Rams arrive in London to gear up for Wembley game
LONDON (AP) _ Things are moving quickly for Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams as they deal with a change of continents and time zones.
Now their bodies just have to catch up in time for the annual NFL game in London on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The Rams (3-4) arrived at Heathrow airport early Tuesday morning, and a few hours later they were on a wet field in Regent's Park in central London doing drills with local school children to show off the American version of football.
Not much time for resting up so far for the NFL's latest ambassadors to Europe.
"I can hardly believe we're here in London," Bradford said between drills. "Probably less than 12 hours ago we were back in St. Louis in a team meeting. ... I think everyone was a little bit tired on the bus ride here, but that's why we got here so early in the week so that we could acclimate ourselves to the jet lag and get accustomed to the time difference. So hopefully by Sunday it'll be a non-factor."
The Rams are hosting the Patriots at Wembley Stadium in the sixth regular-season game played in Britain. The Patriots, who also played at Wembley in 2009, are practicing at home this week before arriving on Friday.
As the home team, Bradford said the Rams are also taking their ambassadorial duties seriously and want to have a visible presence in London to help boost the game's popularity. That's why the players only spent about an hour at their luxury resort outside the city before hopping on a bus to Regent's Park to spend the afternoon with a couple of hundred school children running passing drills and other exercises. The event was part of the NFL's Play 60 program, which is aimed at encouraging children to do something active for at least 60 minutes a day.
"I think it would be really easy for us to come over here and lock ourselves up at the hotel and just go through our normal routines," Bradford said. "But I think this is a great chance for the NFL to expand their game beyond the states. And for us to be able to come out here and share our game with some of the local youth, I think it's a great opportunity for us."
But while the NFL has enjoyed continually increased popularity in Britain since its first regular-season game here in 2007, it was soon clear to the Rams players that this is still the land of soccer.
"They just kick them," backup quarterback Kellen Clemens told Bradford laughingly after a group of kids finished a passing drill by gleefully kicking away their footballs before moving on to the next exercise. "The kids are going, 'What kind of football is this? We didn't use our feet one time.'"
Of course, the British love of soccer is just an added bonus for kicker Greg Zuerlein.
The rookie has quickly become a household name among NFL fans in the States after a spectacular start to the season, but is hoping the kicking game will get even more attention in Europe.
"They have a great appreciation for soccer," said Zuerlein, who grew up playing the sport. "In America, it's the fifth or sixth biggest sport. Here it's awesome, they love it. I feel at home."
Like most of his teammates, though, he had yet to find his bearings in the British capital.
"I don't even know what this place is, is it a park?" Zuerlein said, looking around the sprawling fields inside a Regent's Park that was covered in a fog so thick it made it impossible to even see any of the surrounding buildings. "My only time seeing the city was on the drive here."
The Rams have a close connection to British soccer, as owner Stan Kroenke is also the majority shareholder of Arsenal. St. Louis will be practicing at Arsenal's training facilities in Colney on Wednesday and Thursday, and there are plans for some players to attend the London club's Premier League game against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
"I'm a huge fan," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store. I can't wait to get there (to Colney)."
Other players felt the same way about Wembley, arguably the most famous venue in soccer. For linebacker James Laurinaitis, playing there will even continue a family tradition.
"My father was a professional wrestler, and he wrestled at Wembley, the old Wembley," Laurinaitis said. "So to be able to be a father-son duo, to be in the same spot, is pretty exciting to me. I used to watch that SummerSlam on VHS over and over growing up, that was pretty exciting. So to be able to be in that stadium, and with the Olympics just being here and everything, it's going to be pretty cool."
Judging by responses from the school kids, though, Laurinaitis may not get as much attention as Zuerlein by the Wembley crowd.
"They ask you what position you are, you say 'linebacker,' and they say 'I have no idea what that is,'" Laurinaitis said. "But they're learning, and hopefully it just draws their attention to the game on Sunday and they watch. And maybe we get a couple of more fans out of it."