In preparation for yesterday’s release of EA SPORTS Madden NFL 16, we went down to East London Rugby Club to be put through our American Football paces by players from the London Hornets as well as NFL legend Nick Mangold and the first ever Brazilian to play in the NFL, Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos.

Interview with Cairo Santos at Madden 16 Launch

After a vigorous workout on the field and some one-handed deep ball catches, we managed to catch up with Cairo to discuss all things football, including how he became the first ever Brazilian in the NFL to play a regular season game, his love for our football and Frank Lampard, as well as the NFL International Series at Wembley.

Average Joes: First of all, how are you enjoying London?

Cairo Santos: I’m loving it! I’ve been watching the soccer here since I was a little kid and following all the London team here. I’m a Chelsea fan! I was a midfield player growing up in Brazil and I was a big fan of Frank Lampard. He was my role model and I tried to base my game of him. So I was very excited to come here when I got asked to do this promotion for Madden 16. I’ve always wanted to come but never been to England or London before, so it really means a lot. I’ve heard so much and read so much about the teams here and Wembley Stadium.

AJ: Are you going to get the chance to go to Stamford Bridge?

CS: I did that Tuesday! It was a bittersweet feeling because I was so excited to be there but I wish Lampard was still there! We got to go into the locker room and he used to sit right next to John Terry – I knew that – so seeing Terry’s jersey and not Lampard’s was hard. I wish I could have gotten that but it was still very cool to see all the facilities, the stadium and the locker room.

AJ: Have you ever been to a Chelsea game?

CS: No. I have seen England play in Brazil a couple of years ago. It was a year before the World Cup and it was a 2-2 draw but Frank got to play, so I’ve got lots of pictures of him! I’m looking forward to one day meeting him. He was my idol growing up.

AJ: Well, now he’s in America, hopefully you’ll get the chance!

CS: Yeah! Hopefully he’ll play in Kansas City. We have a team in Kansas City – they’re very good. They won the league two years ago and last year they got knocked out in the playoffs. This year, they’re top of their conference. I know that New York (City) is coming to Kansas some time soon so hopefully I’ll be there.

AJ: Is football growing in the US? Sorry… ‘soccer’?

CS: Yeah, it’s grown a lot. And it seems to me to because, when I arrived in Kansas City, they’d just won the league, so that town is really excited and passionate about the sport. It’s always packed. The stadiums are much like European stadiums – very close to the field. It’s cool that Steven Gerrard, David Villa, Pirlo, Frank Lampard… all these legends are starting to go there and promote soccer. I’m a fan so I’d like to see it grow.

AJ: You’re the first Brazilian to play an NFL regular season game. That must be a pretty big honour for you?

CS: Yeah, it is. I didn’t really know that until I made the team. It’s a huge honour. For me, I grew up wanting to play soccer and to play in the national team and represent my country. So now I feel like I am doing that – I’m representing Brazil in a different sport but I hear all the messages on Twitter or Instgram and just to hear the message from people in Brazil that are following the game means a lot. I’m just part of the growth of American Football in Brazil. It’s been growing so much and me being an influence in that means a lot. I hope that continues.

AJ: So what was your route from wanted to be a football player to becoming an American football player? How did that happen?

CS: I was a 15 year old kid in Brazil and soccer was all I wanted. But I decided to come to America for one year and maybe stick around and get an offer for collage to play soccer in the US. But then I quickly discovered American football. My friend encouraged me to try out because they heard I was a Brazilian so I must be able to kick a ball! And that’s what happened! I finished high school in the US playing both sports and in the end I got scholarship offers for both sports and then I had to choose one.

AJ: Why did you choose American Football?

CS: I thought I was a good soccer player but I was a better kicker. I just saw a future easier there than with soccer. It’s pretty hard to make it, especially in the US. The MLS standard wasn’t like it is here in Europe so I just saw more of a future in (American) football.

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AJ: Being a placekicker must mean you’re separated from offence and defence when you’re training? Do you interact with them a lot?

CS: We’re very separate during the week. They leave me alone…

AJ: Do you like that?

CS: I do! But they do talk to me when it’s time for a big kick – they give me some words of encouragement. You can be a big weapon for the team if you’re a reliable kicker. You’re going to get points every time you don’t get the first down so it means a lot that the players care about the kicker. While we’re not putting our bodies into danger, we’re helping our team win.

AJ: I can tell you’re a pretty cool and relaxed guy – that must be important for a placekicker? Do you feel the pressure on the field?

CS: I’ve gotten used it. The beautiful thing about kicking is it’s always the same ball, the same length uprights and the same length of the field. So really the only thing that matters is the wind. Once I get through my warm-up before the game and get a feel for the wind, I’m actually pretty comfortable. And the crowd? I’ve gotten used to that! It’s a noise that feels the same everywhere. You get so used to the crowd noise that it doesn’t affect me much. My concern is the wind. So when I play indoor games, I’m just having fun! Really I have nothing to worry about. The stress part really comes in the preparation for the game.

AJ: Not that you miss many, but if you miss a kick, is it easy to forget that?

CS: You have to. You have to learn to not get too high when you make a kick, because you’ve still got another kick you have to make, and not get too low when you miss one because you’ve got a chance to redeem yourself. It doesn’t do you any good to be thinking about that miss so you’ve got to quickly flick the page and get on to the next kick. So it’s very important to have a short memory.

AJ: Do you have any techniques to do that? Or are you naturally good at switching off?

CS: I’m so competitive, after a miss I get pretty angry at myself. It usually takes around 3-5 plays for my blood to calm down a bit but then I start hitting a couple of balls in the net and just think positive thoughts. It’s just one kick. It’s always about forgetting it pretty quickly.

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AJ: It was recently announced by Tottenham Hotspurs that with their new stadium they’ll be getting two games a year from 2018. Obviously add that to the Wembley games, that’s quite a lot of games for NFL players to come over. What do players in the NFL genuinely think about all that travelling?

CS: Players I’ve talked to, when we heard the news that we’re coming to London, there’s definitely a big excitement. My opinions are a little different to the guys that have families but I find it exciting going away to new cities, especially London. Most players do enjoy it too. Maybe if there’s more things we can do about bringing the families in and the kids so the players aren’t away from home too much, then the players will feel more positive about it.

AJ: So families are an issue?

CS: Yeah, it’s such a long travel. Do you come for the whole week? Or do you come closer to the game? But then you’ve got to get rid of jetlag pretty quickly to play the game. That’s a little issue though. In the big picture, I think the excitement is very very big to come here. A lot of players get how big Wembley is. So they generally think, “Shoot, we get to play at Wembley!” There’s a little bit of jealousy of the teams that get to play here every year. You wish you had that Wembley game. At least to experience it.

AJ: We went to the Jags – Cowboys game last year. One of the criticisms there has been of London crowds is that, while they’re very good, there’s not enough home partisanship. Is that an issue? If the UK does get a franchise at some point, do you think there definitely needs to be a home field advantage?

CS: Yeah, that is an issue for us. Especially because we always have a great crowd at Kansas City – we pack our stadium every game. And we’re playing here at the home team so it takes away a home game. So when we come here it’s going to be a lot of cheese fans (Green Pay Packers), a lot of Patriots fans, a lot of Detroit Lions fans – we’re going to lose that home advantage. But at the end of the day, we play really big games at home, really crappy games at home, and really big and really crappy games away. For me, it’s all played within the lines and NFL players are motivated enough to get the job done. You don’t need home field advantage to win a football game – it can be done anywhere!

AJ: Do you think we will get a franchise at some point?

CS: It sounds like it’s leaning towards it with the addition of White Hart Lane. Things are definitely increasing here in the UK. I’d like to see the logistics first and who would come here to the UK because I’m sure it can be a crazy long journey to get here, especially for the West Coast teams. So it might take two weeks away from home to play an East Coast game, then come to London, then have a Bye week. So I’m interested to see the logistics of that. If it did happen, I’d like to see it grow to others countries as well. Make it an international thing.

AJ: The Maracanã maybe?

CS: Exactly! Or Mexico, Spain… Hopefully it goes more international.

Cairo Santos was speaking at the launch of EA SPORTS Madden NFL 16, out NOW on Xbox One and PS4. Check out Harry Kane taking on NFL stars Santos and Nick Mangold in an American football masterclass here https://youtu.be/XQlz4xY3NiM. To find our more visit easports.com/madden-nfl #Madden16

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