With three simple words, Jo-Lonn Dunbar summed up the prevailing sentiment in the St Louis Rams’ locker room. From a footballing standpoint their visit to the UK had been a disaster, the 45-7 defeat to New England at Wembley Stadium a grand humiliation on an international stage. They had blown assignments, missed tackles and dropped catches against a team they sincerely believed they could beat. But London? “London was awesome.”
“I had a great experience there,” said the linebacker. “We didn’t play real well, which absolutely sucks, but I think the experience was good. The coaching staff did a great thing by getting us out there early and getting us acclimated, we just weren’t able to win a game.”
The list of things that players enjoyed about the English capital ran from the predictable – Big Ben, the London Eye, black cabs and quaint accents – to the rather more surprising. Despite being based in a part of the US known for its hospitality, many claimed to have been blown away by how welcoming Londoners were. “Everybody was so friendly,” said defensive end Chris Long. “It was one of the friendliest big cities I’ve been in.”
There was an appreciation for – and some surprise at – the support for the game that they found in London. The Fan Rally in Trafalgar Square, in particular, had been an eye-opener for both players and the journalists who travelled over. St Louis Post-Dispatch writer Jim Thomas was still marvelling at his encounter with a fan who had travelled down from Orkney by bus and boat.
One area in which everyone’s expectations had been met, however, was the local cuisine. “It was terrible. The food was really bad,” said the cornerback Cortland Finnegan. A reporter who had travelled over for the game promptly interjected, adding in wistful tones: “if I lived in England I’d be skinny”.
But while the reaction was broadly positive, players were more circumspect about the idea of a team eventually being based in London. For the majority this was a first-ever experience of trans-Atlantic flight. The realities of jet-lag and of spending that long in the air were a shock to the system. As Dunbar would succinctly put it: “That team would have one heck of a homefield advantage”.
While declaring himself eager to return soon for a holiday, Long said: “I wouldn’t want to play a football game there a lot – It’s just a long trip”. Finnegan concurred, adding: “I just think on your body, the time changes you would endure – it would be tough.”
These are the sorts of logistical concerns that the league will continue to monitor over the coming years, and solutions such as having a London team play its home and away games in blocks have also been mooted. In the immediate term, the Rams’ players were grateful simply to have returned to a bye week – as is standard for teams taking part in the International Series.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed last year, teams are obliged to give players four consecutive days off during their bye. Those days were variously used to spend time with family, visit alma maters or, in the case of defensive end Robert Quinn, to move house. “I don’t know if my bye week was actually a bye week at all,” he sighed. “It seemed like I was still working.”
All were grateful for the timing of the bye – arriving as it did at the exact mid-point of the regular season, providing a much-needed break with half of the team’s games played. “Yeah, I think that’s the right time to have a bye week,” said Long. “I think there should be two bye weeks honestly, but that’ll never happen. Time off is always important for football players, with the way our bodies need to recover.”
They return for a critical NFC West match-up against San Francisco. Both teams boast a perfect 2-0 record against in divisional games so far this season, but that is about all they share in common. The 49ers, at 6-2, are reigning NFC West champs and presently occupy first place in the division once again. The Rams, after a promising 3-2 start, have now lost three straight.
With the game being played at Candlestick Park, and St Louis yet to win on the road this season, the Rams are aware of the task that awaits them. Cortland answered in the affirmative when asked if he thought they could win. “We play this game to win it, we put in the long hours, hard work,” he said. “But it’s one of those things – everyone’s got a plan until you get punched in the mouth. And these 49ers are going to do that, they’re going to punch you in the mouth.”
Providing a lift for the Rams is the return of wide receiver Danny Amendola – Sam Bradford’s favourite target, and a man who has been absent since fracturing his clavicle against Arizona on 4 October. A man who – despite having missed the last three games – still has more receptions (32), receiving yards (395) and receiving touchdowns (two) this season than anyone else on the team.
They will need him available – he was still limited in practice on Wednesday – and at his best against a defence which ranks second in the league against the pass. The Rams know that their trip to San Francisco is likely to be less thrilling than their visit to London off the field, but they travel in the hope that it can be a whole lot more positive on it.
In the news …
A few more stories about the Rams this week that readers might want to check out:
Five-minute interview: Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford
You’re adjusting to a new team, a new system and a new position – moving inside from end in a 3-4 defence in Miami to tackle in a 4-3 here in St Louis. How are you finding the transition so far?
I’m becoming more comfortable with the position as the season goes along. I’ve still got some growing to do, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m getting better.
What are the different challenges are there playing at tackle?
It’s just more confined space. Playing at end you’ve got a little more room to work with. In the three-technique, and in the shade it’s more of a phone booth, small area type place you have to work with. Big, strong-ass guards. It’s just a little different.
And what about the transition from a town like Miami to a town like St Louis?
It was a bit of a culture shock for me coming from a big, flashy city to a slower city like St Louis, and … [interview interrupted, by defensive end Chris Long pulling faces at Langford – who dissolves into giggles] Why is Chris Long messing with me man?
From our experience of this locker room so far, it appears to be a working of hazard of playing with Chris Long…
It’s fun, man, it makes it fun to come to work. We’ve got a bunch of characters on the team from him, to Robert Quinn to Will Hayes, just a bunch of guys with different personalities, but we all gel together, we mesh and we have fun.
Cortland Finnegan told us recently that the one thing he’d like to do is get to play a bit of defensive tackle (http://www.nfluk.com/opinions/articles/our-man-missouri-2) …
[Interrupting] Cortland said that?! [Deep belly laughter]. I don’t think he really meant that!
We can only take him at his word. Would you consider a swap?
Well I still in all seriousness, if I had to do something I wanted to do it would be play a bit of tight end. Catch a touchdown, something like that.
Do you have good hands?
Yeah I got some hands. [Robert Quinn, sitting nearby: “Don’t’ lie!”] I have! I got a pair of good hands on me.
How did you find London?
London itself – the trip, it was a good experience, a good trip … but the game obviously not.
What did you enjoy about it?
Once we got down into London, I enjoyed that more than when we were out at the Grove [hotel in Hertfordshire, where the team began the week]. We were basically in the middle of nowhere there. But once we got into London, I enjoyed that a bit more. I went to this spot called Burgers and Lobsters. I had both! They serve burger, lobster and beer – that’s it! It was pretty good …
That’s the first positive comment about the food we’ve heard! Now that you’ve made the trip once, how would you feel about doing so again if there were a London team?
I think it would be too difficult with the travelling. The whole travelling back and forth for teams that have to go over there. That would be too much, in my opinion.
Why should fans in the UK keep getting behind the Rams?
Because we’re a good team, and because our owner has a soccer team over there!