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.