First, following the owners’ meeting, the N.F.L. announced that the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders will each be making a trip to London next season, where they will each play one home game at Wembley Stadium. Those three games are one game more than the number played this year.
“Our fans in the U.K. have continued to demonstrate that they love football and want more,” N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement in the Washington Post. “Both of this year’s games in London sold out quickly. The fan enthusiasm for our sport continues to grow. By playing two games in the U.K. this year, we are creating more fans. We hope that with three games in London next year, we will attract even more people to our game.”
So far, the N.F.L. played one game in London in each of the last six seasons. This year there are two. Next year there are three. It’s hard not to speculate how many years it’s going to take the N.F.L. to install a team permanently in London. Should we U.S.-based fans care? Hell, I’m game. I don’t have to make that horrible trip with the team. These players make millions, they can deal with the jet lag and having to play football at the same time. I think it’s an experiment worth trying. The real experiment is whether or not U.K. fans like American football enough to support it.
As one London resident told me at a sports book in Vegas a few years ago, the sport would grow like wildfire there. If they had a team, they would embrace a team fully. I admit I was surprised to see hear this as I had always been told the U.K. is a soccer loving country, not an American football-loving country. But again, this was a guy hanging out in one of the Strip’s sleazier sports books frantically watching American football. Take his comment with a grain of salt.
If a team were to move to London, who would it be? The Jaguars played there this year already (and are scheduled for a home game next year). I think the London Jaguars has a ring to it.
The stepping-it-up in London, a little bit every year, makes me wonder about taking the N.F.L. to other countries? As Dan Patrick suggested recently, how about Mexico? I would love to see how a couple games a year would go over there. I think that country would embrace the sport. Why not give it a try? The flight is a hell of a lot shorter for most teams.
Of course, while the owners want to expand their sport around the country, they also want to expand the most popular TV show related to football. Yes, the owners agreed to make it mandatory for a team each year to participate in HBO’s Hard Knocks.
The newly passed N.F.L resolution would require teams to appear on the HBO program, if asked. According to the Post, the first step in the process to choosing a Hard Knocks team each year would be to ask for a volunteer. If there is none (no smart coach should volunteer for this), the league would then create a pool of teams that would be required to open their doors to HBO cameras, if selected.
The teams exempt from a mandatory appearance, according to the story, are those teams with new head coaches, teams that reached the playoffs in either of the previous two seasons and those that have appeared on the show within a 10-year span.
“So if you don’t want to be on the show,” one league official told the Post, “Make the playoffs.”
While 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said he hasn’t been tempted to do the behind-the-scenes reality show in its three years, he admits to loving it, pronouncing it “quite entertaining.”
With that in mind, he told reporters, if the N.F.L. did require his team to take some Hard Knocks, they would do it without kicking and screaming.
“There’s going to be teams that are going to be on Hard Knocks, and that seems like a popular thing and something people want to see,” Harbaugh said. “So I don’t see it going away. You could stamp your feet and say I don’t want to do it, but I don’t know how productive that is for anybody concerned.”
For me, I love Hard Knocks. I’ve said it time and time again. There is no better reality show than seeing an N.F.L training camp from the inside. So any way to force teams into doing the show is good for me. And there would be nothing more I would like to see on that show than the New England Patriots. I would love to see (and seethe at) Tom Brady’s attitude behind the scenes. And Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s, for that matter. Just knowing the hatred Belichick would have for those poor cameramen in the locker room and at team meetings would be worth my time.
As if I didn’t need another reason to root against the Patriots, now I have one. With a couple of years missing the playoffs, you know they’ll be a top candidate for Hard Knocks. Seeing Belichick in his quiet say-nothing attitude while Tom Brady picks out a beautiful brown turtleneck for his press conference would be TV gold.
I am now a huge Miami Dolphins fan with hopes of keeping the Patriots out of the playoffs. As if I needed another reason to glue myself to the TV on Sundays, the N.F.L seems to know what we want. More games, more teams, more reality TV. The N.F.L. is a drug we can’t say no to, and the drug keeps getting stronger and stronger.