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My NFL love affair officially began at Wembley in 1998.

Back in the Summer of 1990, aged just 15, I left secondary school (high school for you international readers) and a girl in my class called Sophie Henn wrote in my yearbook ‘Good luck Lawrence I hope one day you grow out of American Football’.

I have no idea what happened to Sophie, but I do know that at aged 44 I have not yet grown out of my love of all things gridiron.

Tomorrow (28 October 2018) I am heading to London to see the current Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles play the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third of this year’s International NFL games in England.

It will also be my 30 year anniversary since I first went to see an NFL game at Wembley, a pre-season contest between the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers.

I just cannot comprehend it is 30 years since that game.

The 1988 game, my first live NFL game, was incredibly held on my 14th birthday. I took two school friends with me, one a Buccaneers fan and one who was ambivalent to the sport. My dad drove us up from my old home in Surrey and I was so excited that I got a migraine headache on the way and had to try and sleep with my head on my pillow against the window as we all sat in silence on the motorway.

Memories of the early part of the game are quite fuzzy now, but I still remember vividly how Dolphins backup quarterback David Archer ran in the winning score in the final two minutes, executing a sweet bootleg that fooled the 49ers third-string defenders.

Seeing real NFL players was a huge buzz, and even though I knew how seeing Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Dan Marino live in the flesh was incredible at the time, when I think about it now I’m not sure I realised how incredible it really was.

Tomorrow’s game will be my 10th International Series game, my first being the inaugural regular season NFL game played in Europe, the 2017 bog-fest between Eli Manning’s New York Giants and the Cleo Lemon, yes Cleo Lemon led Miami Dolphins.

Overall Sunday’s game will be my 17th NFL game in London (15 at Wembley Stadium and 2 at Twickenham), as my first six NFL games were part of the ‘American Bowl’ series of pre-season games. I went to the ‘American Bowl’s’ from 1988 to 1993.

I remember being one of thousands and thousands of by then ‘educated’ NFL fans from England and Europe attending the 1993 game, who were sick of seeing sub-par talent playing walk-ons at an abysmal tie between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions.

The NFL got the hint after this game, as fans had spent two years (1991-92) appreciating their own London Monarchs in the WLAF (World League of American Football) and knew when a third-string QB was throwing to someone who had no chance of making a regular season NFL roster, as they decided to end the annual pre-season contest at Wembley.

At the time the London Monarchs and the WLAF was in year one of a two-year sabbatical (1993-94) so gridiron fans like me faced an uncertain future, with no NFL or WLAF games in 1994.

Who on earth could predict 24 years later we would have had 23 (24 by 5pm UK time tomorrow) regular season NFL games played in London, and ever growing talk of a London based NFL franchise becoming more and more a reality.

Tomorrow I get to see the current Vince Lombardi Trophy holders the Eagles, and Carson Wentz (bizarrely not the Super Bowl winning QB earlier this year) square up against the erratic Jaguars gunslinger Blake Bortles, a man who has few fans, but somehow elevates his gameplay when he comes across the pond.

The Jags will be playing in their sixth consecutive London contest tomorrow, and currently come back to their spiritual home on a three-game ‘International Series‘ win streak, after obliterating the Baltimore Ravens 44-7 a year ago at Wembley.

I will be travelling alone from Birmingham on a coach tomorrow (providing I make sure I get my head around the fact the clocks go back tonight) for my first Wembley game in two years. I had fun going to two games at Twickenham in 2017, but Wembley is my true NFL home.

Part of the fun for me is getting inside the stadium early to grab some pictures of the players warming up, as well as autograph hunting before and after the game.

My favourite autograph memories include getting Tim Tebow to sign my Redskins hat in 2010 after he headed back to the locker room following warm-ups, and in 2016 when I snuck behind the stage outside the stadium before the game to get Redskins Super Bowl winning QB Joe Theismann to sign my #21 Sean Taylor shirt.

I then managed to catch ANOTHER Redskins Super Bowl winning QB, Doug Williams, on the same day, this time after the game, as the Redskins players and staff came out of the stadium heading for the coaches.

Food wise I try to avoid Wembley burgers, but might try something like a pastie or some Chow Mein tomorrow. After all I deserve a treat on my 30th anniversary since seeing my first live NFL game in London.

P.S – I just realised there is an Eagles connection between the first NFL game I saw in 1988 and tomorrow. The QB that replaced Dan Marino at Wembley that day 30 years ago was Ron ‘Jaws’ Jaworski, back then playing in his 14th NFL season. Jaws played 10 seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, including taking his team to Super Bowl XV in 1981 (a loss to the Oakland Raiders).

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Norrrrrmmmmmmmm

Posted: April 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 I love Cheers the 80s show about a bar in Boston. One of the repeat elements of this sitcom is when regular patron Norm Peterson comes into the bar and everyone shouts “Norrrrrmmmmm”. 

When the Washington Redskins managed to toast the success of signing All Pro cornerback Josh Norman I was repeating the Boston bar welcome in my head. After all everybody knows your name when you have just played in a Super Bowl. 

The Redskins can’t stay quiet for too long during an offseason (or non-playing season as some prefer), but they did not expect to get Norman and immediately upgrade a secondary that was looking no more than ordinary. 

It came down to the greenbacks Norman thought he was worth and as it transpires he would have re-signed with the Panthers  on a one year deal, but the longer deal and the larger sums being offered by Dan Snyder were piled too high to resist. 

Not an interception monster Norman has only picked off 7 balls in 53 games. That is not a stat to be worried about as he is a specialist in removing receivers from games through pressing coverage and physical execution, resulting in less passes being thrown his way. 

The Redskins have been weak in the secondary for a long long time. There has been no-one drafted or signed at cornerback to polish the boots of Hall of Fame enshrinee Darrel Green, with the possible exception of Deangelo Hall, a DB who is going to keep playing only as he has changed position to safety. 

Norman will be a huge topic of conversation for many months before playing a real Redskins game. Two main reasons for this, firstly the so-called bad blood between him and Odell Beckham Jr the New York Giants wideout (who he will now play twice a year), and the big question if he is a product of a superstar packed defense and system or if he is an exceptional cornerback regardless of team philosophy? 

Norman has age on his side, hunger (having lost in a Super Bowl to a cardboard cutout version of the now retired Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos), and a team that is ascending. 

Redskins fans will have shrugged their shoulders when signing Greg Toler, wishing they would get someone like Eli Apple in the 2016 NFL draft. With Norman now signed the Redskins will be furiously re-evaluating their draft strategy and can look at other needs such as inside linebacker and defensive tackle. 

The Cheers theme tune cites ‘taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot’. 

Signing Josh Norman before the draft sure gives Coach Gruden a big break.

Number #10 joins forces with #10

Number #10 joins forces with #10

Signing the likes of Tracey Porter and Jason Hatcher, and even one of my favourite under-the-radar linebackers Daryl Sharpton were all good off-season business for the Washington Redskins, but the moves lacked that big splash.

That splash, well more like a tidal wave, eventually came earlier this week when the Redskins invited recently released former Philadelphia Eagles wide-out DeSean Jackson, better known as D-Jax, for a visit to Fed Ex Field. They knew how important the visit was, and as a result said enough sweet nothings into Jackson’s shell-likes, making sure he did nor leave until he signed on the dotted line.

Being a lifelong Redskins fan I have had my fair share of low-lights in the past 20 years, including a stretch where bitter division rivals the Eagles were the class of the division. I have also witnessed two Super Bowl wins by another division rival the New York Giants in the last ten years, wins by a combined seven points.

Some divisional players have been a real thorn in the Redskins side, from Brian Westbrook to DeSean Jackson. Signing one of these prickly pears is a real relief, as it means one less speedster to man mark. I think DeAngelo Hall will lose less sleep over covering Riley Cooper that he will against D-Jax.

The Redskins combination of wide receivers now moves from top 20 to top 10 in one signing. Jackson will be a spectacular #2 to accompany Pierre Garcon (the NFL leader in catches in 2013), and they will both be joined by another new signing, former Arizona Cardinals number 3, Andre Roberts.

Robert Griffin III will be a happy man, but he does have some extra pressure now as he has needy wide-outs wherever he looks. This is a nice problem to have for any NFL quarterback, but for RG3 he does not strike me as a 4,250 yard (or more) passer so I am not expecting a stat line for Jackson that will not get close to his 2013 output of 82-1332 and nine touchdowns.

I will predict a decent 70-850-5td stat line, as RG3 and Alfred Morris will be pounding the pigskin, and the nest of birds (including a former Eagle and Cardinal) will be cheeping loudly for the ball. One of those making the noise will be Jordan Reed the tight-end who has the potential to be a Pro-Bowler in his second season if he plays for the full season.

It’s not a legitimate off-season in the NFL until the Redskins make a big move, and I feel a lot more optimistic that 2013 was irregular and 2012 was what we will aim to beat in terms of 10 wins.

The number I love the most out of this is not #10, which D-Jax has absolutely no hope of wearing in 2014, its 17.2. That is the lifetime yards per catch average of DeSean Jackson. 17.2 yards per catch is phenomenal. Maintaining this average in burgundy and gold will mean a phenomenal season for D-Jax and a big bag of wins.

This move also makes up for a lack of no first round draft pick this season, better the devil you know right?

Lets hope Jackson’s former team mates don’t gang up on him when he faces the Eagles twice in the 2014 season, after all that wont be a good sign.

DSC02328 With a seven week old baby I have had no chance to keep this blog updated, but seeing as it is Super Bowl Sunday I have to at least give it a small go.

Here are my predictions – feel frre to copy and past your predictions in the comments section of this post.

1) Winning team? Seahawks
2) Winning margin? 3
3) Total points scored? (a point if within 6 above or below) – 51 (27-24 Seahawks)
4) First TD scorer? Montee Ball – Broncos
5) Last TD scorer? Demariyus Thomas – Broncos
6) First scoring play and team? half a point for each Seattle FG
7) Leading at halftime? (you can say tied if you want) Seattle
8) Player with most catches? Demayrius Thomas WR Broncos
9) Will there be a player record two or more sacks? yes
10) Total TDs? 6
11) Total successful field goals? 3
12) Will Demariyus Thomas get over 100 yards receiving? Yes
13) Will Marshawn Lynch get over 100 yards rushing? Yes
14) How many times will Peyton Manning say ‘Omaha’? (a point if within 5 above or below – and no I will not be taking a tally) 33
15) MVP? Marshawn Lynch – Seahawks – with 117 yards rushing 2 catches and 2 tds
16) Who will the MVP thank first in his podium interview? (e.g. God, Family, coaches, team-mates, fans, owner?) fans
17) Will Wes Welker score a TD? no
18) Will Percy Harvin still be playing after 50 minutes of game clock? yes
19) Who will be the ‘David Tyree’ unsung hero (because we all know qb’s get the MVP)?
20) Will there be a play from scrimmage over 50 yards? no
I see the Seahawks take a healthly lead and then the Broncos fight back in third before a Russell Wilson led drive and a Hauschka fg to win it as the clock runs out.
Popcorn, M&Ms and Bud’s ready – cant wait !!!

 

Big game for Foles - and I think he will shine

Big game for Foles – and I think he will shine

Having become a dad for the second time the week before Christmas, writing posts for my blog has not exactly been top of my list of priorities. Still I hate watching the NFL playoffs without making a few predictions.

I have enjoyed watching NFL RedZone on my wife’s Ipad, but when it came to the crunch I was not going to miss the opportunity to watch the NFL playoffs live so I got a one-month subscription to Sky Sports to view the games, starting tonight with the Kansas City Chiefs at the Indianapolis Colts.

AFC Predictions

Wild Cards
Chiefs 31-21 Colts – MVP Jamaal Charles with 180 all purpose yards and two tds
Chargers 17-27 Bengals – MVP Andy Dalton with 3 td passes

The Chiefs may be the visiting team but they have too much class overall, and they will expose the Colts offensive line. The Chargers backed into the playoffs thanks to a missed field goal by Ryan Succop. My prediction for the AFC at the start of the season was the Bengals and I am not going to change my mind. Look for Luck to get picked off at least twice.

NFC Predictions 

Wild Cards
Saints 27-38 Eagles – MVP Nick Foles 4 td passes
49ers 26-24 Packers – MVP Colin Kaepernick with 250 yards passing and 50 rushing

The biggest upset in my eyes is the home team Eagles beating the Saints. Yes Philly will be at home but the Saints are high octane all the time. This simply has to be a game where over 60 tital points will be scored. Nick Foles will play with no fear and will take risks that more experienced playoff quarterbacks will not. The Niners know how to navigate the choppy waters of the playoffs and they have the defensive quality to hang with the Packers. Aaron Rodgers will again play hard but this time I just think the 49ers will get a big enough lead that the Packers will not be able to claw it back late.

 

Jordan Reed has been a revelation as a Redskins rookie.

Jordan Reed has been a revelation as a Redskins rookie.

It’s happened again, nine weeks in and the Washington Redskins are in exactly the same position as last year, a 3-6 record and a season that is to all intents and purposes as dead as Richie Incognito being on Jonathan Martin’s Christmas card list.

The 2013 Redskins running game is firing on all cylinders, with some memorable three-touchdown games from two members of the backfield not named Alfred Morris, and despite a reservation at the start of the season to tuck and run Robert Griffin III has had a number of statistically great games in his second NFL season.

The offensive line has again been an under-appreciated but over-achieving unit led by Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams.

The biggest addition since 2012 to the offensive weaponry at RG3’s disposal has been rookie 3rd round selection, tight end Jordan Reed who came from the Florida Gators. Expected to learn his craft under veteran Fred Davis, who was re-signed in the off-season on a one-year deal, Reed has been snapping away to the tune of 44 catches for 487 yards.

It would be a somewhat tough ask, but Reed could gain 1000 yards as a rookie, which would be up there with the achievement of Alfred Morris rushing for over 1600 yards as a rookie in 2012.

Unfortunately the Redskins defense has looked better on paper than it has on the field, getting terrorised to the tune of 388 yards a game and 31.9 points a contest, with only the lowly 0-8 Jacksonville Jaguars yielding more points a game (33).

This was a team that somehow managed to send three of its linebackers to the Pro Bowl earlier this year, somewhat ironic when the team’s weakness has been tackling. The teams two star outside linebackers Brian Orakpo, back from an injury filled 2012, and Ryan Kerrigan who has been the Redskins only real source of sacks (6.5 so far in 2013), have flashed their talent but have not shone, and 38-year-old London Fletcher is inevitably slowing down.

Fletcher had a tough time growing up and was always an outside shot at even making an NFL roster, but he has been an absolute rock in the Washington locker room and on the gridiron, but expecting him to shoulder the defense for much longer is not a viable option.

Washington’s secondary has been the biggest weakness, giving up big play after big play. Putting in two rookies David Amerson and Baccari Rambo has been one of the major reasons that teams have been confident to air it out. Rambo has looked more like Dumbo sometimes, and whilst Amerson has picked off two passes (including one for a touchdown) teams are picking on the new guys.

Like chewing gum on the sole of your flip-flops a few career backups have again stuck around to cover for injuries and dips in form. Both safety Reed Doughty and defensive tackle Kenrick Goldston have been living on the periphery of the Redskins roster for many years but they simply are too valuable to release.  If anything these are guys that personify what it is to be a player in the NFL. Not the most talented, rarely on highlights packages, but always ready to step in and sacrifice their body’s for the greater good.

The kicking game has been anonymous in 2013 and the return game has been poor. The Redskins miss having a true return talent and have to rely on backup tight-end Niles Paul to return kicks and plodding wide-receiver Josh Morgan to return punts.

Last season the Redskins were 3-6 and I wouldn’t have bet a single penny that the team would tear off seven consecutive wins en-route to a divisional title and a home playoff game.

Now in the same position with seven games left the Redskins are remarkably still in the hunt for a division title. The Dallas Cowboys top the division at present with 5 wins but the NFC East truly is the NFC least and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that an 8-8 record plus a tiebreaker situation that even Russel Crowe’s beautiful mind could not solve could see the Redskins again punch their ticket to hitch a ride on the post-season express train.

It’s more likely they will bump into Tom Hanks on the Polar Express but if you would have asked me if the playoffs were achievable 12 months ago I would have laughed in your face.

As I write Alfred Morris is leading the NFL in rushing and RG3 is on target to throw for 4355 yards. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon has been living up to his potential at last, and wideout Leonard Hankerson is even starting to show up, but 29 catches in 9 games is not going to turn you into a household name.

NFL FAN IN ENGLAND’S PREDICTION FOR THE REDSKINS FOR THE REST OF THE 2013 SEASON

Week 11 – @ Philadelphia – Win 31-28
Week 12 – Home to 49ers – Loss 17-34
Week 13 – Home to Giants – Win 29-23
Week 14 – Home to Chiefs – Loss 17-27
Week 15 – @ Falcons – Win 33-19
Week 16 – Home to Cowboys Win 30-27
Week 17 – @ Giants Win – 24-19

This would equate to an 8-8 record, which I think unfortunately will not be enough to win the division. Despite an emotional Week 16 victory I have a bad feeling that a Cowboys win over the Eagles in Week 17 will put Dallas at 9-7, enough to scrape a division title. I say all this because my predicting skills are not exactly on a parallel with Nostradamus.

It’s going to be another wild ride, lets hope the burgundy and gold train stays on the track until Christmas, what a present that would make for Redskins fans around the world.

EddieLacy_crop_northThis season marks the first time since I was an undergraduate in the 1990’s that I have not watched the NFL live on Sky Sports on a Sunday, for 1pm and 4.15pm EST kickoffs.

For my birthday I was fortunate enough to get an NFL Gamepass subscription, meaning I would be watching the bulk of my live game experiences in either my iPhone, my wife’s iPad or a laptop computer.

This has been a double win in my household as I have managed to avoid watching the UK Sky Sports NFL presenters Kevin Cadle (former basketball coach) and Neil Reynolds (former player in England and author of an NFL related book) who are not exactly the most dynamic duo. (I have no idea who the guest presenters have been this year, but in previous years they have been the only reason I have stayed with Sky as my viewing platform of choice.

Former British American Football legend Mark Cohen, coach of many different teams Jeff Reinbold and former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Cecil Martin have all been terrific behind the desk.)

The other win has been the brownie points I have won with my wife as she can watch the likes of Strictly and X-Factor on the main tv, instead of an NFL game that has no relevance or interest to her whatsoever.

So how has the coverage been online? Not perfect to be honest. For many of the early Sunday kickoffs the quality of the viewing has not exactly been HD, instead ranging from good to fair, to pixellated, to a black screen saying that video quality not good enough to stream live (but with the audio continuing).

By the time the second batch of Sunday games are on the quality of streaming seems to significantly improve, and I have moved from watching the game on a laptop in the living room to an iPad in the spare bedroom so my wife can get her sleep in the pitch black.

There are some major benefits to having NFL Gamepass which include;

  • Knowing you have an archive of games to view at your leisure, meaning you don’t have to suck the life out of your Sky+ box’s memory. Every NFL fan with Sky+ knows how frustrating it is that an NFL game recorded in HD can take up to a 10th of the box’s memory, especially as you always have to record the show after in case there is overtime or lots of additional time added due to a lengthy injury.
  • The condensed game feature is a revelation. Being able to sneak in a full three and a half hour game in 35-40 minutes, with no advert breaks by 9.00am before I get to work on a Monday and Tuesday is something I am really enjoying. I can get on the train, watch 15-20 minutes of uninterrupted game coverage, get into Birmingham city centre, grab a coffee and watch the second 15-20 minutes and still get into work well before 9 o’clock. This is a real bonus if it is either a game that you have little interest in as a fan, or if you want to see for yourself your fantasy players performances without having to watch a pre-game discussion or a half-time show.
  • Archived Redzone. Now I have to be fair Sky did introduce NFL Redzone as an interactive viewing option a few seasons ago, but this was just a direct feed. When you watch Redzone on tablet or laptop you can keep track of game scores, track stats and even re-live the whole experience whenever you like.
  • Permanent access to NFL Network and archive of NFL Network shows. I have to confess I have not taken full advantage of this feature, as I do not watch NFL Network every day. Being a dad of a two-year old my only man-time is around 9.45pm – 11pm to watch what I want, and after long days I prefer to watch some comedy on Dave or Pawn (that’s P-a-w-n) Stars on History. Sometimes the likes of an ‘in-your-face’ Warren Sapp can be a bit much when you want to relax.

So what are the not so good aspects of being in England and watching NFL Gamepass? Well the positives far outweigh the negatives but there are a few niggles.

  • No live playoffs. This is the biggest downfall. As Sky has the rights to broadcasting the NFL playoffs, these are not accessible on Gamepass. I am going to have to see if I can get a one month trial from Sky as I can’t be without live playoff coverage.
  • Blacked out games. Similar to the playoffs, as Sky broadcast two live games on Sunday these are blacked out as live games on Gamepass. There is a simple way around this though. Sky have not managed to get the NFL to stop the Red Zone coverage of the games they show exclusively live. So as long as you are prepared to watch all red zone opportunities from the games on at a particular time slot you will not miss out watching the team you support from hitting paydirt.
  • Poor live streaming. As I have experienced, and this may not be the case for everyone, I have has some pretty poor live streaming since the season began. All archived footage has always streamed in HD so it’s not all bad.

If you have made it this far you are probably wondering why there is a picture of Green Bay Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy at the top of this post. Well in my eyes he is symbolic of my rookie NFL Gamepass experience to date – so far so good, alongside some dodgy bits (his first few games / my bad streaming experience), but a huge amount of potential to set the world on fire.