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.