The Dolphins’ game plan for their International Series game against the Jets – the first ever divisional game to take place outside the US – is simple: do what they did last year. In the ninth game of the International Series, in Week 4 of the 2014 season, the Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders to head into their Week 5 bye with a 2-2 record. This year, a win would again send the Dolphins, currently sitting at 1-2, into a Week 5 bye with a 2-2 record – and following that theme, they’re trying to copy last year’s plan as closely as they can. “I’d have to be honest and say it’s kinda what we did last year and it seemed to work OK”, head coach Joe Philbin said at his press conference on Friday, “sometimes coaches are creatures of habit.” And so, as with last year, the Dolphins arrived in the UK on Friday, just two days before their game, and are practicing at the same facilities as last year, staying at the same hotel as last year, and just generally sticking as close as possible to what they did last year. “It’s very similar,” Ryan Tannehill said when asked to compare this year’s trip with last’s, “it feels the same, staying at the same spot right next to the stadium, the whole trip’s been very similar.” Tannehill’s not oblivious to the other parallels either. “There are some similarities [in that] we’re coming off two tough losses, and it’s a big game for us.”
One difference Tannehill is hoping for: “Last year, we came out the tunnel and everyone was holding up Oakland Raiders signs, and I was like, ‘wow, there’s a lot of Oakland fans here’, but they weren’t Oakland fans – they just got handed out the signs. Hopefully this year, [the signs] will say Dolphins.” Another major difference: last year, the game kicked off at 6pm local time – 1pm ET. The team could afford to be over for only a short time, not having to make a drastic transition to the local time zone.
This year, the game is kicking off at 2:30pm local – 9:30am ET. The team aren’t over for long enough to acclimatise fully to British Summer Time, but keeping an Eastern body clock puts the kickoff time at earlier than any of these players will have played a professional football game. Philbin explained in his press conference that “that’s why it’s been similar [to a normal gameweek], we’d normally get out a little bit earlier on a Friday if we were here, but tomorrow we’re going to be doing things very very similar to what they’re used to doing. This season, we’ve played at 1pm, 4:25pm, 4:05pm, we played night games in the preseason, and we’ve practiced in the morning at 8 o’clock. The guys have done a lot of different things relating to the body, but this week we’ve taken an extra hard look at how we’re preparing the team for this game and how they’re physically going to feel… the nice thing about it is we had the vast majority of our gameplan installed back at home, so the players know the gameplan well, and now it’s just the final touches of the preparation that we can do over here.”
Tannehill said that he had learnt some things the previous year that he feels will help him acclimatise more easily – “being able to sleep at night to get your body transitioned over to British time, making sure you’re staying hydrated after a long flight… it’s a little cooler so some guys don’t pay attention to hydration, but I think our team did a good job of preparing us for things we need to look out for, and things we need to get on top of.” It will be interesting for the league to see how the Dolphins, and the Jets, react to a short turnaround combined with that 9:30am ET kickoff. The 2:30pm local time kickoff will likely be the standard kickoff time for home games of a London franchise, should the league eventually place a team there.
Seeing how the two teams react to being able to fly in just two days ahead of the game will be telling – if they prove that they can play a competitive game on such a short turnaround at such a different kickoff time, then it would no doubt strengthen the league’s resolve to continue the London project. Indeed, at the same time the Dolphins were arriving at London Heathrow Airport, the Chancellor, George Osborne (the UK government’s equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury in the US cabinet) held a public meeting with Dan Marino, and a private meeting with executives from the NFL about putting a franchise in the UK – something that was a Conservative Party manifesto pledge in the run up to their successful victory at the UK general election earlier this year. Philbin was receptive to the idea. “Sounds good to me”, the head coach said, “the fans here, the gameday atmosphere last year was just outstanding… it seems like there’s certainly enough support to have a team here.”
With the game itself being the eleventh of the twelve IS games so far to sell out – with only the ‘lockout’ year of 2011, when the game wasn’t confirmed until August (compared to the usual announcement of the previous autumn), being the only exception – Sunday’s game against the Jets in front of a packed out Wembley Stadium will only further prove that, if nothing else, the appetite for the sport in the UK seems here to stay.
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