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Monday's Expert

All eyes on the Super Bowl, and the search for a 'world' champ

Super Bowl Sunday is here. OK, so it's technically on Monday on this side of the planet but the biggest day on the American sporting calendar has rapidly gained relevance in Australia.

Whether you're like Canberra Raiders star Josh Dugan and in the corner of the Baltimore Ravens (but perhaps not passionate enough to get a tattoo of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis etched on your leg) or barracking for break-out quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL has captured the imagination of football fans eager to sustain their fix of bone-crushing hits and amazing plays while the winter codes are in recess.

Plus, let's face it, the cricket season has hardly set the world on fire.

While the NFL faces significant challenges, most notably the growing concern and inevitable lawsuits about the long-term effects of head injuries, there's no doubting its standing as America's most popular sport.

Having just spent a week in San Francisco, I witnessed first-hand the incredible buzz as the 49ers progressed to the championship game.

You couldn't walk down the street without running into a vendor flogging shirts, caps or any other type of merchandise.


ESPN has run wall-to-wall coverage for the past fortnight, with a swathe of analysts picking over every little detail in the build-up to the big game.

The only distraction has been the bizarre story of college star Manti Te'o and his make-believe dead girlfriend.

Apart from that, this is the NFL's time.

The college football season is over, the NBA only makes headlines when guys with first-name introductions - ie LeBron and Kobe - turn in special performances and the NHL is struggling for relevance after starting late due to a pay dispute.

If there's a gripe I have with the NFL, and American sports in general, it is how they claim the winners of their national leagues as world champions.

It'd be like declaring the Sydney Swans the AFL world champions, for the simple fact the game isn't played in any other country.

But American football is slowly starting to spread its wings. The European league has been running for several years, while the NFL this season took two of its regular-season games to London in front of sold-out crowds.

The vast difference in time zones means doing the same in Australia would be a logistical nightmare, although a pre-season game was held at Sydney's ANZ Stadium in 1999.

Australians are also making their way into the playing ranks - and not just as punters.

While Mat McBriar (Philadelphia Eagles) and former Collingwood forward Sav Rocca (Washington Redskins) are making a living kicking the pigskin, Hayden Smith made the transition from rugby to become a tight end for the New York Jets.

More are on the way. Brisbane behemoth Jesse ''Tha Monstar'' Williams is tipped to be a first-round choice in the draft after the imposing 145-kilogram nose tackle played a leading role in Alabama's second straight college championship.

So fire up the wings and crack open the Buds, because, as they say in the States, it's time to play some football.

For what it's worth, San Francisco to win 31-24.