London fans glad for a glimpse of football

October, 23, 2011
10/23/11
11:23
AM ET

LONDON -- The name escapes, but the story doesn’t.

[+] EnlargeWembley
Jeff Dickerson/ESPNChicago.comSunday's contest technically is a Bucs home game, but fans of all NFL teams are filing into Wembley.

He goes by the Twitter handle @Sportsmonster, and hopped a train from Edinburgh, Scotland, on Saturday for a six-hour ride to watch his beloved Chicago Bears take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A fan of the Bears for more than 20 years, @Sportsmonster named his daughter Devin after the team’s electrifying punt returner, and surprisingly his wife, “just went along with it.”

@Sportsmonster’s story is just one of the thousands pouring into Wembley Stadium on a windless, sun-drenched day. Despite the Bears and Buccaneers being the featured teams, pretty much every club in the NFL is represented by way of the jerseys they’re sporting on the walk into the stadium.

There’s Jay Cutler, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger. But the fans broke out some throwbacks, too. Anyone remember former Bears receiver Marcus Robinson? How about former Bengals receiver Darnay Scott or Wayne Chrebet?

One group of fans all wore Dan Marino jerseys. Three more walked past sporting John Elway’s No. 7.

On the train ride from the Baker Street station to Wembley approximately three hours before scheduled kickoff, a group of six local Minnesota Vikings fans chatted with an American Bears fan about how the local television network -- Sky Sports -- airs just one NFL game per week.

They never know which game the network will air. They don’t care. They’ll watch every week anyway.

That’s why the group boarded the Metropolitan line from Baker Street on Saturday to satisfy their NFL addiction live in person. It’s why the group navigated the gauntlet of fans outside Wembley, the vendors hawking commemorative Buccaneers-Bears scarves, the mad rush of taxis and tour buses circling the curvy streets.

With approximately an hour remaining before kickoff, the sun set near the West endzone, where the Chicago Bears orange logo is painted as Tampa Bay kicker Connor Barth warmed up, booting 45-yard field goals.

Fans quietly continued to trickle into the stadium (there’s clearly a large Chicago following in London), while the aroma of the stadium’s concessions wafted into the air.

British rock blared over the stadium’s loudspeakers, as Tampa Bay’s support staff rolled out a trio of cannons to place in front of the team’s skull logo for when the players run out onto the field.

Somewhere, Keith Wallace -- aka @Sportsmonster -- is with his daughters Devin and Tayne looking for their seats.

All of the sudden, the name doesn’t escape.

Hopefully his memories of this game in London won’t, either.

Michael C. Wright

ESPN Chicago Bears reporter

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