The overcast skies of the United Kingdom hide the sun’s rays trying to pierce through onto the earth below. Men and women pull jackets and coats tighter around them as fall precedes winter. Inside, the inhabitants of London and the surrounding area flick through the channels, waiting out the boredom of a Sunday afternoon. Idly, a man stays upon the black and teal Jaguar head broadcast on a local channel. The home team of London is on the tube – the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Outside you can hear the roar of the crowd far from the stadium. The lights pierce through the otherwise dreary day and one can hear the muffled announcements as the Jaguars move onto the field, the home team in their annual London game. No longer do the fans look through programs and cell phones to match numbers with names, instead they cheer as their favorites run through the tunnel onto the field. This is the greeting of fans who adore their players, not fans testing an American phenomena.
The Jaguars are more than just the home team here, they are a sensation, a break from the norm. The football is a far departure from the standard fare that dominates Europe. Where there once was David Beckham, there is now Blaine Gabbert. Once a year he isn’t just that guy throwing a weird shaped ball through the air, he is their quarterback, their leader. The crowd screams when number 11 comes out, helmet reflecting the lights and adoration from the assembled fans.
This overcast day isn’t a day of depression or of gloom, it is a day of delight – for today the Jaguars are back in town. Who needs the sun when the stadium lights and electrifying play of the Jaguars can brighten up everything around them? The crowd is a swell of support for the Black and Teal. This is more than just an annual tradition, this is a religion.
Back inside, the man who idly flipped through channels is sitting up watching intently as the ball is moved up the field. He didn’t know the game before, but with each down he becomes more entranced by what the NFL has to offer. Often overlooked by most people in London, the occasional convert can be born anywhere at any time. By the end he’s fist pumping and calling his wife over to watch the Jaguars demolish the visiting team.
Outside the stadium, the people with their jackets pulled tight are brought closer by the commotion. They are intrigued and can’t help but show their curiosity on their faces. A local bar is a good spot to post up for the duration of the game. Once in, the atmosphere immediately lights up and the group gathered around the tables watching the Jags is loud, rowdy, and cheering right along with the roar of the stadium next door. The drinks flow and the atmosphere grows, quickly outshining the gloom outside.
Whether it is the man on his couch flipping through the stations, the fan in the stadium, or the pedestrian stopping in to watch the game, the Jags are at the heart of it; bringing together a community in a way that only football can.
It isn’t always dreary in London – and it never is when the Jags come to town.
Undoubtedly, this is the picture that Shahid Khan and the NFL want to create as they market the Jaguars and American Football overseas. Khan wants to make the Jaguars an international draw – the next step is getting the team there. Before we know it (2013-2016), Gabbert and company may just be the draw in London that they will be in Jacksonville.
– Luke N. Sims
You can also find me on Twitter @LukeNSims