After four years of work and commitment, the China Arena Football League kicked off Saturday with plenty of fanfare.
On the first day of a national holiday in China, the founders of the “little company that could” had to be thrilled. More than 11,500 Chinese fans came to watch US-style football on their day off. On a Saturday, with Beijing’s normally clogged roadways running open and smoothly, a Chinese fan base just beginning to understand the US sport came to the LeSport Beijing arena to see the debut of the CAFL, the China Arena Football League.
“Five years ago, people laughed at me when I said I would bring American football to China” said Marty Judge, the bombastic US businessman who acted on his dream. “Take a look around you. Here we are, on the home floor of the Beijing Ducks, and the China Olympics, and they came to see us – the CAFL, how about that!”
By all accounts they left entertained. The historic first game of China’s first pro football league saw the Qingdao Clipper hold off a last minute charge by the Guangzhou Power to eek out a thrilling 38-35 win. Chinese fans on hand, and and untold national TV audiences watched live on TV in both China and the US,, thanks to the CAFL’s production of the games.
The CAFL Football Network delivered a novel split language feed to both nations. Those viewers saw a one-time unthinkable sight – Chinese athletes competing in US-style football with some of America’s best arena professionals. Among the Chinese history making firsts: the very the first kick, by a Chinese native, resulted in a tackle of a US player, by that same Chinese kicker,
Chinese kicker Chao Ran Li of the Qingdao victors, would later shower, pull on a sport coat and help broadcast the day’s second match-up on TV. The first touchdown by a Chinese player was scored by wide receiver Tian Chu Zhang of Qingdao, who would finish with 4 catches in the win. And in the second game, a 47-19 rout of Dalian by Shenzhen, the first China quarterback saw action and Tao Yu ran it in for a touchdown.
“The story of this day was the surprisingly fast transition and effective play of the Chinese players,” said a man who should know, internationally famous football commentator Ron Jaworski, who is a proud part of the CAFL ownership group. All of us – owners, staff, US players and coaches are very, very happy for the success of the Chinese players in their debut.”
Shenzhen Naja quarterback Dak Britt accounted for 5 touchdowns in the win, running first coach year JW Kenton’s shotgun “pistol” formation, a drastic departure from the US brand of arena offense seen in the US.
Sunday, the first weekend of the 6-city Super Series tour concludes in Beijing, when the home town Lions take on their new arch-rivals from Shanghai. Kickoff is set for 3:00 pm Beijing time. The game can be viewed live on iQIYI TV in China, and on ONE WORLD sports in the USA. The Super Series then move on to Dalian with a triple header of games slated for Sunday, October 9.