London welcomes NFL's return
Despite a matchup between winless teams, London is going out of its way to cheer American football's return for the first of two regular-season games at Wembley this season.
Central London was dressed up with NFL, American and Union Jack flags Tuesday in celebration of the league's annual sojourn to the United Kingdom, which is expected to be a sellout despite the teams' current woes.
"It doesn't bother me. I love the atmosphere,'' said Rachel Green, who with husband Matt has been to all six NFL games at Wembley. "I prefer it to be close, which it will more likely be with them both 0-3.''
As of Tuesday, about 84,000 tickets had been sold, with only single and premium seats still available.
The Vikings arrived in London on Tuesday and were already mixing with local schoolchildren and fans as part of the duties of the designated home team. The Steelers arrive Friday.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that his team will leave for London after practice Thursday and arrive Friday morning.
Tomlin said the Steelers are leaving later in the week because he wanted to maintain as much normalcy as possible leading up to playing a game across the Atlantic Ocean.
"I think traveling on Thursday night and getting there on Friday morning will provide us enough opportunity to adjust to the time difference. A lot of West Coast teams that travel to the East Coast do two-day travels, and that's appropriate. I value normalcy in the early portions of the week from a preparation standpoint and from a practice standpoint."
Tomlin said that he considers the game in London as "purely a business trip."
"This is just a road game for us," he said. "We're happy to represent the National Football League in international play, but in terms of our level of focus and the things we need to do in preparation and in play, it's just a road game for us."
“All eyes will be on Peterson and Roethlisberger as they look to lead their clubs to victory with their seasons teetering on the brink. Minnesota slipped to a 31-27 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and the Steelers fell 40-23 to the Chicago Bears.
We're happy to represent the National Football League in international play, but in terms of our level of focus and the things we need to do in preparation and in play, it's just a road game for us.” -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin
"These are two teams that the U.K. crowd have not seen before and you have star power with the Vikings in Adrian Peterson and, with the Steelers, you have one of the most successful franchises in NFL history,'' NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood said. "What you want is a very competitive game and you know you are going to get it with both teams going after a must-win.''
The New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos are among the teams that have played in London since the International Series was launched. The New York Giants' victory over the Miami Dolphins in the inaugural 2007 game helped to turn their season around en route to winning the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger and left guard Ramon Foster traveled to London during the offseason to promote the game against the Vikings. Punter Zoltan Mesko played there last season when the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams 45-7. Tomlin has talked to Mesko about playing at Wembley.
"He raved about the field surface," Tomlin said. "From what I understand it's an awesome venue. The turf is supposed to be awesome. I don't expect it to be a negative experience in any way from a facilities standpoint, from a fan standpoint. We're looking forward to representing the National Football League and our game over there in London."
The Vikings went 10-6 last season and made the playoffs, while the Steelers finished 8-8. When they were selected to play in London, no one could have expected they would be a combined 0-6 heading into this week's game.
"For me, the chance to see a team as storied and famous as the Steelers is a big draw,'' said 30-year-old Matt Green, who counts the Green Bay Packers as his favorite team. "It'll be interesting to see how a franchise that has been challenging year in year out will cope with the difficulties they've been facing recently. To be honest, I would go regardless of the teams playing. The chance to hang out and chat with so many like-minded NFL fans is one of my favorite parts of the day.''
A competitive game would be attractive ahead of the second game, set for Oct. 27 and matching the San Francisco 49ers against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 49ers are 1-2 after two straight losses, and the Jaguars are 0-3.
That game is sold out, which bodes well for building the Jaguars' fan base in Britain. Jacksonville has signed up to play one of its home games at Wembley over the next three seasons. London, meanwhile, continues to be talked about as a potential home for an NFL franchise.
"You're going to get a very interesting story no matter what team plays,'' Kirkwood said. "We'll be able to track the Jaguars and see how they grow going forward.''
ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown and Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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