By Greg Smith
Seven years ago, the United Kingdom embraced two NFL teams, the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins. The two teams battled to a low scoring affair, which resulted in a New York Giants win and later, a Suberbowl victory for Eli Manning and his Giants over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. You may be asking yourself, was this really the first time NFL teams stepped foot on British soil? The answer, is no. In 1986, the NFL introduced the ‘The American Bowl’, an event that featured several teams play pre-season friendlies in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan and Spain among others. However, 2007 was the first time in history that an NFL regular season game was hosted outside of the United States and Canada. Since that game, the NFL has exceeded expectations and has come very close to filling the 90,000 seats at Wembley Stadium in London each year. Due to the growing popularity of the NFL ‘International Series’, there has been an increase in games each year from one to the three games that were announced for the current NFL Season.
Unlike previous years when the selected teams would normally play a game in September or October, the NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood announced that the third and final game of 2014 would be in November, a first for the International Series. On Sunday 28th September, the Oakland Raiders hosted the Miami Dolphins to kick off the season in a match-up that fans and analysts predicted would result in a tight, defensive battle. However, despite Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin’s refusal to confirm who the starting quarterback would be due to a poor showing from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the 2nd year former Texas A&M star threw for over 270 yards and two touchdowns leading the Phins to a satisfying 38-14 win over the Raiders. Although rookie quarterback Derek Carr was able to get his team on the board first, the Oakland offense stalled and struggled to keep pace with Miami.
When the three games were first announced late last year, fans of the sport were clamouring to get their hands on tickets for the chance to see two of the league’s top wide receivers in Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Julio Jones when they arrived in London for the face off between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons. Unfortunately, the news broke hours before the game that superstar receiver Johnson, would not participate in the game due to a lagging injury in which he was hopeful he would of recovered from in time to showcase his talent to the thousands of British fans. Although the Lions were missing Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, they managed to come from behind down by 21 points to defeat the deflated Falcons with only seconds remaining on the game clock. As time winded down, Lions kicker Matt Prater nailed the 48-yard field goal attempt to seal the victory.
With the NFL UK organisation trying each year to make the International Series games better by introducing new teams, one of the league’s most famous franchises was announced as the ‘away’ team to face the annual ‘home’ team Jacksonville Jaguars. It was none other than Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys, also known as “America’s Team”. Of the three games scheduled this year, this match-up is the only one that has not yet been played, with the game set to take place on Sunday 9th November. There is not a team in the NFL perhaps more than the New England Patriots who has a marmite effect with the fans other than the Cowboys. The Boys reign of dominance over the league in the 1970s and 1990s, which produced 5 Superbowl wins, seems to have been forgotten due to a fall from grace in the yeas following. The Cowboys have surprised the league and made an early statement with a 6-2 start, currently a top of their division in the NFC East due to the Pro-Bowl caliber play from quaterback Tony Romo and MVP worthy performance from running back Demarco Murray. However, despite the sudden emergence, the Cowboys have not made the playoffs since the 2009 season in which they lost in a turnover-laden embarrassment to Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings. Is this the year the Cowboys finally turn the page and get back to the contenders they were over 20 years ago or will the mistake prone antics of the last few seasons return to plague America’s team once again? Owner Jerry Jones and every Cowboys fan are sweating in anticipation.
As if the games were not enough for the NFL community, there has been entertainment and events planned for the day before each game at London’s Trafalgar Square. These festivities include appearances from NFL Hall of Famers including former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and other exciting activites for adults and children who attend.
It is no surprise that due to the sustained success of the NFL overseas, there is already growing speculation that we are only years away from having a London franchise join the league, with Wembley Stadium as the selected location for the home team. Three games could easily become four next season with rumours circling of possible teams to appear in 2015. If you are a casual viewer of the sport, a longtime fan or a newcomer, there is no better time to get involved in the electrifying sport that is the National Football League.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’).appendChild(s);