The London Games
The 2017 London games were probably not the most memorable games the the NFL has produced. Which to the UK and Ireland fans is a big understatement, we have been lucky in the games we have had in previous years, the 27-27 tie between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Redskins, the last minute clutch drive by Matt Ryan against the Detroit Lions, it safe to say we have been blessed with the match ups in this beautiful game. So when the losing teams score a total of 22 points compared to 120 scored by the winning teams the fans may feel a little short changed. It doesn’t prevent me from coming along as I have been going to the London games since 2009. I feel like I owe the international series a lot because of this that peaked my interest into the sport,since then it has been one of the best and equally worst things in my life.
This year was the first time there was four games in London. Two at Wembley and two at Twickenham. As a season ticket holder I have the privilege to go to all four games. I really do not care who plays over here, whether its my team or not, as long as we get the games over here. So, as I have been to all four games at both venues I thought I could write about the difference in the two venues.
I will start with Wembley, where the international series was first set. It is by far easiest out of the two stadiums to get to, well for me who lives about half an hour from London. Although this year there has been early starts for both games, I enjoy this because I can go to a bar in London and catch the other games before they finish. The tailgate isn’t as good as it is at Twickenham although it has been improved upon this year compared to last year. Last year all they had was three or four food outlets and one beer tent, all this for 80000 odd people isn’t enough. This year that was at least doubled and over a bigger area. There were more recognized sponsors in the tailgate like Subway, Hienz and Pepsi Max, this was the case for both games. Obviously I wasn’t just there for the tailgate there also was a matter at hand of the games. As I said earlier the games aren’t the most memorable games the UK have seen. With a lot of fans venting their frustration of the one sided-ness of the games. Which for one I can understand if its one of your first experiences of a live game but one of the hardest things to predict is the outcome of a NFL game.
The first game, that seems so long ago (but was only five weeks ago) was between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars, oh sorry the Sacksonville Jaguars as they now liked to be called. I wasn’t expecting this to be a shootout by any means but I was expecting a close defensive game. I did a prediction 12 10 to the Ravens. I couldn’t be more far away, I mean one defense showed up, the Jaguars, and Blake Bortles somehow, who had questions about his starting position, played the best game I have ever seen him play. Three TD passes to Marcedes Lewis, in his 11th year, helped the Jags to a 44-7 win.
The second game at Wembley, what was billed as the one to see by most. It was between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins with our very own Jay Ajayi (in case you didn’t now he was London born, I don’t know how NFLUK forget to mention this!)
The game again was not a particulary memorable one as the Saints blewout the Dolphins 20-0 and the Chicago Bears fans were laughing at the Dolphins because they experienced the ‘real’ Jay Cutler. One running back did show his worth, unfortunately it wasn’t the one we were hoping for. Alvin Kamara for the Saints was one of the standout players of the game which ended the Wembley games for another year.
The Twickenham tail gate was better than Wembley, but i think it had to be because of the travel after you arrive at Twickenham Station its a long walk to the stadium their are a lot of food and merchandise outlets on the walk towards the stadium, and a great variety of different foods to purchase including the usual pulled pork and burgers, but they’re also samosas and German sausages. Might I remind you this is all before the actual tailgate outside the stadium. Another reason why the tailgate needed to be better: because of the later start. The third game was a six o’clock kick off because both the teams were from the west coast, the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams. The tailgate had a double tailgate, an outer one with the usual pregame food eg burgers hotdog wings etc etc. The only bad thing about the tailgate is the queues for the toilets, they were by far the longest queues.
As I mentioned the third game was between the Cardinals and Rams, and had the later kick off. With the floodlights on in Twickenham, the atmosphere was electric as both teams came out. it reminded me watching the six nations over the years and the atmosphere of the England Rugby team, who play their home games at Twickenham. The game itself was again one sided and another shut out. The Rams prevailed 33-0. Which again was disappointing, not the fact that the Rams won, but the way the Rams won. A good performance by the Cardinals the week before had built up the hopes for more of a shootout game. Midway through the second quarter Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer broke his arm which all but finished his season, and maybe his career. Not that I want to take anything from the Rams, who looked at this point the real deal. I would not be surprised if they were deep in the playoffs in January.
The fourth and final game in London was between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns. Yes, we had to rely on the Cleveland Browns for a close game. The team have one win in the last 24 games. However the Browns took an early lead. Could an upset be on the cards? Unfortunately no. The end result was 33-16 to the Vikings who are the better team even with back up Quarterback Case Keenum, who weirdly has played at two of the three Twickenham games. At half time the score was close only 13-12 to the Browns but the Vikings seemed to step through the gears. It sounds weird but as much as I enjoyed all the games this one seemed the best because both teams seemed competitive.
The main issue with Twickenham is the travel. Getting out of the stadium is such a nightmare. One security guard sends you one way, then another sends you back the way you came. NFLUK has provided buses back to other various places but you are still stuck in a queue whether its for a bus or the train. It really spoils the experience but there must be an easier way to help the crowd. They do provide the NFL redzone to view in the tailgate area which is good for the earlier games but when they put the 6pm game on at Twickenham by the end of the game you struggle to make the last train home. ( which I missed)
My personal opinion is if they do a game at 6pm over here is to do it at Wembley where the travel is better. As much as I loved the late night atmosphere of Twickenham it may drive people away with how remote it is to public transport. With the plan next year not to go Twickenham and to use the new stadium for the premier league team Tottenham Hotspur, provided its built on time. If its not they will use Twickenham again. In all honesty I do not care where they hold it, I will be there, in my jersey, with a beer to watch the game unless something drastic happens.
This Oti piece was written by Jimmy Whitehead. Jimmy is from Essex, England,and has been a fan for the last 10 years. He supports the New England Patriots. He is currently working on a diploma in journalism.