Posts Tagged ‘NFL in London’

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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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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A picture I took from the last NFL game I attended in London (2010)

A picture I took from the last NFL game I attended in London (2010)

It has taken a few years to say the least but I am now starting to mix in some more influential NFL circles….well almost.

I was approached by USA Today’s London based reporter Kim Hjelmgaard by email earlier this week to see if I would offer my opinion on the NFL in London and the game this weekend. Kim had found my blog which made me very proud considering it is non-commercial and I have written every word of copy on it myself.

Kim asked me a number of questions, none any surprise, and she even looked me up on Linked In – where I have a minimal but functional profile.

I was told the article would appear on the USA Today website today, and lo and behold when I got back from work this afternoon I checked my recently downloaded USA Today app (a very easy to navigate and user-freindly app) and there was the article that I featured in.

Was very proud to think that some people will read the quotes that Kim decided were worthy for her article.

To read the full article CLICK HERE.

See you in London on Sunday – I’ll be wearing my white #81 Art Monk shirt. If you spot me come and say hello.

One little extra bonus on Sunday will be meeting a virtual friend for the first time. I run a few web based NFL game leagues and this chap Scott is a Minnesota native. I just hope I spot him as he will be one of hundreds of people wearing an Adrian Peterson Vikings jersey.

He told me that he had some Fish n Chips today near Liverpool Street Station – now all he needs to do is have a Doner Kebab with extra chilli sauce and he is in the club.

Two 0-3 teams going nowhere - oh wait going to London this week

Two 0-3 teams going nowhere – oh wait going to London this week

The Steel Curtain prevailing over the Purple People Eaters – no not the name of two fantasy football teams that squared-off on Sunday, these were two of the most dominating defenses in NFL history.

For the Steel Curtain, a Pittsburgh Steelers team led by the likes of Mean ‘Joe’ Greene, there were four Super Bowl wins. For the Purple People Eaters there were an equal number of Super Bowl contests fought, but for the Minnesota Vikings no wins.

That was the 1970s when sideburns ruled and disco dancing was the thing you did on a Saturday night.

Fast forward to the 21st century and these two teams are again under the media magnifying glass, but this time it is for two reasons, and neither of them are anything remotely to do with winning football games.

The 0-3 Steelers travel to London this Sunday to lock horns with the 0-3 Minnesota Vikings, in the first of two, yes two regular season NFL contests being played on this side of the pond.

Both teams sit at the foot of their respective divisions, having failed to muster a victory between them in six contests.

The Vikings, the home team in London, have conceded 31 or more points in each of their losses, and the Steelers have managed to score just 42 points in three games. The Denver Broncos managed 49 in their FIRST game of the season.

When I saw the two games announced last year that were to be played in London this year, the other being the San Francisco 49ers against the London…I mean Jacksonville Jaguars, I was like the majority of UK and European fans, most excited about seeing the six-time Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers play the Minnesota Vikings.

I did think at the time that the Steelers were on a downward slide, after two Super Bowl wins in the last 7 years (2006 and 2009) and an additional Super Bowl loss in 2011. No team in this modern age of free agency can sustain winning and winning big for such a long period.

I also thought that it would be amazing to see Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the leading rusher in the NFL in 2012, live in front of me, just two hours away from where I live. I had a bad feeling he would be injured before the game, but thankfully he made it through a week 3 loss against the Cleveland Browns in one piece.

One thing is certain on Sunday, one team will be travelling back over the pond with their first win of the 2013 season, and one team will have reached the quarter mark of the season with no wins and a rather embarrassing 0-4 record.

Lawrence+Okoye

Okoye will face the toughest battle of his life to make the 49ers opening day roster

The 2013 NFL Draft is over and for those athletes who have spent the last 15 years playing different levels of American Football it maybe time to look for an office job.

For those not selected in this year’s draft there is a ‘lifeline’ in the annual scramble by NFL teams to stock up with undrafted rookie free-agents – the guys who most likely end up as camp fodder or find a home on a practice squad.

These men will hope and pray that the years of running up and down the bleachers in full uniform whilst being shouted at by their maniacal head-coach was all worth it as they strive to upset the odds and end up playing in the NFL.

For one person just signed by the San Francisco 49ers the odds have not only been defied, frankly they have been annihilated.

The man in question has not only never played a single game of competitive American Football in his life, he is in fact not even from North America, or any part of the land of the free.

Lawrence Okoye is 21, from Croydon in England and an Olympic veteran in the discus (having finished 12th in the London Olympics).

Okoye is joined by Menelik Watson, now officially the highest drafted Brit in NFL history, having been selected at 41 overall (2nd round) by the Oakland Raiders.

Watson’s story is also remarkable, considering the impoverished environment he grew up in during his childhood and early teens in Manchester. Watson originally moved to America to pursue his hoop dreams as a basketball player, but he turned to American Football and went on to star at one of college’s traditional powerhouse teams, the Florida State Seminoles (the team that gave the world Deion Sanders – or is it Leon Sandcastle?).

Having visited both Candlestick Park and the Oakland Coliseum (the names the stadiums used to be called) I know Okoye and Watson will immediately fall in love with the Californian lifestyle, the weather, the food and the people.

Watson will be expected to start as a rookie offensive tackle, maybe not for week one, but definitely by the middle of the season. For Okoye it will be a far tougher journey if he is to be wearing a golden helmet come Week 1 of the 2013 regular season.

Okoye has joined a team that had a terrific draft and was only a Michael Crabtree catch away from winning their sixth Super Bowl just two months ago.

Unrestricted free agents face adversity that drafted players do not, as they have to work twice as hard, for little guaranteed money and no guaranteed playing time. Okoye may have a famous name, sharing it with former Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian ‘the Nigerian Nightmare’ Okoye, but he has absolutely no NFL experience.

Learning behind the likes of All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, Okoye has landed in a situation where he is surrounded by superstars, and one of the top coaches in the entire NFL in Jim Harbaugh, a master strategist and former NFL quarterback.

Unfortunately the 49er and the Raiders do not meet in the regular season in 2013, and the likelihood of both teams facing each other in the Super Bowl is the same odds as the Washington Redskins signing me to backup RG3.

It is an incredibly exciting time for English NFL fans, and if somehow Okoye manages to get himself a place in the 49ers 53 man roster come September he could be making one of the most high-profile returns to home any athlete has ever made.

Mark the date – October 27 2013 – San Francisco 49ers v Jacksonville Jaguars – location Wembley Stadium, London, England.

Now the cynics among you may think the NFL executives in London have tried to ‘sell-in’ signing Okoye to the four teams coming to England this year, but that collusion disappears once the signing is over and Lawrence starts going up against the likes of Joe Staley and Mike Iuapati in 49ers training camp.

If you were to have approached me 20 years ago and said that NFL teams would be playing regular season home games in London and that Brits would be either drafted in the top 50 and picked up without playing a single down I would have said put down the crack pipe.

These are extraordinary times, and I love the fact I can write about it from the comfort of my living room eating a beef burrito.

Roll on the 2013 NFL season.

Greg is heading to Wembley in six months

Greg is heading to Wembley in six months

Last season the Minnesota Vikings relied so heavily on Adrian Peterson their second year quarterback Christian Ponder looked like he had forgotten the art of the forward pass.

So when the Seattle Seahawks signed the Vikes best receiving weapon at the start of Free Agency, WR Mr Percy Harvin, the situation got even uglier.

I was with a sense if relief that Minnesota did find a rapid replacement in the shape of Super Bowl winning wideout Greg Jennings.

The Vikings also signed former Patriots and Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. Hardly the headline news, but putting him and Ponder in a head to head battle will mean whoever gets the starting gig will be playing extra hard as they will want to keep that starting role.

Jennings will be familiar with the purple uniform having faced off against the Vikings twice a year for the past seven seasons during divisional game-play.

Greg, a former Western Michigan Bronco, is one of only ten football players from that college to be drafted into the NFL in the past 20 years. Other Broncos to gain some degree of fame in the NFL include tight-end Tony Scheffler (also drafted in 2006) and Jason Babin the defensive end (selected in the first round in 2004).

Jennings had 17 100+ games in college, second all time on his college team to NFL 2012 draft pick Jordan White (21 games).

Jennings becomes the biggest named wideout in Minnesota since Randy Moss. He will be hoping to get back on track with a 1000+ yard season, following an injury filled 2012 in Green Bay, where he has his worst output both by catches and yardage.

The two time Pr0-Bowler has already registered three 1100+seasons and two 900+ seasons, along with three 100+ yard playoff games and a two-touchdown performance in helping the Packers to win Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It will be the Steelers that Jennings will face again when the Vikings travel to London in September as part of the NFL’s first ever double dose of regular season football outside of America.

Of the two London games (Steelers @ Vikings and San Francisco 49ers @ Jacksonville Jaguars) on paper the Vikings game looks to be the most competitive, and was quicker to sell out.

Fans like myself (thanks to a Christmas gift from my beautiful wife) will be chomping at the bit to see the likes of Peterson and now Greg Jennings as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team to win six Super bowls.

Both the Vikings and the Steelers will be hoping for string drafts, with some rookies that can make an immediate impact. Both teams need to improve their secondary, especially at cornerback. The Steelers lost the under-rated Keenan Lewis and the Vikings let veteran Antoine Winfield go.

With Greg Jennings looking to become not only a leader on the field, but also in the locker room, it will be fascinating to see what other pieces of the jigsaw the Vikings pick up en-route to the start of the 2013 season.

What other needs do YOU think are the most pressing for the Vikings?

The reason I wont be at Wembley on Sunday

I haven’t missed an NFL game at Wembley Stadium since 1987 (Los Angeles Rams v Denver Broncos) until tomorrow.

Whilst it has been painful to think that a real NFL regular season game is taking place about two hours drive from my doorstep tomorrow I do have a legitimate reason for not attending the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Chicago Bears in England – the birth of our first child Gabriella Ruby Vos.

Gabriella is just over two weeks old, but in terms of due date she arrived almost two weeks early so there was never a chance I was even going to have bought a ticked to the 2011 NFL International game.

For the first time since 2007 I will be watching the two NFL teams that have made it over to this side of the pond from the warmth of our living room, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

I love the game atmosphere and the fact I am witnessing a game that actually counts, but I never loved the weather in late October – its usually raining at Wembley and it is normally quite nippy.

Watching the game at home will be a new experience – and a much cosier one.

I am gutted that I wont get to see Devin Hester electrify Wembley with his dazzling kickoff and punt return skills, gutted I wont see Julius Peppers attacking Buccs offensive tackles with his super-human wingspan, and gutted I wont see the Bald warrior Brian Urlacher (makes me sound like a Bears fan!).

I hope Tampa come back with winning on their mind as they were pretty awful when they last came over and got embarrassed by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

My predictions for the game are as follows:

  • Score – Buccs 20-17 Bears
  • Game MVP Earnest Graham the unsung Buccs RB who is the perfect workhorse do-it-all backup and a man who deserves more love.
To all the fans from England, Great Britain, Europe and those coming from the Stars and Stripes I would like to wish you all a great day out in London, which I hope stays dry and sunny.
Raise a glass of ripoff Wembley beer from me and have a great day.
Ill be back in 2012 for the 6th annual NFL International Game – maybe NFL people will even bring the game forward so its a bit warmer – Roger why can’t you do September in London sir?

Ill miss putting on my Art Monk shirt and seeing the Wembley arches.