The NFL has been playing regular season games in London for years.
In all my time calling games I had never been assigned to one. Until this season.
Last week my group journeyed across the pond for the matchup between the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders.
Frankly, we were all looking forward to the experience.
I’m no stranger to London, but it’s always been for vacation.
This would be different.
So, here’s a kind of a report on the days leading up to the actual game, and the game itself.
Kind of like the one we all used to write in school growing up.
What I did on My Summer Vacation.
When we do broadcasts, we have a big group who are responsible.
Viewers hear and see the announcers.
But there is so much more behind the scenes.
Besides myself and my partner, Mark Schlereth, there is a sideline reporter, Jen Hale.
Those who watch games know who we are.
The Broadcast Booth
But they don’t know about the rest of the production group, the producer and director who plan graphics, features, and how we will cover the game. What shots you’ll see, and when and how you’ll see them.
There is a production truck, bigger than a moving van, which houses the 20 monitors for the director. The tape machines which is how you see replays, and the audio section which run the sound from the booth, and from the field. The technicians. The cameramen, the tape operators. And more.
It is a complex operation. There are over 70 people who traveled to London for the broadcast.
The announcers and production people, the 8 of us, meet together, and form the nucleus.
The two broadcast associates arrived in London early in the week to arrange logistics, rides that were needed, and all the little things, which are major things when the time comes.
The rest of us got there on Wednesday.
Usually we arrive Friday for a game in the U.S.
When traveling overseas, you need a day, at least, to get used to the time change.
London is five hours ahead of the eastern time zone.
Flights usually leave at night, and arrive in the morning. When you look at your watch and it says 9:00am, it is really 4:00am to you.
When I looked at my watch, that’s what I saw.
The rest of the production team came from Los Angeles, Sacramento, Denver, New Orleans, and New Jersey.
From the west coast, it is an 8-hour time change.
So it’s not easy to adjust. But you do.
London is a wonderful city, with so much history, and sights to see.
Most of our group visited the Churchill War Rooms. With all of the fine museums, and landmarks in London, a tour of what it was like for Prime Minister Winston Churchill to operate and exist during World War II is a memorable experience. The rooms, with the small beds, and the communication apparatus, and all the rest that went on while bombs exploded in the city are re-created remarkably.
Churchill War Rooms
The re-creations, which involve the authentic equipment, furniture and sounds are special.
It would have been nice for those coming to London to take it a lot more of what the city has to offer would have been ideal. The
But we were there to broadcast a football game, and that was the focus of our trip.
It was different being where we were, instead of Green Bay, or Atlanta, or Seattle.
The London scenery and culture were novel, for sure, but when Friday rolled around it was like any other NFL weekend.
The Raiders decided to spend the entire week in the London area, while the Bears made it a shorter week, arriving Thursday.
I believe, these decisions had an affect on the actual game.
We visited them Friday morning, driving to their headquarters in Watford, not far from Heathrow Airport. They spent the week at a lush resort, an hour plus from the city, with hills of green, a golf course, and all the amenities you’d want on a vacation.
Of course, the Raiders weren’t there for enjoyment, they were there to practice, attend meetings and plan for the game. Don’t get the idea the players were prisoners at their facility.
They weren’t. They, along with the coaches and staff could go into the city, see the sights, take in London.
But their task, like ours, was the prepare for the contest on Sunday.
Watching practice on Friday, I ran into Brent Musburger, one of my former colleagues at CBS.
Brent Musburger and Me.
Brent is the radio voice of the Raiders, and will continue when the team officially moves to Las Vegas next season.
Brent lives in Las Vegas, and the Raiders could not have chosen a better broadcaster for the transformation than Brent, one of the leading broadcast figures of our time.
After practice our group, now consisting of just the announcers, producer, and director, met with Head Coach Jon Gruden, quarterback Derek Carr, tight end Darren Waller, and Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther. Talking with four or five coaches is our normal practice for every game.
The significant takeaway from the meetings was that the Raiders not only adjusted to the time change early, but bonded as a team.
After practice they would play cards, hang out, do things together.
It brought the team, accented by rookies and second year players, more unified.
Our visit with the Bears on Saturday, was considerably shorter.
It only took a 15-minute walk to a renowned hotel on Hyde Park, in the city, to get an idea what the team, a clearly better club than the Raiders, and favored by almost a touchdown, were thinking.
The Bears Head Coach, Matt Nagy, won coach-of-the-year honors in the NFL last season, bringing the team from a 5-11 record to a division title and the playoffs in his first year.
The Bears won 12 lost 4 in 2018, and were 3-1, with a three-game winning streak going into the game with the Raiders.
They were a confident group, despite having lost their starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, to injury early in the previous game against the tough Minnesota Vikings.
The backup, Chase Daniel, led the offense to enough points to win. The Bears are blessed with one of the top two defenses in the league, so they haven’t needed a bushel of points to get a victory.
Still, Nagy, who’s expertise is offense, and scoring points, was still trying to find the identity of that unit.
He, and Daniel, who had worked together in Kansas City, and were on the same page, felt ready for the offensive attack to break out.
None of the Bears we talked with had any misgivings of arriving in London late in the week and getting down to business quickly.
Our preparations were completed with a production meeting with our eight-person group Sunday morning.
Usually we have our final discussions on Saturday night for our Sunday games.
But with a starting time of 6:00pm (which would mean a normal 1:00pm eastern kickoff),
we gathered Sunday morning.
Now the venue.
To say the arena the game would be played was truly state-of-the-art would be an understatement.
The game was to be played at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, in north London.
This would be the home of every NFL game scheduled for London moving forward.
A total of four games are set for this season.
The league is intent on growing the sport of American football where, what we call soccer, is king. In Europe, they regard soccer as football. In that sport, they use their foot. In our sport, hardly at all.
But Londoners have come to adore our brand of the game, and they enthusiastically wear jerseys, of many American teams, and their star players.
The refurbishing of the stadium cost $1 billion.
A retractable American football gridiron, with artificial turf, was built under a grass soccer “pitch”, as it’s called.
Motors move one field, or the other to the surface.
Don’t ask me how. I’m just a broadcaster.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium houses the soccer team known as the ‘Spurs”, a good team not playing so well at the moment.
The stadium seats 60,000 plus.
Every seat was filled for the Bears and Raiders.
Now the game.
One thing about sports. It’s not about who is better. It’s about who plays better on the day it matters.
While the sporting public was wondering how the Raiders would score at all against the vaunted Bears defense, and how they would stop an experienced attack with a team so young, the Raiders dominated Chicago decisively, taking a 17-0 lead at the half.
Oakland outplayed Chicago at every turn.
They were more physical, they forced the Bears to miss tackles, and they simply outsmarted the favorites. It was shocking.
It made me wonder out loud, whether the band from the west coast knew what they were doing, arriving early, adjusting to the time change, and spending time together.
The Bears were clearly on their heels and vulnerable to a knockout punch.
Instead, an early third-quarter miscommunication resulted in a fumble and now the Chicagoans had life.
Could they take advantage of it?
As if they were awakening from a bad dream, the Bears took advantage of breaks, which they earned, and outscored the Raiders 21-0 in the third quarter.
An amazing comeback for an experienced team which last season had learned how to win.
A disheartening breakdown for a team which had not yet learned how to win.
The Bears were in control, into the fourth quarter.
The ebb and flow of this contest featured plays and penalties that took your breath away.
Much too numerous to relate individually.
Take my word for it.
Somehow, this Raider outfit, got off the canvas and fought back to score a touchdown and regain the lead.
It was 24-21 Oakland, with the Bears still having a last-ditch chance to tie or even win the game.
But the backup QB for Chicago, Chase Daniel, threw his second interception of the game, and that sealed it for the Raiders.
Chase Daniel is an 11-year veteran who knows his craft. He’s as good a backup quarterback in the league. But remember, he is a backup for a reason.
Daniel didn’t lose this game. The Oakland Raiders won it.
They had come out strong and overpowered their opponent. Then mistakes opened the door for the better team.
Instead of fading completely, Jon Gruden’s Las Vegas-bound crew rallied.
Josh Jacobs TD!
I think it’s a game that will prove to be a turning point for a team that won only four games last season, and now have three.
London was an experience I will remember.
Broadcasting an NFL game outside the USA was special.
But when all is said and done, the ultimate highlight was the reason we all made the trip.
The football game.
It’s what I’ll remember the most.