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A love letter to the NFL

I love you, NFL; and today feels like the perfect time to tell you why.

You have been a part of my life since I was 11 years old, when a curly-haired rookie by the name of Dan Marino came off the bench to play quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. And I can confidently state that you will remain a huge part of my life for the remainder of my time on this earth.

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 I have covered you as a print journalist since 1991 and via television and radio since 2006. So I have a professional interest in you, for sure. But, first and foremost, I'm a huge fan of your work!

I love you, NFL...; and for so many different reasons. Let's see if I can work through some of them in this letter.

I love the fact that you were a massive part of my childhood. Some of my most memorable Christmas presents were NFL gifts...; a Dan Marino replica jersey, an NFL duvet set, multiple Madden computer games and even an NFL Electric Football game in which the players spun around aimlessly on a vibrating board. That one was kind of rubbish, looking back, but I absolutely loved it at the time.

I love the fact that my entire family has become absorbed by the NFL. We are an American football family. My dad is a huge San Francisco 49ers fan who still believes, to this day, that Joe Montana could walk on water. My dear, late mum supported whichever team I played for in the British league so long as she was entertained with a nice picnic and a bottle of wine on a summer's day.

My brother-in-law is massively into the Denver Broncos, my girls, Daisy and Poppy, are Jacksonville Jaguars fans and my son, George, is an Indianapolis Colts supporter who has caught the American football bug in a big way. As some of you may know, he is currently a quarterback at the NFL Academy and for Great Britain Under-19s.

And Mrs Reynolds? She always enjoys watching a good matchup but often remarks: "Why do you have to chat for so long before each game on Sky Sports? An hour seems excessive."

She seems to forget that those "chats" pay our bills!

But I digress...; what do I love about you, NFL?

The speed and excitement of your game is an obvious draw and the tactical side of the sport is absolutely fascinating. It is the most nail-biting, intense and physical game of chess you could ever imagine. And the sheer wealth of skills on display is a sight to behold.

I love the fact that you serve up 40-yard passes thrown downfield to speeding receivers; tackle-breaking touchdown runs and leaping plays from athletic defenders in equal measure. You are a sport that features players of all shapes and sizes and you truly offer something for everyone when the ball is kicked off.

I also love the way you churn out superstar players year after year. And they too come with differing styles from the pocket-passing brilliance of Tom Brady and Drew Brees to the more mobile and electrifying talents of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. Those differing styles translate across all positions and every season turns out new superstars to fall in love with.

But what I love about you the most is that we never quite know what is going to happen. That old Hollywood movie title of 'Any Given Sunday' really holds true when it comes to you, NFL.

I was about to describe a typical Sunday covering you, NFL. But there is no such thing as a typical NFL Sunday.

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 We literally never know what is going to happen from one week to the next. We could see a record-breaking passing performance in one game and a furious comeback won via a late touchdown or field goal in another. We could see one game played in eight inches of snow or another delayed by four hours as tropical storms rage around the stadium (see Tennessee at Miami in Week 1 of 2018 for a reminder of that one). We've even seen a Super Bowl wiped out for 37 minutes due to one of the most memorable power cuts in sporting history in New Orleans.

 From one-handed catches and earthquake-inducing touchdown runs to black cats romping freely on the field during Monday Night Football, I've not quite seen it all while covering you, NFL. But I've seen a lot.

 Even in this most recent playoff run, I was reminded in emphatic fashion just how unpredictable and downright breathtakingly exciting you can be, NFL.

The upstart Tennessee Titans rose up to knock off the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, and the eventual Super Bowl champions were on the ropes throughout the playoffs before walking off into the starry Miami night with the Vince Lombardi Trophy tucked under Andy Reid's arm.

The Kansas City Chiefs were down 24-0 to Houston in the Divisional Round and 10-0 and 17-7 to Tennessee in the AFC Championship Game. Heck, they trailed 20-10 and faced a third and 15 against San Francisco's fearsome pass rush with just over seven minutes remaining in the Super Bowl. But they found a way to win 31-20 when computer programmes pushed out on social media at the time suggested it was the 49ers who had a 95 percent probability of victory.

But computer programmes and conventional thinking go out of the window when it comes to you, NFL. You are the gift that keeps on giving in terms of excitement and unpredictability. And that is not limited solely to the games.

Every offseason, you serve up stories that blow the mind...; Odell Beckham Jr. being traded from the New York Giants to the Cleveland Browns overnight last year immediately springs to mind. What will you serve up this year with the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees flirting with the open market and Philip Rivers, Derrick Henry and Jadeveon Clowney up for grabs as free agents?

Away from the field and the offseason dramas, I love the fact that you have created an international family of fans, NFL. Nowhere is that more evident than here in my home...; the United Kingdom.

NFL fans in the UK are a family and while they give me more than the occasional kicking on Twitter, they have definitely been there when I have needed them the most.

When Kevin Cadle, my long-time partner on Sky Sports, died in October 2017; NFL fans reached out via social media in their thousands and offered up a collective hug. And when I hosted an NFL UK Live ahead of the Los Angeles Rams-Arizona Cardinals in London just six days later, those virtual hugs became a reality and were dished out in person

And last year, when my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, the response from NFL fans in the UK was overwhelming, moving and inspiring. The messages of goodwill and support continued all the way through Julie's recovery.

That togetherness and friendship comes from a shared love of you, NFL.

You are a gigantic sporting machine, NFL. And you will roll on to continued, massive success with or without me. But you never view your fans that way or see them as dispensable. You genuinely do put the fans at the heart of so much of what you do and I was reminded of that at this most recent Super Bowl. So much entertainment was thrown at the event outside of the actual Chiefs-49ers action on the field that I felt like I was an extra in a Hollywood movie.

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 It's no different in the UK. The fans on this side of the pond have shown you their passion and undoubted love and the league has listened and responded in a big way. We have grown from one game per year to four that are now spread across two world-class stadiums at Tottenham Hotspur and Wembley. And who knows how many more you will send our way in the coming years?

In summary, dear NFL...; you have taken me to places I could only have dreamed about when I first witnessed Marino fire his debut touchdown pass against the Raiders in 1983.

I've driven through a training camp storm that delivered 10,000 lightning bolts to the city of Baltimore in a single hour and travelled nervously to the top of the new Freedom Tower in New York in an elevator with cardboard boxes for walls a year before the building officially opened...; I've thrown a wobbly pass to Jerry Rice and caught a couple of very good ones from Joe Montana...; I've been blocked by Tony Boselli and sacked by Kevin Greene...; I've been told off by a security guard while eating hot dogs on the sideline of the Hall of Fame Game with England rugby legend Martin Johnson...; I've attempted Ray Lewis' dance in front of an NFL UK Live audience (the less said about that, the better) and overseen a Guinness World Record attempt starring Kirk Cousins and Jarvis Landry...; I've seen Peyton Manning win as a rookie and in his final NFL game and I've witnessed Tom Brady at his brilliant best - here in London and in several Super Bowls...; I've been heckled at Lambeau Field and booed at Wembley...; I've been hustled into Gillette Stadium for a clandestine and unexpected interview with Bill Belichick and I've been blown out more times than a windsock by other more camera-shy players...; I've donned sharp suits to cover your Super Bowls and also lived in the same clothes for an entire 20-hour trip to the US while calling a Packers-Cardinals playoff game for BBC Radio in Arizona (sadly, that has not been my only lost luggage experience while covering you, NFL.)

I've got so many wonderful memories and I am not alone, NFL.

You serve up "wow" moments each and every year and if you ask your fans here in the UK, they will all have a favourite team, a favourite player, a favourite Super Bowl, a favourite London game, a favourite NFL memory. They may not be as fortunate as I am in terms of access and experiences, but they love you just as much - if not more - and will also have heads filled with memories of the good times spent watching the NFL.

That is why they - and I - simply cannot get enough of you, NFL.

So that's it, NFL. You are exciting, amazing, unpredictable and the biggest constant in my life alongside my family. There is nothing left for me to say other than...;

I love you, NFL.

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