The London Experience

Wembley Walkthru

Wembley Stadium, the site of the NFL International Series Game

My personal account of helping to coordinate an NFL team’s trip to London

It wasn’t lost on me that I stood on hallowed ground. The pitch was pristine. Not the field. The pitch. But the first time I walked onto the field at Wembley Stadium I could feel the significance. The best football players in the world had played on this field. But in a little more than a week from that day, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears were going to play a different kind of football.

It Almost Never Was

The 2011 season was a strange one for most NFL teams. The lockout in the offseason postponed training camp preparations and created a scramble to get everything in order to begin the season. For the Buccaneers and Bears, it would be an even more abnormal season due to a trip to London for the International Series game at Wembley Stadium – if the NFL and player’s union settled the lockout in time.

It was my first, “Holy shit, I’m really working in the NFL,” moment. The day the lockout ended, I had been in my new position for less than a month. I found myself sitting in General Manager Mark Dominik’s office with the major decision makers in the organization – Dominik, Head Coach Raheem Morris, Director of Player Personnel Dennis Hickey, Pro Personnel Coordinator Shelton Quarles, Assistant to the Head Coach Jay Kaiser, Coordinator of Football Administration Mike Greenberg, Coordinator of Pro Personnel Shelton Quarles, and Special Events and Team Operations Director Killeen Mullen. It was a small but powerful group. There was no time for frivolity. Orders were being handed out, and it was time to make an entire season worth of football come together in a few days.

Pro personnel and football administration were instructed to get players in under contract. Player personnel was directed to coordinate getting them into Tampa. It was our job – operations – to finish preparations for training camp and get schedules in order. It was a good thing I took notes. I caught myself getting lost in the moment. I was where many fans dream they could be – in the room where decisions that shaped the future of a franchise were being doled out. It was all a blur to me.

If the lockout had only lasted a few more days, the game in London would have been canceled. With access to that information, I’ve always wondered how the season would have been different had we not made the trip.

Learning Curve

Training camp is like a hot, grueling version of the movie, “Groundhog Day.” For three weeks, the staff wakes up around 5:30 am to prepare for the day, sweats in the 90-100 degree heat and 100% humidity for about 10 hours, then heads back to the hotel sometime between 10:00 pm and midnight. We were always the first ones in and the last ones out. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The repetitiveness of camp proved to be beneficial in my learning. It was something I had done twice as an intern in the previous two summers. In 2011, we had invited back some great interns to help make sure camp ran smooth. I relied heavily on the training camp assistants because I was still learning all the other aspects of my job. While managing camp every day, I also spent time working on travel – hotel contracts, rooming lists, airlines, and the “travel packet.” It was a conglomerate of information given to staff, coaches, players, and owners that outlined all of the details they would need for an upcoming away trip – itineraries, seating charts, hotel information, rooming list, security and emergency contacts, where to eat, what to see, weather, etc.

I might be working on the next trip, but London was always hanging over our heads.

Trying To Go Unnoticed

When we went on away trips, we typically traveled with 120-140 people. This included staff, coaches, players, and a few guests of marketing. My boss and I were responsible for making sure that everyone knew when and where they were supposed to be and to make sure everyone was accounted for. Similar to a long snapper, it’s one of those jobs where it’s better to go unnoticed. If I was getting noticed, then that usually meant something had gone wrong. With a trip to London, there are limitless opportunities to get noticed.

London, from an operations standpoint, is like a normal away trip on steroids. Lots of them.

Instead of being responsible for 140 people, our total London traveling party was in the neighborhood of 275. Instead of one hotel, we dealt with a total of four hotels. Instead of one or two nights, the team stayed seven nights. Not to mention that everything is different in London – food, driving, language, everything. And I had to work blind.

I had never been to Europe. My boss and some other staff had taken trips to London for site visits to do the reconnaissance and planning for our trip. That was all before I was hired. Before working for the Buccaneers, I had never been west of Oklahoma. Here I was planning a trip for an entire NFL organization across the Atlantic Ocean for one of the most prominent cities in the world without ever having set foot in it.

Our Director of Special Events and Team Operations, and my direct boss, Killeen Mullen had managed the Buccaneers’ trip to London in 2009 when they played the New England Patriots. She was such a vital asset to lead this trip. She was the brains, brawn, and guiding hand behind putting together such an enormous trip.

My introduction to London was via a conference call with Virgin Airlines, our shipping/cargo company, and our NFL head office contact. Every year, each team traveling to London is given a contact person from the NFL office that helps facilitate all of the operations. Ours was Blake Jones. Blake’s experience with the International Series was a fantastic asset. Between Blake and Killeen, I had two strong pillars to lean on when I got overwhelmed, because I absolutely did.

The Details

From my first day on the job, London was something that required our constant attention. The plan was that the team would play the home game versus the Saints on Sunday and then take a charter flight to London the next morning at 8:00 am local time (everything works in local time when on the road). This would put the team in London around 9:00-10:00 pm local time on Monday.

Football coaches love to maintain the same schedule and that was a major goal for us overseas. While we were in London, the week was to stay the same as if we were in Tampa. Our job was to make the organization feel at home as much as possible, even though we were on a different continent.

We shipped everything from printers and copiers, office supplies, to snacks and drinks that wouldn’t expire. Anything that the team didn’t need or that wasn’t perishable was packed into boxes and shipped to our first hotel weeks or months before we were scheduled to arrive.

Because we would be in London for a week, the team needed a field to practice on, a locker room, a weight room, a place for laundry to be washed after practices, meeting rooms, coaches’ offices, staff offices, interview rooms, and even a room for the normal radio shows throughout the week.

Our first hotel was actually an hour outside of London. It was a resort that would double as our headquarters from Monday to Friday. On Friday we would move into a hotel in the city and treat the weekend as if it were a cross country trip in the states. We took over every room in the first hotel so as not to have any distractions. We even had a spillover hotel for ancillary staff a few miles down the road, with a bus to transport them back and forth as necessary.

The first hotel is where we would practice all week. It had a rugby pitch that we lined out as a football field. Next to the field we had two colossal event tents erected with heating and air conditioning. One would serve as the locker room while the other served as the weight room. Weight lifting equipment was ordered and installed before the team arrived. Carpet, lockers, chairs, and equipment tables were put in place in the “locker room.” An extra office area in the hotel would serve as the training room where players could get medical treatment or taped up before and after practice. The medical tables we had shipped too.

Throughout the hotel we had rooms that were designated meetings rooms for each unit – quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, and secondary – just like at One Buccaneer Place, the team’s practice facility in Tampa. Each room had a projector and screen with a computer hook up so that coaches could show film while conducting meetings. We had wifi setup throughout the hotel so that if a staff member or coach opened their laptop it would automatically connect to the network just as if they were at the practice facility in Tampa. They were never supposed to notice a difference.

We also had coaches’ meeting rooms and offices that had full size copiers and printers in them. The coaches had everything they needed to gameplan and then create the playbooks for the players that week. Laminators and laminating sheets were stacked high for coaches’ play call cards.

The devil of London isn’t in the sheer volume of work that goes into it. It’s in the details. It’s the little things that slide under the radar that could really cause issues. For example, for every copier, printer, laminator, or anything electronic that we shipped over, we had to have adapters sent over because electrical plugs in the United Kingdom are different than in the United States. We had to ship all of our own paper because the paper size in London is different due to the metric system. We even had to rewire the entire first hotel and add breakers so that the electrical system could support our demands. Because the hotel was a resort and spa, they didn’t have alarm clocks in the rooms. We ordered 150 digital alarm clocks off of Amazon and spent half a day stuffing double-A batteries into them and then setting them to the correct time.  Most people use their phones as alarms nowadays but the coaches didn’t want players having any excuses for being late to meetings or practices. Whatever it takes.

Our schedules during the week were kept the same. Players had their day off on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday were practices and meetings at the same times as if they were in Tampa. There was a walk through on Friday morning before packing up and moving into London proper and a new hotel. There was a walk-thru and meetings on Saturday and we kept the same schedule for gameday as if we were playing a 6:00 pm game in the U.S.

The idea was that everything should feel the same. A schedule like the players were used to was supposed to help their bodies acclimate to the time and environment change.

Execute

We played the Saints in Week 6 at home. Week 7 was the game versus the Bears in London. Due to the demand of preparation in London, my boss and I left the Wednesday before the Saints game. My boss typically directed operations on gamedays at home, so we still had business to take care of for that game. In London, we did site visits for both hotels so that I could see each property for the first time. I had mapped out meeting rooms and architected rooming lists intuitively from floor plans emailed to me by the hotels. This was my first opportunity to get a real visual of the layout of the hotels.

We did a walk-thru of the airport, identifying where players would emerge from (after passing through customs, of course) and where they were to board the buses to roll to the first hotel. We went over the plan for our exit from London that would occur 12 days later.

Our next stop: hallowed ground – Wembley Stadium. The stadium was empty yet it still felt full of energy. It was one of the better stadiums I had visited. We visited the media and owners’ boxes. We made our plan to get into and out of the locker room with all the equipment. I took my notes on all the normal routes we’re supposed to know by heart: media box to the field and back, media box to the locker room and back, owner’s box to the field and back, and how to get from all of those locations back to the buses after the game. While most of our groups were going to be escorted, I was still expected to know these routes by memory to help direct anyone who might call me after getting lost. The issue was that Wembley is a very complicated stadium to navigate. To get to the field, we had to take steps down, to take an elevator down, to take an escalator to the service level, and then navigate to the locker room and field area.

Before we left that walk-thru, I took one last look around. Standing on that field was another moment for me. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

Sunday, Week 6 vs. New Orleans Saints

Everything was coming together. Our first hotel was well on its way to having all of the meeting rooms set up. The pitch was lined and the locker room and weight room were nearly completed.

I was still getting emails and texts regarding the roster and who would be traveling with the team. This was typical up until the day before the team flew out. Injured players don’t usually travel but London was a bit of an exception since the team was spending seven days on the road and not two. We also had our long snapper Andrew Economos who was coming off an offseason ACL injury. We weren’t sure if he would be ready to play and were devising backup plans. The current snapper, Christian Yount, had played well but Economos was always going to get his position back when he was healthy.

Blake, Killeen, and I, along with a few staff who had traveled over early to help prepare, spent all day Sunday unpacking all of the cargo that we had shipped over prior to our arrival. Killeen fielded calls to help direct the gameday operations in Tampa. There are no excuses in the NFL. Everything is to be perfect and managed well even if it’s from the other side of the globe.

Back in Tampa, the players had been given a deadline to drop their luggage off at the loading dock at the facility on Saturday night. The luggage would be loaded onto a truck, taken to the airport, pre-screened through customs, and ready to be loaded onto the plane the next morning. The team would play at 4:15 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday. After the game, players and staff got to spend one brief night at home before arriving at the practice facility early the next morning to be screened through customs and load onto buses to the airport.

Because Virgin Airlines didn’t have a terminal in Tampa (the closest one was Orlando) and we were on a tight schedule, Virgin deadheaded a plane (flew it empty) to Tampa International Airport for us. The plane was to be loaded with the same refreshments and catering that we had for all the other flights throughout the season, plus a little extra since it was a longer flight.

Everything remains the same.

On Sunday, Tampa Bay beat New Orleans 26-20.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Head Equipment Manager Jim Sorenson and his staff were the first guys to really be put to the test. The equipment from the game – shoulder pads, uniforms, cleats, jocks, helmets, etc. – all had to be washed and cleaned before being loaded into a box truck waiting at the loading dock to take it to the airport for customs check. The 4:15 p.m. start time to the game was a major hindrance. Instead of the game ending around 4:00 p.m. after a normal 1:00 p.m. start, the game didn’t end until after 7:00 p.m. Those three hours would have prevented Jim and his guys working until the very early morning to get everything prepared.

Last minute changes to the traveling party weren’t allowed. We had sent a passenger manifest to customs and we could only subtract names, not add. Our security guys had done a fantastic job of collecting passports from all of the players and staff and keeping them on hand to make sure they weren’t forgotten. They also had copies of every passport in a binder should one get lost while in London. It wasn’t perfect but it might be enough for us to get someone back home if necessary.

Back in London, I got a late text message. Economos was a no-go. I updated the passenger manifest and sent it to our Virgin Airlines contact. I also made a final call to our transportation contact in London – even if it was past midnight. We went over the final details of the team’s arrival to Heathrow International Airport and our shuttle to the hotel that was about an hour away.

The Week In London

I waited for the text. Looking around, I noticed a few red and black sweaters and jackets lingering. A few Bucs fans in London had made their way to the airport to see the team arrive. How they knew when the team was supposed to arrive, I have no idea. I made small talk with a couple of the fans until my phone buzzed.

“Wheels on the ground.” Killeen’s text.

The staff had the option to use an NFL supplied phone while in London. I declined because I wanted to make sure everyone could reach me at any time. I also began to realize that I was going to need to carry a charger (and adapter) with me at all times.

Killeen’s text meant that the team had landed and to make final preparations. They would make their way through customs and slowly trickle out. We’d direct them to the eight or so buses waiting outside. Normally the buses were marked with a sign in the window designating whether they were for staff, coaches, or players, but on this night we were only concerned about everyone finding their way onto the buses and making it to the hotel.

I scarcely remember our people coming through customs but I’ll never forget seeing Ronde Barber walk out. The crowd that had gathered began clapping and cheering. He smiled a big smile and stopped to sign a few autographs and take a couple of pictures like he’d always been so gracious to do. No one was really sure if this was his last season playing, so any moments like that with Ronde were something I made sure to watch.

After the buses were loaded, Killeen and I climbed on last. She was in the first bus and I was in the last. We were in constant communication to ensure that the buses stayed close together and no issues arose on the drive. As I looked around on the bus, I saw a lot of drowsy faces. Most people had slept on the flight over which we had advised them not to do. The team was landing in the late evening and we wanted everyone to stay awake so that they would be tired and sleep through the night in London’s time. This was a big step in helping them get adjusted to the time change. It didn’t seem like many had listened.

At the hotel, we had room keys laid out on tables in envelopes. The envelopes were in order by last name and staff/coaches’ keys were separated from the player’s keys. They would grab their key and hotel staff would direct them to their rooms. Everything stays the same: veterans with five years or more of NFL service got their own room and all other players shared rooms. This was a strict rule and fairly common throughout the NFL. The problem with our 2011 team was that we were the youngest team in the league. There weren’t many players who got their own rooms.

By the time everyone found their rooms and got settled it was late in the night but it was still Monday. We had a late night snack prepared in the meal space of the hotel. Players, staff, and coaches hung out for a little while before heading back to their rooms. The team was in the hotel and everyone was accounted for. Our first major hurdle was cleared.

The next day was the players’ day off. Most spent the day relaxing, exploring the grounds, or taking a quick day trip to the city. We had organized a couple of tours for them to go on should they choose to. The coaches and personnel staff met and continued game planning for the Bears. Coaches and staff don’t get days off in the NFL, even in the UK.

On Tuesday night, players, coaches, and staff all made their way to the meal space for dinner. As they entered, Killeen and I had per diem – the cash that players are given for meals that aren’t provided by the team – stuffed in envelopes to sign for. Most meals are provided, but over seven days, there were a few that weren’t. For every away game, we had to request the per diem for the entire traveling party from accounting and it would be delivered in cash. We would then separate out all the cash in envelopes with names on them. As everyone boarded the buses at the facility they would be given their per diem and signed saying they received it. Again, this was about 120 personnel. For London, we had more than 200 personnel who were staying for seven days. And it was all in pound sterling (GBP) since we were in London. That’s a ton of bills.

Practice

The converted rugby pitch that served as our practice field all week.

Wednesday was the first day of practice and meetings for players. They seemed excited and ready to get to work. They were all still taking in the moment as they walked into their makeshift but spacious locker room for the week. They still had workout schedules to maintain, too.

Our Nutritionist, Kevin Luhrs, had spent a significant amount of time working on the menu and food preparation for the week. London has different food regulations and therefore the food is different. It isn’t bad but it’s something that many seem to struggle with. By the end of the day on Wednesday, some of the players had started to grumble about the food. I was always in the lobby of the hotel or common areas so that I could be reached if needed. Wednesday night was the first night players ordered Domino’s pizza. The idea must have been passed on because on Thursday night, Domino’s had delivered more than twenty pizzas to the hotel.

Thursday during the day was another “routine” day for players and coaches. They had their typical practices and meetings. By this point, everyone had begun to become acclimated to the time change. The problem was that my boss and I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without being stopped and asked a question by a different person. “Where is this meeting room?” “Where is coach’s office?” “Where do running backs go?” “Is there a McDonald’s close?”

Friday was another big hurdle. The team would have practice in the morning and then we would move everyone from the first hotel and into our hotel in the city for the rest of our stay. That morning I traveled to the city with our Special Events Manager Jim Mackes to do a final walk-thru of the hotel before the team arrived. Families of players and staff who hadn’t traveled earlier in the week had flown in and had booked rooms in our hotel through the team. By this time in the season I had learned some of the finer points of how the dynamics of some of our players and staff operated. I had left a couple of rooms empty as a buffer for any last minute issues. As it turned out, we used them all. I always thought it was interesting that some people forgot to let us know their family was traveling to London.

The move into the city was a big one, and to beat the rush, Head Coach Raheem Morris and some of the top level executives were taking a car into the city to check in a little early. The problem was that their rooms wouldn’t be ready in time for their arrival.

But in the NFL, there are no excuses.

I asked the manager for a key to their rooms. The housekeeping staff and I made beds and cleaned three rooms together in a matter of about 15 minutes. Just as we finished the last room, I got the text from the driver: “Pulling in now.” I took the stairs down because the ancient elevators were too slow. I hit the bottom floor and sprinted to the front door of the hotel. I stopped next to the manager of the hotel just as our VIPs walked through the door.

“Here are your keys, Mr. Dominik, Mr. Morris, and Mr. Hickey.”

“Thanks, Joe.”

“No sweat. Let me know if there’s anything you need.”

The team was due to arrive twenty minutes later and there was still work to be done. Keys were laid out in the same fashion as at the first hotel: alphabetical order by last name, separated by staff and players. Our people would come through one set of doors to a ballroom to get their key and then exit through another set of doors. We always had the hotel hold every elevator in the building for our arrival. With this tactic, we could have everyone off the buses and in their rooms in four minutes. It helped to ensure a smooth and quick arrival while keeping the players out of public spaces for the most part. It also meant that we only used the elevators for a few minutes rather than clogging them up for twenty.

Once the last person was in the elevator I would check the front desk to see if the  hotel needed anything from me and then I would head up to the player floors to make sure everyone made it into their rooms. One final task was to check with the high-level execs and handle any problems. Once that’s managed, I’d head back to the front desk to check for any other lingering problems.

Finally, after everyone was in and settled, I headed up to my room. I remember texting with the hotel manager about dinner and meeting space, and then feeling really flushed. I laid back on the bed for a moment. Too late. I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

The traveling and stress had gotten to me. I texted my boss to tell her I needed a couple of hours to get myself together. Ten minutes later I had a knock on my door. It was a delivery of flu medicine and an antiemetic. I was told by team doctors that I needed to rest and wasn’t allowed near the team for the night. I would be reevaluated the next day before being allowed in team areas. It’s common practice to protect the players from falling ill but I was devastated. I never get sick and I felt like I was letting people down at an important time.

I still texted and called the hotel manager and people within the organization to make sure everything was running smooth. We didn’t provide a meal for the team on Friday night because we knew everyone would want to go out for dinner with family or teammates. After my medicine kicked in, I took a walk myself. I had gotten to go on a tour of the Tower of London earlier in the week. Other than that and the walk, that’s all I ever got to see of the city of London because we were so busy.

Saturday came and I was cleared late in the afternoon to go into team areas. I ate at team dinner and made sure meetings went well. After meetings we began packing up any non-essential equipment. We would leave the next morning for the stadium, play at Wembley, and then come back late that evening to the hotel. We would have breakfast and leave early the next morning for the airport and the flight back to the States. There would be no free seconds after tonight.

Gameday

On Sunday morning I walked down to breakfast. I always had to be there earlier than everyone else to make sure it was setup correctly. We were always the first ones up and the last ones out. But this morning, fewer people came to breakfast than usual. It was mostly staff who all seemed to be tired and moving slower than normal. I remembered thinking, “Maybe we should have come a day later.” I had been there for 11 days at this point and had been through that feeling and had broken through it with a little extra rest. If the players were feeling it, they wouldn’t have that time.

We were the home team and Chicago was the away team. We had given up a home game at Raymond James Stadium and supplanted it in the schedule with this game in London. That meant the stadium would be decked out in our colors and emblem. Our cheerleaders would be on the sidelines and we even had a mini-cannon in one corner of the field. We supplied the ball boys and much of the ancillary staff for the field. Most of them had come over on a separate flight on Thursday and had stayed in a separate hotel because the team hotel was full.

The Bears had approached traveling that week much differently than we had. They left from Chicago on Thursday afternoon. That meant that they arrived Friday morning in London. They encouraged their players to sleep on the plane ride over so they were ready for a walk-thru and meetings on Friday. They had meetings and a walk-thru on Saturday and normal gameday prep on Sunday.

Together, we were lucky. The weather was incredible the entire time we were in Great Britain. It stayed dry almost the entire time and the coldest night was the night of the game when it was 62 degrees (16.7 Celsius for the British) at kickoff. It dipped into the fifties later. It was great football weather.

The rush hit me again as we pulled up to the stadium. Something about Wembley Stadium struck a chord in me. Maybe it was the entire experience but every time I was on that field I felt like I was somewhere special.

The buses pulled into the unloading area. A lot of the staff had come earlier to the stadium to get prepared. The equipment and training staff had the locker room setup and ready. As I walked into the locker room I remember seeing one of the team doctors talking to the designated London doctor. In the UK, our doctors had no power. They weren’t allowed to administer medicine and had certain restrictions. We also had to have a special waiver and escort from customs for the prescription medication that we brought over with us.

I walked through the locker room and got the customary pre-game fist bumps and handshakes. I walked out the opposite side of the locker room to the tunnel where our team would enter onto the field. Everything was set and ready to go. We would have lasers and smoke for the team’s pregame introduction. We would also have a 10-foot tall skull that would split apart and the players would run through. I walked out onto the field where players from both teams had already begun their pregame warm-ups. The sun poked perfectly through the upper partitions of the stadium.

Wembley Warmup

Pregame Warmups

I had another moment.

I made my way across the field to the opposite corner. This was where I would be for most of the game. I walked through the tunnel and took a left. There was long hallway with concrete block walls painted in an eggshell color. I walked to the end where two sets of elevators emerged. These were the elevators up to the coaches’ boxes. I rode one up and made sure everything was set for when the coaches arrived.

National Anthem

Pregame for the national anthems.

Taking the elevator back down and walking back out onto the field I saw personnel from the NFL front office coordinating the pregame show. There would be national anthems for both Great Britain and the United States. Kids with placards would fill the field and turn them up at the appropriate time to make a flag. Headed to the other corner I made my way to the area outside the mascot and cheerleaders’ locker rooms. Seeing the head cheerleading coach, Cathy Boyd, I made sure she and her girls didn’t need anything and wished them good luck.

Next I went up to the press box. I traced my steps making sure I had committed the path to memory should I need to direct someone else. One of the interesting parts about the media area of Wembley is that the seats are outside. There’s a roof over their heads but they’re exposed to the elements like the rest of the crowd. It’s definitely something we’re not used to in America where the media sits in a heated/air conditioned suite to watch the game.

My pregame checks were done and it was nearing time for the teams to head back to the locker rooms. I hurried back down to field level to catch one of my favorite parts of gameday: Raheem’s speech.

Raheem Morris is an incredibly charismatic and likeable guy. He’s also a great story teller and that comes across very well in his speeches. I tucked myself away in the corner right near the exit door of the locker room. The team crowded into the open area in front of the doors. Raheem’s voice boomed throughout the speech. It was an especially fierce one. What happens in the locker room stays there, but I can say his speech centered on taking care of business and making the trip worth it. Hell, he had me ready to go out and hit someone.

When his speech finished I hit the door before anyone else and directed traffic to the tunnel the team would run out of. The guys lined up. The fog rolled. The lasers danced.

“Guys, when you get past me, DO NOT turn around. Stay facing out of the tunnel. The lasers are behind me and they’re supposed to be particularly strong and can burn your eyes.” I was yelling but was sure no one was listening. Even if they were it was probably hard to hear me over the music and emcee introducing the Bears.

Eric Lorig, standing directly in front of me turns around. “What’d you say?”

“I said don’t turn around!” as I held up my clipboard between the lasers and his eyes.

The team was introduced and I remember hearing guys yelling, “I can’t see through all this damn smoke!” as they ran out. The last players were announced and Killeen met me in the tunnel just before the last few made their way out. We shared a celebratory hug in the tunnel. We had gotten them to kickoff. Now it was time to see if all of our efforts were going to pay off.

She walked out in front me as I stood in the tunnel for another second. Another hurdle cleared.

I jogged through the smoke with the lasers bouncing around in front of me. Even though the announcer wasn’t calling my name, as I emerged through the smoke and the skull, I realized, “I want to be in the NFL forever.”

Crowd2

The toy cannon and the home team decorations.

Flags

The London crowd waved red and white Buccaneers flags to show their support to the “home” team.

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