Saints defensive end
"It has actually helped our preparation to be here because it's been all business," says Smith. "In the states we work a seven-hour day and go home, but here it's been more like a 24-hour day because everything you need is at the hotel. You can take a nap and head downstairs to watch more film at night, or get another workout in or go for extra treatment. By the time the game comes on Sunday, we'll be more prepared than we've been all year."
With only his fellow Saints around, Smith said the trip has turned into a bonding experience that he hopes will spark New Orleans (3-4) much like a Week 8 trip to London by the Giants last year helped in their march to the Super Bowl title.
That sentiment was echoed by several Chargers who are staying in similar digs at the Pennyhill Park Hotel on 123 acres east of London. "I honestly think that's why the Giants were successful last year," said Chargers running back
The staff at both resorts took pains to accommodate the NFL teams by creating practice facilities with all the amenities of home, albeit a little classier with the Saints having their ankles taped at the Sequoia Spa and getting changed in the grand ballroom that was transformed into their locker room. Media has been allowed at both teams' sites for open practice and press conferences, while the Saints cheerleaders have been doing their part to build excitement by drawing crowds in London at appearances.
With New Orleans as the designated home team Sunday, there will also be a Mardi Gras-style tailgate with floats and Cajun food outside of a soldout Wembley Stadium, where 83,000 fans will watch the game. Another two million are expected to tune in across the U.K. since the BBC agreed to broadcast the game. This is a huge boost from the Giants-Dolphins game, which was shown on Sky Sports, a pay channel that draws around 120,000 viewers for the three NFL games shown live every Sunday.
"We have a decent fan base," says
One of the ways they're hoping to do that is by educating people about the sport. After the 2007 game Kirkwood gathered more than 7,000 surveys from fans and found the three things they loved most about football were its strategy, its unpredictability and its physicality. "I realized then that we had a real problem because a newcomer wouldn't be able to appreciate the strategic nature of the game unless they understood the plays, and they wouldn't know what's predictable if they didn't know what was unpredictable, like the Rams beating the Cowboys."
So Kirkwood created
The players also point out things to look for, with O'Hara explaining that if the offensive line steps forward it will be a run play and if they drop back it will be a pass. And since the BBC shows an eighth of the commercials seen during a U.S. game, they'll fill the air time this Sunday with
"It's a complex game," says marketing director
The Wembley games come on the heels of NFL Europa, which folded in June 2007. But that was a developmental league made up of second-tier players who rarely stuck on the same team beyond a season, which made it difficult to draw a loyal fan base. Commissioner
With globalization a priority, it also helps to have the players on board. "Soccer, basketball and baseball are both played and watched globally, but football isn't played around the world like the other three," says Smith. "I'm happy to be here to promote football to show people that it's the greatest sport in the world."