A wintery shock awaited the Rams as they arrived from sunny Florida to be welcomed by a cold brisk wind in London. The slightly cold, jet-lagged and gray sentiment in the air resonated among some of the players, particularly running back Todd Gurley.
"It doesn't make sense"
Typically, when you ask any NFL player or coach about their feelings towards the trips to London and the international series as a whole, you tend to get the same answer almost every time. Usually, it involves something along the lines of 'I love it here' and 'the fans are great''. However, while their mouths said one thing, this scripted response has always seemed just that: scripted.
So why not be honest? Why not tell the media and the fans exactly how they feel? Surely they will value their honesty? Well, Gurley opted to stand firm on his recent stance that these International Series games simply should not be played.
In a post-training press conference today, the talented RB stated:
It just doesn’t make sense. We play Arizona, that’s a 45 minute flight. But instead, you’ve got Arizona, and us, and if we [were] to travel all the way from LA it’s 13 hours to travel instead, when you could just travel just 45 minutes. But hey, what ever floats their boat.
And while he did state that he felt the fans were good and that it was cool to be back, he again hinted at his unhappiness with the NFL bosses, saying: "...it’s out of our control [so] we can’t complain about it. We’ve just got to look forward to Sunday and going against the Cardinals".
Gurley's surprisingly refreshing response offered a rare honest insight, as he widely avoided repeating the canned lines of most NFL personnel.
While he was the only player to be quite so outspoken against the international series, defensive lineman Michael Brockers did seem to agree on one key point with Gurley. When discussing the topic, he said that while playing abroad is "refreshing", he felt that: "To play a divisional game over here is like (hesitates), you kinda want your fans into it a little bit more..." tailing off, leaving the unsaid obvious to all.
A lack of atmosphere?
Another issue brought up today by Goff was that while he loves the support of the local fans, which he described as "a lot of fun", he went on to state that "you don’t really know when they’re gonna cheer [or] when they’re not, you know it’s not really their fault”. While this is hardly a revelation, it does show that the players are well aware of a difference in the atmosphere when playing here as opposed to home.
This is an issue which has been a hot topic for some time now. Many complaints about these London games is that with so many fans from around the continent coming to watch a game, there is always a diverse mix of fans from different teams. While this is great for the league and tourism in the area, it means that there simply isn't a prevailing sense of 'one set of fans versus the other' as there should be at an NFL game.
Coach McVay clears the air, but leaves us wondering
As expected when the topic of Gurley's comments were brought up, Coach McVay attempted to clarify his star RB's statement in such a way to cause as little offense or harm to the international series as possible:
You look at the support that London and the league, being able to continue to develop and build that relationship. It’s been a great opportunity for the league to grow and just be able to have the NFL outside the U.S. and certainly I just think what Todd was talking about were some of the challenges from a semantic standpoint of getting out of your rhythm in your routine [and] just traveling, but the fans have been great, he’ll be the first to tell you that.
It does offer you a great opportunity to compete in a different place. But, if you said ‘ideally would you want to have to take an 8 hour flight’ – that’s not ideal. But, I think we’re very excited to be here, the fans support, and just watching the excitement that these games, not exclusive to this, but all the games now that there’s more being played here, is the reason why and it’s a great opportunity for the NFL platform to continue to grow...
However, while he did manage to rescue the Rams from a potential British fanbase backlash over supposedly not wanting to be here, his pointing out that the flight is clearly not ideal, speaks volumes. While everybody realizes how tough this journey is, most avoid discussing it and potentially risking causing any harm to the success and further expansion of this very prosperous foreign venture.
But, with these comments, following on from those of Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who recently stated that as far as he's concerned they: "don’t plan on going over there (London) any time soon to play again" - perhaps after 10 years the novelty is starting to wear thin for players and coaches alike.
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