Everything was on hold over a summer of discontent, but the NFL is now ready to make its annual autumn sweep into London for the International Series game which on Sunday will feature the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Chicago Bears, the culmination of a week of activities that expands in scope each year.
The Buccaneers landed at Heathrow late last night and won't have got much sleep before joining London Commissioner for Sport, Kate Hoey MP, this morning at a South Norwood school for a community day. Their cheerleaders will entertain the Selhurst Park faithful tonight during half time of the Crystal Palace fixture with Bristol City and they will appear again on Friday afternoon at New Era on Brewer Street as the prelude to a special free screening (with complimentary popcorn) of the film "Jerry Maguire" in Trafalgar Square with Oscar winning star Cuba Gooding Jr in attendance, doubtless keen to encourage the audience to display their hard currency. Gooding will be discussing the making of the film, while controversial NFL star Terrell Owens will also attend the event, entitled Friday Night Lights, to talk about NFL reality meeting Hollywood story-telling and whether the player-agent relationship is more believable in fact or fiction.
On Saturday, Foot Locker on Oxford Street gets the cheerleader treatment at lunchtime just as the NFL Fan Rally kicks off for the afternoon back down by Nelson's Column featuring appearances by both team's head coaches as well as SuperBowl winners Richard Dent (Chicago) and Brad Johnson (Tampa) before the traditional tailgate party on Sunday outside Wembley Stadium and then the game itself. The pre-match entertainers this time are less well known over here than previous acts like The Stereophonics and My Chemical Romance, but the Goo Goo Dolls will certainly get plenty of recognition once they launch into the chorus of their 1998 hit "Iris" (and I don't want the world to see me / 'cause I don't think that they'd understaaaaand...) which has recently shot into the UK top 3 courtesy of two cover versions appearing on the X Factor.
Regarding the game itself, both teams come to London on the up, the Buccaneers having surprised the New Orleans Saints at the weekend while the Bears crushed the Minnesota Vikings in the early hours of Monday morning. The Buccaneers have been league champions only once when their defense carried them to victory in the "Pirate Bowl" of 2003, but they began to disintegrate soon after and have struggled in recent years, including their defeat to the New England Patriots at Wembley just two seasons ago. For many British fans, no Bears lineup has ever supplanted names like Jim McMahon and William, "The Fridge", Perry in their affections. The 1986 triumph of that charismatic team in their club's only Superbowl co-incided with the arrival of televised American Football in the UK and you can expect to see lots of jerseys from that era down Wembley Way at the weekend. Running Back Matt Forte is currently the Bears' main man, but many British fans, deprived when the Saints were in town of the livewire talents of Reggie Bush, will be hoping Devin Hester, one of the most prolific and exciting kick returners in NFL history, recovers in time from a chest injury. Tampa's squad lacks superstars, but is once again looking to collective strengths to continue its winning start to the season. Tickets to the game are still available at a wide range of prices.