Saturday, October 27, 2007

Talk About an “Away” Game

The Miami Dolphins will play the New York Giants tomorrow in London.

LONDON — Everybody, everybody is talking football over here. Just not the kind the NFL had in mind.

“The one with the funny-shaped ball? It’s not proper football is it,” says the gentleman guiding our small taxi Friday from the Dolphins’ team hotel on glamorous Park Lane, past the Aston Martin dealership. “It’s all double-dutch to us. We don’t understand the rules at all.”

The driver had only a vague awareness there was an American football game happening here Sunday. Couldn’t be sure it was the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. Didn’t know it was at Wembley Stadium.

In this city of some 11 million people, he wasn’t alone. You mention Sunday’s big football game around here and Londoners assume you mean Arsenal vs. Liverpool in a highly anticipated Premier League soccer match.

There is arrogance at once bravely admirable and faintly galling in the NFL’s notion it can package itself for export to a waiting, hungry world — that it can parachute one of its midseason games into a diverse, cosmopolitan capital like this one and expect the populace to curtsy and swoon.

There is some of that going on here, yes. Wembley’s nearly 90,000 seats sold out quickly for this first-ever NFL regular season game staged overseas. The circus has come to town, and curiosity over the unique, highly marketed visit of this major American sports brand is augmented by a hard-core minority of Brits who do follow the stateside version of football.

But to say this game has gripped Great Britain on account of Dolphins-Giants would be roughly akin to saying soccer captivated America once David Beckham touched down.

“I reckon only one in 10 people at this game will know what’s really going on,” guessed Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, Scotland-born. “It’s an event and good for a few beers, but it’s never going to sway football [soccer] fans. Once a year maybe there’s a curiosity. But outside of that?”

It is humbling, and does the perspective good, to meander about London and feel such massive indifference for the sport that rules the U.S.

Consider that a blessing to the Dolphins, perhaps. The more who followed our football in England, the more who might know Miami slunk here with tails low, 0-7 and in the midst of a tumultuous, injury-wracked season among the worst in franchise history — things all better unknown.

The movie shown on the Dolphins’ long overnight charter flight here was, appropriately, Pursuit of Happyness.

Ironically, the Old Professor, who hates football and all it stands for, took a trip to get away from it all. Guess where he went.