London has been ready for the football, American pro football, since 2007 when the NFL launched its International Series, hosting three regular season games at Wembley Stadium, home of major football (soccer) matches, including team England’s games and the Football Association’s (FA) Cup Final.
Yesterday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions was a sell-out even it was more like a blitz, instead of a contest, the Chiefs scoring 45 points to the Lions 10.
The point is the two preceding games—the Jacksonville Jaguars versus the Buffalo Bills, final score 37-31 on October 25, and the New York Jets versus Miami Dolphins, final score 27-14 on October 4—sold out, too.
With all of this NFL mania happening on my doorstep for eight years now, I’ve at last caught the excitement, not that I could have ignored last year’s adverts—the Raiders are coming or the high flying NFL flags on Regent’s street, one of London’s most popular tourist streets. Locals like it, too.
This year, however, I’ve had two up close and personal NFL experiences, one directly and the other indirectly. Directly, Paul and I attended the Dolphins game in style, from going to the tailgate party to watching the game in the owner’s suite. And somewhere in between I managed to get the autograph of NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino on a mini Dolphins helmet. And that’s not all. Not only did I rub shoulders with the former quarterback himself, so to speak in the owner’s box, but also had the pleasure of a short conversation with him the next day in the Atlanta airport, having arrived on the same flight.
Though I am the world’s worst groupie—just ask my friend Pam Oliver, Fox NFL side line reporter, who once had to just about drag me to the front of the room to speak to Alice Walker—I managed to strike up the nerves to acknowledge Mr Marino and chat to him on the tram, having been in the same corporate suite/box with him for a good three hours. What was I to do? Pretend like I didn’t know who he was.
Surely, he hadn’t a clue who I was, except we had both been a part of a relatively intimate gathering in the owner’s box and no one else in the room looked like me. And very sadly and unlike me, I had on the same outfit. Argh! Thus, I thought I’d better come out of the box, no pun intended.
Rightly so, my friend Pam agreed, which leads me to my next NFL experience. Though I didn’t make the Chiefs/Lions game, as it was on the same day Paul was travelling home from New York, beforehand I got to hang out with Pam, who was in town to cover it.
From Watford, home of the famous Grove Hotel, where the Lions camped out, to Wembley and many places in between, Pam and the Fox team stayed on form, broadcasting the game back to the US. My dad, for one, caught the blow out.
So what’s the future for the NFL in London? Although pro-football is the most popular sport in the US, can it compete with the beautiful game known as football here?
That’s the big question. Still at least one Uber driver, who had chauffeured one of the Jaguars around during his stay, confessed that though he didn’t really understand the game, he had a great time. He’d get to know it and support it. Others agree. Hence, the full house every time.
Thus, according to the NFL’s international website, American football will be played here for the next five years, at least two games during the regular season at Wembley and possibly two more at the new Tottenham Hotspurs stadium to open in 2018.
It’s a long way to go for a football game, Pam and I agreed, at least for those travelling from the States, including the players. But the series does put American football on the international stage.
And this American, though I am not a major football fan, remains ready, for the football, that is, right here in London.