Anyone who honestly expects Florida sunshine at the end of October in England is either a born optimist or slightly dillusional so I fully expect the second NFL regular season game to be played in London in yet more blustery gails and drizzling rain, falling from dark forboding clouds, hovvering menacingly above the new Wembley Stadium.
There is an argument that the New York Giants 13-10 win over the Miami Dolphins was a bit of a damp squib (or is that squid to keep the aquatic animal theme!). As one of the 81,176 fans at the game I frankly did note care if the game finished 2-0 with a long snap sailing over the Fins punter’s helmet before making a deafening squelch at the back of the endzone. The fact was we had a regular season NFL game in England – a game that COUNTS, a game that provided statistics that will be forever included in the summary of the 2007 NFL season, and above all a game where the winning teams big W and the losing teams big L counts in the real regular season standings.
I was there from 1988 right up to 1993 to watch NFL pre-season friendly games played at Wembley. As a teenager in love with the NFL I was in hog heaven being able to see the likes of Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Reggie White, Bruce Smith et al come and play in front of my very eyes, but by the time we got to 1993 the novelty had worn off. The ’93 game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, if memory serves me right, ended with a 13-13 stalemate, and did more damage than good as far as exporting the NFL to a European audience. The starters played in one or two first quarter drives, then got changed and spend the remaining 50 game minutes just joking around like tourists visiting Windsor Castle. By 1993 the real NFL fans (eg – the ones who paid their hard earned money for their tickets and were not on some corporate freebie) were wise to the fact Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith were not going to play more than about 10 plays, and I for one trudged out of Wembley that day thinking 1) that was a waste of money 2) that’s the last time we will see NFL teams in England. Real English NFL fans maybe dreampt of seeing an NFL game at Wembley that really mattered, but even the most optimistic NFL lover could not even dream that almost 15 years later they would be seeing the future Superbowl champions playing a REGULAR SEASON NFL game in front of their very eyes.
Fast forward to 2008 and we are preparing for a game that has my pulse racing. This game – the San Diego Chargers against the New Orleans Saints is an outstanding job by the NFL in the USA and the NFL in the UK to provide a game that is a big thankyou to those fans who grumbled their way home from the American Bowl of 1993, thinking that they would never see an NFL team this side of the pond ever again. Its a perfect game for so many reasons, here are just a few ……..
- This is an opportunity to create a new NFL fanbase in Europe for the Saints and the Chargers. The 2007 game involving the Giants and the Dolphins was involving two teams with ‘established’ or ‘safe’ UK and European fan bases (the safe teams I would classify as the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins)
- This game is a ‘risk’ by the NFL as it involves teams that have never won a Superbowl ( and I severely doubt many fairweather fans know the Chargers even played in a Superbowl in the 1990s, let alone had ever heard of Chargers starting quarterback former Redskin Stan Humphries). Everyone loves a risk, and whilst 55,000 tickets have been sold the media coverage I feel will see a marked decline from 2007 by UK journalists
- This game involves a plethora of incredibly exciting ‘gamebreaker’ type players. From the Saints we have gunslinger QB Drew Brees (add to the mix he is a former Charger dumped by his fomer team for a younger model), wide reciever Marques Colston, who has the same talent as Terrell Owens but less of a media profile and less of a cake hole, and running back Reggie Bush, a former Heisman Trophy winner (best college player in the whole of the country) who is capable of catching 15 passes a game. For the Chargers we have the number one player in his position for the entire NFL in tight end Antonion Gates, a man who can ‘slam dunk’ with the best of em, we also have LT II (the original and only real LT is 80s and 90s outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor – Giants drug abusing legend – and the man who helped left tackles get paid a lot more money than they did 20 years ago) running back Ladanian Tomlinson, the one man touchdown machine
- Let’s be honest these teams have some defensive studs ( Jonathan Vilma ILB, Antonio Cromartie CB) but we will be expecting fireworks, with quality passing games exploiting weaknesses, and running games that are both innovative and explosive
- There is the heartwarming New Orleans ‘recovering and rebuilding’ from Hurricane Katrina angle, which will likely see the the impartial fans cheering for a Saints victory
- Both teams have genuine playoff ambitions in 2008 – The Chargers were just one game away from the Superbowl and the Saints will see the return of running back Deuce McAllister as an inspiring factor
I will now aim to get gossip, opinion and everything inbetween as we build up to the second, yes say it loud and say it proud, second regular season NFL game to be played in England.