32 Fans, 32 Countries: Jono Hartles, a St. Louis Rams Fan in New Zealand

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Jono Hartles of Hamilton, New Zealand wakes up at 5 A.M. every Monday morning (equivalent to noon ET on Sunday) during the football season because he is unwilling to miss a St. Louis Rams game.

Like most fans outside of the United States, the origin of Hartles’ fandom is rather recent. Around 2004, Steven Jackson’s rookie season, he and his identical twin brother spent much of their time playing Madden on PlayStation 2.  Hartles would randomly play as the Rams during exhibition games.  He had Marc Bulger and was using Marshall Faulk yet found Faulk a bit slow and frustrating. (Remember, we’re talking about a video game here.) Then Harles decided to put in this new kid named Steven Jackson and a Rams fan was born for life.

“[Jackson] had dreads, he was so cool and oh so fast,” Hartles remembers fondly.

At the time Hartles admits to knowing nothing about the NFL. New Zealand had yet to begin broadcasting American football games. But good timing fueled his path to diehard fandom.

First, Harles learned the basic plays through Madden. Then he starting going to NFL.com for more analysis and information, right as the NFL’s official site became more of a content farm. And just about five or six years ago, Sunday and Monday Night games began to be televised in New Zealand, allowing Hartles to put his years of studying into action. Each step smoothly paved the way for the next.

Soon he was hooked. Hartles has since joined a fantasy league, writes about the NFL for the New Zealand sports website, UndisputedSports.com and even takes his annual leave from work between Friday and Tuesday of the NFL’s opening weekend, the equivalent to Thursday night’s kickoff through Monday Night Football.

Hartles has even become somewhat of a local ambassador for the sport. His twin brother took a similar path to fandom, except he played Madden as the Eagles and fell in love with Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Brian Hawkins.

“Through my passion combined with my brother’s we’ve turned a couple of friends into fans,” Hartles says.

He projects that anywhere from 10-15 of his friends are now “hugely passionate” NFL fans. And he’s stopping there.

In America we often scoff at the corporate nature of the league, but Hartles believes this is precisely why the NFL has been so well received in New Zealand. He says most sports teams in New Zealand, like those participating in rugby and cricket, are primarily owned by that sport’s union.

“There are no trading of players, no big draft, no content to keep you going from game to game,” he says.

Hartles loves the in-depth, 24/7 nature of the NFL.  He calls the NFL’s offseason simply, ”the non-playing season.”

As a Rams fan, Hartles also appreciates the accessibility of so many of the players. He rattles off numerous Rams who have replied to him on Twitter and singles out Robert Quinn and Chris Long for being particularly communicative.

Despite a current record of 2-3, Hartles is high on the Rams future, especially the defense. He understands that St. Louis is overshadowed by Seattle and San Francisco on the field, but still takes pride in his team’s emerging talent. Much like his country’s emerging fan base.

32 Fans, 32 Countries is a look at the global reaches of the NFL. For this project we have attempted to interview 32 different fans of all 32 teams in 32 different countries all around the world (UK, Canada, and Mexico excluded). As readers will find, the paths to fandom are as varied as the cultures and customs of each country. Check back regulary for new profiles.

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Melissa Jacobs

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