For the first time ever, two NFL regular-season games are being played this season in London's soccer cathedral Wembley Stadium. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings clashed in late September and the up-and-down San Francisco 49ers will meet the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars on October 27. Needless to say, bringing American Football to "The Big Smoke" was an exercise in determination that put a lot of strains on a number of special relationships. Fortunately, the Discovery Channel was on hand filming 'NFL in Season,' an hour-long all-access look at what goes into exporting a national obsession.
Executive Director Christo Doyle spoke to 'Men's Journal' while filming was under way and promised "truly amazingly candid lighter moments mixed in with hardcore Xs and Os."
The Steelers and Vikings each headed to London with a 0-3 record, but despite their shared struggle, Doyle says the two teams behaved very differently on camera. The Steelers did not travel to London until the Friday, treating the contest like a routine away game. The Vikings attempted to re-create the atmosphere of a week in Minnesota after arriving six days early to get acclimated to the time difference.
"We've been here two days and we're still dealing with jetlag," Doyle said several days before the game. "I think it's a real advantage for the Vikings."
Doyle's aim is to show both players' excitement and local incredulity. He says Brits were gawking at Adrian Peterson's bulging muscles as the best back in the game ducked into a hackney carriage in downtown London. Other players tried on Bobby hats near Buckingham Palace and giggled. Vikings defensive lineman Jared Allen complained about waiting for Quarterback Matt Cassel to show up for a round of golf. Shortly after Cassel arrived and notched a birdie, the big man made a simple remark: "I fucking hate quarterbacks."
The Vikings wound up winning the London game 34-27, but it was a back-and-forth contest, which makes Doyle's 'In Season' footage all the more interesting. Scenes showing usually top-secret film sessions in war rooms will be mesmerizing for serious football buffs eager to dissect a game.
Doyle was given unprecedented access after Discovery partnered with NFL Films and decided to use the camera crew from HBO's acclaimed 'Hard Knocks.' The whole production came down to hustle. The time crunch between the game and the series debut five days later forced Doyle to do what he calls a "crash edit." He didn't expect to have a final cut until a few hours before showtime. "It is incredibly stressful," he said, "but hopefully very rewarding."
That is more or less the same thing that football players say about both life in the N.F.L. and playing abroad for the first time.
"A lot of people think what we do is just wake up and play on Sunday and that's not the case," said Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, who will be front and center in the next episode. "There's a lot of thought and effort into each week and into each day. I think it will be good for the fans to get a glimpse and understand our life and how it goes." ['NFL in Season' debuts tonight at 10/9 CT on the Discovery Channel. The next episode will air November 1.]