American football has never really competed with the likes of soccer here in Africa. It’s a game that is never played on the Continent and, as a result, one that lacks the viewership figures that the Premier League and La Liga generate each and every week. Nevertheless, American football is a sport in which many African athletes have forged successful careers. Yes, the NFL boasts a surprisingly long list of African-born players over the last three decades.
They may have some way to go to reach the status of the likes of soccer player Abedi Ayew Pele, but here, in no particular order, are five Africans that NFL fans just might call legends.
Of course, we’re going to start off with a Ghanaian, and who else but the enigmatic Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah was a bit of a basketball prodigy, which is no wonder given his height and skill on the court. Unfortunately though, he missed the cut at BYU and was left to reconsider his options. He then decided to try out for the football team and made it.
By 2013, Ansah was drafted by the Detroit Lions. He made the Pro Bowl team in 2015 before joining the Seattle Seahawks in 2019. Still only 31, we have high hopes that ‘Ziggy’ will become Ghana’s first Super Bowl winner.
Born in Liberia, Hali played his entire NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was the 2006 Senior Bowl defensive MVP and was named in the Pro Bowl team five times. He earned himself the nickname ‘The Tambahawk’ for his fierce defensive work on the field, and is often mentioned as one of the most successful African NFL players of all-time.
Unfortunately for Hali, he is now retired and just missed Super Bowl glory by a few years. In fact, Hali’s former teammates are looking particularly good, with many experts and the latest NFL odds predicting that they could retain the Super Bowl this season.
Christian Emeka Okoye
Anyone with the nickname ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ must have been a force to be reckoned with, and that’s precisely what Okoye was. Incredibly, Okoye was a track and field star who had never even touched an American football before being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs at the age of 23. He was named as the AFC offensive player of the year in 1989, and made it to the pro bowl twice during his career. Okoye is so revered by Kansas City Chiefs fans, that he was inducted into the team’s hall of fame in the year 2000.
The South African-born Anderson started out life as a soccer player, but his talents with a ball were soon put to better use on the NFL field. Anderson enjoyed a stellar 23-year NFL career that saw him play as placekicker for Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and the Tennessee Titans. Although he never actually won the Super Bowl, he won four Pro Bowls and was named on the NFL all-decade teams of both the 80s and the 90s. Impressive stuff for a kid from Durban.
Now, before you say it, we know that Umenyiora was actually born in London to Nigerian parents. However, he’s the only man on this list to have a Super Bowl ring, which is kind of a big deal. As a matter of fact, Osi won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants and is now a member of the Giants Ring of Honor. Drafted in 2003, Osi played in the NFL for 12 seasons and finished his career at the Atlanta Falcons. If anyone on this list could be called a legend, it’s most definitely Osi.
So that’s all we have for now. Of course, there are many current players from Africa plying their trade in the NFL right now, with Nigeria being the most represented African nation in the league. Having said that, we’re still waiting on another African Super Bowl champion. Could Ziggy do Ghana proud and be the next one? We certainly hope so, but even if he doesn’t make it, we have faith that at some point in the very near future, we’ll be celebrating a Super Bowl win by an African-born player.