Archive for October, 2013

The year 2021, the date Sunday January 10, the venue the Budweiser Wembley Stadium, London, England…….

LONDON JAGUARS ROAR INTO DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS WITH O/T WIN AGAINST THE DOLPHINS

by Lawrence Vos reporting from London

THIRTY years ago the London Monarchs won the inaugural World Bowl in front of 61,108 fans inside Wembley Stadium. 

Fourteen years ago the NFL packaged two teams to play the first ever regular season NFL game in Europe in front of 81,176 fans inside Wembley Stadium.

Tonight the NFL’s first ever non-North American based franchise, the London Jaguars, played and won their first ever Wild Card playoff contest in front of 87,263 fans inside Wembley Stadium.

History was made when seven year veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron led the Jaguars through the wind and rain of North London on an eleven play touchdown drive, climaxing in a three-yard dive into the end-zone from fellow draft class of 2014 team-mate Melvin Gordon. 

The mud-splattered ball that crossed the goal-line in Gordon’s right hand was found on the sideline, and within days it will be flown first-class to Canton, Ohio to sit proudly in a perspex cabinet in one of the modern era wings of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 26-20 win against the visiting Miami Dolphins will go down in football folklore as the first post-season win for an NFL franchise based outside the United States of America. 

Before uprooting wholesale from Jacksonville, Florida, to the London Borough of Brent (just 12 months ago) the Jaguars had already etched their name into some significant post-season history books, as they, along with the Carolina Panthers, reached their respective Conference Championships just two seasons after inception. 

The Jaguars lost to the New England Patriots in the 1997 AFC Championship game. 24 years later and the Jaguars again travel to Massachusetts to face the three-time Super Bowl winners, this time two games away from competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

Said McCarron after prizing his grass-stained Gold and Teal helmet from his steaming but beaming head: “The fans kept us going in overtime, the noise was awesome, and I hope that they are already making travel plans for our game against the Patriots next week.”

……I could go on but hopefully you get the gist.

I think this my small curtain twitch into the future is going to be more than just a dream. There is no way the NFL goes from one to three regular season NFL games in the same season in the same city without some sort of master plan to move one of the current 32 franchises, lock, stock and smoking barrel from the land of Uncle Sam to the land of Auntie Beeb.

I have it fixed in my head that in 2020 the Jacksonville Jaguars will move to their new home across the pond and become known to the world as the London Jaguars.

There will be uproar (loud animal sounding pun intended) as Roger Goodell announces in the 2015 NFL AGM that the five-year plan to get an NFL franchise in London begins with immediate effect.

No doubt opinion will be divided in terms of this decision – ranging from being for the good of the NFL’s plan to take over the world to the other extreme that the state of the average Englishman’s teeth being that shoddy that players will not want to move continents to potentially risk dental hygiene distress.

No doubt the President and our Prime Minister will be involved in terms of the mainstream media’s desire to get non-sporting column inches filled with this story between now and 2020, but I don’t think any misquote or inappropriate audible by a political head of state will derail this particular locomotive.

Money talks, and there is no way that three NFL teams are giving up a home game in 2014 without being told that this is a long-term money spinner.

I think that moving a team over here, but keeping their original NFL nickname and identity, will be the level of compromise that will keep the Jaguars owner Shahid Khan happy.

Now all I have to do is get Mr Khan to confirm all of the above, for him to offer me a job on the communications staff of the London Jaguars and for me to persuade my wife to move the family to London.

Hell, if you don’t shoot for the stars then you end up shooting in the dark.

Everyone attending the Jaguars first ‘unofficial’ home game at Wembley Stadium tomorrow I hope you all witness a competitive and heartwarming game, and that most importantly you have a safe journey home.

It’s anticipated that there is a storm brewing over England on Sunday. If we end up with the Jaguars moving permanently to London in 2020, it could be the longest storm in North American sports history.

Bring on the thunder and lightning tomorrow (and I’m not talking about the resurrection of Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber).

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The NFL truck in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England.

The NFL truck in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England.

It’s not every day that you take your train commute to work in the West Midlands of England and find a giant NFL branded truck parked outside your place of work, but that’s what happened to me this morning in Birmingham city centre.

I knew the NFL were touring the Midlands and the South of England, but have to admit I forgot what day they were coming to Brum (as it is affectionately known by local residents).

I walked past the truck before 9am this morning, and waited until my lunch break before coming out to see what the NFL had in store for the workers and shoppers in Birmingham.

Gotta love getting close to Vince

Gotta love getting close to Vince

The highlight for me was to see the Vince Lombardi Trophy (for the third time). It was situated in a perspex cabinet inside the truck, watched over eagerly by a rather large and burly security guard. I had my picture taken with the trophy, and also the lady taking the pictures took a few extra for me using my own iPhone.

This truck was at Wembley a few weeks ago for the Vikings v Steelers game, but at that time there was a one-hour queue to get the picture. Much better that I could just walk straight up the steps today and get within inches of the famous silver-mounted ball.

Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rookie signed this helmet

Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rookie signed this helmet

Along with the trophy was a signed Jacksonville Jaguars helmet, also in a perspex case. The helmet was signed by rookie OW (offensive weapon) Denard Robinson. As a huge NFL fan I was tickled that it was Robinson’s signature, as I had drafted the former Michigan quarterback in both of my 55 man roster fantasy leagues.

Colin Kaepernick signed a ball. He played in his first Superbowl earlier this year.

Colin Kaepernick signed a ball. He played in his first Superbowl earlier this year.

There was also a ball in the truck display, this one a San Francisco 49ers branded ball signed by its Superbowl losing quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The two pieces of memorabilia were on display to pre-promote the Jaguars upcoming ‘home’ game at Wembley against Kaepernick’s 49ers, taking place later this month. Unfortunately I will not be there as the budget only allows me to attend one NFL game in London a year, and I would always select seeing Adrian Peterson over Maurice Jones-Drew. Sorry Mo-Jo, I still love your little legs.

I was disappointed that there was not that much to do, and the freebies handed out by the NFL were ok, but not amazing. They gave out Football 101 guide books which I have to say are a cracking introduction to the NFL for new fans. I also helped myself to a couple of sets of under-eye stickers that were NFL branded.

IMG_2192There were no NFL players there when I attended (not that I expected anyone apart from maybe a retired or injured player), instead the NFL All-Star cheerleaders were there, probably wondering why they were performing to about 50 men with iPhones held aloft.

They were offering signed pictures of themselves, which was a nice touch, but I did not recognise any of them and did not really want a signed picture of some random women, who for all I know could be the American equivalent of a Pineapple Dance troupe.

IMG_2203There was a rather bemused DJ spinning some cheesy tunes, and a few inflatable NFL displays where you could throw a pass or try a kick, but they were a bit undermanned and looked a bit unwelcoming with no sponge or turf floor around them.

Overall a half-hearted effort by the NFL to try and spread the message about the greatest sport on the planet. I would have made sure schools were invited to take part and had some flag football displays, not just cheerleaders. Also some spot-prize giveaways would have been good, as would have been an ex-player or coach.

IMG_2197Don’t get me wrong it was special to see the Vince Lombardi trophy in the city I work in, but more could have been done to get the message across that this sport will soon (by 2020) have an NFL franchise situated this side of the pond.

My pic of Adrian Peterson taking part in a pre-game prayer (that was answered)

My pic of Adrian Peterson taking part in a pre-game prayer (that was answered)

Having found my seat in the Club Wembley level (thanks again to my gorgeous wife for the ticket) I realised just how old I actually am (39), after I did the maths in my head and discovered it was 25 years ago that I first came to Wembley Stadium to watch some NFL football.

The game back in 1988 was a pre-season thriller between the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers, won by the Fins courtesy of a perfectly executed bootleg from backup quarterback David Archer. That was my first live NFL action – on my 14th birthday.

A quarter of a century later and I am at the first of two regular season NFL games at Wembley, featuring one team who has won six Super Bowls and another who has the previous season’s most valuable player. OK the teams did arrive in London this September without a win between them,  but the opportunity to see Adrian Peterson in the flesh was worth the ticket price alone.

AP and his fellow Vikings backfield get together to compare fantasy picks.

AP and his fellow Vikings backfield get together to compare fantasy picks.

Having spent a good 15 minutes papping AP (but maybe not as closely as the snapper in the picture I took above) I tried to find Big Ben Roethlisberger. This was not a hard task. Big Ben is a beast of a human being, who would be my choice to be a pantomime giant in Jack and the Beanstalk once he passes his final pigskin.

I suspected the UK fans would be witnessing a declining Steelers team before the season began, but not a 0-3 team. I still found it novel to find Big Ben and Troy Polamalu warming up. If you look hard enough you can find them both near each other in the bottom picture of this post. Bit of a Where’s Wally situation.

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#69 Jared Allen scratches his sweaty mullet - what a romantic image eh!

#69 Jared Allen scratches his sweaty mullet – what a romantic image eh!

Bit far away but here are the Steelers warming up

Bit far away but here are the Steelers warming up

DSC04213 Making my way towards Wembley Stadium for the first time in three years was a bit odd, as it was my first trip to the stadium without my wife for many years.

Instead I had ventured to London alone, but had the privilege of meeting up with a Minnesota native and Vikings season ticket holder for over two decades.

After some early confusion regarding car-parks we agreed to meet outside the giant inflatables. It was great to meet my pal Scott, who I had only ever know through playing an online american football game called Action PC Football.

Scott was a little shorter than I had thought from his Facebook pictures, but he certainly looked like he had been entertained by the day and nightlife of London during his week in the capital.

We walked to the NFL truck that had the Vince Lombardi Trophy inside, but the queue was over an hour long so we abandoned that and I was then forced by Scott to watch the cheerleaders who were performing outside.

After that Scott made me feel very humble as he had bought me an Adrian Peterson shirt and a Vikings top for my daughter, as well as a book on his homeland. All I could do was get him a beer, but I will be making up for this very kind gesture in the near future.

As we went to get a beer Scott told me he had spotted the Mayor of Minnesota – looking very ordinary – and took great pleasure in fist-bumping him when he walked past. Not sure I would have the courage to to go “Oi Johnson – wasuuup!” if Boris walked past.

During the beer queue Scott and I had a great NFL chat, and I said we should get our picture taken by the Booby Moore statue. It was at that point that he made me chuckle after he explained that Vikings legendary wide-receiver Ahmad Rashad who was actually born Robert Moore, but was known as Bobby Moore before he converted to Islam. Things get more bizarre when you read Rashad was married to Bill Cosby’s on screen wife from ‘The Cosby Show’ in the 1980s.

BREAKING NEWS – The NFL today announced THREE NFL games in London in 2014 – a home game for the Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons. DSC04237

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The Vikings and Steelers season had been like these inflatables - full of hot air.

The Vikings and Steelers season had been like these inflatables – full of hot air.

Streaking, not a man with a shaved head and his shriveled tackle swinging side to side as he gets chased by stadium security, but the ability to do something consecutively.

Streaking is something I like to do, so it was with regret that I missed the NFL regular season games played at Wembley Stadium in 2011 and 2012, after watching games in the flesh between 2007 and 2010. I was unable to attend as I had more important matters to attend to, namely the birth of our daughter in October 2011, and her development as a 1 year old in 2012.

Going back to Wembley this year was a 2012 Christmas present, that I had to wait ten months to unwrap. I also had the rather unwanted gift of travelling down from Birmingham by coach alone, as my wife and almost two-year-old daughter were not going to have as much fun on the M6 with me.

After getting to Birmingham’s revamped coach station an hour before the coach arrived I was then told the departure time had moved and the coach would be leaving an hour after it was scheduled, so I had to take my time sipping my cappuccino, munching on some Polo mints and listening to the latest Rich Eisen podcast.

Wembley Way was packed.

Wembley Way was packed.

I didn’t open my mouth during the journey to Wembley, as the guy I sat next to looked rather angry and wanted to sleep. I listened to a few more podcasts, the latest ESPN Fantasy Focus Football podcast and Tuesday Morning Quarterback. I ate some Wine Gums and almost choked as the man beside me scoffed not one but two rather bulbous scotch eggs.

Arriving at Wembley was a bit frustrating as we drove straight past what I thought was the coach car park, around the back of the stadium, and to what must have been a smaller over-spill coach park.

As I arrived about 3.30pm the place was buzzing and there was an eclectic range of NFL shirts, worldwide NFL fans and sellers of unauthorised and inappropriate (as in irrelevant) dodgy game day scarves.

My first task of the day was to find my internet friend from Minnesota.