Rupert Cornwell: Out of America

Lawrence Tynes came to the US almost two decades ago as a soccer-mad 10-year-old from Greenock. Today, he will be hoping to kick his New York Giants team into the history books with victory on America's most prestigious sporting stage
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The Independent Online

The bagpipes probably won't be playing "Loch Lomond" at the University of Phoenix stadium this afternoon, and they certainly won't be serving haggis at the refreshment stands. But let those from north of the Tweed rejoice. For the first time ever, a native Scot will be playing in America's greatest sporting event.

A fortnight ago, on a glacial evening in Wisconsin, Lawrence Tynes's dream seemed destined to end in disappointment. As field-goal specialist – or "kicker" in American football parlance – he had missed a couple of gilt-edged opportunities to send his New York Giants team to victory in regular time after an epic encounter with the Green Bay Packers.

Normally the Packers, ice-hardened and with championships to prove it, don't forgive that sort of mistake. This time, however, our man made amends, succeeding with a prodigious 47-yard goal, among the longest ever in a National Football League playoff game. And so it is that tonight, in the balmy spring climate of southern Arizona in early February, Tynes has his chance to be remembered as the man who brought the Giants Super Bowl XLII.

Life in America has not always been easy for him. Tynes arrived here almost two decades ago, as a soccer-mad 10-year-old kid from Greenock. His Scottish mother, Margaret, and his father Larry, a former US Navy Seal, have now divorced, and his elder brother Mark is serving a 27-year sentence at a federal prison in Arkansas for marijuana trafficking.

Lawrence made a better fist of things, obtaining a degree in criminal justice at Troy University in Alabama. He imagined he'd end up as a lawyer. Instead soccer led to the gridiron, place-kicking and the pro leagues. Until this season, however, his career had been solid but mostly unspectacular. Indeed, when he moved to the Giants from the Kansas City Chiefs last spring, he wasn't even certain of being the team's first-choice kicker.

But he made the job his own, and the 2007 season unfolded like a fairy tale. In October, this transplanted Briton became the first NFL player to score points at the new Wembley stadium, when the Giants defeated the Miami Dolphins in a regular season game played in London.

It was the latest attempt by the NFL to win converts in soccer's European heartlands. Almost certainly it will fail, like the others before it. But who cares? Now the Super Bowl beckons, the biggest stage of all, where Tynes and his teammates will be facing the undefeated New England Patriots, who are out to make history of their own.

To liken the Super Bowl to an FA Cup Final is to belittle Christmas as just another day off. This first Sunday in February has become America's unofficial secular holiday – as befits a sport that, in terms of money and TV exposure at least, long ago displaced baseball as the country's national pastime. One reason is that the Super Bowl is one of the greatest feats of sports marketing ever devised. If the occasion has the feel of an imperial festival from pagan times, that is entirely as intended – right down to the Roman numerals with which the NFL denotes the event. The gladiators may be missing, but not much else.

This year the carnival has moved to Phoenix. For days, official parties and unofficial merrymaking have been under way. If you want a ticket, it will cost $3,000 (£1,500). For those of lesser means, the beer will have been flowing for hours before kick-off. The Patriots and Giants get down to business at 6.17pm local time, watched by half or more of all US households, as well as countless millions around the world.

But even the game is a sideshow for many. Half-time features an extravaganza in its own right, this year featuring superstar rock band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And who could turn down such an invitation? Not Janet Jackson, responsible for the celebrated nipple-baring "wardrobe malfunction" of 2004 (which cost CBS a fine of $540,000), nor the Rolling Stones a couple of years later. And if 30-second advertising spots during the game cost $2.7m, we can't complain. These too are treated as part of America's cultural history.

This year, though, the game on the field has particular significance, and not just because a Scot will be in the thick of the action. If they win, the Patriots will have managed a perfect 19-0 season, the first in modern history. But the man from distant Greenock could yet spoil everything. It's the biggest moment of Tynes's career. And if another of those field goal opportunities comes along, he declares: "I would bet on me."