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NFL touches down in London

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Neil Reynolds | 09:02 UK time, Monday, 25 October 2010

London Diary

Friday

It's been quite a week building up to Sunday's NFL International Series showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium.

The excitement has been growing with each passing day and it would be fair to say it has been a memorable few days with the NFL circus in full flow. It has certainly felt like an action-packed and colourful week.

I've seen 49ers head coach Mike Singletary attacked by a persistent and brave wasp, Tottenham and England centre-half Michael Dawson attempt to play quarterback (badly) and I've even thrown a pass to the greatest wide receiver in NFL history in Jerry Rice.

The Denver Broncos finally joined the fray on Friday as they held their first practice in the United Kingdom at The Oval. And in keeping with the madness of the week, tight end Daniel Graham and offensive lineman Chris Kuper ended up having an impromptu game of cricket on the famous old ground, taking on Surrey's Arun Harinath and Tom Lancefield.

"It was a lot of fun and I thought I was pretty good," Graham laughed. "I went two for two. Is that how you say it? I got two wickets (I chose not to correct him given his size and obvious strength). Now I just hope they let me keep the bat." (Would you try to take it off him?)

I cannot see Graham and his American compatriots taking to cricket, particularly the Test variety. Most American sports detest the concept of a tie. Legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi once famously said: "A tie is like kissing your sister."

One can only hope Vince meant that was a bad thing.

The thought of some Tests going five days and still ending in a draw remains an alien concept to our American cousins.

Denver Broncos tight end Daniel Graham attempts to bat at The Oval

Daniel Graham enjoys the feel of leather on willow at The Oval

Enough of cricket for now. Back to the NFL and the Broncos, who, like the 49ers, need a win in the worst possible way on Sunday after opening the year with two wins and five losses.

Head coach Josh McDaniels was upbeat and positive ahead of the 49ers meeting and feels a win is vital to his club, insisting: "This is an important game for us, no matter where it is being played. It is important to go into the bye week with the momentum of a victory."

McDaniels may still be growing as an NFL head coach but, at the age of 34, I think he should be given time to put things right in Denver. And I think he will be given some leeway as he looks to mould his team into a championship contender.

I interviewed McDaniels on the telephone a couple of weeks back (you can read the results in Sunday's gameday magazine on sale at Wembley Stadium) and I also conducted a quick one on one with him on Friday after his press conference.

I cannot help but be impressed. I know he is fiery and, at times, controversial but he is also passionate, committed and determined to get the very best out of his players.

He learned his trade under one of the greatest coaches in recent NFL history in Bill Belichick and like the New England Patriots boss, McDaniels is keen to stock his roster with players who are smart, tough, versatile and willing to put the team first. Those kind of guys are not always easy to find so building a team like that could take time.

It's also hard to accuse McDaniels of shying away from the big decisions. Since taking charge in Denver, he has traded potential superstars in quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

The real positive from those moves was getting Kyle Orton in exchange for Cutler. The former Chicago Bears passer has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL in the first half of the season and he is definitely going to be a player to watch on Sunday.

The Broncos are going to take some lumps along the way, but the general feeling is that this 2-5 team has much more potential than the squad that opened the 2009 campaign with six straight wins.

Now the Broncos just need to find a way to turn potential into wins. I think Broncos fans can rest assured that McDaniels has the passion and energy to lead that challenge.

Looking ahead to the weekend, it should be a great Saturday as the NFL is holding a Fan Rally at Trafalgar Square from 1-5pm. Get along if you can. I am especially excited as I will be on stage interviewing some of the biggest names in NFL history in Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Morten Andersen and Mike Singletary. I will also be chatting on stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

If you get yourself along to Trafalgar Square, be sure to say hi.

Week 8 on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra

Greg Brady and Darren Fletcher will call the 49ers-Broncos game from 4:45pm (GMT) for UK users only. on Sunday evening but, schedule permitting, I hope to join them for a decent chunk of time as in previous seasons.

I think we will be witness to a San Francisco victory on Sunday night, although it will be a hard-fought and close affair. Sure, there is uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position following the promotion of Troy Smith, but we have to remember this is a team with plenty of playmakers in Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.

And this is a San Francisco team that has surely set some sort of NFL record, losing four of their opening seven games by an average of three points per outing. With a couple of bounces going their way, the Niners could be trotting out at Wembley as proud owners of a 5-2 record. Such is the fine loss between success and failure in today's NFL.

One thing I think we can be assured of on Sunday is that the playoff atmosphere in the stands is now going to be matched by some genuine post-season intensity on the field.

The 49ers and Broncos have left themselves no room for error on Sunday. And that should make for a passionate and hard-hitting encounter worthy of the occasion.

I'll be back on Monday to wrap up the International Series week and look ahead to just how far this international activity can go in the future.

If you're going along to the game, have fun and be sure to make plenty of noise.

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Thursday

I had another one of those 'pinch yourself' moments on Thursday as I got to spend a few hours at Wembley Stadium with a genuine NFL legend in Jerry Rice.

And while we technically didn't have a game of catch on the sidelines, Jerry did need a football for a photo-shoot and shouted for me to toss one over to him.

I didn't need asking twice.

I hurried to the nearest ball, grabbed it nervously and lofted a wobbly pass to the Pro Football Hall of Famer who played 20 years in the NFL, won three Super Bowls and took the wide receiver position to a whole new level with 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns.

Neil with NFL legend Jerry Rice

Neil with NFL legend Jerry Rice

I should also mention that he caught passes from a pair of Hall of Famers in Joe Montana and Steve Young during the course of his career.

No pressure on this out-of-shape, jelly-armed journalist then!

But like truly great quarterbacks such as Montana, Brett Favre and Dan Marino, I stepped up and performed admirably when the stakes were at their highest. Had he been wearing numbers, I would have hit Jerry right between the famous 8 and the 0.

If you're talking pressure throws in NFL history, I would put The Catch (Joe Montana to Dwight Clark) in first place, Ben Roethlisberger's Super Bowl-winning touchdown strike to Santonio Holmes second, maybe Montana to John Taylor in Super Bowl XXIII third and then my pass to Rice fourth.

What was a massive personal moment for me hardly registered for Mr Rice, though. Jerry simply took the ball and began to pose for the photographer orchestrating the shoot.

I, on the other hand, wanted to chest bump with Jerry, sprint onto the Wembley field, dive head-first onto the lovingly-tended turf Jurgen Klinsmann-style and then launch into a hybrid of the Ickey Shuffle and Mark Gastineau's sack dance.

Given that I spent much of Thursday with Rice, I am not able to comment on the psyche of the 49ers as they enjoyed practice session number two under the leadership of former third-string quarterback turned starter Troy Smith.

But I can tell you that the sense of anticipation surrounding this game is growing by the day and even Rice himself admitted he was tempted to suit up just one more time for the chance to play in front of 85,000 at Wembley on Sunday.

Rice played in preseason American Bowl games in 1988 and 1992 but he knows the regular season is a completely different kettle of fish. In recalling those American Bowls, Rice showed just what a dedicated professional he was during his playing days.

He came away from both games with a deep sense of frustration because he wanted to put on a show and play for the entire 60 minutes, rather than just a series or two. He felt the fans had paid good money and deserved to see the biggest names in the game, even if it meant them risking a season-ending injury in a meaningless contest.

Rice had his number 80 jersey retired by the 49ers in September. Photo: Reuters

Rice had his number 80 jersey retired by the 49ers in September. Photo: Reuters

That typifies the way Rice approached his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers (1985-2000), Oakland Raiders (2001-2004) and Seattle Seahawks (2004).

When I chatted with Joe Montana over the summer, he told me how hard Rice worked in practice, taking every single catch 80 yards to the end zone. It caught on and all the 49ers receivers became harder workers as a result. And Montana also pointed out that he was never stupid enough to work out with Rice in the off-season.

Rice's off-season workouts were the stuff of legend. He and 49ers running back Roger Craig would spend hours running the hills around San Francisco until their legs were on fire and they could give no more. Then they would find the strength to push on for just a little while longer.

It was a classic example of a champion knowing that skill alone was not going to get the job done. Hard work was also necessary to be as elite a player as Rice was.

And that painful work was never going to be something Rice shied away from. He grew up on construction sites working summers for his father. And to keep his football skills sharp, he would spend his days catching bricks with his bare hands, all the while balancing on some rather precarious scaffolding.

From that hard-working and humble upbringing grew the man often referred to as the greatest player in NFL history. It was an absolute honour to interview him today for BBC Radio 5 Live and the NFL UK website and an even greater privilege to throw a pass to him, albeit a rather shaky and unappreciated one!

Jerry did sterling work in promoting the game between the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers and I'm sure he will do an equally good and thorough job analysing the showdown as part of the BBC television coverage on Sunday night.

What else would you expect from one of the hardest-working men in NFL history?

For those who are concerned about apparent 49ers bias in this diary, I will return tomorrow with long-awaited news and views from the Denver Broncos, who finally touch down in London on Friday, holding their practice session at The Oval cricket ground.

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Wednesday

I have sat through a lot of NFL press conferences over the years and, unless you follow a team regularly, you rarely get a great deal of considerable news out of them.

I have almost fallen asleep listening to Bill Belichick drone on in New England and I think I saw Andy Reid set the world record for consecutive one-word answers on one rather dreary occasion at a Philadelphia Eagles game.

In covering all three previous NFL International Series Games played in London, I have sat through sessions with Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and an array of head coaches such as Tom Coughlin, Sean Payton and Norv 'Under Pressure' Turner.

But few have raised eyebrows like San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary did in today's session at the 49ers team hotel as he revealed that quarterback Alex Smith would be sidelined for the next two or three weeks with a pretty serious shoulder injury.

Troy Smith (L) was announced as starting quarterback for Sunday's game. David Carr (R) was widely expected to take the injured Alex Smith's place.

Troy Smith (L) was announced as starting quarterback for Sunday's game. David Carr (R) was widely expected to take the injured Alex Smith's place.

No surprise there. Smith was hurt badly against the Carolina Panthers last week and has a nasty shoulder separation.

The shock came when Singletary announced that third-string quarterback Troy Smith - who was not even with the 49ers during preseason training camp - would leap above the number two passer in David Carr and start on Sunday against the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium.

Carr struggled against the Panthers last week and tossed the crucial interception that set Carolina up for their winning points. He had an opportunity to steal the starting job away from Alex Smith and failed in pretty dismal fashion.

It would be fair to say this is a pretty big gamble given that Troy Smith has never taken a snap with San Francisco's first team offense since joining them at the start of the regular season.

Or is it?

If you compare the potential of Troy Smith and Carr, I would lean towards the former having the chance to shine brighter in the future, even though he has considerably less experience. And Troy Smith certainly offers great improvisational skills when the play breaks down - he can make plays with his feet as well as his arm, whereas Carr is like the sacks equivalent of a pin cushion.

Carr was sacked an NFL record 76 times as a rookie with the Houston Texans in 2002 and he admitted to me over the summer that the experience nearly broke him as a quarterback.

"Where we are right now as a team, Troy Smith gives us the best chance to win this game on Sunday," Singletary insisted. "The number one thing I liked about him when he was at Ohio State and with the Baltimore Ravens and now with us is his leadership skills and his ability to get everybody on the same page."

Singletary's decision to go with Troy Smith does not smack of desperation but it comes as a result of two things. First, Carr has clearly shown he does not have the skills and confidence required to take control of this San Francisco attack. Secondly, the move comes with the 49ers desperately needing to light a fire under an offense that has struggled at times and only occasionally flashed its true potential in 2010.

Sometimes a change at such a pivotal position can be good for a team and that is what the 49ers will be hoping come Sunday evening.

Alex Smith has not been sensational in San Francisco this year and has his share of long-term detractors, so Troy Smith will go into the Wembley showdown with Denver knowing a long-term job is possibly there for the taking.

Running back Frank Gore will play a pivotal role in the 49ers offence on Sunday

Running back Frank Gore will play a pivotal role in the 49ers offence on Sunday

There may not be a more complete running back in the NFL than Frank Gore and he simply never comes off the field. Troy Smith should not be afraid to load up that workhorse and ride him into the ground.

I'm sure he will get plenty of advice in the days to come but Troy Smith should remember this - the 49ers have enough offensive weaponry to be successful each and every week and he needs to find his playmakers early and often.

And let's not forget there are aerial targets in the form of tight end Vernon Davis - arguably the best playmaker at his position in the NFL - and the up and coming wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

All those guys are going to be vital for San Francisco's chances in this game and during the remainder of this season. But Sunday is no longer about them - it is about the intriguing Troy Smith and his chance to take advantage of opportunities that do not come along every day.

Singletary made sure of that when he thrust his young signal-caller into the international spotlight at Wednesday's press conference.

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Tuesday

While most of the San Francisco 49ers were putting their feet up on what was officially their day off on Tuesday, some hardy souls were out and about in London attempting to win the hearts and minds of the locals ahead of this weekend's clash with the Denver Broncos.

And the brave and committed 49ers were given a typical British welcome as they took part in a Football and Football Clinic with Tottenham Hotspur at Northumberland Park Community School.

It didn't just rain cats and dogs. It was freezing cold, the wind was howling and it was generally a miserable and grey day in the capital.

I should know because I spent so long standing around in the rain that I was soaked to the skin and so frozen that only now my hands have thawed out enough to type today's diary entry.

Michael Dawson and offensive lineman Mike Iupati

Forget about the latter days of October. Had you told me this was a promotional event on the eve of the Super Bowl in February, I would have believed you. If I was suffering from the cold, goodness knows how the men from California were feeling.

Somehow, and I think you have to be a kid to truly understand how this can be, every single child taking part in the event was so enthused that they hardly noticed the Baltic temperatures and driving rain.

Among the 49ers taking part alongside Tottenham and England defender Michael Dawson were offensive linemen Mike Iupati and Tony Wragge and wide receiver Josh Morgan. There was also a special appearance by team owner Dr John York and the 49ers' Gold Rush cheerleaders.

Also participating in the community event aimed at getting young kids active playing American football and 'our' football, was one of the most proficient kickers in pro football history.

London Monarchs fans among you may not even know that I am talking about former Tottenham striking great Clive Allen, who tried life on the gridiron for the 1997 season in the NFL Europe League.

And during his one campaign with the Monarchs, Allen made every single kick that came his way and did not miss a single field goal or extra point.

But my overriding memory of Allen in an American football uniform is not one where he calmly splits the uprights for another field goal. Instead, I recall a game played at Stamford Bridge in which Allen clearly needed to take a 'rest break' during the heat of the battle.

The Monarchs were situated on the far side of the field on that day away from the tunnel but, fortunately for Allen, Chelsea's stadium was being refurbished at the time and that entire side was a building site piled high with rubble.

So as the Monarchs battled on the field, Allen nipped behind a pile of bricks and stones and emerged moments later brazenly doing his pants up and returning to watch the game.

The penny had been spent and Allen could return to the game, although I'm not sure where he washed his hands. Hand hygiene, Clive?

Clive Allen at the 'Football and Football' event in Tottenham

Clive Allen at the 'Football and Football' event in Tottenham

I spoke to Allen today but, not surprisingly, I chose not to mention my prominent memory of him in a Monarchs' uniform. Instead, I wanted to find out what he really felt about the British fans who, albeit in small numbers at that time, cheered him on during his American football career.

And what struck me clearly is that Allen is still a big fan of the NFL today and he fully feels the British fans deserve to be enjoying these servings of regular season games.

"They were a passionate and very knowledgeable group of fans," Allen explained. "They were really hard core when it came to their American football and I think it's fantastic that the NFL is now playing regular season games in the UK."

Seeing Clive Allen today got me thinking about how far we have come in the UK in the past 15 years.

I followed the Monarchs as a fan and a journalist from Wembley Stadium to White Hart Lane to Stamford Bridge to the disaster that was Crystal Palace. And I recall spending at least an hour or so before each game nervously looking around the stands, desperately hoping the place would fill up to somehow ensure the future of the game on these shores.

It rarely did.

Ultimately, the Monarchs and NFL Europe could not survive, but I always felt there was still a massive NFL fan base in the UK. Like Allen, I felt the crowds in England and Scotland were extremely savvy and, as a result, I think they wanted to see top flight football and not a group of third string players and guys signed as free agents off the street.

That's not to knock NFL Europe - I was one of the biggest supporters of the European farm system and loved covering and later working for the league. NFL Europe was full of good young players and good people. But I accept it was not for everybody - there were many genuine fans of the NFL who stayed away, preferring to wait for the real deal.

That group of fans - who also fell out of love with the American Bowl series of games - were rewarded in 2007 when the NFL International Series came to London. And now the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos join the list that includes New England, Tampa Bay, San Diego, New Orleans, New York Giants and Miami.

Given how far we have come since the days of Allen taking enforced toilet breaks with the London Monarchs, you wouldn't bet against a significant number of NFL teams being added to that list in the coming years.

Tomorrow, I will check in from the 49ers press conference and their opening practice of what head coach Mike Singletary has described as a "pivotal week." Until then, I'm off for a warm bath!

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Monday night

49ers coach Mike Singletary battles a wasp during Monday's press conferenceAs Mike Singletary marched into the San Francisco 49ers' opening press conference of the week in London on Monday lunchtime, he looked every bit as intimidating as during his playing days as a hard-hitting linebacker with the Chicago Bears.

A return of one win and six losses from the opening seven games of the 2010 NFL season is enough to darken the best of moods. So the general feeling was that the under pressure head coach was not to be messed with as he spoke about this Sunday's Wembley showdown with the Denver Broncos.

To tread carefully was the generally accepted belief among the gathered media but one press conference attendee failed to pick up on that vibe.

And that meant that while Singletary was stood in what basically amounted to a long greenhouse complete with foliage that was both attracting and inviting to local wildlife, he came under constant attack from a persistent, brave and somewhat foolish wasp!

Within seconds of taking his place at the podium, one of the most intimidating defenders in NFL history was reduced to sticking his finger in his ear and turfing out an insect with an apparent death wish.

A couple more questions were fired from the floor and expertly batted away by the 49ers top man. And then he got buzzed again, this time being forced to momentarily duck as he exclaimed: "What the heck was that?"

If the 49ers had a couple more wins in the bag it might have been funny. Instead, I watched on from the media seats praying the wasp didn't return for another round. A third attack was never going to be well received and might well have prompted another classic Singletary YouTube meltdown or brought a halt to proceedings all together.

Thankfully, the wasp chose to bounce off a nearby window frame three or four times and was then expertly dispatched by a public relations executive from the NFL's New York office, who quickly undid the window and sent Singletary's first nemesis of the NFL International Series week packing.

To his credit, Singletary maintained his poise and impressed me with his positive nature. He struck me as the kind of guy who rarely has a negative thought. Sure, he gets into the faces of his players when they make a mistake but only because he demands greatness.

But he refuses to give up on the 2010 season and feels the trip to London could be a turning point in a difficult year, explaining: "This has come at a really good time for us. It's a nice change for us and a chance to get away, re-group and re-think. I feel this will be a pivotal week for us as a team."

Singletary also genuinely believes his 49ers can bounce back and win the NFC West Division and he may yet be proved right. Stranger things have certainly happened in the NFL. They remain just three games behind Seattle and have to play the Seahawks in San Francisco and have other winnable contests against Tampa Bay, St. Louis (twice) and Arizona (twice).

Of course, if they are to have any chance of salvaging a season threatening to spiral out of control, they must start with a win against Denver at Wembley on Sunday night.

That was a sentiment shared by All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, who said: "We're 1-6 at the moment so we don't have that same positive vibe we had around us during the preseason. But there's still a lot of fight left in this team and there's still a lot of football left to be played this season. We're in a hole but we've just got to dig ourselves out of it."

Bold words from Willis and it's clear they're going to take inspiration from today's press conference wasp - they're going to keep buzzing, keep coming back for more and keep fighting.

At least until, in NFL terms, someone opens the window and kicks them out.

Neil will be blogging throughout the week in the build-up to the Wembley fixture.

Watch highlights of San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos on BBC One and this website (UK users only) on 31 October from 2335 GMT.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    With the season they've had, you could almost foresee that the 49ers would find a way to lose in Carolina. But Denver's implosion was something else, the Raiders are a whole lot better this year but I still thought that score was a mistake when I checked this morning.

    Just one question for now, with the weather being as it is at this time of year, could the roof at Wembley will be closed for the game?

  • Comment number 2.

    Bit of a pointless comment really - Wembley's sliding roof sections only cover/uncover the seating at either end of the pitch and are usually closed for matches held there anyway. Do you really think that if a fully closeable roof existed at Wembley, then they would leave it open when it rains?

  • Comment number 3.

    It's a weird season. Both the Lions and the Raiders racking up high school scores within a fortnight? Surreal. I think the NFL is finally achieving that parity its draft system tries to enforce. Teams have to be "on" every week for fear of anyone blowing them out.

  • Comment number 4.

    Yeeeeeeeee haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

    Howdy partner, hot dog, touch down!!!!!


    Yeaaaaaahhhhh!

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    should = couldnt

  • Comment number 7.

    "Still the whole experiance should be electric and enjoyable"

    Agree, should be a great atmosphere with a crowd full of wannabe Americans dressed in their cowboy suits, swinging the old lassos and chanting "defense [sic], defense [sic]", defense [sic]..." and all of their other highly original and well-thought-out chants.

    "- and - nobody has a remote idea who is going to win."

    Also agree, I have no idea who is going to win. In fact, I actually have no idea who is playing!!!!

    "A shame they shouldnt have brought Giants v Dallas over though!!"

    Agree - it would have been great to see Gulliver, the Jolly Green Giant and Giant Haysticks himself pit their wits against JR, Patrick Duffy, Joan Collins and him out of Lovejoy!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Only one story of note this week;

    The Browns blowing the Saints out of their own dome.

    Brees intercepted 4 times. Trick plays, a great piece of coaching, and a much better display from the Browns, who are at best a team in transition.

    I hope the Browns can go on a run after this and can give me some hope for the rest of the season.

  • Comment number 9.

    Agreed porkchop, it's probably one of the most surprising results of the last few years. The return of Mangenius?!

  • Comment number 10.

    @Steve Treacle.

    Chill Out. The NFL means you no harm. You sound just as narrow minded as the Americans who firmly believe that soccer [sic] is symbolic of the spread of the socialist european culture and, therefore, must be opposed root and branch. (I kid you not - people believe this over there).

    I'm a british football fan. Having spent some time in the states, i am also now an NFL fan. Aside from the brutal hits, this can often be a truly elegant sport

  • Comment number 11.

    As a Seahawks fan (from about half the globe away), I'm pleased, if surprised, at their early season form, especially the win on the road in Chicago. The 49ers are going to have to improve dramatically to catch them, especially with a relative easy schedule after last (best not remembered) year.
    Though I'm a soccer fan too (same team since 1956), I love the mixture of violence and chess that is American football

  • Comment number 12.

    Singletary must be so happy this game is being played in London. He's pretty much assured of a much better reaction to his team whatever the score turns out to be than he could expect in San Fran at the moment!

  • Comment number 13.

    Ref. 12, packersftw:

    "Singletary must be so happy this game is being played in London."

    McDaniels, too.

    Get out of Denver, Baby, go, go!

  • Comment number 14.

    Haha, so true. They'll never want to go home!

  • Comment number 15.

    Yeah, the city of Denver is on suicide watch. They could become the London Broncos for all we care.

  • Comment number 16.

    randy_benchwelder_III... I don't think anyone here in America has ever uttered that statement in regards to soccer and socialism. Thats beyond ridiculous. In fact This past world cup was incredibly popular and brought in huge ratings for ESPN and ABC. We even now have dedicated Soccer channels and ESPN shows Marquee EPL matches every saturday morning.

  • Comment number 17.

    @ Jordon

    I live in the US also. I can assure you i have heard that kind of rhetoric dozens of times. When soccer is spoken about in my office, it is spoken about through gritted teeth.

    Perhaps it is because i live in the south and i am surrounded by die-hard Republicans. But i an assure they say it. 40+ year olds in particular.

    As for ESPN - i watch it also. There are not necessarily "marquee" games on. I have to wonder, though, would ESPN show these matches live if they were on after 12pm? They certainly would not bump a mainstream US sport for an EPL match.

  • Comment number 18.

    Well I guess if you hear it, then you obviously must hear it... And you're probably right about not every espn matchup being a marquee matchup. I can't remember who was on this past week. I probably should have worded that better and said that they usually try to showcase the larger clubs. But hey... as far as your original statement goes, personally, Id gladly have socialism if it meant that I got to watch even more "soccer". :) And you're totally right about them not bumping any other major sport for a soccer match. It's just become to much of a ratings monster.

  • Comment number 19.

    American football that is thats the ratings monster....

  • Comment number 20.

    Yeah, the city of Denver is on suicide watch. They could become the London Broncos for all we care///


    Haha - we used to have a Rugby league team called the London Broncos! I've been a Denver fan (from the UK) since I was about 12. It ain't easy being orange (1997-8 excepted!)

    Trivia question - what is the franchises biggest defeat? Is this it? It equals the 55-10 thumping that SF handed us in the Superbowl, but is it the biggest margin of defeat for Denver ever?

  • Comment number 21.


    I bet you dudes are gonna have a Halloween Pardy in your condos before the big match too on Sunday, with plenty of Mom's [sic] pumpkin pie, chilli dogs, root beer and popcorn. Hell yeah, I think I may just join you after I've been to the chapel, of course (God Bless the Lord; God Bless America!) and finished my entire box set of Friends Seasons [sic] - hey those guys are zany!

    We can have some rooting tooting fun and cheer on the SanFran 69ers to victory against those pesky, good for nothing London Panthers. I hear the SanFran QB is gonna throw some TDs and break the Guinness World Record for wearing the most padding known to humanity (he is aiming to wear 80 stone, sorry 374,000 good ol' US pounds, of padding or double his own svelte body weight).

    Hot daaaaaaaaaaaaaag!

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    Anyway, away from idiocy and back to the game, is anyone on here going?

  • Comment number 26.

    Hell yeah!!!!

    USA! USA! USA!

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hmm, so it appears my previous comment breached 'House Rules'. Ok, well is it even worth me commenting on the fact that the condition of the Wembley pitch has been a disgrace? How it has been changed more times than a new-born baby's nappy? How it has been nipped and tucked more times than a Z-List celebrity? How despite all of this, the owners of Wembley are quite happy for events such as this to take place purely to get those Queen Quids rolling in, despite the fact that it will clearly destroy the pitch once again? Perhaps it's not worth me mentioning any of this; clearly when it comes to providing comments on here, only sycophants need apply.

  • Comment number 31.

    Ref. 20, Norrin_Radd:

    "Trivia question - what is the franchises biggest defeat? Is this it? It equals the 55-10 thumping that SF handed us in the Superbowl, but is it the biggest margin of defeat for Denver ever?"

    No, that would be a 51-0 loss against (you guessed it) the Raiders in 1966. Last Sunday's was the biggest point spread at home, though.

  • Comment number 32.

    Thanks, Andy..

  • Comment number 33.

    No mean feat either, considering the Raiders had Campbell at QB.

  • Comment number 34.

    Fascinating Tuesday blog Neil, great to take a trip down memory lane.

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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  • Comment number 38.

    Ah, the Monarchs. I still have my shirt, and a few t-shirts. Every now and again I take them out and look at them, and relive the memories!

  • Comment number 39.

    35. At 11:50am on 27 Oct 2010, Windsor Horne Lockwood III wrote:
    ... Having said that, there must surely be enough American sport-related websites in existence; American Football has no place on the BBC website.]

    Why not, if BBC licence fee payers want it there? And I assure you, we do!

    Go Steelers!

  • Comment number 40.

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  • Comment number 42.

    Windsor and Steve, you could talk about how the 49ers players are helping our kids involved in sport and active however you would rather portray the stereo-typical Brit views on America and NFL.

    Neil, nice to see the players getting involved with off-field activities. With the 49ers nightmare season on-going and a new starting QB they could easily have ignored their promotional duties.

    On the 49ers on field problems, this really has been an awful season and personally I dont think enough has been made of the defensive performance. Offensively they have had problems for the last few years but this year the defense has slipped. 3rd down has been a huge problem. Opposition QB's have a better rating versus the 49ers than the Lions which is a shocking statistic.

    Alex Smith performance this year have shown little progression and is the latest injury the end of his tenure as the 49ers QB? I'm glad Troy Smith has got his second chance and I think he will show he can be a starter in the NFL.

    A trip to Wembley is out of the question as I am lucky enough to be heading to Houston in December for the Texans versus Ravens on MNF.

  • Comment number 43.

    Interesting that Singletary went for Smith over Carr, although I guess it's not much of a gamble considering how poor the latter was during last Sunday's game.

  • Comment number 44.

    Packersftw, I think Singletary wants to find out if Smith (Troy) can be the guy. Carr (IMO) will never be anything more than a back-up but Smith has the potential to be a starter in the NFL so putting in this type of game will show more than the "usual" regular season game.

  • Comment number 45.

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  • Comment number 46.

    Ravens, I reckon you're probably right, although I'm not sure Smith is more talented than Carr. I guess Carr has simply used up his many, many chances to be a starter, so Singletary doesn't really have anything to lose by putting Smith on the field. At this point, I don't think 49ers fans have any confidence in any of their QBs, so the least known of the 3 might as well start!

  • Comment number 47.

    Troy has more upside than Carr, he maybe isnt the proto-typical QB but has good mobility and can make plays. If he can be successful from now till the end of the season I think he will be given the starters job next year. Otherwise it will be a first round QB for the 49ers in next years draft.
    As much as Alex Smith comes over as a nice guy I think he has used all of his chances to win over the 49ers fans and prove himself as an NFL starter.

    Windsor, the Simpsons is a fictional show and other characters include 2 aliens. We live in the real world.

  • Comment number 48.

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  • Comment number 49.

    Tim Tebow should get a start this weekend so we might get to see if he's worth it now

  • Comment number 50.

    Ravens, Windsor has got a great point to be fair. Because The Simpsons is written by Americans, the show is representative of all American attitudes towards the British. Did you see his use of a semi-colon too? You're so intelligent and witty Windsor, we've all been really impressed by your long and frequent posts.

    Now, you clearly have an awful lot of spare time, so off you go. I think an episode of A League of their Own is on soon, that sounds like your kind of thing.

    Inherent, I guess the Broncos have nothing to lose at this point. Both teams in very similar situations!

  • Comment number 51.

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  • Comment number 60.

    I'm glad you're enjoying yourself too. Life is all about enjoying yourself. That said, I regretfully feel the need to inform you that it's not you making me write these comments. It's a combination of my brain, some use of my arms and use of my fingers that put these comments on here. Eyes also come in quite handy too.

  • Comment number 61.

    Neil

    Really enjoying the blog and the daily updates, it's making me look forward to my first ever live NFL game and Sunday can't come soon enough!

    Do you think that Singletary choosing Troy Smith over Carr signals a sign that Carr should move on (if Troy proves himself of course)!? And if so, where should Carr move to? Would anyone take him right now?

    Also, do you feel that this change of QB could actually force the Offensive Coach and Team to look hard at themselves, really raise their game and could possibly be the turning point in the 49ers abysmal season..!?

    And finally, any update or news on Denver..!? Seems a little one-sided blogging very much with a 49ers focus which seems a tad unfair?

    (I'm not a Broncos fan and appreciate the 80s history of the 49ers, but still, there is very little about Denver!)

    Go Titaaaaaaaaaaaans!! :)

  • Comment number 62.

    "Vernon Davis - arguably the best playmaker at his position in the NFL"

    Come on, Neil. I know it's been a busy few days, but you can't really believe that. Davis is a terrific TE, but do you really want to suggest he's a better play-maker than Antonio Gates?

    I thought Denver were in big trouble, what with their arrival only tomorrow for Sunday's game, but I've changed my mind after seeing Singletary's QB choice. As much as Troy Smith may have potential, he's throwing in to a secondary led by a true legend in Champ Bailey, and I don't see how that ends well.

    Obviously, if the Broncos run defence goes awol again, that's another thing, and I imagine that's what Singletary is really hoping for, that Troy Smith can enjoy a hassle-free debut behind a dominant ground game.

  • Comment number 63.

    NeverEndingSaga - without pre-empting Neil, I guess the focus on the 49ers so far has been due to them being the nominal 'home team' and the fact that the Broncos aren't in the country yet.

    Enjoy Sunday - there's something about seeing a live game (even one less than memorable ones in terms of plays or score) that's that bit special. Don't really notice the time going by :) Should be a good laugh, with our little Packers/Seahawks/Steelers/Buccs/Dolphins collective all going again this year.

  • Comment number 64.

    The Same Eddie George - fair point... I would put Gates a long way above others at that position. But Davis is pretty good too. It has been a long week.

    Broncos will get some love tomorrow - reason it has been one-sided is because the 49ers are in town and Denver do not actually arrive until Friday. But it will get more balanced before the weekend - I promise.

    Also lots of arguing in these posts this week - I turn my back for one week due to some general busy-ness and you cannot get along. I don't know... two minutes on the naughty step for all of you!

  • Comment number 65.

    Chunk Rood / Neil:

    Thanks for the replies, that does make more sense now (blushes) ;)

    I'm fairly new to properly following the NFL (started at begining of last season) and it's things like this that I miss in my over-excitment and naiveity!! whoops!

    Eddie-George: Why do you feel Carr would be a better choice than Troy Smith? Surely if Carr's past is mediocre at best(!?) then surely giving a younger (and more ambitious?) QB a start could actually bring about a freshness?
    Also, would it not possibly show the rest of the team that no position is safe from another guy coming through?

    Thanks

  • Comment number 66.

    @ Neverendingsaga

    Any time you see a rookie QB go up against a high quality secondary, you wince. Carr hasn't had a stellar career obviously, but he'll at least be more familiar going up against the likes of Champ Bailey and having a feel for when the pass is on, and when not.

    The key point I here, which Neil broached very carefully given the sensitivities around coaching decisions with the quarterback, is that Alex Smith has not nailed down his job as the 49ers QB. Carr won't be a long term solution, Troy Smith may be, and that's why he's being given a chance now. If Alex were certain to get the job back when he's fit again, and especially if the 49ers were in the play-off hunt, I'm sure Carr would be starting.

    In any case, I think the gamble is less that Troy Smith is a star in the making, and more that Frank Gore can stomp all over the Broncos. Which is fair enough, given what happened to the Broncos last week.

  • Comment number 67.

    Neil:

    "I felt the crowds in England and Scotland were extremely savvy and, as a result, I think they wanted to see top flight football and not a group of third string players and guys signed as free agents off the street."

    FIFA faces the same problem in the U.S. I love soccer. Played it all my youth. Grew up on a show called "Soccer Made in Germany" (with Toby Charles: "Oh, and that one was just off!").

    The guys in the MLS are getting better, but their ball handling skills simply are not on par with European players. I tell myself that to get better players we need embrace the U.S. teams, but every time I sit down to watch the Rapids my attention drifts.

    On the other hand I can't get enough of the Premiership. ESPN2 has a game of the week on Sunday morning which I watch religiously (I record it; it is Sunday morning after all). Right now that's all I can get (the Fox Sports World package is too expensive for me).

    The problem is that if a top tier team were to broadcast all its games in the U.S., no one would watch the MLS. If a top notch team like Man U. or Chelsea were to do that, they'd have a huge following in the U.S. even if it didn't capture anywhere near the audience the NFL has.

    Americans (like the Brits) are spoiled. We want to watch the best.

  • Comment number 68.

    "There may not be a more complete running back in the NFL than Frank Gore and he simply never comes off the field."

    Yep, that's the key to the game. If the Broncos can stop Gore and get a lead, it's going to be open season on the kid. The defensive lineman will have their ears pinned back. That, combined with the return of Dawkins and Goodman, could make it a long day for Troy Smith.

  • Comment number 69.

    With regard to post 67, a most splendid post and I applaud your honesty. I recently heard something about the NBA coming to London next year. As a retired British gent who some might say is "past it" (but I beg to differ, there's still life in the old dog yet), tell me, what is the better game, American football or Basketball? Or would one recommend baseball? Personally I've never understood baseball.

    You see the good lady wife knows I enjoy my sport but she thinks I should broaden my sporting horizons to include things other than supporting the local Chelsea. She probably thinks the more time I spend watching sport the less time she has to listen to me droning on about Frank Lampard. She's such a character I tell you.

  • Comment number 70.

    I think the Broncos are going to pay the price for arriving in London 48 hours before the game. The Patriots did it last year and won, but Denver are most definitely not at that level. Gore is going to have great fun with linemen suffering from post-flying stiffness!

  • Comment number 71.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 72.

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  • Comment number 73.

    What's going on with Neil's hands in the top pic on this page? Photoshoppery gone horribly wrong?

  • Comment number 74.

    Ref. 69, Windsor Horne Lockwood III:

    "[T]ell me, what is the better game, American football or Basketball? Or would one recommend baseball? Personally I've never understood baseball."

    All of the American sports are good entertainment. That's why they exist.

    I would suggest something domestic, though. Following one team is the best way to follow any sport, and that isn't possible when you live outside the country. I suppose the internet makes it possible, but I just don't see it.

    If however you're determined to go American, I'd go with American Football. The stop and start nature of the game allows for a lot of commentary. They replay almost all the downs at least once, pointing out what's going on (and there is a lot going on in the game). I'm guessing that makes it easier to pick up. It's also one of the best TV sports in the world. Watching it on TV is better than going to the game.

    The athleticism in NFL is at times stunning. On the downside, the game is stupidly violent. Serious injuries are commonplace and accepted. That could very well bother someone who's not used to it.

 

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