After 10 years of the NFL having a presence in London, the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals went head to head at Twickenham in a hotly anticipated, NFC West clash. What followed was an offensive masterclass from one side, and a plethora of errors from the other.
“Burritos, nachos, hot dogs, burgers, mac’n’cheese, seemingly endless amounts of Budweiser beer; I was immersed in the American culture.”
The game saw tens of thousands of NFL fans flood to Twickenham, sporting colours from all 32 teams across the National Football League, and experience the thrill and awe of an American Football game. Prior to the game, fans were offered a chance to experience authentic build-up to a match through American food stalls, interviews with NFL fans and legends, and performances from the cheerleaders of both teams. Burritos, nachos, hot dogs, burgers, mac’n’cheese, seemingly endless amounts of Budweiser beer; I was immersed in the American culture. Even having the chance to see NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson from a distance was massive for me as a lifelong NFL fan. Sure, he’d lost his afro hair in the years since his record-breaking seasons as a Ram, but it was Dickerson nonetheless and that was enough for me.
Fans began to pour into the stadium about an hour before kick-off, as the pre-game entertainment began. I had been at Twickenham just a few months prior for a U2 gig, but was still amazed at the size of the stadium itself. As the Rams were the home team, they brought with them all their staff, which included their announcer. Prior to the start of the game, the announcer tried to involve fans from the get-go, informing us that when he shouted, “Whose House?”, every fan in the stadium had to reply at full volume with “Rams’ House!”.
Every time he did so, the atmosphere would ramp up another few notches, as the noise got louder and louder. Players began to take the field for their warm-up, and the announcer made sure we knew who each player was. Despite my previous knowledge that Rams QB Jared Goff, and RB Todd Gurley II were the standout players to watch for the LA Rams, the announcer gave every player the same welcome and ferocity in his voice as the stars of the team. The Arizona Cardinals suffered somewhat, with players such as QB Carson Palmer and RB Adrian Peterson not receiving the attention they perhaps deserved, as stars of their own team.
Fans were up and down the stairs as players warmed up, bringing beers and burgers galore to their seats in preparation for watching their favourite players take the field. Kickers made attempts for field goals from ridiculous lengths, and quarterbacks from both sides readied their arms and aims. As the kick-off drew ever closer. Both teams retreated to their dressing rooms to go over their final preparations and plans to overpower their opponents. I had watched the NFL for long enough to know what was going on in the dressing rooms. Coaches were giving empowering speeches about being away from home, but being strong enough to still dominate their opponent on both defence and offense.
As was customary for every NFL game, the national anthem was sung before kick-off. Twickenham fell silent, as one single voice rang clear and true into the blood orange evening sky erupting over London. The star-spangled banner unfurled across the pitch, alongside the flag of the United Kingdom, as ‘God Save The Queen’ followed the American anthem. After the anthems had been played, there was a brief moment of remembrance for former basketball coach and British-based American sports commentator for Sky Sports, Kevin Cadle. Kevin presented programmes from 1997, and was a devout Buffalo Bills supporter, bringing education and in-depth analysis to many Brits who wanted to learn about the NFL, including myself. He unexpectedly died on the morning of October 16th 2017, and fans around the stadium, and the world, paid their respects to Cadle.
Once the game began however, the atmosphere went from respectful and quiet to electric and the commentator did his best to keep it that way throughout the entirety of the match. The match got off to a quick start with the Rams kicker, Greg Zuerlein, capitalising on a missed kick by the Cardinals kicker to give the home team a 3-0 lead going into the second quarter. Both teams were defensively solid throughout the first quarter, not allowing much in the way of touchdowns or major yard gains, which resulted in punt returns from both teams, aside from the two field goal attempts. Once the second quarter got underway, the Rams were offensive from the off.
Following a punt return early on, the Rams returned the ball back into Cardinals territory and Zuerlein kicked for another field goal to extend their lead to 6-0 early in the second. Try as they might though, the Arizona Cardinals could not contest the defence of the Rams, punting play after play back to the Rams. At the five-minute mark, the errors began to appear. Attempting a deep pass down the middle, Cardinals QB Carson Palmer managed to throw an interception which was swiftly returned right back at them, before Todd Gurley II ran the ball home for the first touchdown of the game, and Twickenham erupted. A sea of blue and white flags suddenly flew within the stadium, as the commentator bellowed out Todd Gurley’s name, much to the delight of fans.
The domination continued, as the Cardinals were forced to punt yet again after receiving the kick-off, which ended up allowing Jared Goff to lead his Rams team down the field before throwing a 9-yard touchdown pass to the right side of the end zone. Another field goal from Zuerlein would conclude the damage done before halftime, and the Cardinals were in desperate need of regrouping before coming out to start the second half.
“How unfair, that they break up the game in the middle of such a potentially game-changing drive for the Cardinals, to talk about another sport entirely!”
Sadly, for many fans who had come to see two teams play, they only really saw one take the field in the second half. Dejected by their lack of scoring in the first half, the Cardinals struggled to get anything going, despite Adrian Peterson’s best efforts. Something that I felt ruined the entire experience for me though, was the constant interjection of the hosts who were interviewing people down by the pitchside, which constantly interrupted the game. The Rams had taken the ball deep into Cardinals territory, and Goff had his eye on yet another touchdown. The pass was picked off by inside linebacker, Deone Buchannon, and returned for 39 yards, back into the Rams’ half of the pitch.
It was then, when the momentum was with the Cardinals for the first time in the game, that the hosts decided to interview ex-England cricket captain Michael Vaughan about the upcoming Ashes series in Australia. I felt my anger bubble, and went to get a beer. How unfair, that they break up the game in the middle of such a potentially game-changing drive for the Cardinals, to talk about another sport entirely! My fury was then compounded by the fact that the break allowed the Rams to compose themselves before mounting a stop, and forcing the punt once again.
The Los Angeles Rams went on to score another touchdown, and another field goal to secure a 33-0 shutout win over the Arizona Cardinals, but I couldn’t help but leave slightly disappointed. Despite the fact that the experience had been truly fantastic, and that I could forever say I was a part of the 10th anniversary of the NFL in London, I felt the game was incredibly one-sided for a neutral such as myself, and that the hosts had somewhat ruined it by interviewing during the game itself.