Seattle is one of the last teams to get the call to play in London, where the NFL has held at least one game every year since 2007. So what does it take to move an entire football team and its equipment to London for one game? We break it down here.
Few NFL teams ever really want to make the cross-Atlantic trip to London, and the Seahawks were no exception.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner summed up most of the players’ feelings about the trip when he answered a question Wednesday about whether he’s excited for this London game.
“The flight, no. London, yes,” Wagner said.
Altogether, the Seahawks estimate they’ll travel 4,801 miles to London — the longest they’ve ever gone for a regular season game.
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The long flight is simply something to be endured as Seattle plays its first-ever game in London against the Oakland Raiders at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
The NFL has played games annually in London since 2007 as part of the league’s goal to expose the game to an international audience, and the Seahawks-Raiders game is the first of three that will be played there this year.
Here’s a look at how it all came together, and what the Seahawks had to do to get everyone and everything to London and ready to go.
Long time coming for Seattle
The NFL has been clear about its desire to expand its international fan base despite the logistical challenges these annual London games pose to the teams selected to play in them.
From 2007-12, just one game a year was held in London, but the series was expanded in 2013, with the NFL’s emphasis on playing games abroad.
Teams accepted that they would eventually be called upon to make the trip.
Aside from the length of the trip, teams generally don’t like giving up a home game. That’s one reason why the NFL has often sent to London teams that don’t draw as well. Jacksonville falls into that category, and the Jaguars have played a game in London every year since 2013, and will again this year.
Also frequently on the NFL’s list of London game candidates: teams in the midst of moves or stadium changes. Thus, other ‘home’ teams playing London games this year are, obviously, Oakland, moving soon to Vegas, and the Chargers, waiting to move into their new stadium in Los Angeles.
However, the league has also tried to diversify its London game candidates — the NFL’s press release proudly touts that 29 of the 32 NFL teams will have played in London by the end of this season (all but Green Bay, Carolina and Houston).
The Seahawks knew all along that it would eventually be their turn.
Seattle could only hope that when its name came up, it wouldn’t have to give up a home game — and the Seahawks undoubtedly reminded the league of the 132 straight sellouts they’ve had dating back to 2003.
Seattle got its wish when the game was announced last January. Substituting a trip to the Black Hole of Oakland with a visit to London — while keeping all eight home games — makes the length of the flight and other challenges more bearable.
“You can imagine how long these guys have been working on it,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week, referring to team’s equipment staff and others in the organization. “I’m talking all aspects from our club. The meetings, the travel, the trips and the preliminary trips and all that stuff. They’ve been working like crazy for this thing. It’s hard. It’s a hard thing to undertake, but they’ve got it nailed.’’
Among the challenges?
The Seahawks are sending 21,000 pounds of cargo to London, including 1,150 rolls of athletic tape; two tons of sports medicine supplies such as medication, tape, scissors, tables, rehab equipment and splints, and 500 pairs of shoes for players, coaches and staff for practice and game day.
This Seahawks-Raiders game was originally scheduled for a new stadium in Tottenham. But it was moved to Wembley in August due to what were officially termed as “issues with the critical safety systems’’ within the stadium at Tottenham.
(This, after a Seahawks contingent, including quarterback Russell Wilson, had already toured the new Tottenham stadium in the summer to get a feel for it).
It will be the 19th NFL game held at Wembley, which dates to 1923 but was rebuilt in 2007. All three London games this year will be played there. The storied old stadium that’s home to the English national soccer team seats roughly 84,000 for American football.
“A lot of cheering for no reason”
A few Seahawks have played in London already, including cornerback Neiko Thorpe, who was with the Raiders in 2014 when Oakland lost to Miami 38-14.
Thorpe recalls two things: The field seemed slippery, and that “there was a lot of cheering for no reason,” likely because many in attendance were either new to the game or had no specific rooting interest in either team.
“There was a lot of cheering for just random stuff,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe thinks maybe that will be different now since more games have since been played in London. Seattle fans are also known for traveling well and it won’t be a surprise if the Seahawks’ first appearance in London draws a sizeable crowd.
Carroll’s goal, though, is to try to keep everything as close to normal as possible.
The Seahawks will leave Seattle around 8 p.m. Pacific Time on Wednesday and arrive in London at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The Seahawks conducted their final practice at the VMAC on Wednesday and then headed to the airport.
The hope is players will sleep on the plane, or at least relax.
“Just got to get through the flight however I get through the flight,’’ Wagner said. “Reading, catching up on my movies — I don’t get to the movies (during the season) so I’ll catch up on all the movies they let me catch up on. But I think it will be a fun trip.’’
The Seahawks are then scheduled to practice roughly 90 minutes after they land in London on Thursday, with the plan to try to get everyone quickly acclimated to the eight-hour time difference.
Carroll said he thinks leaving Wednesday night will be enough time to acclimate to the eight-hour change. (Though, the Raiders aren’t leaving until Thursday night, arriving roughly 25 hours after the Seahawks).
The team could have left earlier, but Carroll preferred getting in two significant practices and installing most of the game plan at home.
“Part of it is to get the plan underway and get going and then leave you enough time to adapt,’’ Carroll said. “Some teams go Thursday. We think this is the right way to do it. The game plan will be well under way by the time we’re out of here.’’
The Seahawks will practice Thursday and Friday at a grass field adjacent to their hotel in Watford. The team will have some media obligations Thursday and Friday — word is the London media can’t wait to talk to Shaquem Griffin and Michael Dickson — but nothing out of the ordinary.
Players always have some free time on road trips and some figure to take advantage of the down time to take in some sights. But Watford, where the Seahawks are staying, is a bit northwest of London and not real close to main attractions.
“It’s a business trip to me,” Wagner said. “I’m going to enjoy and see what I can see but we are going out there to win the game.’’
And that’s ultimately the goal.
While the NFL will hope for an exciting contest that may earn a few new international fans — ones the league hopes will hopefully be compelled to buy jerseys and other souvenirs — the Seahawks want to bring home a win and a 3-3 record.
“I think all of us are going to try to stick as much to the script as we can,’’ Carroll said. “There’s no reason because we’re playing over there that we’re going to change anything.
“That shouldn’t happen. Even though it’s Wembley, we’re not going to kick a soccer ball. So it will be the same game as always.”