The first match was a landmark and the second a hard-earned consolidation, but, only a month after the dust settled on that successful evening in North London, the NFL have delighted Manchester United fans everywhere by announcing that next year's International Series fixture at Wembley Stadium will see Malcolm Glazer's Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the formidable New England Patriots on the now traditional Sunday when the clocks go back, 25th October 2009.
The choice of teams represents another step up in playing calibre. First time around the hugely popular but recently ineffective Miami Dolphins hosted a decent looking New York Giants side that surprised many by going on to clinch the Super Bowl title. This year the ravenous offenses of the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers provided a feast of scoring action though both have since faded from championship contention. Meanwhile the Bucs and the Pats not only hold four of the past seven NFL titles, but are also both in serious contention again this year.
The Patriots will hope to have legendary quarterback Tom Brady back from a serious left knee injury that he suffered only minutes into this season. Fans will look to see him link up with star wide receiver Randy Moss, but if that's not possible, maybe he'll just sit in the stands with supermodel girlfriend Gisele Bundchen. The Buccaneers are short on superstars, but have fashioned an effective offense based on wily veterans alongside a tough defense that's even given the club's name to a popular defensive style, the "Tampa 2".
Speaking on Five's NFL coverage, NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood revealed that he had an inkling who next year's Wembley teams would be a fortnight before the Saints-Chargers game. He felt that this prestige matchup might polarise the neutral atmosphere that has tended to predominate in the first two UK games. The Patriots are the most well supported team over here, but also have many detractors partially because of their stunning success in recent years and partially because of an alleged arrogance that some felt was demonstrated in the "Spygate" affair when the club and its head coach were fined for taping an opposing team's defensive signals during a game. The Buccaneers themselves, of course, inherit support and antipathy in equal measure courtesy of their association with the Premiership and European soccer champions.
Following on from the surprise early announcement tickets will also be available much earlier this year, in January rather than April. Interested can be registered from December 15th at NFLUK.com where full details of the arrangements can be found.
Picture via Paul Keleher's Flickr stream.