By Jayme Monsanto, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil is known internationally as “País do Futebol”. Its national team is the biggest winner in the sport’s history, with five World Cup trophies to its credit.
When the subject is American Football, however, things are different. Brazil has no tradition in the sport, and the popularity of the oval shaped ball was practically non-existent until 1992, when ESPN TV started broadcasting NFL matches. Little by little, national interest grew, due in part to the powerful voice, charisma and dedication of the channel’s announcer, André José Adler.
In 1998, while living in the U.S. and working for ESPN, André founded Redzone List, the best (and first) Portuguese language internet discussion forum on American Football. Today it has more than 2,500 members – and counting.
With the help of the Redzone List, a handful of enthusiasts started talking about playing the sport in Brazil. With time, amateur teams started popping up around the country. Whenever he had a chance, Adler supported Brazil by talking about the teams and announcing their matches’ results during NFL transmissions.
Adler’s love for the sport and enthusiasm for the Brazilian players caused NFL fans to name him the country’s American Football ambassador. Last year, while visiting Brazil, Adler was honored at São Paulo’s Ibirapuera Stadium with a match called “Adler Bowl”.
When Adler moved back to Brazil, he witnessed how much the scene had grown, with tournaments such as the Third Pantanal Bowl (the competition’s trophy is Troféu André José Adler) and the Tenth Carioca Bowl (played in the sand without helmets or pads).
After the first fully equipped match in Brazil in 2008 (Curitiba Brown Spiders versus Barigui Crocodiles, in Curitiba), André met Mario Lewandowksi, São Paulo Storm’s president, and Flavio Cardia, who represents Rio de Janeiro Imperadores. Together they decided it was time to step up their game. Brazil needed a National Tournament: played in stadiums, with helmets, safety gear and capable of attracting spectators, sponsors and media. And so Torneio Touchdown was born. The first edition of the tournament will take place this year.
Eight teams from across Brazil will take part: Rio de Janeiro Imperadores, São Paulo Storm, Cuiabá Arsenal, Joinville Gladiators, Sorocaba Vipers, Curitiba Brown Spiders, Barigui Crocodiles (Curitiba) and Tubarões do Cerrado (Brasília).
The Marvelous City has more than fifteen American Football teams, but all of them play in the sand without pads or helmets. The Rio de Janeiro Imperadores were created in January 2008 and are the first Carioca team to play on grass. They chose the name “Imperadores” as a tribute to the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Royal Family from Portugal in Brazil. The team trains every Sunday at the Quinta da Boa Vista park (in São Cristóvão), where the Royal Family lived in the nineteenth century.
The tournament kicks off on August 9, when the Gladiators meet the Brown Spiders in Joinville, Santa Catarina. The first match in Rio will be on August 29, in the Figueira de Melo Stadium, located in São Cristóvão, home of the Carioca soccer team of the same name. There the RJ Imperadores play São Paulo Storm.
Between the rivalry between Rio and São Paulo and the match’s status as an historic milestone (it will be the first ever American Football match in Rio to use NFL-level equipment) makes the game a must-see for anyone interested in the sport.
Next Wednesday, The Gringo Times will publish an exclusive interview with André José Adler – the man behind Torneio Touchdown and one of the most important names of American Football in Brazil.