The NFL and Brazil have been making history: Opening weekend for the 2018 season came off the foot of a Brazilian place kicker, Cairo Santos.
Football Brasileiro or futebol americano? Neither. While the Super Bowl is in no danger of overtaking ‘A Copa do Mundo” with Brazilian sports fans, the NFL is nevertheless raising eyebrows.
Born in Limeira, São Paulo Santos was first introduced to American football as a foreign exchange student in St. Augustine, Florida.
He discovered that his kicking skills for soccer in Brazil translated to kicking field goals in American football and what began as a one-year high school program to learn English led to a college football career at Tulane University.
At the end of his Senior year, Santos was named consensus All-American and received the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s most outstanding placekicker. He was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2014.
Santos is the first Brazilian born player in NFL, but not the first player for the NFL and Brazil.
Brazil’s First NFL Player
Damian Medeiros da Silva Vaughn was Brazil’s first NFL player, as a tight end for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1998 t0 2000 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2001 to 2002.
Vaughn was born in Anchorage, Alaska, to an American father and a Brazilian mother. When he was six months old, his family moved to Divinópolis, Minas Gerais before moving back to the United States to study Spanish and International Business at Miami University in Ohio.
Now retired, Damian founded the Vaughn Center, a facility in Scottsdale, Arizona which offers meditation and leadership training for athletes.
An Uncertain Future
Growth often comes in fits and starts, and the immediate future of the NFL and Brazil does not look as promising as its recent past suggests.
Paulo Antunes laid out the 2020 season for UOL last week.
The only Brazilian with a current contract is Durval Queiroz, Duzão, from the Miami Dolphins. The franchise announced the renewal of the contract with the player until 2021, ensuring his presence at least in the pre-season.
Duzão joined the league for being part of the NFL Undiscovered, a project that seeks talent around the world. The player was part of the Dolphins’ pre-season roster, but played on only one play and did not survive the cut downs for Miami’s 53 athletes used during the 16 regular season games.
Meanwhile. Cairo Santos will seek a try-out with yet anotjher team. He has been unemployed since he was discharged by the Tennessee Titans last October.
Today, Brazilian athletes can be found in Major and Minor League Baseball, the NBA, Tennis, Golf, Soccer and even the NHL.
But the strongest American sports series for Brazilians is auto racing, with IndyCar and IMSA, where talented Indy 500 winning drivers Emerson Fittipaldi, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan have led the way for more than three dozen Brazilian pilotos since the late 1980’s.