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NFL @ Wembley: Slip Slidin' Affray

By London_Duncan Last edited 113 months ago
NFL @ Wembley: Slip Slidin' Affray
WemGrid02.jpg

Don't get us wrong. As you can probably tell from last week there's a good deal of enthusiasm for the NFL on here. This Londonista in particular has to confess to a near addiction. However, while last night's Miami Dolphins hosting of the eventually victorious New York Giants at Wembley was the ideal meet-up for the sport's many fans in this country, and the NFL can finally put a big tick in the box marked "can play real match overseas", the event will not, in our opinion, have won over anybody who was not already a full-on disciple. To be present in the stadium was to understand why gridiron doesn't take hold here, and it's very simple. The weather.

NFL supporters point out that cricket is very stop-start, too, and they're right. But that's played in our summer. They also sometimes say that rugby league is not that different from American football, and they're right again. But that's been moved to our summer. There's a reason why helter-skelter soccer is the country's pre-eminent winter spectator sport. Last night's persistent, numbing drizzle demonstrated that if the NFL ever did plant an expansion team on our shores it would have to be in Cardiff, because the Millennium Stadium has a fully sealable roof.

It was a dispiriting sight to behold the redoubtable Dolphins cheerleaders donning more and more layers as they strove to remain upright through their vigorous routines while the players huddled on the sidelines in their World War one style trench smocks. At least they weren't duty-bound to grin throughout as they watched their team-mates execute jittery manoeuvres across a skid-friendly Wembley surface that began ploughing up almost immediately. Gridiron's sharp jinks and bullet throws thrive on the kind of tall, thick grass more associated with Twickenham.

Picture via MiniMised's Flickr stream.

To make matters worse the stealth drenching was not evenly distributed. Supporters in the lower tier of the North End gradually retreated as best they could to escape the worst of the steady precipitation and while the Dolphins dripped the Giants merely chilled, sheltered from the elements drifting diagonally across the arena in front of them, something the next "home" NFL team might want to note.

In sympathy the game's denouement, so often a thrilling spectacle, could only muster an unfortunate indignity. The Dolphins finally dispelled the gloom with seconds remaining, bringing themselves to within a field goal of the Giants via a touchdown pass at 10-13, but with all three timeouts spent, "Game on!" was "Game over!" in moments as Jay Feely drilled his onside kick aquaplaning into touch. The final few plays consisted only of the Giants quite justifiably kneeling out the clock to a cacophony of dismayed booing.

On the plus side, whenever the Dolphins did give the crowd something to shout about, their support got behind them with an awe-inspiring roar. By accident or design the stadium announcer discovered that we love a bit of pantomime as his increasingly theatrical delivery of the catchphrase, "And that's another Miami Dolphin...", was met with raucously enjoyed mass choruses of "FIRST DOWN!!!"

The packed stands as a whole generated almost tangible goodwill down towards the field, willing the game to catch light, engaging intently whenever the ball got down to the red zone and displaying great patience for, and understanding of, the game for the violent chess match that it sometimes is. This Londonista certainly feels proud to have been been a part of a crowd that hopefully showed the NFL masters, considering whether or not to stage more games here, that we have a live audience worthy of their widely-desired attention. Even the Royal Engineers Marching Band did their best to please, a quintessentially British half-time entertainment applying itself to the Rocky theme tune to much good-natured amusement. The television coverage of the game suggested that our American visitors were endeared by our enthusiasm and genuinely impressed by the number and range of the replica shirts on view, items that often spoke to a lengthy and cherished association with their British owners.

It's also worth saying that nothing noticeable went wrong. The whole event passed off as naturally as such a transplant could ever be expected to and that should count for something come scheduling time. However, in a world where neither the London Monarchs nor NFL Europe proved an adequate substitute for the real thing, dreams of a full NFL franchise in London seemed to edge further from our grasp with every ball that slipped through a receiver's greasy fingers.

Last Updated 30 October 2007

bengraham

Your comments on the weather are unfair. The New England Patriots regularly play games in snow and subzero conditions - I myself was at Foxboro in January 2005 when the Patriots beat Peyton Manning's Colts in the AFC playoffs.

The issue that the NFL faced wasn't that the weather was bad at Wembley yesterday, rather that the pitches are looked after rather differently. I'm no gardener, but presumably something about the way that we look after the surface on our pitches makes them more susceptible to cutting up than those American fields.

Of course this begs two questions... why did Sir Norman Foster not design Wembley with a fully closing roof, and why was a hybrid pitch (part artificial, part grass) not installed?

Duncan

Ben,

The weather is the catalyst underlying the problem, but it's its effect on other things that's crucial. if gridiron had established itself here by osmosis we probably wouldn't be so bothered by the weather as we sat and shivered through another 2 minute break in proceedings. Unfortunately, though the NFL is having to be transplanted and therefore conditions need to be favourable for it to take hold and flourish. If Brits are going to embrace gridiron they'll need to feel comfortable and cheerful while they're doing it. Even hardened NFL nuts around me were beginning to baulk at watching successive stoppages as the moist chill began to drain spirits.

This in turn was not helped by a dreary game, which was in turn not helped by the dreary conditions, which were in turn not helped by the wrong kind of surface, which in turn was not helped by needing to be tailor-made for soccer, the game that has taken hold by osmosis. Even native winter club rugby might struggle to keep its niche appeal to spectators if the match wasn't over in about half the time of an NFL contest.

Yes, the NFL plays in ice and snow and that somehow lends a dramatic edge to proceedings. I haven't checked, but I wonder how many NFL games take place in relentless, chilly, clammy drizzle. The NFL needs our best conditions (or a nice, insulated dome like the one in Cardiff) if it's going to gain the wider audience it craves.

Incidentally, Wembley didn't have a closing roof because they were worried about pitch deterioration. They reckoned all spectators could stay dry, though. I'm not sure the North End lower tier folks would concur.

groovehouse

So, was there a streaker on the field (I think in the 3rd quarter) or was it something else. American TV wouldn't show what was up... can someone give me some insight?

Duncan

I missed it as I was still trying (unsuccessfully) to obtain some food on the concourse inside, but sadly yes, there was a guy who was mostly naked, but wearing an official's cap and something to cover his unmentionables who did a little dance and a couple of press-ups in centre field before being taken down by security. He had a message scrawled on his back, but I don't know what it was. And I don't want to give him publicity by finding out. I'm glad the networks avoided him. That's the standard TV policy here, too.