Thursday, October 25, 2007

The NFL Invades Britain [J. Mark English]

The New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins will play the part of good-will ambassadors this weekend in jolly old London.

This is not the first time that the NFL has been featured in a foreign country. A few years ago they had a regular season opener in Mexico City between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. During the pre-season they have played games in places like Tokyo, as well as London.

This will be the first regular season game to be played overseas. Curious Britons will be able to see a real (American) football game, not just some minor league game that the NFL Europe offers.

An article the London Telegraph projects the cultural clash likely to take place this weekend:

In his rich Louisiana drawl, Eli Manning affects a certain wide-eyed innocence as he contemplates a visit to London this weekend forgetting, momentarily, that he is coming not as a tourist but with a reputation to protect as the New York Giants' star quarterback. The 26-year-old spent a summer in the capital before his junior year at the University of Mississippi, including the obligatory foray to "Oxford, England", but breaks the nostalgia to claim that Sunday's engagement against the Miami Dolphins at Wembley is "strictly business".

On a first meeting, you would not imagine Manning as an icon of the National Football League, or as the strong-armed aggressor for whose services the Giants have paid £22 million. Dressed down after training, he can be by turns languid, withdrawn, defensive. Perhaps it is a wariness instilled by the New York press corps, notorious for magnifying Manning's every mistake, or perhaps it is just 'younger brother syndrome' — Eli is, let us not forget, the shy sibling of Peyton, winning quarterback at last season's Super Bowl for the Indianapolis Colts and one of American sport's most marketable faces.

Ostensibly, this transatlantic transplanting of two major NFL franchises for a weekend of shuttle diplomacy is not quite the logistical headache many imagine — both teams face similar problems just travelling to Seattle. But as Manning recognises, it is the symbolism of the occasion that resonates. Wembley could have been sold out six times over for the first regular-season game to be staged outside North America. The quarterback recalls his brother's reaction to this London mission. "Peyton said, 'That will be pretty neat'. Expanding to the international level is exciting, but it's not enough to treat this as an exhibition. There are more people attracted by this event than I thought there would be, and we have to retain their interest."

The cultural shift promises to be stark. From the blasted industrial landscape of East Rutherford, New Jersey, the Giants are relocating to the green fields of Chelsea's Cobham training complex. It is, apparently, more than a token connection: both John Terry and Didier Drogba are serving as New York's honorary captains. Manning professes to be oblivious to Premier League politics but he is aware of the extravagance that awaits at chez Chelsea. "I hear about some of the financial figures," he says. "I hear their owner is trying to buy every popular player there is."

With all that being said, not every NFL player seems to know exactly what to expect when arriving in England. Actually, some of the players may be either down right dumb or ignorant.

Channing Crowder of the Miami Dolphins for example thought he might need a translator in England. This is from the Palm Beach Post:

Maybe he was joking, but gregarious Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder confessed today he didn’t know until Tuesday that people spoke English in London.

Crowder, a former Florida Gator and Atlanta native, apparently isn’t sure where the plane is headed when it takes off this afternoon for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants in Wembley Stadium.

“I couldn’t find London on a map if they didn’t have the names of the countries,” Crowder said. “I swear to God. I don’t know what nothing is. I know Italy looks like a boot. I learned that.

“I know (Washington Redskins linebacker) London Fletcher. We did a football camp together. So I know him. That’s the closest thing I know to London. He’s black, so I’m sure he’s not from London. I’m sure that’s a coincidental name.”

Oh man, aren't people over there are going to think so highly of us? Although to be fair, does it really matter if Crowder knows how to find London on a map? I mean seriously, why do we even learn world geography. Unless your going to get in a boat and navigate the open seas, all you need to do is sit down on the plane and the pilot will take care of the rest for you. If the pilot doesn't know what to do, then your screwed.

Anyway, I digress. As a Giants fan, I could care less where they play, only that they win. This is probably the Giants third straight "trap" game in a row. The Dolphins come in to this game winless, and maybe this is the game that finally gets them their first W in the win column. I just hope that the Giants can get up on the Fish early, and not let up.

In the spirit of this being a trap game, I refer to Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars who always knew when to expect a trap:

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