The NFL dazzle in London as the Green Bay Packers arrive, Wembley returns and Germany awaits | NFL Sports News

The NFL shone in London once again

That was fun. The football playing, the touchdown scoring, the third down jeering, the Tottenham Hotspursing, the Wembley Waying, the ‘Broncos Country, let’s ride-ing’, the Cheeseheading, the double-doinking, the London of it all.

Come 8pm on Sunday the last-standing merchandise stall along Wembley Way could be heard emitting the dulcet tones of 50 Cent and his lyric ‘This, is, how, we do’, serenading the final stragglers, including a grandfather and grandson tossing a football back and forth, as they began their journey home from the third and final NFL London game of the season between the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars.

It was just the right amount of unintentionally, cheesily-fitting, the NFL for the past month showing ‘this is how we do’ by turning the capital into a dazzling hub of football festivity for Britain’s nocturnal gridiron alliance.

The league jetted back this October to be greeted by further lavish renovations to its Autumn ‘do we have to leave yet?’ holiday home, ticking off a priority job by luring the Green Bay Packers from Lambeau as the final team to play in London, marking its return to Wembley for the first time since 2019 with a record crowd, seeing Justin Jefferson griddy, Saquon Barkley shimmy and a Jags mascot bungee, while infiltrating a staple of British culture – the pubs. Certain pint-pouring establishments across the city were designated to certain teams, where team legends like former New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz would host fan parties as part of extended mid-week build-up, and where Broncos president Damani Leech would personally honour Denver’s European fan group.

Much, if not all, of what the NFL might have initially brainstormed as far as UK residency was concerned has come to fruition: all 32 teams have ventured over, Tottenham is the foreign amphitheatre of their dreams, fandom has evolved from fad to fervent and the games themselves have become the anchor to a catch-all synergy driving charity initiatives and youth opportunity.

Highlights of the Denver Broncos against the Jacksonville Jaguars from Week eight of the NFL season.

“The games are an important part of what we do to grow the NFL fanbase, and we will continue to push ourselves to make the weeks around the London Games bigger and better,” NFL UK general manager Henry Hodgson told Sky Sports. “However, there are many other things we need to focus on to continue to develop that year-round presence across the breadth of the UK.

“Among those things will be a continued focus on growing the participation base in NFL Flag, further developing the elite player pipeline via the NFL Academy, and identifying new ways to reach younger NFL fans both through our broadcast partners as well as social content that will make the sport more accessible.”

For those too young to attend pub ‘initiatives’, football camps offered one-on-one access to the Russell Wilsons and Steve Atwaters of the world, half-time showcased the flourishing JagTag programme, and an activity-brimming Southbank takeover partially mimicked the Regent Street parade as the UK’s jubilant take on tailgating. Denver staff and cheerleaders meanwhile took time out to volunteer at the London Community Kitchen where they packed bags and sorted food products, the Minnesota Vikings supported a local business by posing for snaps in drippy National Vintage League clothes and the NFL Foundation UK, launched this time last year, offered local school students the chance to take part in activities at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It all combined in speaking to the ‘bigger picture’ on which the league has placed so much emphasis when it comes to global expansion.

“My favourite parts of London Game weeks are the Community Events that our team puts on with the visiting NFL teams,” said Hodgson. “Seeing the kids, that are either veterans of our NFL Flag schools program or experiencing NFL Flag for the first time, doing so with NFL players coaching them is always a great experience. That is always such an exciting moment for those kids and feels like the start of a journey for them as both participants in NFL Flag and as NFL fans.”

Parallel to the routineness of the league’s annual trip remained the same newbie-enamour in response to football and its UK relationship. The racket that welcomed Aaron Rodgers at Spurs spoke to an acknowledged privilege in the presence of greatness, while the sight of a travelling Packers fan quizzing his British companion on the quality of a Greggs sausage roll at London Liverpool Street retained what helps makes the series special. After some deliberation, he bought the sausage roll.

Green Bay had brought the might of a history-oozing Lambeau, an early Sunday wake-up in an effort to swerve crowded trains proving futile such was the invasion of Packers ahead of their game against the Giants. Accompany them on said trains and awaiting was brilliantly British small talk over respective journeys from Milwaukee to Manchester and beyond, while the odd solitary Giants fan stood firm on a carriage of Cheeseheads, notably quieter than he would be once victorious hours later.

Journeys home presented two Packers fans harbouring an overly-merry friend as they comically struggled to work the ticket barriers at White Hart Lane Station, and a delightful Broncos-supporting couple grinning over their London experience as one enthused over her first time in the country while her partner, citing the typical multi-hour drives from state to state in America, was intrigued to know why Brits did not relocate to mainland Europe more frequently such is the proximity to, say, Italy and Spain. Trust us, we would. The pair clutched two Jags flags having kept hold of them from the game to gift to their Jacksonville-supporting friend back home in America.

Hearing them talk, a ‘what’s another professional word for merry?’ Jags fan takes it upon himself to walk from one end of the Tube carriage to the other to join the conversation: the Broncos’ victory over the Jags was his first NFL experience, he wanted a 73 jersey but there is no No 73 on the team, he enjoyed the non-segregated fan set-up, he was recording the Mexican Grand Prix at home. In case you were wondering, nobody asked about Formula One. But still, the visiting Broncos had another curious interaction to report back once Stateside again.

Highlights of the New York Giants against the Green Bay Packers in Week Five of the NFL season.

A Broncos fan arrives in style for his side’s win over the Jags at Wembley

‘Did you get your crumpets?’ one Broncos reporter had asked colleagues upon arriving at the first practice day at Harrow School, while a group of others debriefed on sleeping patterns and jet lag, which of course the players, too, were pressed on all month. So the cliches, featuring The Clash’s London Calling, are still there, but with a greater sense of irony that does a nice job of feeding that International Series magic.

Oh, and the games, the football. The Jefferson clinic and the doink-doink drama in the Minnesota Vikings’ epic against the Minnesota Vikings, Wink Martindale’s blitz-mania and a slaloming Saquon in the Giants’ upset win over the UK-bowing Packers, Russell Wilson and Denver’s good, bad and ugly triumph versus the Jags. London could not have asked for much more, Green Bay’s lure, in particular, generating one of the most raucous and intense fan atmospheres in the history of the International Series. The Giants’ Barkley likened it to Penn State in college, which might be as notable a compliment as the UK games have heard.

Among it all Commissioner Roger Goodell reignited narratives that had been happily shelved by suggesting the UK could support not one but two NFL franchises, as well as pondering the potential of a future European division. Whether he believed it or not, it was at the very least insight into the league’s adoration for what it has built overseas.

Speculation over a London franchise is often based on a pursuit of permanence; look around at the fan investment of time, money and energy, the NFL Academy and its college-bound products, Great Britain Women’s World Championship silver medal and San Francisco 49ers watch parties in Leeds and you would say permanence has already been achieved.

Wil Lutz, who nailed a 60-yarder earlier in the game, steps up for a 61-yarder to send it to overtime, but watches the ball bounce off the upright twice before landing short as the Vikings beat the Saints in London.

For now, London looks set to remain the league’s UK headquarters amid general wonderings over the feasibility of hosting games in other venues across the country. But what’s to say that does not change in years to come?

“We have a commitment to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to deliver two games per year over the length of our partnership with them,” explained Hodgson. “The Jaguars are also committed to play one game per year at Wembley through to 2024. With that in mind, while we have previously explored opportunities at other stadiums around the UK, we have no plans to do so in the near term.”

The NFL sought to maximise every window of opportunity across the month, from Good Morning Football pitching up beside the Thames for a week to Ted Lasso and the gang watching in the stands and Tottenham asserting itself as the home of the International Combine, where Osi Umenyiora’s Uprise Academy was represented by 12 Nigerian players in another nod to the game’s globetrotting success.

Fifteen years on since the Giants and Miami Dolphins met in the first-ever London game, the league is now primed to head to Munich for its debut regular season matchup in Germany between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks, where the continent’s largest NFL fanbase awaits. Expansion in Europe combines with the UK’s team bingo in turning the page to the next phase of the International Series, while beckoning as a brand new sounding board.

“The first regular season game in Germany is an exciting opportunity to continue to grow the sport in mainland Europe,” said Hodgson. “Germany has a thriving fanbase, some of whom travel to our games in London, and it will be great to see the first game they host in Munich.

“Many of the NFL UK team are deeply involved in the planning and execution of that game, so it’ll be a chance for us to see how we can do things a little differently for their fanbase, and perhaps get some inspiration about how to continue to evolve our games and fan events in London.”

New wrinkles will continue to be added to the UK’s NFL playbook, which already boasts its share of funky Xs and Os.

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Stevie Flavio
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