There is something we do as a football city better than any other football city. We travel well, especially when passports are involved. Perhaps that can allow Jets fans to take heart when they wake up extra early Sunday morning to watch the Jets and the Falcons live from London, with kickoff just past 9:30 a.m.
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It’s right that it should be that way, actually. The very first regular-season American football game played in a venue other than native soil was on Nov. 8, 1926. The Los Angeles Wildcats were an oddly-named entry in the first incarnation of the AFL, which operated for only that 1926 season.
The Wildcats may have claimed L.A. as home, but they were run out of Illinois, and they almost exclusively played road games with one exception: They were the “home “ team at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Stadium that day, hosting our very own New York Yankees. The Yankees had the biggest star in the sport, Red Grange,who founded the AFL after a dispute with George Halas, ended his brief, spectacular tenure with the Bears.
Grange was terrific that day, scoring on a 70-yard, third-quarter touchdown run that broke a scoreless tie and propelled the Yankees to a 28-0 win. Canadians didn’t exactly embrace the American sport— just 10,000 fans bought tickets, and the stadium was two-thirds empty. Still, for years, that stood as the only regular-season football game ever played on foreign soil.
Not including NFL Europe, which was essentially a minor league, the international drought ended Oct. 2, 2005 when the Cardinals and 49ers played a regular-season game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, more than 103,000 people flocking to see the Cardinals win, 31-14. Two years later, the NFL began making annual treks to London.
And that’s when New York took over.
The Jets practice in London ahead of their game against the Falcons.Action Images via Reuters
That first game, Oct. 28, 2007, featured the Giants and the Dolphins, and the Giants won a rainy, 13-10 decision at Wembley Stadium. In retrospect, that should have been a no-contest blowout: Within four months the Giants would win the Super Bowl; the Dolphins would finish the year 1-15.
In reality, the Giants had to hold off the Dolphins, and had to survive a tough day for Eli Manning, who completed just 8 of 22 passes for 59 yards — but did score their only touchdown on a sloshy, squishy 10-yard dash just before the half.
Shaun O’Hara summed up the miserable trip thusly when it was over: “The biggest priority is to eat something, enjoy the win. Maybe grab a pint. Or 10.”
Eight years later, it was the Jets’ turn to take advantage of using Miami as their Wembley foil, trouncing the Dolphins, 27-14. Chris Ivory ran for 166 yards, and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 218 to energize the Jets and the 83,986 folks who’d made the pilgrimage.
The Jets had taken care of every detail — even packing their own toilet paper for the trip — then improved to 3-1 in the heady, optimistic early days of the Todd Bowles Era.
“When you win,” Bowles said, “you’ll travel as long as you need to.”
The next year the Giants returned to London, this time to Twickenham Stadium — the “Cathedral of Rugby” — where in front of 74,121 fans they eked out a 17-10 win over the L.A. Rams, overcoming an early 10-0 deficit, helped along by a game-changing 44-yard pick-six from Landon Collins. Manning didn’t crack 200 yards (Londoners never did see the best of Eli), but the Giants improved to 4-3 (on the way to 11-5) with a solid all-around game.
So that brings us to the Jets, fresh of their first win of the season, with what has to be considered a winnable game against the Falcons, and for one of the few times in recent years, we can state with confidence: History is on the side of the football locals. They are 3-for-3 in regular-season games in London; 4-for-4 internationally if you care to count the ’26 Yankees (also known as the “Grangers”).
We may not rule the football roost here. But across the pond …
Next Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard will commission its newest cutter: the USCGC Emlen Tunnell, named after the man who was both the first African-American to play for the Giants and the first to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rejected by both the Army and Navy for service during World War II, Tunnel enlisted in the Coast Guard and on two separate occasions was credited with saving the lives of fellow crew members. Tunnell, always a favorite of Wellington Mara, died at 51 in 1975.
Baltimore Colts fullback Alan Ameche advances through a big opening provided by teammates to score the winning touchdown in overtime period against the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium in New York, Dec. 28, 1958. Colts’ Lenny Moore gets a good block on Giants’ Emlen Tunnell (45) at left.AP
You think in moments of weakness Kevin Durant sort of yearns for the days when his wingman was a no-drama, low-maintenance guy like Steph Curry?
Art Shamsky and Ed Kranepool will appear tonight at 7:30 at the Argyle Theater in Babylon for an evening called, “Remembering the Miracle Mets.” It’s a great opportunity for fans to meet and greet two of the most visible and engaging members of that fabled team.
Do the Bills and the Chiefs even bother to activate their punters Sunday night?
Whack Back at Vac
Richard Siegelman: Re: Kyrie Irving — I don’t remember Kenny Sears or Willie Naulls telling the 1950s Knicks they wouldn’t get vaccinated against polio.
Vac: Sometimes there’s just no need for a smart-alecky retort, you know?
Robert Lewis: What world is Aaron Boone living in? He says the rest of the league has closed the gap on the Yankees. They haven’t won a thing in 12 years and have been trying to close the gap unsuccessfully on the Sox, Rays and Astros for years. Talk about delusion.
Vac: I defend Boone a lot, even when he goes in his super-positive-reinforcement tangents. But that “closing the gap” sentiment was just completely detached from reality.
Aaron BooneCorey Sipkin
paprey: Can we trade the Cardinals to the Mets? Yeah, they lost the wild-card game and went a very Mets-like 0-for-12 with RISP. But damn, they play a very un-Mets-like game of smart, athletic baseball.
MikeVacc: I’d prefer a full-on swap of the Rays for the Mets. But the Cardinals wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize.
Kevin Bryant: The Red Sox were thrilled to find Cole in their stockings. Nineteen weeks until pitchers and catchers.