LONDON – Each year when the NFL closes Regent Street in the shopping heart of London, they put on a fan fest that rivals the NFL Experience at the Super Bowl. There are obstacle courses, kicking demos (very popular) cheerleaders and a bunch of Jaguars fans.
“We came over for a couple of weeks around the game to see the countryside and support the Jaguars,” said Captain Roland Powers (ret.) while enjoying all of the festivities. “I’d say it’s 90-10 Jaguars fans here, and a lot of them are British,” he added.
Walking along there were a lot of NFL jerseys and because it’s their first time here, plenty of Colts representatives. But the Jaguars play here every year and many of the NFL fans in the UK have adopted the Jaguars as their “home” team.
“I needed a team to support and I picked the Jaguars,” said Michael Lewellyn, a London resident. “They seem committed to London and I’m quite keen to see the sport grow here in the UK,” he added.
“I don’t know much about it,” Lewellyn’s girlfriend Beck McCatrish chimed in. “It’s really neat to me and I’m not sure if I like it.”
“I’ll convert her!” Lewelly interjected with a laugh.
One of the features on Regent Street each year is a live stage where the players and cheerleaders entertain and answer questions from fans. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was on stage thanking the fans for their support.
“We never thought we’d be in this situation where we had three games and they were all sold out,” the commissioner said. “We know they want more and we’re trying to figure out ways to do that.”
I asked Goodell about Shad Khan’s original commitment to London and how important that was to the NFL.
“He was willing to stand up and do it,” Goodell said. “His vision was to make sure it was great for the fans in Jacksonville and the fans in London.”
“This is great for the city of Jacksonville,” Goodell added. “People here know where Jacksonville is and what the city is all about. That’s what we’re trying to do, make this good for the city and good for London as well.”
Making the trip from St. Augustine, Jaguars fan Owen Cumiskey said he was amazed at how many other Jaguars fans were around.
“Everywhere I go, people are yelling, ‘Go Jaguars’ and all kinds of things,” Cumiskey said. “It’s expanding our franchise and out brand and our fan base so I think it’s great.”
Each week before Jaguars home games in Jacksonville David Tarkington holds a church service in the parking lot of Old St. Andrews church in the sports complex. He’s brought that idea to London this year and will hold a service before the game just a couple of tube stops from Wembley Stadium.
“Really a tailgate event, just an encouraging word. It gives people a chance to not feel guilty for missing church on Sunday morning,” Tarkington, the pastor at 1st Baptist in Orange Park related.
I asked him if his message changes when the Jaguars struggled. “The message is hope, you gotta believe,” he answered with a laugh. It’s a 10 minute message but just trying to connect the Biblical messages with a sports theme.’