A great facility. ESPN cameras everywhere. Hyped-up fans. No snow. Row after row of new balls just waiting to be tossed. And, best of all, no rabid 275-pound defensive ends trying to decapitate you.
It doesn’t get any better than this for an NFL quarterback.
Several NFL stars enjoyed a slice of quarterback heaven last Saturday at Cayman International School’s playing field as Cayman hosted the annual NFL Quarterback Challenge. The competition combines four events designed to test a quarterback’s timing, accuracy, agility and arm strength. It is scheduled to air on ESPN in August. In between the skills competitions in the final edited program, there will be segments that show the players enjoying various Cayman tourist attractions.
The Cayman Islands Government signed a three-year contract with the NFL to host the event. The hope is that the money government will spend for the rights to stage it here will pay off by drawing more American tourists to Cayman.
The quarterbacks and receivers who participated in the event appeared to enjoy both the competition and the Cayman Islands.
‘Oh man, I like it here a lot,’ said All Pro Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. ‘Nice weather, nice golf course, good fishing, I’m enjoying it.’
This was the first NFL Quarterback Challenge Vick has ever competed in but it probably won’t be his last. ‘I like it. I think it’s a lot of fun. We are all competitive so we all want to win but we still have a lot of fun doing it.’
Shamori Scott of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism believes that government’s investment of at least several hundred thousands dollars to secure the event for three years will score big by helping to bring significant numbers of new tourists to Cayman.
‘The NFL is a powerful brand,’ said Scott. ‘This allows us to stretch our marketing dollars. Millions of more people will see and hear about the Cayman Islands directly because of this. NFL fans in America will see these players fishing, visiting Boatswain Beach and doing other fun things in the Cayman Islands. It’s a great partnership for us.’
Jessie Palmer, an NFL veteran and one-time star of The Bachelor television program, served as one of the TV commentators for the event. He says he had a blast in the Cayman Islands and thinks it is the perfect venue for the Quarterback Challenge.
‘This place is great,’ said Palmer. ‘The Cayman Islands has the perfect environment and the people are extremely friendly. I’ve been to many Caribbean islands but this is the first time I’ve been here and I have to say, this is the best island in the Caribbean. I love Cayman.’
Palmer believes the link between Cayman and the NFL is good for both parties.
‘I think it’s very exciting that this relationship has come together. It’s good for the NFL to come down here. It’s good for the players to come here and have a chance to enjoy the island for a couple of days. And it’s also great for the people here to be able to come out and see these guys compete.’
‘We are thrilled to be hosting this,’ said Susanna Blackburn, communications manager for Dart Realty. ‘It’s great to have these great players come here and put Cayman on the international stage. This is why we wanted to create worldclass facilities like this pitch. We want to be able to share the facility beyond the school [Cayman International School] and with the wider community. We have other sports facilities planned, including tennis courts, basketball courts and a swimming pool.’
Several members of the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association volunteered to help out with moving equipment between events. Association president George ‘Teddy’ Hydes says the NFL Challenge is a boost for his sport in Cayman.
‘I’m really happy that we got this,’ said Hydes. ‘This should be great for Cayman when people see it on TV. For our association it’s good because it puts us more to the forefront. It can help us with our plans to get a youth program going. Once the youth see what it’s all about they will get going with us.’
‘Anything that exposes football to kids here will increase the popularity of the sport,’ said Arthur Screaton, a member of the Cayman Islands Flag Football Association. ‘This might provide a little boost to encourage government to consider adding flag football to the school curriculum.’
The NFL has withheld official results of the competition until the program airs in August.