Thursday October 15th, 2015

The NFL's International Series has sent teams to play at Wembley Stadium since 2007, but Week 4 was my first time playing a NFL game in London. With this season being the second straight with three games in London, perhaps it won’t be too long before a NFL team will be calling the U.K. home. With that said, playing a game five time zones away will take some getting used to. 

Preparing for an international game is intense. One of the things we did was meet with a sleep specialist, who spoke about the importance of REM sleep or rapid eye movement, the adverse effects of drinking alcohol too close to bedtime and how blue light, which is emitted from televisions and cell phones, can impede sleep. Understanding the importance of sleep is critical for mental alertness and physical productivity on the field.

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As we embarked on our trip to London, we were encouraged to get at least five hours of sleep on the plane, because shortly after landing we would have meetings and practice. As I found my seat on our chartered flight, I immediately thought to myself how that was going to be a relatively easy task to accomplish. Why? Because the television screen at my seat was broken. 

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In general, I don’t find sleeping on planes comfortable. Even when I have the chance to fly first class, as I was in this case, I never fit into the seat. When it's fully reclined, my legs always wind up in an awkward position that's not anywhere near comfortable, or my shoulders bump up against the personal reading light attached to the seat. Sitting normally and sleeping on my shoulder is my best option for a good night’s rest when traveling. 

Arriving in London was truly a rude awakening for the team. The training staff warned us not to go to bed until later that evening in order to stay on London time, but this was especially hard, since not everyone slept well on the plane. In order to stall what seemed to be a losing battle, Litebooks, devices which emit a light that mimics sunlight, were passed out. Using this bright light was very effective in keeping us awake, but it did nothing to treat the widespread irritability.

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That first evening, I traveled downtown to see members of my family who were also in town for the game, but because this was a business trip I wasn’t planning on any sightseeing. When I was in the cab heading back to the hotel, I struck up a conversation with my cab driver, Tony. He told me about the process of becoming a cab driver in London, which includes memorizing every street in the city of London. On the exam, the instructor provides a destination and a starting point, and the person taking the exam has to tell the instructor how to get from point A to B all from memory, which I found incredibly impressive. Tony said it took some people years to learn the whole city well enough to pass.

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I asked Tony for his thoughts about the possibility of an NFL franchise coming to London. He said he would definitely watch it because he’s a football fan, but he wasn’t sure about how popular it would be in London. Soccer and rugby are two of the most favored sports in the U.K.—in fact, the Rugby World Cup was taking place in London during our stay.

Will American football ever be a top contender among the other sports in London? Well, we know it’s has already captured the interest of some young Londoners. That day our team participated in an NFL Play60 event, which focuses on getting kids to exercise for at least 60 minutes a day. As we instructed young boys and girls about the basics of football, many of them happily cheered J-E-T-S as they practiced offensive and defensive maneuvers.

At one point, I was summoned by a teammate who said a little girl asked for ‘D’Brickashaw.’ I walked over to her with a smile, like I had been personally invited by Queen Elizabeth, and performed an offensive line stance and takeoff for the group (I later realized I had jumped off sides… sigh). After a big group photo, the event finally wrapped up; maybe one day, one of these kids will play for London’s NFL team.

Game day arrived and unlike the numerous away games I’ve played in the past, I couldn’t tell what team we were playing by just looking at the fans. In addition to the Jets and Dolphins jerseys, I saw multiple jerseys featuring names like Lewis, Romo, and Ryan, to name a few. For a second I thought our bus had accidently taken us to the Pro Bowl.

The game kicked off with much excitement. We were initially concerned as to whether the stadium that holds 90,000 would be too loud to hear the cadence. But those concerns were alleviated once the game began—it was clear that many of the fans in attendance were still learning the game.

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Here’s an example. With 6:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Jets defense was on the verge of stopping the Dolphins from entering the end zone. It was fourth down with four yards to go for Miami, and the London fans were screaming loudly. Typically in a scenario like this, given that this was a Dolphins’ home game, the fans are silent in order to allow the Dolphins’ offense to work. But here, the stadium erupted as if the Jets had taken over the crowd.

The next play resulted an incomplete pass, but before we could celebrate the fourth down stoppage, the referee threw a flag on the Jets’ defense, making it first down with two yards to go for the Dolphins. Instead of the large rain of “boos” that I expected out of our newly converted fans, loud cheers once again filled the stadium.

I knew I couldn’t blame the fans, because the game of football and all its nuances were still too new to them.

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Reflecting on our time in London makes me think the possibility for an emerging NFL team in London is not too far-fetched of an idea. This season six teams will travel to London; if an additional game is added next year, eight teams will get to experience playing in London. That’s the foundation for developing half of a regular season schedule. 

That just leaves us with the problem of the London team’s away games. If they had a ‘vacation home’ or facility in the U.S., it could schedule away games in groups and significantly cut down the travel back and forth from the U.K. But pondering hypothetical situations is one thing, and implementing them is another. In time we will see what becomes of the International Series, but there is a good chance this is only practice for more home games to come.

And in case you’re wondering, would I ever consider playing for a London-based franchise? Perhaps, if my wife agrees, of course.

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