November 16th, 2012 by Nat Coombs
NFL maverick / maven NAT COOMBS takes an up close and personal look at what he got up to during the Rams and Patriots visit to his hometown. Nat also looks at how the local media have seemingly grown up with their coverage of the NFL on this side of the pond. The press may still be a three-step drop behind Europe’s loyal (and, can I say, long-suffering) NFL fans, but Nat will take any improvement however small.
So here we are again. Days after the unique stardust meets a forearm-smash-across-the-chops combination that is the NFL International Series rolled out of London town, we’re once again left a little better off, but a little empty inside.
The 45-7 game itself was no great shakes as a competitive experience – but on a par with Yale vs. Harvard from 1968 (Google it if you don’t know!) when you compare it to the 7-6 Chargers/Browns Week 8 snoozefest.
But then, did we really expect it to be any different? Besides, whilst we’d all want a thriller to watch, the International Series is about so much more to the European football fan. It’s all about “The Show” and there’s no doubt that this time: things stepped up to an ever more intense level.
Local media coverage of these NFL games since they recommenced in 2007 has always been keen, if a little curious – rather like a casual observer to a Kardashian sister reality show. What I noticed most this time around was that not only was the exposure more studied, educated and informed but it was noticeably on a much wider scale.
Somehow, I cropped up on Kerrang! Radio’s breakfast show on the Friday morning before the game. Sure the NFL has a cult sport cool factor but there’s no way a mainstream alternative music station that typically drops Jake Bugg and Two Door Cinema Club would have cared a few years back.
Broadsheet coverage concentrated on two things: the game (the actual game, not a dumbed down “You have 4 chances to gain 10 yards” infographic) and the increasing viability of London getting its own franchise in years to come. The latter argument had its flames fanned by Pats’ owner Robert Kraft [video right] who said: “I think London has shown, with the way they’ve handled the Olympics and every other major sporting event, that it’s time for you to have your own NFL franchise, based in London.” … The burning question is – does that renowned expert on World Policy Mitt Romney think we could handle one?
The coverage was also fuelled by more marketing and promotional events than ever all in the build up to Sunday, partly due to Nike using the game to announce its new NFL kit deal (which was activated this season).
I hosted one of these gigs at Footlocker in Central London’s Oxford Street on the Saturday morning before the game, where I interviewed the NFL legend Isaac Bruce [pic right]. The former Rams’ receiver and member of the “Greatest Show on Turf” was more than impressed with the football literacy of the fan base he had come across over the week of NFL-themed meet and greets.
Interestingly, the audience at our event was genuinely international – pan-European, North American and fans from the Far East all stood side by side, supporting the NFL Tribe atmosphere perceptible all over.
As a NFL broadcaster / journo / fan in the UK it was always going to be a frenetic week for me. However, I still found time to drop in to honor my annual obligation to chat to the ESPN Fantasy Focus fellas – alliteration at its best. An appearance which left me stunned to find out that ESPN Fantasy Sports guru – and former LA comedy writer – Matt Berry (250k Twitter followers & counting) had no idea what cockney rhyming slang was. I’ve sent him Guy Ritchie’s London gangster films Lock, Stock & Snatch to get him up to scratch. So expect some fruity fantasy advice from Matt in future podcasts.
Speaking of Twitter (pay attention readers!), all kinds of fun and games abounded on a wet (PeaSouper) Sunday itself. Top marks go to one of the NFL British community @matthealey who snapped away at obscure shirts spotted at the game – JJ Stokes and Mark Bavaro for starters – though sadly didn’t see any Joey Harrington’s.
Post game meant me zipping over the Channel 4 studio for our Sunday Night NFL show. If I thought I had been busy, my co-host Mike Carlson pulled his annual David Blaine by appearing on two networks at the same time, with the Wembley highlights show on the BBC.
Next year, we will have to do this all again but TWICE! The Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings will both be at home in London in 2013. Now that is something to get excited about! Break out your Joey H throwback jerseys now!!
NAT COOMBS, as well as writing for ESPN America on the NFL & MLB, is one of ESPN UK’s studio anchors and also presents NFL Live on Channel 4 in the UK. He is the host of the cult sports podcast Americarnage.
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