We were nearing the end of our West End Walk on Sunday afternoon (September 29th) when we got to Regent Street and saw all of the NFL banners and crowds — leftovers from the show put on by the NFL the day before: America football was coming to London!
There were more than 600,000 people on Regent Street on Saturday and the street was closed to vehicular traffic from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus. The Minnesota Vikings were scheduled to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 6:00pm. But on Saturday members of both teams joined the celebration on Regent Street. Adrian Peterson is the outstanding running back for Minnesota and he was drafted first in both fantasy leagues I belong to. He was there on Regent Street as was the star quarterback for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben’s glory days were a few years ago but he is still a popular player. The crowd cheered loudly for both players but even louder for the Minnesota Viking Cheerleaders who entertained the crowd with a dancing exhibition.
Aside: We skipped the Saturday affair, preferring to stay in London’s East End that day where we visited Liverpool Street, the Spitalfields Markets and Brick Lane. I’ll be posting about this visit in a week or two.
Back to Sunday: there were still quite a few football fans walking around Regent Street sightseeing. Many wore purple jerseys with the number 28 emblazoned on their backs — a tribute to Adrian Peterson — but I even saw a Fran Tarkington jersey from the old days. Then there were the family of three — husband and wife and their ten-year-old boy who wore a sign saying “Desperately need three tickets!”
There were also lots of people sporting white, black and yellow jerseys for their beloved Steelers. Some wore number 43 for Troy Polamalu, who is probably more famous for his Head & Shoulders shampoo commercials than for his prowess on the gridiron. But the majority wore number 7 for Big Ben, who last led his team to a Super Bowl victory on February 1, 2009. Pittsburgh, incidentally is the only NFL team to have won as many as six Super Bowl titles. Big Ben owns two big rings — he also won a Super Bowl ring for the 2005-6 season.
More than 83,000 people showed up for the game but we took the tube back to our hotel where we watched the game on television. It felt strange knowing that we were watching a game that started at 6 in the evening in London but was being telecast back home in California at 10:00am. Our son-in-law Brian is a die-hard Pittsburgh fan and so we cheered for Big Ben and the Steelers.
The folks in London got to see a good game with a lot of scoring but Big Ben and his Steelers lost their fourth straight game, 34 to 27. Roethlisberger threw for 383 yards and a TD but also fumbled once, thew an interception and got sacked five times. Peterson, in the meanwhile, ran for 140 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Steelers didn’t give up, though, and they finally won a game this season when they clobbered the New York Jets on October 13th, 19 to 6.
The San Francisco 49ers (my team) and the Jacksonville Jaguars will be playing at Wembley on Sunday, October 27th and the pre-game celebrations will be staged at Trafalgar Square instead of Regent Street. And next year the NFL will come back to London three times: Jacksonville, Atlanta and Oakland will be the host teams. The NFL is trying hard to convince Londoners that they need their own NFL team and they may succeed. After all, American toys (Walt Disney products), Hollywood movies, American soda pop (e.g. Coca Cola) and American fast food (McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC) are now encountered all over the world. So why not American football? Well, it has been my observation on our travels that the rest of the world prefers what we call soccer to our version of football. But we’ll keep an eye on NFL happenings in London over the next few years.