players can learn from, as Fauni shares, “The challenges [that] the game gives me mentally, emotionally, and physically give me that strong hunger for success and growth in every aspect that I could apply in life.”

Fauni is a rookie for PAFL team Datu, and similar to any sport, training is important for the team to improve. The rookie reflects on his experiences, sharing, “I learn a lot from my coaches and the veteran teammates who, without a doubt, are more than willing to help out…[They make] sure that I improve not only my technical skills, but also my life skills.” The supportive coaches and teammates in the league provide the essence of community in the PAFL, and are catalysts for the development of both the players and the league as a whole.

A search for growth

American football is a relatively new sport in the Philippines, and it has yet to make a name for itself locally. Nevertheless, the PAFL strives to pave the way for new sets of Filipino hopefuls looking to display their athleticism in this flourishing sport.

One of the ways the PAFL does this is through hosting open flag football games every Friday night. Known as the “Friday Night Lights”, the games are open to anyone—from newbies to veterans of any age. Flag football follows the mechanics of standard American football, but instead of tackling the ball-carrier to end an offensive play, the defensive team must remove the ball-carrier’s flag.

Without the tackling, the Friday Night Lights is considered safer, while still offering the same level of excitement and intensity—all while encouraging fresh blood to take an interest in the sport. As Fauni describes, “[Flag football] is a great way to understand the gist of how the game goes, just in case the tackling worries you.”

Although American football still has ground to cover to gain more popularity in the Philippines, its development in the country thus far should not be discounted. The PAFL has grown the sport immensely, and it continues to make strides in helping American football gain a bigger Filipino following. “[The interest in the sport] gives more hope to more Filipinos to showcase their athletic abilities,” Fauni shares. Ultimately, with the prominent growth that the sport has seen in the country in the last few years, perhaps a bigger stage awaits American football on Filipino soil.

By Annika Cañiza

By Jeremiah Dizon

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