Tim Tebow, the former quarterback of the New England Patriots who became a free agent on Aug. 31, may play several games in the Russian American Football Championships. On Sept. 3, the webpage of the Moscow football team the Black Storm posted news on the popular Russian social network VKontakte that the club’s owner was holding talks with the American athlete. So far, they have discussed Tebow playing in two exhibition matches for the Black Storm, although this fact has not been officially confirmed.
Tim Tebow was dismissed from the New England Patriots on the last day of August. In the waivers, no team in the National Football League showed any interest in the football player, so he is now a free agent.
The Russian American Football Championships have been held annually since 2002, though the story of American football’s development in Russia began back in the perestroika years. The first team, the Federaly (Federals), was founded in the town of Ozersk (Chelyabinsk Oblast), where a local hockey coach, Alexander Kovrigin, trained the first Soviet football players in the American version of the game. In those days, no suitable equipment was available in the Soviet Union, so they used hockey gear and motorcycle helmets. In 1987, the Federaly won the first American Football Championships in the Soviet Union.
In the spring of 1989, Moscow hosted an exhibition match between two American student teams—the Stars and the Bummers. This game sparked enormous excitement in the audience and promoted the further development of American football in Russia. In 1989, the Moskovskiye Medvedi (Moscow Bears) team emerged, which went on to represent the Soviet Union in international tournaments. In late January 1991, the national Soviet team qualified for the European Championships, but lost 7 to 30 to the national team of the Netherlands. The Russian adult national team never achieved any serious successes, while the country’s junior team became European Champions in 2002.
Black Storm and Moscow United teams. Source: Rookies TV / Youtube
Today, there are 19 teams from 13 cities participating in the Russian American Football Championships, and they actually come from all over Russia. Besides teams from Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are also teams from the Urals, where Russians first played American football, as well as clubs from the Volga region: Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara. The matches are held between April and August. Russia’s strongest teams are the Moscow Patrioty (Patriots) and the Black Storm, which, in addition to Russian players, also employ athletes from the United States.
American football enjoys very low popularity in Russia. National championship games are not broadcast by sports channels, and matches between the best teams are held at second-rate arenas with small audience attendance. Despite the fact that games of the National Football League are regularly shown in Russia on cable sports channels, American football in Russia is a spectacle for only a handful of dedicated people, while teams are literally teetering on the brink of extinction.
On Aug. 24, Russia witnessed a truly historic even: A match between the Moscow Patrioty and Black Storm was shown for the first time on a Russian sports channel. For this contest they booked the Eduard Streltsov Football Arena, which ranks among the best sports venues in the Russian capital. However, in spite of the money spent to lease this arena (the match was organized by the management of Black Storm), the game between the best Russian teams was viewed by a mere 500 people in an arena that could seat 14,000.
This rumored invitation of Tim Tebow is another step being taken by the management of the Black Storm to make American football more popular in Russia. Yet it remains highly questionable whether this football star will help draw the attention of the Russian audience to this favorite game of Americans.