Why the Super Bowl will never be played in London

Today the NFL will play a regular season game at Wembley Stadium in London for the third year in a row. This year's game is a foregone conclusion: Tom Brady's New England Patriots are going to destroy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who haven't won yet this season.

Nevertheless, I'm excited to be there. When I started watching the NFL in the mid-1980s I would never have dreamed that a regular season game would be played in this country. As the sport grew in popularity we had a few pre-season exhibition matches in London and, for a while, we had a World League team - the London Monarchs.

I went to most of the exhibition games and a few Monarchs games. I was at the inaugural World Bowl at Wembley when the Monarchs beat the Barcelona Dragons. Still, real NFL football seemed impossible.

Even now, having been to regular season games in Baltimore, Washington DC and Jacksonville, watching the game at Wembley is still special. The NFL hopes to add a second annual UK game and if it's a success the aim is to have four games in the UK - one for each month of the season. If that plan works then perhaps, just perhaps, there could be an NFL team based in London.

Given the current rate of progress, it's likely to be at least a decade before that possibility is seriously considered. However, that doesn't stop media speculation that one day a Super Bowl - the crowning game of the NFL season - could be played in London. This season it's the turn of Richard Conway of Sky Sports to float the idea:

"Bringing the Super Bowl, the finale of the NFL season, to Britain is also an ambition..."

It's never going to happen. I'll give you two reasons why. First, have you been to London in February? It's cold, dark and damp. Only three times has the Super Bowl been played in a cold-weather city and even then, not since 1992. In the unlikely event that the NFL returns to a cold climate, it will be in a city that has a covered stadium. That roof on Wembley doesn't close, you know.

Second, the Super Bowl is a massive primetime TV event in the US. It's usually the most-viewed TV show of the year. It kicks off at 6.30pm on the east coast of the US and finishes at around 10.30pm. Matching that kick-off time at Wembley would mean starting the game at 11.30pm, local time, and finishing it at 3.30am on Monday. Even if you could find 85,000 people prepared to go to Wembley in the middle of the night, the locals, stadium staff, police and London Transport are unlikely to be enthusiastic. The latest realistic kick off time at Wembley would be around 7pm - that's two in the afternoon on the east coast and a disastrous 10am on the west coast.

I have my doubts about an NFL franchise being sited in London but a Super Bowl? That's completely unrealistic.

In praise of John Madden

John Madden, probably American football's best-known commentator, retired last week. On Friday I wrote a short piece for Telegraph sport to explain why he was so important:

Madden taught American football fans to watch the game like a coach. A perfect example came in SuperBowl XLIII, Madden's final game as a commentator. Many fans would have been wondering why the Arizona Cardinals weren't destroying the Pittsburgh Steelers with their spectacular passing game. Madden explained that the Steelers were keeping their safeties deep, effectively taking away the Cardinals' major threat. He suggested they exploit this by passing across the middle of the field. When they did, late in the game, they scored a 64-yard touchdown.

You can read the whole thing here.

A familiar theme

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know I frequently bang on about the pointlessness of the Premier League. David Walsh, in today's Sunday Times, points out that Chelsea now have so much depth in their squad that their reserves are good enough to thrash almost any top flight side:

"What has become clear and should concern the Premier League is that the top four clubs, especially Chelsea and Manchester United, have the financial and organisational wherewithal to hold on to top-class players who would rather be an understudy there than a key member of the first team elsewhere.

[...]

"As the big four distance themselves from the pack, the consequence is predictability. It is a great weakness of the Premier League that in a race not yet a quarter of the way through, everyone knows who will fill the top four places. Only the order in which they finish remains to be determined.

[...[

"It would be encouraging to feel that those who run the Premier League were as concerned as they should be"

Of course, the Premier League bosses don't give a toss as long as the TV money keeps rolling in. Still, it's reassuring to see journalists pointing it out, even if their complaints will fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, I'm off to Wembley to watch a genuinely competitive top-flight sport: the NFL match between the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints. The London drizzle and Wembley's inadequate turf threaten to spoil the game again this year but I'll enjoy my American football fix nonetheless.

The Giants re-write the Patriots story

Back in November, I wrote about two NFL teams with contrasting fortunes. The Dolphins, of whom I am a beleaguered supporter, were winless after ten games, while their rivals the Patriots were unbeaten and looking unbeatable. The Dolphins finally broke their streak on December 16, winning their only game, in overtime, against the Baltimore Ravens, who are, ironically enough, the other team I support (it's a long story). However, the Patriots went marching on, unbeaten all the way to the Super Bowl.

Screenwriter and blogger Todd Alcott recently wrote about the importance of identifying the protagonist in any story. The NFL is non-fiction obviously but for most of this season it seemed that Tom Brady and the Patriots were the protagonists. The story was their indomitable march to the perfect season, becoming only the second team to do so.

Nobody suspected that the season was really about the New York Giants. Sent to London in October, where they looked unimpressive as they beat the Dolphins, they were viewed as also-rans. And yet they swept to the Super Bowl and ruined the Patriots' story.

It finished New York 17, New England 14.

'At least we're not England fans'

Here in Miami, football fans - the American kind - are focused on two records that could be broken this season. The Miami Dolphins have lost all ten of their games so far this season. Tomorrow night they travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, who are unbeaten at home and have the league's best defence.

The last team to finish a season winless were the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers but that was in the days of the 14-game season. Since the season became 16 games no team has ever finished winless. The Dolphins have six more chances to avoid an unpleasant distinction.

Meanwhile the New England Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles later tonight aiming to win their eleventh game of the year and many observers think that they are unbeatable this year. Just one team has recorded an unbeaten season, the Miami Dolphins back in 1972. Again, that was in the days of the 14-game season. No team has ever gone 16-0.

So the Dolphins face the prospect of losing one of football's most prestigious records and finding themselves lumbered with a humiliating new distinction.

It's tricky to find consolation but, in today's Miami Herald, Michelle Kaufman offers the following: "Fans of the 0-10 Miami Dolphins have reason to be depressed this Thanksgiving weekend, but nothing in American sports is as maddening or disheartening as being a fan of the English national team."