The International Football League?
Phew! Where to start on this one. I don’t know if this is a case of the screaming minority against the silent majority but I get the feeling most of the state-side football fans are dead against this proposal. But if I can change at least one mind, no matter how unlikely a feat, I will consider this post a success so try and hear me out.
I am a football fan first and foremost, who just so happens to be from the UK, and until recently I was of the opinion that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if a London franchise never materialised but anytime the discussion came up I liked to play devils advocate in an attempt to cure some of the sufferers of xenophobia who happened to crawl out of the woodwork. I reference a few of the ProFootballTalk commenters who used lines like “American Football should be played on American Soil only” or one fellow who called London a “dump”, which I found a bit rich.
On my way to work on the train the other day I spotted a homely, middle-aged gentleman wearing a Steelers hat who didn’t quite look “all there.” Now..you have to be careful round these parts these days because a few of the people you see wearing American sports teams logos are merely doing so as a fashion statement without having a clue who the teams are. It is usually accompanied by a pair of lenseless glasses and oversized headphones. It angers me to no end when really it probably shouldn’t.
Anyway, it was a Friday and I was in a good mood so I decided I would strike up a conversation with the man, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was actually a Steeler fan.
I asked him what he thought about the possibility of the Jags moving to London.
“Fuckin stupid idea” he muttered “do they not realise we have our own teams that we support already? nobody is gunna watch The fuckin Jags every week just because they moved to London”
I opened my mouth to offer my rebuttal but the train came to his stop, so he gathered up his stuff and pushed out past me. I can only assume he was going to wait for the bookies or pubs to open.
I do see where the man was coming from and this seems to be a popular argument. I have been a huge Denver Broncos fan for as long as I’ve watched football and nothing I can foresee would ever change that.
Were the Jags to move to London I would certainly keep an eye on them and like to see them do well but a passing interest is all it would ever be. But here is the kicker as pointed out by Neil Reynolds… There are always more and more fans getting into the game from the UK every year, who would immediately pick up the Jags as their team. The game is growing at such a fast pace over here that it would be impossible for the team not to pick up an ever increasing fanbase. So imagine the spectacle a couple of years down the line when a team like the Patriots or Steelers (who already have huge fanbases over here) roll into town to play a London franchise with their own personal army of fans.
I gather that a lot of fans from the US seem to think UK fans only see the game as a novelty, so it doesn’t surprise anyone that we could fill Wembley for a couple of games a year but that would be the pinnacle. This could not be further from the truth however. The vast majority of fans from Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe that I’ve ever came in contact with are deadly serious about this wonderful game and possess a wealth of in-depth knowledge. I can assure anyone who thinks the Wembley games are sold out (at those ticket prices) to a bunch of morons who turned up to see the pretty colours and hot cheerleaders, whilst asking each other how come its called football when they use their hands? that they are sadly mistaken.
Another point I often see made, which again I find absurd is the whole “it’ll-never-work-because-we-gave-them-NFL-Europe-and-they-didn’t-like-it-very-much” angle. The simple answer to that is, because it sucked. The dearth of actual NFL quality was so huge that there was nary a game worth paying attention to. There were a couple of exceptions, like the fact Kurt Warner played in it for a while but honestly any time I ever watched it, which was seldom, the passing game was non existent, the O-lines were just a collection of very un-athletic fat guys, the kickers maybe managed to get one in every seven field goal attempts from ricocheting off the back of a lineman’s head. There is no way you could compare that to the excitement an actual NFL franchise could generate with the whole of Europe behind it. I mean do any NBA fans watch the WNBA? That was basically the difference in quality.
One has only to look at the pressure cooker environment the Ryder cup has become to get a feel for the intensity that could be generated by a competitive European ball club travelling to compete in America and wouldn’t our American friends love to see their franchises travel to London and come away with the W?
The two biggest obstacles I feel are the travel issues and the question of whether or not college kids and free agents would ever want to move to England.
I don’t think the travel obstacle is insurmountable though. The journey from the likes of New York etc. on the east coast to London couldn’t be that much further than the journey from New York to San Francisco. The biggest problem that arises is when a team like San Francisco or Seattle have to make the trek to London. Now a lot of the proposals I have seen put forward are for half of the games to still be played in Jacksonville and the other half to obviously be played here. I’m sure that the west coast teams could be accommodated by that but if every home game was to be played in London would it be possible to arrange the schedule so that west coast teams get their bye week before or after travelling to London to make sure they are always in tip top condition and don’t ever have jet lag or lack of preparation as an excuse?
I also watch quite a lot of baseball and I know it is by no means the same but when you look at the travel schedules for some of those teams who are jetting around multiple cities all season and see them make it work, surely the NFL could get over this obstacle.
The question about whether players would want to come here right away however is a serious one. I would hate nothing more than to see a team set up in London and absolutely suck season after season.
Could the team get by with the same salary cap as the rest of the league? factoring in higher taxes and the fact they would probably have to offer top dollar to players maybe not deserving of such money. That’s a huge question and to be honest I don’t have an answer.
Any time a franchise makes the journey over nowadays for the yearly game though it seems as though the younger players really enjoy it and the veterans not so much. I watched a few interviews from a few of the younger Buccaneers and Bears when they were over a while back and they were all thrilled to take in the sights and attractions London has to offer but I watched an interview with Brian Urlacher who absolutely hated it. I’m not sure if I’m making this up but I think I also heard Jeremy Shockey talking trash about it, but sure, what else is new?
That is the big worry because there is absolutely no point in taking this huge step to make a perennial joke of a franchise. Some people might say that Jacksonville hasn’t been an overly impressive outfit up until now anyway but I really think they have started putting the right foundations in place. I have heard it said that new coach Gus Bradley has the ability to fire you up to the extent that you would happily run through a brick wall. They just got a great pick in the draft in Luke Joekel, who most people thought would go first overall to The Chiefs right up until the day before the draft. They have an exciting receiving corps, and one of the best running backs in the game when he’s healthy and not knocking out Doormen.
Their biggest problem seems to be the quarterback position, Blaine Gabbert was taken in the first round a couple years back and it seems he will never be the franchise player they had hoped for. Chad Henne seems like a great backup as he really injected some life into the team last season when Gabbert went out injured but the general consensus basically states he is not a starter.
They do have their own wildcard QB/RB in this Denard Robinson kid (think thats his name) who was really turning heads in minicamp but basically they need help at the most important position in the game.
Just to go off on a minor tangent you do have to marvel at the fortune of the Colts when so many teams struggle to find “their guy,” they have Peyton Manning for all those years, then following one suckey season Andrew Luck falls into their laps.
I do still applaud their front office for not kicking the tires on Timothy though because it would have been so easy to cave in to the demand for him, but Tebow fans ask yourself in your heart of hearts is he a better QB than Henne? Oh he is? please excuse my ignorance.
Anyway if anybody can assure me that there is a plan in place to make sure a London Franchise could attract players and that they wouldn’t end up being the proverbial punching bag for the rest of the NFL then I am all ears.
Before I make my final point I would absolutely love to hear from a current Jacksonville Jaguars fan because if the move does go through my heart will go out to those people. I know soccer is not that popular a sport in America but I’m sure the majority of you will have heard of Manchester United, a team I have adored since I was old enough to comprehend what was going on. And although this never happens in this game, I know I would be absolutely devastated if someone tried to take my team and move it elsewhere, completely re-brand it and pander to an entirely different market.
To wrap up I want to say that when I started writing this article I didn’t really know what side of the fence I stood on… I mean I could see the pros and cons to both sides of the argument so I didn’t feel too strongly about it either way, I know I’ll still have my broncos no matter what but the more research I did and the more I think about it.. I really would like to see it happen.
As I write this I’m in the shitty little room in my house my girlfriend banishes me to when I want to watch sports or play X-Box and I’m currently taking in the US Open golf tournament. I’ve had a couple beers so try and forgive me if this come off a little foolhardy but this game is so unbelievably entertaining simply because people from every country in the world can compete. It does not matter if you went to the greatest university in all of the United States on a full golf scholarship or whether you grew up in South Africa smacking balls into a field. The beauty is that if you have the talent and the desire then you can become the greatest in the world.
A London Franchise, over time, would open up an infinite amount of doors. The sport of American football would explode. Now I’m not a stupid man, I realise there are currently a few international players in the NFL, Vollmer in New England comes to mind, Bjoern Werner was just drafted, there is a Scottish kicker and I’ve noticed the 9ers decided to give a shot to a British Olympian Discus thrower, I know I’m forgetting loads more but these are nothing but exceptions to the norm.
Picture a few years down the line, The London Jaguars with a good foundation in place consisting of experienced American talent. They ride an avalanche of momentum which opens the game up to outstanding athletes from the UK, Germany, France, Russia, Italy and further a field. Imagine the next Tom Brady comes from Sweden, imagine the next Adrian Peterson comes from Ghana, imagine the next Ray Lewis is currently starting high school in Portugal.
I know a lot of Americans may feel that they are compromising by opening up a sport created on their soil to the rest of the world but I would say look at it as your gift to the world. There are no limits to the popularity this sport can achieve.
You may say I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one.