Wembley Dolphinarium Welcomes Giants

By London_Duncan Last edited 129 months ago
Wembley Dolphinarium Welcomes Giants
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All Londonist Sport's Christmases have come at once. It is being reported that today the NFL, the world's premier professional league of football American-style, is about to announce that a game will be played between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants at the soon-to-be-completed Wembley Stadium some time in the autumn.

"Oh yes," we hear you murmur. "We remember that sort of thing from the late eighties and early nineties." Well, yes and no. It is true that, starting in 1986, the NFL sent two teams over every summer to the old Wembley for a pre-season friendly given the title of the "American Bowl". The Dolphins themselves were victorious over the San Francisco 49ers in 1988 and the last game was a tie between Dallas and Detroit in 1993. They all took it fairly seriously and the crowds here lapped it up, but at heart it was just a bit of fun.

This year, however, London will become the first city outside the Americas to play host to a real, actual, proper NFL game. Only once before has such a fixture even been played outside the US when, in 2005, over 100,000 fans crammed into Mexico City's Azteca Stadium to witness the Arizona Cardinals also beat the 49ers.

The teams themselves don't take this sort of thing lightly. There was a lot of controversy over Arizona giving up a precious "home" game in what is only a 17 match season, but the NFL is even more of a corporate entity than our own dear Premiership and the word is that, over the course of the next 16 years, each of the 32 teams will be expected to play a competitive game abroad at least once for the commercial good of the league as a whole. The Giants can't really complain as they had an extra home game a year ago hosting the New Orleans Saints while the Superdome was being refurbished.

Given that neither London nor the UK has a professional American football team since the demise of the London Monarchs in 1987 and more recently the Scottish Claymores it is remarkable that Germany, which accounts for all the teams in the satellite NFL Europe league bar one, has not been chosen as the trailblazing European venue, but in the background good ol' Mayor Ken, with at least one, and very likely both, eyes on raising the profile of London leading up to the 2012 Olympics has been lobbying very effectively on the capital's behalf. Baseball is rumoured to be considering following the NFL's lead with matches possibly staged at the Oval while Twickenham, having lost out to Wembley for the gridiron, must frantically be working out how they could stage some basketball.

In their triumphant 1991 season the Monarchs attracted an average home gate of around 40,000, but this dwindled to 16,000 when they moved to White Hart Lane four years later and by the time the rebranded England Monarchs were touring venues such as Crystal Palace athletics stadium attendances were below 6,000. Interest in this year's Wembley occasion is such that the event is likely to be a 90,000 sell-out and the worldwide television audience might top 100 million. With Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino long gone and Giants legend Tiki Barber just retiring we predict that the capital's schoolchildren will take his replacement, 6 foot 4 inch bulldozing running back Brandon Jacobs, to their hearts in the way they once championed William "The Fridge" Perry when Chicago appeared at Wembley twenty years ago. Our advice is, when the NFL circus comes to town, be drawn into one of the great sporting spectacles the world has to offer. We will be scanning for ticket announcements most eagerly.

Read our report on the event itself here.

Picture via bwana's Flickr stream.

Last Updated 16 January 2007

Phil

One of the great sporting spectacles the world has to offer my left ball.

Who want's to watch a bunch of muscle Marys wrapped up in body armour falling on top of each other? A showbiz spectacle, sure, I'll give you that, but not a sporting one.

Now the BDO final on Sunday, that was one of the greatest sporting spectackes the world has to offer...

John

I agree with Phil, Grid Iron is shite. What is the point of watching a sport which has 60 minutes on the clock which is then stretched out for 3 hours? just get on with it!

also, the arrers were cracking on Sunday

Duncan

Phil, John, I find your lack of faith disturbing! ;-)

Seriously, I can see that, glanced at briefly, American football looks like one of those Batley Townswomen's Guild re-enactments that Monty Python used to do. Mind you, some unbelievers (not me, you understand) unfairly characterise darts along the lines of fat fellas flinging nails at a wall.

The appeal of gridiron probably has more in common with that of darts than meets the eye. What makes darts so compelling at the top level is the psychology, the pressure, the gaps between the brief spurts of action and finding out which player has the nerve to match his ability. I mean, why not get the players to throw all three darts at once, or in less than five seconds? When it gets really tense there can be a long time between those throws.

Cricket, which held our nation spellbound last summer, is basically about one guy chucking a ball at another with a bat while ten other guys stand around and hope he makes a mistake, stretched out over five days with long gaps between the action. In the end there are only around ten stock deliveries and about a dozen stock shots to be played. Gridiron, too, has about 10 basic attacking plays and a similar number of standard defensive strategies. Yes, there's a lot of pushing and shoving, like physical sledging, as the defenders try to put the attackers off their game, but as with the Ashes, the winners will be the team who can hold their nerve under fierce pressure, make the right split second decisions and display their class and talent when it really matters.

Phil

" the winners will be the team who can hold their nerve under fierce pressure, make the right split second decisions and display their class and talent when it really matters."

And there was me thinking that all NFL players were just pumped-up automata with the coach as puppet master. Oh wait, they are. They don't make those split second decisions, they just run whatever line or hit whatever man the coach has told them to in one of the many, many breaks.

Re you comments about the cricket, I am shocked, SHOCKED, that you think it all comes down to a few deliveries across five days. Call yourself a sports correspondent? ; ) You've clearly never watched a top line bowler sling a few down. 6 balls of different line and length, each and every one in intriguing battle between batsman and bowler, with the bowler trying to coax the batsmen into an error in shot selection. Glorious stuff, and if you watch a test match for just the wickets and sixes, you'll have a very poor time of it too.

erg79

I dare anyone not interested in American football to watch the recent Oklahoma-Boise State Fiesta Bowl and not to say that it was interesting, maybe even exciting, and possibly one of the greatest finishes to a game in any sport.

Of course, a regular season NFL game will probably never rival that, but...

Duncan

Phil, my apologies. I was very much one of the people held spellbound by the 2005 Ashes series and have enjoyed cricket since childhood. I failed to signal that I had returned to "some might say" mode when I started talking about cricket where I deliberately over-simplified a sport built on skill, nerve and great subtlety.

My argument is that gridiron, for all it looks like the Batley Townswomens' Guild on the surface, is actually a game of great strategy and surprising subtlety that just happens to be played as fast as men can run and as hard as they can crash into each other. Try telling Reggie Bush that Sheldon Brown's challenge at the weekend would have been a lot more effective if he hadn't had all that padding on. And "pumped-up automata"? Have you seen Peyton Manning at work? Or LaDainian Tomlinson? Or indeed good ol' Reggie Bush himself?

"6 balls of different line and length". You mean the average English over in the most recent Ashes series, right? ;-)

Evan, that Statue of Liberty finale seems to have found a niche in history already. Mind you, I was more intrigued by the earlier hook and lateral. Channel Five were showing the 1982 Miami - San Diego playoff game the other night and there was a touchdown from a perfectly executed example. I wonder why the play is not in more common use?

Dan

I was not at all interested in American football before I watched the 2000 Super Bowl. After watching that game, I was none the wiser about what the hell was going on. But I stuck with the sport, trying to understand why people watch it, and I am now a big fan. The real beauty in the sport is the tactics, and that every player is 100% specialised in what he does. One guy even has the full-time job of holding the ball for the kicker. There are also huge plays every once in a while, like a 20-yard run, a 40-yard pass, or interceptions. The breaks are usually necessary to substitute the players. It's better than rugby, imho, because on every "play", every player gives everything to stop the guy with the ball, or not be stopped. You would never see American football-style tackles in rugby.
I need a ticket to this game.

Duncan

Dan,

For me it was Superbowl XXI in 1986 when the Giants humbled the Broncos. A lot of British people on my college corridor were huddled round a portable tv and it sparked my curiosity.

I'm a big fan of boardgames and thought acquiring one to play against my neighbours might be a good way for me (and, indeed, most of them) to learn the subtleties of what was going on (not to mention a lot of the rules). The game I bought was the magnificent Paydirt by Avalon Hill which is still one of my favourite games to this day. Each player gets a chart for a real-life team mathematically reflecting their real-life performances. One player calls one of nine attacking plays, the other one of six defenses. Some dice are rolled and a number of yards forwards or backwards is the result. There are myriad subtleties, but basically that's it.

Although they stopped making the game in 1993 there's often a copy to be found on ebay and there's a thriving community that still plays the game: (The link address below might look a bit odd, but it's a good starting point to learn about Paydirt)

http://www.britishempire.co.uk...

Phil

OK, maybe it's time to give it another go. Just out of curiosity who do you think would struggle more, a NFL player playing rugby (either code), or a rugby player playing NFL?

Re Line and length - OK, I'll bite ; ) - Glen "The Metronome" McGrath looks to bowl identical line and length. His game plan is basically to stick the ball in the exact area where the batsman is not sure if it's going to hit off or whether it's safe to leave it. Harmison, Hoggy, Simon Jones (remember him) or Brett Lee, for example, try to introduce the same uncertaincy by varying the line, length, speed and in some cases the swing. Here endeth the lesson...

Duncan

Phil,

I'm delighted that you're going to take a closer look at gridiron. I hope I can be as open minded about sports that I'm not instinctively a big fan of.

In answer to your rugby / NFL poser, a starting point might be Mr Martin Johnson. A genuine fan of the NFL (and specifically the 49ers) and even once a plyer with the Leicester Panthers he and David James fronted a Sky series called Beyond the NFL a few months ago that was very entertaining. Johnson in particular got a lot of respect from NFL players and coaches because of his rugby achievements. Give it a watch if it's repeated any time soon.

In the meantime, I'd recommend this Observer article from 2001 that follows Johnson visiting his beloved 49ers.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk...

In the article Johnson is quoted as saying about American football:

"Those who think it's soft should go and watch a bit, and if they're still not convinced go and play it. Basically you get hit by someone wearing a crash helmet."

Good points on the cricket, by the way.

Brant

If my memory serves me correct... I once read that if you totalled all of the time from the snap of the football to the end of the play it would average about 15 minutes of actual playing time for the entire game. 15 minutes of actual playing time for 3 hours of game time. Lots of room for commercials though.

Brant

Found it!

The actual playing time of an NFL game -- including contact made, passes thrown, interceptions and returns, defensive stands at the goal line in play, and the darting between would-be tacklers of superstars such as Marshall Faulk, Ahman Green, Deuce McAllister, Jamal Lewis, Clinton Portis, and Fred Taylor and others of similar capability, with half time commentary and/or extravaganzas aside -- is 12 minutes. That’s it.

Welcome to the NFL.

Link

Duncan

Very interesting stuff, Brant. I did a little research on the equivalent stats for "soccer" and it seems to be generally accepted that, typically, for every ninety minute match the ball is in actual play for around sixty minutes, which of course just happens to be the prescribed length of an NFL game.

Now, as I understand it, that's just when the ball isn't being retrieved from the stand, substitutions are not being made, etc.. The sixty minutes of playing time would, however, include a goalkeeper hanging on to the ball, dropping it to feet, looking upfield, rolling it slowly out of the area, tapping it around a bit and finally launching it as high and far as possible. It would also include the leading team trying to keep the ball in one of the opposition's corner areas, or simply playing it along the back line waiting for the opposition to come at them.

At least, with the exception of taking a knee right at the end of a game, gridiron pretty much forces a team to do something useful with their time or they'll have to give the ball back to the opposition. I'm trying to imagine an NFL's safeties and corners casually tossing the ball between each other in their own red zone with half an hour still to play until eventually a wide receiver from the opposition comes to try and make them do something with it and that being counted as playing time with a straight face. Given that we're already down to an hour of actual playing time for soccer, it would be interesting to see what the statistics looked like for, say, time in possession of the ball in the opponent's half.

yank

As an American, I have no choice but to love (american) football. Having lived in London, I love (non-american) football as well, but it's really a different experience than American football. Your football is more of a constant tension pierced by occassional moments of excitement. With American football, something relatively exciting happens every 20-30 seconds, with the time in between spent talking about what just happened and what needs to happen next. Think of it as a game of just set piece after set piece. Is it better or worse, I don't know, it's just different.

The other thing to keep in mind is that there are many, many levels on which you can follow an American football game. You can see it at its most basic, as most people do, where one team goes one way and the other team goes the other. But the more you understand about the sport (like various defensive schemes and offensive strategies, and the fluid way in which they interact) you realize how many thousands of moving parts there are in one game. Truth be told, only the players and coaches really understand what is actually going on during the game.

The stereotype of the american football player is a meathead idiot. But in realty, with the exception of some linemen who really do have an uncomplicated task, the average football player has to be quite mentally adept to succeed (none more than the quarterback). And that's not even considering the incredible physicality of these guys.

NFL and college football is about the closest we get to the Premiership is terms of obsession and presence in the national consciousness. No other sport comes close (well, maybe March Madness, but that's only one month long).

Hill Rat

OK, maybe it's time to give it another go. Just out of curiosity who do you think would struggle more, a NFL player playing rugby (either code), or a rugby player playing NFL?

As a Yank who played Gridiron for most of his life and then started playing rugby (union) at the age of 30 I feel like I can weigh in on this. A backrow player in Union rugby could make the transition to Gridiron much more easily than a Gridiron player could make the switch to League or Union rugby.

One of my mates' and I favorite parlor games is trying to make a rugby team out of NFL players. Most of the players we choose are either running backs, linebackers, and defensive backs; these are generally the fittest players on the field and ones that have the speed to play rugby.

Brian

with the exception of some linemen who really do have an uncomplicated task

I agree with Yank on pretty much everything except about the linemen. Offensive linemen have a myriad of responsibilities and generally need to be much smarter than the average football player. Also, once you learn the nuances of offensive line play, it increases your enjoyment and knowledge of the game immensely. Defensive linemen on the other hand, while not as complex as their offensive counterparts, do have specific roles other than getting to the ball-carrier.

CJ

As a Yank in Shanghai, China and having the chance to make many european friends I learned to understand the game of soccer and I have watched the world cup 4 times now. I now understand why us Yanks just don't get soccer... to much sissy play acting with fake injuries. What a bunch of wimps. At least in American sports if a player goes down you know he really is hurt. Go Bears! CJ

Martin

To those of you who don't like gridiron the answer is simple. Stay at home.

In the first 24 hours of being open the ticket information received over 100,000 requests for tickets (wembley can only seat 90,000) I think there's enough interest to bring the sport here.

As for the rugby v gridiron arguement, i'd prefer to listen to Martin Johnson's (ex England Rugby captain who tried out for the San francisco 49ers) informed view than a guy who sits in his arm chair with a beer in hand telling the world his opinions.

Here's a thought for those of you who vacate the armcjhair sportsman league. If gridiron is just a bunch of woosys wearing armour and rugby is more physical, why don't rugby players just play in the NFL? The avergage wage in the NFL is around a million pounds (give or take) with the super stars making Beckhams wages look considerably small change. I'd be suprised if the superstars of rugby got the average wage of an NFL player. Answers please .....

Anyone wanting to prove an opinion should go to www.gridironuk.co.uk and look up their local team. After a short email i'm sure you would be welcome to bring along a gum shield and boots to a training session. You'll no doubt be suprised how many rugby players actually play for their local American Football team. I'm sure you would leave the session with a more informed opinion of how woosy the sport is.

Finally the reason the NFL chose London over Germany .... the euro and its crappy ex change rate, double the money by playing here without any extra efforts, no brainer.

mitch

this is the best thing to happin to england ever finaly a real game wish i could go