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50s to 90s Kuwait People Sports

How a Kuwaiti got into the NFL

I love interesting stories about Kuwait and this one is particularly fascinating because I was able to get so much information, photos, and newspaper clippings to go along with it. Last week I got an email from someone telling me that their dad back in 1970 became the first and only Kuwaiti to ever be drafted by the NFL. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in telling the story and obviously, I jumped all over it! I really wanted to know how someone from Kuwait in the 60s ended up in the NFL so I met with his two sons and managed to get the full story.

Back in the 60s, their father Maher Barakat graduated from Shuwaikh High School for boys and received a government scholarship to attend the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. When Maher was in Kuwait he used to play soccer with his friends and family and he was known to be a powerful striker who was accurate and usually scored a lot of goals. It was soccer that got him into the NFL, and it was also soccer that ended his NFL career.

During one of his PE classes in college, Maher was given an opportunity to Punt (kick) a weird-shaped ball into a U-shaped goal. He hadn’t played American Football before but apparently, it was very easy for him to kick the ball as he used to when playing soccer. The coach then asked him to do it again and Maher scored the ball again. The coach then moved him to different points around the field and kept asking Maher to try and score from there and Maher would keep kicking the ball through the posts. After completing the assessment, Maher was given an offer by the coach to join the college football team as their starting punter and Maher accepted the offer.

Though his punting style was unconventional (leaning more towards a soccer kick), Maher Barakat became a star at South Dakota. He ended up breaking college and division records, which is most likely how he was spotted by NFL scouts. Maher became really well known in his college town and earned the nickname Bear-Cat.

Maher was officially drafted by the NFL in 1970 and became the first football player from his college as well as the first Kuwaiti to ever be drafted to the pros. Bear-Cat was approached by a number of NFL teams such as the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, and St. Louis Cardinals but ended up choosing to sign with the Broncos.

In the summer after signing his NFL contract, Maher Barakat flew back to Kuwait to see his family and share the good news. Once back in Kuwait he was eager to play soccer with his friends just like he used to in the old days and that’s where the story takes a turn. Unfortunately while playing soccer with his friends, Maher ends up fracturing his toe. Even after healing, he couldn’t kick the same anymore and that was the end of his American Football career.

Maher eventually graduated and moved back to Kuwait where he worked in the Ministry of Electricity until the early 80s when he decided to leave to start his own business. He ended up opening what eventually became the popular video store, Blue Belt (حزام أزرق) and held the rights to WWF (now WWE) for the GCC (that needs a whole separate post). In the 90s he also became the partner in IVC, the video store located next to Fanar Mall.

Maher had kept all the newspaper clippings and photos from his college years and his sons passed them to me to share. There were a lot but I chose to share the ones I thought were the most interesting and informative. I’ve shared some in this post but you can download the PDF with all the articles, photos and letters I scanned by clicking this link Maher-Barakat.pdf

There is very little information about Maher online so I really appreciate that his sons decided to share this with me. According to them their dad doesn’t like talking about himself and so very few people know of his story and accomplishment. Hopefully, after today he’ll get the recognition he deserves.

33 replies on “How a Kuwaiti got into the NFL”

So refreshing to hear something nice about someone from Kuwait. Lately, there has so much negativity and so much sad news going around with the pandemic, the latest laws against expats, etc that its great to finally hear a first about Kuwait that isn’t negative that Kuwait was the first and one and only country from the Gulf to have one of its sons drafted in the NFL in the ’70s which is no easy feat. So kudos to Mr. Maher Barakat aka the Bearcat of the Denver Bronco’s

Wow!!! This is so fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Also, i am getting MAJORRR childhood flashbacks from that Blue Belt video. Please post another feature on that as well haha! Bless!

Wowie! This is an eye opener for me. Didn’t realize Barakat is a Palestinian name. Always thought they are Libanese. But what do I know? My only brush with the name Barakat was for the shawerma .I did have a sneaky feeling the House of Barakat had something to do with Baccarat crystal but guess, I was wrong again. Anyway turns out we have a lot of famous people in the world with moorings in Kuwait.

For example, what do Dinesh Karthik- the Indian cricket wicket keeper and vice captain of Kolkatta Knight Riders,  Adeline Castelino, the 3rd runner up at Miss Universe 2021 and Rajeev Suri, the CEO of Inmarsat and ex CEO of Nokia Network have in common ?? The Kuwait connexion.
They all lived in Kuwait at some point in their lives. Suri & Castelino were raised in Kwt. Not bad, no – not  bad at all, I thought

What a story! He should be really proud of his achievements! Its sad that the world didn’t get to see more of him playing. I wish him and his family the very best!

Such an interesting story! Thanks for getting us treasures her in Kuwait! Its a pleasure to read stories from our second home even being an expat here.

This. Is. Incredible! Thank you for sharing! Would love to sit with him/his sons and find out more as there are a lot of NFL followers in Kuwait!

Man, that is such an amazing story! Thank you for sharing, and thank you Mahers son!

Looking forward to the story of how he got the right to WWF!

Thank you Mark for such enthralling post. Much needed positivity and inspiration in these pandemic. His humbleness should be a lesson for us. God bless.

There was someone from Kuwait who played football for the University of Texas at Austin in the 1980s. He was from a Palestinian family which moved from Kuwait to Houston. However, he would always say he was from Kuwait. I cannot recall his name now. Also : Part of the stadium complex there is named after an alumnus from Saudi Arabia who is a big football fan. Alas, I am not. I just worked for the football team, but never fully or even partially understood the game,

I went to some of the clippings, one of which mentions “a possible contract of $20,000.” It does not sound like very much, but in today’s dollars it would be $146,000. I am uncertain what today’s contracts would be, but there are usually signing bonuses.

Mark,
Would you happen to know how to contact Mr. Barakat or his sons?
I’m the Athletic Director at South Dakota Mines and would very much like to speak with him. – Thank you Joel

Finally a great story that has been shared. This is new news to all of us & a very cool story at that. Moral of the story, when you play a boys sport & go to a mans sport dont go back to a kids sport.

When I hear Barakat I think of that wonderful craft store in Salmiya. Loved that store!! They had everything!

But this is a wonder story.

Super story, Mark! As a fellow writer, so envy you…ha ha ha. I was so trilled to read the part that Mr. Barakat is still around and look forward to reading the second part about his WWE connection. Thanks to his sons for sharing and to you.

Mark why dont you start a video podcast series would be really interesting to see you famous local personalities

this is journalism at its finest, its these little stories that make me appreciate the (behind the wall) side of kuwait, great coverage and really nice, would love for this to be covered on the national television just as a story that wouldnt be forgotten.

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