Baseball may be America’s pastime, but it’s now an international game. American Football, the country’s most popular sport over the last couple decades, has also grown – albeit on a smaller scale. Roger Goodell and the owners have made a point to organize games in different countries such as Canada and England. For better or worse, the NFL International Series has evolved beyond a one-week gimmick. London has already hosted two games during the 2016 season and the Redskins and Bengals will face off in Wembley Stadium early this Sunday. Mexico City will host its first regular season game since 2005 when the Texans plays the Raiders in week 11.
Out of America’s four major leagues, the NFL is by far the most American. As recently as 2013, only 2.88% of players originated from a different country. With internet streaming and games on display in different countries, the sport is bound to pique the interest of future international athletes. The number will certainly expand, but for now, it’d be jarring if a famed football player gives a postgame interview with an unexpected accent.
The following list reveals 15 NFLers you didn’t know were actually not American. A few are even a blast from the past.
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16 Tamba Hali (Liberia)
Most Chiefs fans likely know Tamba Hali’s origin story, but the casual fan doesn’t. Tamba Hali was born in Gbarnga, Liberia in 1983. A civil war tore the country apart for years, killing more than 250,000 people. Luckily, Hali escaped his homeland in 1992. He attended high school in New Jersey and went on to star for Penn State. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Hali with the 20th pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Now in his 11th year, he has 87 career sacks and 33 forced fumbles. He also made five consecutive Pro Bowls between 2011 and 2015. Over the recent offseason, Tamba Hali returned to Liberia for the first time since his escape. He visited with Liberia’s current president and reconnected with family members he hadn’t seen for over 20 years.
15 Nate Burleson (Canada)
Nate Burleson’s parents are both American, but he was born in Canada while his father, Alvin Burleson, played defensive back for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders. Alvin kept his family located in Calgary until his run with the Stampeders ended. The Burlesons then relocated to Seattle, Washington. Despite Nate’s minimal time spent up north as a child, he wears his Canadian heritage with pride. On his leg, Burleson has a tattoo of a Canadian flag sitting on Seattle’s Space Needle with the words “born” and “raised.” Burleson attended Nevada on a football scholarship and became a prolific receiver. After being drafted in 2003, he played for three franchises over 11 seasons: Minnesota, Seattle and Detroit. The proud Canadian retired with 457 receptions, 5,630 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns.
14 Jon Ryan (Canada)
Jon Ryan, along with his teammate Luke Willson, is Canadian. He attended high school, college and even started his professional football career in Canada. The Green Bay Packers signed him out of the CFL in 2006. The punter lasted two years with the Packers before his release. The Seahawks gave Ryan a chance and he immediately picked up his game. He steadily increased his number of punts inside the 20, topping out at 34 in 2011. His two-season total in Green Bay was only 35. Ryan’s greatest revenge against his former team came in the 2014 NFC Championship Game. Jon Ryan sparked an improbable comeback against Green Bay with a touchdown pass on a fake field goal. Seattle went on to win 28-22 in overtime.
13 Margus Hunt (Estonia)
Margus Hunt was born is Karksi-Nuia, Estonia. Football never seemed likely to enter the equation. He represented Estonia at the World Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in the discus and shot put. Hunt’s physical prowess and junior world records in several events provided him the opportunity to attend Southern Methodist University for track and field. The school dropped the program shortly after he arrived. With little cash and an expiring visa, Hunt had few options. The football team came calling. Hunt picked up the new sport and turned the opportunity into an NFL career. The Bengals selected him as a defensive end in the 2nd round of the 2013 Draft. His skills are still raw and he’s yet to make a significant impact on the defensive line. Hunt’s in a battle to prove himself to both Cincinnati and 31 other organizations during his rookie contract’s “prove it” year.
12 Orlando Franklin (Jamaica)
Born in Jamaica, Orlando Franklin moved to Toronto with his mother and brother at age three. Franklin spent time in a homeless shelter and community housing project after his mother’s marriage fell apart. At age 15, Franklin was charged with breaking and entering, robbery and possession of a stolen vehicle. His mother refused to bail him out of jail in order to teach him a lesson. After his release, Franklin entered an agreement with his mom to turn his life around. They moved to Florida, where Franklin used football as an escape. He eventually earned a scholarship to play offensive guard at the University of Miami, before the Denver Broncos drafted him with the 46th overall pick in 2011. Franklin joined San Diego as a free agent in 2015 after four years with the Broncos, where he continues to play today.
11 Sebastian Janikowski (Poland)
Sebastian Janikowski is one of several kickers on the list. This is partly due to the fact that soccer is the most popular sport in the world outside of America. He was born in Walbrzych, Poland and was a former member of Poland’s U-17 National soccer team. He played only one year of high school football, but earned a scholarship to Florida State. In 2000, the Raiders opened themselves up to criticism by picking him with the 17th overall pick. Janikowski struggled early in his career both on and off the field, but has since become the most consistent piece of the Oakland franchise this century. He is the franchise leader in points scored and games played. Janikowski recently set the record for most field goals made over 50 yards (55).
10 Brad Wing (Australia)
Brad Wing grew up in Melbourne, Australia. His father, David Wing, once tried out for the Detroit Lions and punted for the Scottish Claymores of the World League. Brad played Australian Rules football for most of his childhood, but he moved to America during high school to purse a career in professional football. He eventually attended LSU and gained recognition for his powerful, accurate leg. Wing spent one year as a punter with the Pittsburgh Steelers before the Giants traded for him in 2015. He rewarded the team with 33 punts inside the 20 and a 44.5 average on 76 punts. Wing also made history that season by punting to Jarryd Hayne of the 49ers. It was the first time in an NFL punt had been kicked and fielded by Australians. Through seven games this season, Wing has increased his average yards per punt to 48.0.
9 Adam Gotsis (Australia)
Another Melbourne native, defensive tackle Adam Gotsis joined the Denver Broncos as a second round pick in the 2016 draft. His first exposure to American football was actually Madden 07. He played the video game with his brother despite not completely understanding the rules and it helped grow his interest in the sport. At 14, he signed up for a league and played against 18-year-olds. Gostis managed to hold his own as he aged and eventually landed a scholarship with Georgia Tech a year after he finished high school. Gostis saw tremendous success in college, although his senior year ended early due to an ACL injury. He was still recovering when Denver, already a defensive juggernaut, took a chance on him. Gostis has made small contributions as a rookie through seven games this season.
8 Star Lotulelei (Tonga)
Star Lotulelei, a defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers, spent the first nine years of his life in Tonga. He eventually played football at Bingham High School in Utah, where Lotulelei saw action as a lineman on both sides of the ball. His football skills impressed scouts, but his grades did not. Star had to spend time after high school working at a furniture store for $10 an hour. He eventually got back into football shape and excelled at Snow Community College before moving to Utah, where Lotulelei earned first-team All-American honors before being drafted by the Panthers with the 14th pick in the 2013 Draft. He’s come a long way since his beginnings in Tonga and his unfulfilling post-high school job. Lotulelei was a valuable cog on Carolina’s 15-1 team in 2015 and has started every game for the team this season.
7 Jeremiah Attaochu (Nigeria)
Jeremiah Attaochu is currently in his third season as an outside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers. He was born in Ibadan, Nigeria. Along with his brother, he played soccer in middle school before moving to the United States. He ended up trying football in high school by complete chance, as Attaochu attended physicals for what he believed was the soccer team. They were for football instead, so he decided to give it a shot. The decision changed his life. Attaochu went on to star for Georgia Tech. He set a school record 31.5 sacks in only three seasons at the university. The Chargers brought him to San Diego with their second round pick in the 2014 Draft. Through two and a half seasons, Attaochu has 10 sacks and two forced fumbles.
6 Bjoern Werner (Germany)
Bjoern Werner’s name doesn’t make it difficult to guess his nationality. The 2013 Draft bust and current free agent was born in Berlin, Germany. He knew little about American football until the age of 12. Like most Germans, he obsessed over soccer. After outgrowing his first love, he looked into American football. Werner watched games online, played Madden, and joined fledgling football leagues to catch up on lost time. He applied for the International Student Program as a teenager. The program allowed him to attend a New England prep school for football. He moved onto Florida State University, where he won the 2012 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award. The Indianapolis Colts drafted him with the 24th overall pick in 2013 and he became the first German-born player to be taken in the first round of an NFL Draft. However, he's not done much in the NFL, with only 6.5 sacks over three years, finding himself out of an NFL job in 2016.
4 Jay Ajayi (England)
Jay Ajayi won’t shock anyone with an accent during interviews. He moved to Maryland at age seven beore making his way to Dallas. Before that, Ajayi was born in the United Kingdom and spent his early childhood there. Ajayi, however, has shocked fans with his recent performance. He started the year miserably. After losing the starting job to Arian Foster in training camp, Ajayi found himself in the doghouse. Adam Gase disliked the young running back’s attitude and did not allow him to travel with the team for Miami’s week one matchup. That sounds like the perfect recipe to become the fourth player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard rushing games, right? Ajayi did just that in week six and seven. His unexpected explosion for 418 yards surpassed his previous career yardage total (304). He quite literally ran Arian Foster out of the league, as Foster announced his mid-season retirement on Monday, October 25th.
3 Osi Umenyiora (England)
While Jay Ajayi might be the most exciting new player born in England, Osi Umenyiora is England’s greatest NFL player. He was born in London to Nigerian parents and spent the first eight years of his life there. He also moved to Nigeria before relocating to Auburn, Alabama. After playing college ball at Troy, Umenyiora went 56th overall in the 2003 Draft. He led a dynamic defensive line with the New York Giants’ other defensive end, Michael Strahan. Together, the two bolstered a defense that brought down the previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Umenyiora won his second Super Bowl with the Giants four years later. The team did not re-sign him following the 2012 season. After playing two years with Atlanta, Umenyiora signed a one-day contract to retire as a New York Giant. He finished his career with 85 sacks. Umenyiora took a job as an NFL ambassador to London following his playing days.
2 Gary Anderson (South Africa)
News flash: the top two scorers in NFL history, a league seemingly synonymous with America, are not American. Gary Anderson played kicker in the league for 23 years and he is second on the NFL’s all-time scoring list with 2,434 points. He was born and raised in South Africa. After his family emigrated to the United States, he was hoping to pursue a soccer career when he was advised to consider football. Anderson, still only 18, knew little about the game. He partook in a Philadelphia Eagles tryout. Although scouts were impressed, they informed Anderson he could not go professional yet. He played for Syracuse University before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo cut Anderson and he signed on with the Steelers. Although he spent over half of his career in a Pittsburgh jersey, Anderson’s known most for his Minnesota Vikings tenure. In 1998, he set a record for playing the entire regular season without missing a field goal or PAT. Unfortunately, the streak didn’t last. He missed a crucial field goal attempt against the Atlanta Flacons in the NFC Championship Game, which deflated the Vikings and contributed to an eventual overtime loss. Blair Walsh must know his history, as he learned how to choke from the best.
1 Morten Andersen (Denmark)
The number one scorer in NFL history (2,544 points) delivered the game-winning kick over Gary Anderson’s team in that 1998 NFC Championship Game. Morten Andersen played for five different organizations during his 25 years in the NFL. Andersen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and he just missed making the Danish junior national soccer team as a teenager. Morten also won a Danish national title in handball at age 16. He moved to Indianapolis after tenth grade as part of an exchange program. Andersen’s host family introduced him to football. He joined the high school team, received a scholarship from Michigan State and stayed in America to play in the NFL. After amassing a record 565 field goals and 382 games in his career, Andersen retired in 2008 at the age of 48. Those around for his whole career may know The Great Dane’s nationality, but it’s likely a mystery to younger fans.
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