Football growing in popularity across the pond
From guest contributor Joseph Hammond in London
The third game of the NFL in London was by far the most important of the season form the perspective of the league.
The Jaguars lost 18-24 to the Eagles but, for the NFL the most important number was – – was 85,870 the number in attendance. That figure was the largest NFL recorded ground to see an NFL game at London’s Wembley stadium. Many who bought their tickets this summer expected to see a potential Super Bowl match-up.
Instead the game provided two pretty evenly matched teams in an NFL beset with a salary cap that pushes even elite teams, like the Jaguars most certainly were last year, to mediocrity. What could have been a potential Super Bowl match-up last year was instead a dogfight between two 3-4 teams battling to get back to .500.
Some Jaguars players may have taken that frustration at the season off the field. Safety Barry Church, cornerback D.J. Hayden, safety Ronnie Harrison and safety Jarrod Wilson were all briefly detained London police for an unpaid bar tab early Saturday.
Early in the Eagles’ first possession of the Wembley game, QB Carson Wentz threw a pass that ricocheted back into his hands. Wentz scrambled for a few yards – it was that kind of game with the Eagles getting all the lucky breaks. Blake Bortles did his best to turn the game into a track-meet showing off his speed as he ran for repeated first downs but, with the Jaguars behind most of the game this was a strategy that had its clear limits.
The final score 24-18 more a testament to the tenacity of the Jaguars defense than anything else. T.J. Yeldon’s endzone bobble late in the fourth quarter in what could have been the go-ahead score symbolic of a frustrating game for the Jags.
“I am not privy to the exact plans of the league,” said a consultant at the game close to the NFL, “but, it seems to be the plan is to slowly build up the number of London games. Once the league see’s it can sell out 8 games here.” That will be the final greenlight the source revealed with perhaps a Super Bowl based in London in the mix.
The Jaguars were the de facto home team with abbot 60% of the fans in attendance Jaguars fans. Of course Jaguars owner’s Shahid Khan recently withdrew his bid to buy Wembley outright but, most see this as a negotiating tactic.
“Why can’t we share the team?,” said Daymon Brown, a Jaguars fan who flew in for the game, “Its great to see the London fans but, you know? DUVAAL!” he said referring to the Jaguar’s rally cry.
The NFL planned to have more games in London this year at the new Tottenham Spurs stadium but, that stadium is not complete. Ironically, London is no the traditional grassroots home of American Football in Europe that distinction belongs to Western Germany where U.S. military bases and intermarriages have produced a solid fan base.
Used to rooting for soccer it was not surprising to see that British fans go crazy for the long field goal. In this regard the fans were not disappointed. Josh Lambo was 4-for-4 on the day with a 57 yarder. In old NFL Europe a field goal of 50+ yards was worth 4 points as opposed to three – a rule change the NFL should consider.
I was a big fan of NFL Europe and even played flag football league perhaps because at one point I was in a Flag Football league with the Frankfurt Galaxy QB Neo Aoga but, it was not as warmly embraced by fans as has been the NFL games in London.
The problem with the NFL Europe, was the same problem with MLS. If you are a fan of a sport, you want to see the best, and NFL Europe/MLS simply isn’t it.
“ I was rooting for the Jags but, they are my second team,” said Johannes Ritzinger who flew from Germany just for the match,” immediately afterwards he scrambled into a taxi for the 45 minute flight back to Germany wearing a Jaguars jersey and a Seahawks cap, “ I hope they grow the number of games here but, today’s game was frustrating.”