The NFL came to London last week and I went along for the ride. And what a ride it was. This is the 3rd year in a row that I’ve been to Wembley for the international series of American Football and, to be honest, it gets better every time no matter who ends up playing. This match saw the San Francisco 49ers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now, every NFL fan knew this was going to be a blowout. Last year’s Superbowl runners-up against the worst team in the league? It was never going to end well for the Jags. But that didn’t stop thousands of people turning up to watch, 83,559 to be precise. From the moment I started walking up to Wembley, the atmosphere was astounding; fans of all generations and walks of life had come to the game. The amount of different jerseys I saw was just plain ridiculous, from the current big name stars such as Marshawn Lynch, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III to the retired players and legends like Ronde Barber, Jerry Rice and Walter Payton. The fact that so many people were going to see the game despite their allegiances tells you so much about the sport and what it is becoming to mean for the fans in Great Britain.
The stadium itself looked fantastic, it was absolutely buzzing with life with the banners for each team respectively and it was all lit up like it was Christmas already. The levels of excitement rose walking up the stairs towards the entrance gates, I was itching to get to my seat and check out the view. And I was amazed when I got there. A big smile came across my face once I sat down and realised I was sitting right above the 49ers tunnel! This meant that I was able to see every San Francisco player run onto and off the field as well as having a great view of one of the end zones. The pre-game entertainment was just beginning when I got there so I was able to enjoy a short live performance from Ne-Yo in his attempt to pump the crowd up. I think it worked. By the time he was finished everyone was shouting and screaming. Though that might have been because the game was going to start very shortly. There was only one thing between us fans and the beginning of the game, the introduction of the Jacksonville Jaguars mascot ‘Jackson de Ville’. Now, I don’t think anybody was expecting what happened next. An image of Jackson appeared on the big screens and we saw that he was up in the rafters, with a zip-line in front of him…Yeah, you guessed it, the Jags mascot came down with style! Doing a little dance in the middle of the air before reaching the ground and moving off the field. It was hilarious. And the crowd lapped it up like there was no tomorrow.
Finally, the moment arrived, the players started to come out of their tunnels. The away team, the San Francisco 49ers came out first and I looked over the rail from my seat practically stunned that I was only 15 feet away from players such as Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis. It was an amazing experience. After the 49ers came out it was the Jaguars turn; in much more emphatic style seeing as they were the home team with the announcer belting out names of players and flags waving all over the place. Five minutes later, the game had begun and everyone was jumping out of their seats to engage in the action. It was entertainment at it’s finest with the 49ers running a play that gained around 40 yards and it only got better from there. Of course, it only got better if you were a San Francisco 49ers fan or a neutral supporter that is. The Niners came out very strongly and everyone got to see the absolute demolishment of a Jacksonville Jaguars defence that looked like it had no real business on the field. It didn’t stop all the Jags fans from enjoying themselves though, there was a couple in front of me wearing outrageous Jaguar-esque outfits who would yell at the top of their lungs no matter what happened during the game. Now that’s a true fan right there. And a commitment to the sport, too.
By half-time the Jaguars were pretty much done and dusted. Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the 49ers offence had put up 4 touchdowns to take the lead 28-3. We got to watch highlights of the other games while we waited for the game to begin again which was great fun because the separate fan-bases got to show their colours and shout as loud as they liked when they saw their team score. Highlights continued to flow our way when timeouts were taken during the second-half and the atmosphere seemed to get a lot livelier yet tenser as the afternoon games began to come to a close. Some fans were preparing to jubilate, others were preparing for disappointment. But, back to the game at hand. The 49ers put up another two Touchdowns by the end of the game and simply trounced the Jaguars, even though they did manage to get one themselves which left the score at 42-10. I was rooting so badly for the 49ers to get one more score, it just felt right that they should score 49, don’t you agree? In the end, everybody cheered the players’ performances and there were Mexican waves and clapping all round. It had been a truly entertaining day and to top it all off, I even ended up getting Nat Coombs(the presenter of Channel 4’s NFL programme) to give me a wave. It was the icing on a perfectly American cake. The players then ran towards their tunnels and all the fans clambered to the sides trying to get a glove or a wristband as memorobilia. The majority of the 49ers gladly obliged, which I thought was really great of them, though unfortunately I didn’t get anything myself. But hey, there’s always next year!
Overall, I really enjoyed myself and seemingly so did everybody else that was there, considering the crowd was full of chatter and revelry on the way out of the stadium. It was a privilege to see the game, and I look forward to the NFL coming back in 2014 where the international series has been extended to 3 matches. For now, just like every other fan from the UK, I’ll sit back and watch the games on tv, checking fantasy scores and hoping the team I support wins. American football is an amazing sport, full of surprises, excitement and ridiculous plays from the first whistle. The more people that start to follow from across the pond the better I say and I cannot wait until next Sunday for more action!