NFL SUmmer Bowl Carlos Dunlap Carlos Dunlap with his Bengal Summer Bowl teammates in London, July 2016

Brit Kids and Fans Meet NFL Stars
Summer Bowl and Fan Forums report by Gary Jordan
All images © Andy Neale, Whizzyfingers Photography

IMAGES AT RIGHT. Inspiring a new generation, from top:
Victor Cruz (Giants); Chris Baker (Redskins); Lance Hendricks (Rams); Dwayne Allen (Colts); DeAngelo Hall (Redskins); Denard Robinson (Jaguars)

Just a few short weeks from now our lives will once again be transformed. We all become the armchair quarterback, the leaping wide receiver, a running back juking his way through a densely packed line of scrimmage, or even a head coach, yelling in despair as your team commits another turnover.

Yes, it’s time for the National Football League to make its timely return to our already full diaries. Of course we’ve had the Combine and Draft to keep us occupied in the short months after the season curtain call of Denver’s Super Bowl 50 win. Recently the mini-camps and team activities, alongside another bout of free agency have kept the news wires busy.

Training camps are about to open and that’s when you really get the buzz, the anticipation of how your team will fare in the coming months. Every fan will harbour some hope that their team can make a run, or at least improve on the previous year. It’s also the time when the NFL starts to ramp up its media and marketing here in the United Kingdom. As you know there are three games to be played this year in London, including a first ever trip to the home of rugby, Twickenham Stadium.

Fan Forums
In the week starting Monday July 13, several big names were pulled from the teams that will participate in the International Series games to give fans a glimpse into their world. What it takes to be a professional football player in the always evolving NFL. Monday saw the visit of the now highest paid player in the league, Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. The QB has just signed a 5 year, $140m contract extension, and was more than willing to answer questions from a very well attended Fan Forum in Central London. He was ably assisted by teammate Dwayne Allen, and also Frenchman Anthony Dable from the New York Giants, and Moritz Boehringer the German Minnesota Vikings rookie. It was Luck who stole the show though, as expected, with his knowledgeable insight to the game which had those in attendance lapping up every word.

Tuesday saw another Fan Forum, with no less than eight players on parade. Victor Cruz (Giants), Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko (Bengals), Dwayne Allen (Colts), Lance Hendricks (Rams), Chris Baker and DeAngelo Hall (Redskins), and Denard Robinson (Jaguars) were those charged with keeping the UK fan faithful entertained. Each were all thoroughly impressed with just how much the UK fan knew about the game, even addressing issues about technique. The mix of competitions and fun always goes down well and it’s good to see the players at ease in such surroundings.

NFL Summer Bowl
The big event of the week was the NFL Summer Bowl on Wednesday. An all day football feast for local schools to get involved in the game and get up close and personal with the some of the stars mentioned above, as well as the official launch pad for the London games this year, with a large contingent from the media given their chance to question the players involved. This is perhaps the best part of the week for the players as it sees them in their more natural light, playing the game. Over 1,000 children from 47 schools were present during the day, all given a team to pair up with in a mini flag (non-contact) tournament. The schools chosen have been studying team ethic at school and behaviour that encourages good character. The Play60 format from the United States is something that everyone can learn from but built in at early age, the children here were between 8-11, can only help as they grow older.

“It’s good to see these kids excited about playing football. I’m excited just to be and to watch them”, said an enthused Cruz, although not immediately recognised by the youngsters until they were told he was an actual player in the NFL he was still happy to be involved. “They were actually great athletes” beamed Redskins veteran Hall, “we had a couple of kids making breaks and tight roping down the side lines, I was very impressed.”

“It’s been amazing. To see the kids face light up when I draw plays, or they make a play, I’m glad they’re excited an enjoying the same experience I enjoyed when I was growing up.”, was Allen’s reaction to the display that was put on.

“I’m super excited to be playing at Wembley Stadium this year, a super atmosphere, home of the FA Cup Final, England international team, I’m a big soccer fan so I know how much Wembley means, I’m excited to step on the pitch and do my thing” was the Bengals Peko response to the upcoming game. “We’ve been talking about it since we saw it on our schedule so we see how it goes, but were definitely excited to bring out game to the UK, excited to bring our football to the London fans, and the fan base is really big here. They’re not just fans of individual teams but the game which is amazing.” Cruz added as he looked ahead to the Giants visit to Twickenham. “I’m sure the seats will be packed, and the atmosphere will be just electric so I can’t wait to be out here.” was Hendricks take on the Rams game against the Giants.

NFL at Tottenham Hotspurs
Lastly on Thursday, the Redskins duo Baker and Hall, visited the ongoing development of Tottenham Hotspurs new stadium project which will see NFL games being staged from 2018. The stadium is being purposely built so it can accommodate NFL with very little impact to its surroundings. Another event at a school in the shadow of the towering cranes working on the structure saw the children show off their soccer skills that had the pair dazzled. Maybe, just maybe kids in the future will be suiting up in pads and playing at their local NFL stadium.

With the NFL showcasing all that is good about its media wing, assisted wonderfully by the people at NFLUK and the local communities, it’s now back to the business of honing their more natural skills of football. Their hard work is just beginning so the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the spectacle they provide.


NFL Summer Bowl Domata Peko Domata Peko gets into the mood


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