Jason Bowdler, over at the UK American Football Scene Facebook group, has started sharing a great little weekly look back at the history of our beloved game in the UK!
The UK American Football Scene is a Facebook group for players, ex-players, coaches and supporters from the domestic game to chat and discuss all things Britball. It’s got a great, positive vibe and some really active admins that share results, stories and standings each week!
If you check out the group, you’ll see Jason’s now worked his way forwards in history a good few years, but this week we’ll be looking at his sixth instalment – 1988!
The National Division Managements Association (NDMA) was a new organisation formed in 1988 within the overall organisation of the Budwesier League. The NDMA covered the National Division of the Budweiser League – which was basically the owners of the top 15 clubs in the country.
The Budweiser Leagues also had 48 teams within it’s Premier Division and 32 in Division One. These three Budweiser Leagues were supplemented by a number of regional ones which were all self-supported.
The 1988 season was the first time that the pass was used by a majority of teams. American QB’s and WR’s were signed by most Budweiser National and Premier Division teams. British teams had now discovered how to spread the US players about the team so that they were of maximum benefit. The blueprint was one quarterback, one receiver/cornerback and one lineman who could play both offence and defence.
US ‘import’ QB’s coming over would include Mike Hasskamp in Glasgow, Bo Hickey at Flyde, Ron Roberts returning to the Ravens, Hazen Choates at Manchester Spartans, ex-Raider Russ Jensen at Birmingham and current Saints head coach and Superbowl winner Sean Payton at Leicester. Most were complimented by outstanding receiver targets from both home (Allan Brown at Nottingham, Scott Couper at Glasgow) or abroad (Greg Harris, Cliff Walker).
The battle for the UK championship, at last, seemed more than just a one-horse race. The National teams had decided on a 14-game regular season, more than most US Division 1A colleges play.
NDMA National Division
The first big tussle of the year came in Week Two between the still all-time unbeaten Ravens and the Birmingham Bulls. That record did not look in doubt as the Ravens stormed into a 33-14 lead including a 75 yard run by Joe St Louis, but the Bulls came back through TD’s from Logan and Williams to put them just 5 points behind. An offside call prevented a game-leading Logan TD, and the Bulls had to settle for a field goal as the Ravens started to teeter on the brink before St Louis’s 25-yard TD run put them 39-31 ahead. A late Bulls TD from Norman Thomas made the score 39-37, but the 2 PAT pass to tie the game was batted down and the Ravens clung on to keep their streak alive.
Then on the 15th May, in front of 3,000 fans, the Ravens unbeaten record against domestic opponents stretching back to 1983 finally went down against the local London rivals, the Olympians. Richard Dunkley ran for 3 TD’s and over 100 yards for the Olympians as they took control after the Ravens took an early 8-0 lead to run out 22-8 victors, giving the other big hitters in the league hope for the future.
On the 12th June, the usual hard battle of Panthers v Bulls reached another level. Those who attended say this was one of the greatest ever games to be played in the UK with 18 points scored in the last two minutes, the lead changing hands twice in the final minute and the Bulls winning it with a TD on the last play of the game!
The Bulls led 17-9 with two minutes to go, but their 4th down punt was blocked and recovered by the Panthers who scored on the next play on Sean Payton’s pass to Curt Sanders, cutting the lead to 17-15. The Panthers then recovered the onside kick, and four plays later took the lead on Payton’s run. Trevor Carthy returned the resulting kickoff to the Panthers 40, and then Russ Jensen combined with Greg Harris to take the Bulls down to the Panthers 10 yard line. Jensen then ploughed in from the 2-yard line as time expired.
The Manchester Spartans emerged as the only undefeated team during the regular season, taking the Northern conference easily with Flyde second at 8-6. Glasgow earned a wild card spot, even with only a 6-8 record.
In the Midlands, Birmingham triumphed with a 12-1-1 record, Leicester finishing second at 8-5-1 and Luton taking the other wild card place with 8-5-1.
In the Southern, it was a two horse race with the Ravens and Olympians. The Ravens would get revenge on the O’s further in the season and the Olympians would lag behind at the final standings with defeats to Birmingham and Leicester.
Eurobowl II took place during the UK season as well, The London Ravens were the UK’s hopes and everything pointed to a home victory as they would not have to move out of the capital in any of their games. However, they were caught cold by the Amsterdam Crusaders in the opening game of the tournament and lost 31-27.
The Olympians’ Richard Dunkley topped the rushing charts ahead of other domestic talents like Paul Bailey (Spartans), Tiggy Bell (Leeds) and Victor Ebubedike (Ravens).
Bo Hickey at Flyde took the passing title, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. He was followed by Hasskamp (Glasgow), Pablo Ortiz (Nottingham) and Russ Jensen (Birmingham) who only threw 5 interceptions in 14 games.
Greg Harris at the Bulls was the top import receiver, catching 122 balls for an amazing 2,056 yards and Allan Brown at Nottingham was the top UK catcher with 1,426 yards.
There were no real shocks in the quarter-final playoff games, Ravens putting 55 past Luton, Birmingham flying past Flyde 36-7, Manchester taking out Glasgow 37-12 and the Olympians took out the Panthers 27-17 to set up the semi-final line-up of Bulls v Ravens and Spartans v Olympians.
After losing their unbeaten record earlier in the season, the Ravens minds were concentrated on retaining their national title but shockwaves were sent throughout the league as Birmingham blasted 7 touchdowns in a stunning 51-13 victory at Richmond Rugby Club, London and secure their place in Bud Bowl III.
The Olympians had hopes of securing a third final berth in a row but had a seemingly tough contest ahead with the previously unbeaten Spartans. They would be in control from the off in an impressive 43-7 victory up at Hyde FC.
Bud Bowl III was once again held at Loftus Road in London, but there would be no hometown advantage though for the O’s as the rampant Bulls leapt out to a 23-0 half-time lead on the back of star US QB Russ Jensen’s 3 TD passes, a lead they held onto following an even-footed second half, with the final score of 30-6 and Birmingham’s second title in three years.
- Glasgow Diamonds (10-0)
- Steel City Giants (9-1)
- Walsall Titans (8-2)
- Milton Keynes Pioneers (8-1-1)
- Colchester Gladiators (10-0)
- Brighton B52s (9-1)
- Capital Tigers (9-1)
- Heathrow Jets (10-0)
These teams were joined in the eight playoff games by Stoke Spitfires, Portsmouth Warriors, Granite City Oilers, Bristol Packers, Cambridge County Cats, City of London Caps, Newcastle Senators and the Ealing Eagles.
There were a few shocks here, Steel City losing at home 8-16 to the Caps, Bristol besting MK Pioneers 13-2 and the Titans losing in Walsall by a single point 19-18 to Scottish outfit Granite City.
In the quarter-finals the much-fancied Heathrow Jets were blasted 54-34. Colchester looked impressive, taking the Packers of Bristol home to a 29-7 defeat and the B52’s pipped Granite City 19-21.
Subsequently, all the semi-finals were close contests, Colchester took their place in the bowl final by a single point, 34-33 over Cardiff and Brighton were the other victors, besting City of London Caps 28-22.
In Budweiser Premier Division Bowl, the Colchester Gladiators (led by QB Milton Myers and RB Mel Moore) won a great Bowl game 47-28 win against the Brighton B-52s at Alexander Stadium.
Other Bowl Games
Herts Phantoms (v Ipswich Cardinals)
Woking Generals (v Merseyside Centurions)
Tamworth Trojans (v Charnwood Beacons)
Torbay Trojans (1st in league)
Strathclyde Sheriffs (1st in league)
NEXT: International success, Budweiser streamlining and Bud Bowl IV controversy before kickoff…