LONDON – The end of the world as we know it officially arrived at the Landmark Hotel near Regent Park, as a large gathering of very powerful business leaders in dark suits coalesced to talk about the globalization of sports in the 21st century.
Kicking off a conference sponsored by The Economist, sleep-deprived NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – fresh off a middle-of-the-night conference call to assess the status of the San Diego Chargers' scheduled home game in a fire-stricken region – stepped to the podium in an ornate ballroom and told the assembled movers and shakers, "The focus of our international strategy now is to present the NFL to the widest possible audience."
Then, to underscore his point that American football must move beyond its designation as America's Game, Goodell cobbled together some Bob Dylan lyrics: "Your old road is rapidly agin' … you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone … ."
Whoa – Roger that. I half expected to see Mike Myers, dressed as Austin Powers, emerge from the crowd, slobber all over his crooked teeth and intone, "Behave, baby!"
Translated into the King's English, what Goodell's words mean to the American sports fan is this: Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium between the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins is only the beginning, the equivalent of the Beatles' 1964 foray to the States that spawned the British Invasion.
That also means – brace yourselves – that Goodell wasn't just blowing London fog when he said earlier this month that he was intrigued by the idea of staging a Super Bowl across the pond.
You'd might as well start calling it the IFL, because it's becoming increasingly clear that the new national pastime is no longer ours to hoard.
"If you want to grow something, you've got to share it," Mark Waller, the NFL's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said Thursday during a break in the conference. "Once this takes root here, and it will, people are going to expect to see the best, in the same way that you know the World Cup is the ultimate for soccer and the Olympics is the ultimate for track and other sports. If (the Super Bowl) travels, it makes you part of what the world is today, which is truly a global community."
In other words, when it comes to future Roman numeral fests, say hello to London and goodbye to Jacksonville.
And to that I say (with a major assist from Yahoo! colleague Martin Rogers), "Lovely jubbly."
Before I give you my reasons for supporting Super Bowl UK, rest assured that Goodell, Waller and I aren't the only ones thinking this way. "I'm in favor," said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who attended the conference along with many of his peers. "It's the next frontier."
Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga agreed, saying, "If the league decides to come here, I think it would be well-received. It's part of the whole globalization thing we're talking about here today. I don't know how the other owners feel about it, but I think it's a good idea."
Though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones later expressed a dissenting viewpoint, it's clear momentum is building toward the exportation of the Ultimate Game in the not-too-distant future. Following the demise of NFL Europa this summer after a decade-and-a-half of precious little impact, the league refocused its branding strategy, with the Dolphins-Giants game its acknowledgment that discerning fans don't want to be bothered with anything less than the real thing. That it sold out the first 40,000 tickets in 90 minutes was evidence that this was not an unsound strategic shift.
Waller envisions a setup in the near future in which each NFL team, rather than give up a home date (as Miami did this year), plays a 17-game schedule that features one contest staged outside the U.S.
Eventually, Waller says, we could even see an entire four-team division in Europe.
"If I tried to imagine what the world will be like 20 or 30 years from now, I wouldn't want to say that anything's impossible," Waller reasoned. "In the same way it was unthinkable in the '80s that there would be a European Champions League in soccer, people now can't conceive of something like (a Europe-based NFL division)."
Of all the global strategies being contemplated, the one that most readily raises the ire of Americans is the thought of "losing" the Super Bowl.
Here are some reasons why I think playing a Super Bowl in London would be (again with help from Rogers) the dog's bollocks:
• London ain't Jacksonville. Not to pick on the Super Bowl XXXIX host – well, OK, I do mean to pick on it, like I always do – but London has everything a Super Bowl city needs: a lovely, modern stadium; the infrastructure and scope to handle the nightlife, the parties and the day-time crush of tourists in bad T-shirts and ball caps; centralized entertainment and shopping districts with plenty of hotel space; and a quick, efficient public transportation system. It's a bigger, better New Orleans that way.
• I don't buy the arguments against it. People will tell you that playing the game abroad deprives some poor U.S. city of loads of revenue, and my rebuttal is, "So what?" Is it the NFL's job to prop up the Detroits of the world, or can the league make a decision in its best overall marketing interests? Besides, don't believe the hype: The NFL half-promises future Super Bowls to citizens of cities facing ballot initiatives which guarantee sweetened deals for new stadiums, using this as the carrot after implicitly wielding the stick (don't vote for this and you'll lose the team, likely to Los Angeles). Another argument against going overseas is that the Super Bowl draws working-class fans of the competing teams, and they won't be able to afford a trip to London. That may be true for some fans, but not most of the people I see during Super Bowl week, who are paying $500 or more per ticket and seem to have plenty of disposable income. This isn't George Mason reaching the Final Four and a bunch of starving students hopping on Greyhounds; the typical Super Bowl fan, in my anecdotal experience, tends to be Joe from Sales on a company-approved junket, and he'll probably fly to London as readily as he will to Phoenix.
• How provincial can we be? Yes, we're the country that brought you "Freedom Fries" a few short years ago, and now we're unwilling to throw a bone to the Brits ? These were the hardy, brave souls who, every night during World War II (and long before the U.S. joined the fray), turned off their lights and took a pounding from the Nazis and refused to blink. I can't think of a better country with whom to share our greatest sporting spectacle.
Along those lines, I have this sneaking suspicion that bringing the Ultimate Game to a place with so much history couldn't help but raise the awareness of at least some Americans. And yes, I'm talking to you, Channing Crowder. On Wednesday, the Dolphins linebacker told the Palm Beach Post that, until the previous day, he hadn't been aware that people in London speak English. If Crowder was kidding, and I can only hope he was, it was a hell of a gag.
"I couldn't find London on a map if they didn't have the names of the countries," Crowder said. "I swear to God. I don't know what nothing is. I know Italy looks like a boot. I know (Redskins linebacker) London Fletcher. We did a football camp together. So I know him. That's the closest thing I know to London. He's black, so I'm sure he's not from London. I'm sure that's a coincidental name."
Nice theory, Channing, except that there are many black people from London, including Marvin Allen, who happens to be a wide receiver on the Dolphins' practice squad. "He's from London?" Crowder asked. "I heard him talk, and I thought he had a recorder and was just mouthing."
If I had my way, we'd all open our mouths – and our hearts and arms – and sing the words popularized by Michael Stipe, an enlightened American who gained international acclaim.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Cincinnati Bengals, led by Carson Palmer and (yep) Chad Johnson, will show some heart and upset the Pittsburgh Steelers … Given another chance to keep his job, Chad Pennington will come through and guide the New York Jets to a victory over the Buffalo Bills … Spurred by the return of Steven Jackson, the St. Louis Rams' offense will finally come alive against the Cleveland Browns, meaning there'll be a shootout at the not-so-sold-out Edward Jones Dome.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Don't be a wanker – is that Joe Strummer I hear singing in the background?
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. After being forced to evacuate his home, San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith angrily blamed the inconvenience on former coach Marty Schottenheimer.
2. Bills owner Ralph Wilson cares only about winning.
3. I can't wait to get home from London and spend another six days hearing various TV analysts debate whether the Indianapolis Colts or Patriots are God's chosen people.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
This was a big week for U.S. Soccer, what with the compulsory dismissal of Greg Ryan as the coach of the women's national team and a second consecutive winning week from one of its former stars, Brandi Chastain, in this humble endeavor, thanks to the Seattle Seahawks' 33-6 victory over the Rams. Though sadistically tempted to pick on the Rams for a third consecutive week, Chastain instead is putting her faith in the continued misery of the league's other winless team, the Dolphins, and picking the Giants to prevail in London. "They don't have quite as far to travel," Chastain says of the Giants. "And Michael Strahan grew up in Europe, playing soccer. Yes, it always comes back to soccer. And Strahan will be quite at home in this atmosphere, and he'll dominate, and the Giants will win." (And speaking of women's soccer, I'll be casting my vote for the great Courtney Hooker, Cal's unparalleled senior defender, who is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior Class Award.)
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
Stung by a second consecutive subpar performance from Santana Moss and Kellen Winslow's bye week, my man Malibu's "Beat the Gypsy" suffered a 10-point defeat to Number 8 or Number 9 to drop to 5-2 on the season. BTG now trails two others in the 12-team league but continues to lead its division, which is named after a less polite term for "prostitutes." Facing a rematch with a team I'll call "Bangers," whom he defeated in the season opener, Malibu has some lineup decisions to make, and I advised him thusly: He can play three receivers among the quartet of Moss, Joey Galloway, Muhsin Muhammad and Kevin Curtis, and while I'm tempted to punish Moss for his recent struggles, I think he may have some serious garbage-time potential if the Redskins are on the wrong side of a blowout in New England. Curtis should shine because the Philadelphia Eagles can't run against the Minnesota Vikings, and Donovan McNabb will be throwing the pill all over the Metrodome. That leaves Muhammad, going against the suspect Lions secondary at home, and Galloway, facing the far more formidable Jags defense in Tampa Bay. Muhammad has the better matchup, but Galloway is a more prolific player, so I'd go with him.
One other move: Though Malibu has ridden the Redskins' defense for many weeks, he wants no part of the Patriots, so he's picking up the Jaguars for the game in Tampa Bay, but keeping the Skins around for future battles (he waived running back Dominic Rhodes, rumored by profootballtalk.com to be on the verge of being cut). "The thing that's killing me is Andre Johnson's knee injury," Malibu complained. "But I'm happy he's out this week, because he's playing the Chargers, and I care more about them than I do Beat The Gypsy."
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
Is Bobby Petrino – possibly with Rich McKay's blessing – trying to turn his first season in Atlanta into an abject disaster? The Falcons may end up with a choice NFL draft pick that enables Petrino to land his precious Brian Brohm, but how much good will that do if he has already lost his team?
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Max McGee, the Super Bowl I hero for the Packers who died last week after falling off his roof in Eden Prairie, Minn. McGee is best known for his exceptional valor in the face of a severe hangover, but his true legacy was raising money and awareness for the pursuit of a cure for Type I diabetes, a consuming condition which afflicts his son, Dallas, and a million other Americans. McGee used his celebrity to help raise nearly $15 million for the Max McGee National Research Center, hosting golf tournaments in Minneapolis and Appleton, Wis., for the cause. In addition to the tequila, we'll do some insulin shots for McGee and his family at this trying time.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
"Rick Reilly interview The Big Lead"
IF CAL WINS A FOOTBALL GAME I'LL …
So Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's vow to forego listening to her beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers until New Year's didn't keep the Bears from folding in the fourth quarter of their 30-21 defeat to UCLA. As a result, Cal's dreams of returning to the Rose Bowl a little more than two months from now took a serious and possibly irrevocable hit. Yeah, this little game of mine is on the verge of turning lame – but we will press on until mathematically eliminated because, in case you lack a certain understanding of our battered but resolute culture, we are the Bears, and that's how we roll. Thus, with a Saturday night showdown at No. 7 Arizona State looming, I'm calling on all true Cal fans to fire up and turn your attention to the greatest "Mic Man" we've ever had: the talented and exceptionally committed Kate Scott (nee Troescher), who since graduating in May of '05 has adopted a stately stage name while methodically plotting to take over the media world. (Among the places you can see the great Kate in action is AOL Sports' fanhouse. "If Cal wins a football game on Saturday," Kate declares, "I'll give up facebook, myspace, 'Grey's Anatomy' and dancing on stages, tables and/or poles to Justin Timberlake until midnight on Jan. 1." Hey, I've got to tell you: If Cal beats the Sun Devils, I'll join her in making these unthinkable sacrifices.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
To the tune of the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK," we bring you Rockin' Roger Goodell:
"Right! Now! ha ha ha ha ha
I am an anti-christ
I am a crazy commish
Don't know what I want but
I know how to get it
I wanna destroy the U.S. pastime cos I
I wanna BE anarchy!
Don't mess with me!
Super Bowl in the UK it's coming sometime and maybe
I give a wrong time stop a traffic line
Have a little tea with Liz Hurley cos I
I wanna BE anarchy!
In the city
How many ways to get what you want
I use the best I use the rest
I use the NFL I raise bloody hell cos I
I wanna BE anarchy!
The only way to be!
Is this the blasted NBA
Or is this the EPL
Or is this the NHL
I thought it was the NFL
! Or just
Another sports league
Another provincial flea
I wanna be an anarchist
Know what I mean
And I wanna be anarchist
! Get Pissed destroy!"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"Thanks for the kind article about Priest Holmes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Being a huge Chiefs fan, it's nice to read an editorial that's not about the Patriots every week. But with that being said, I don't really expect anyone to write much about teams fighting to stay above .500 in a pitiful and underachieving division. I see the quotes from Chiefs players who are ecstatic to have Priest Holmes back. And in my mind, it even seemed that the O-line blocked a little harder when Priest got those few carries late in the same. So, this truly makes me wonder, if Priest Holmes was healthy in training camp and Larry Johnson was still holding out for his big day, I have to believe that the Chiefs would have sent LJ to Dallas for their two first-rounders. And I doubt there would have been one Chiefs player that would be disappointed by that move (the fans are a different story, but fans are idiots). Of course, this is all a thing of the past. But, what are your thoughts?"
Seoul, South Korea (via Independence, Mo.)
Given that Holmes is 34 and coming off a severe injury, I think the team would have been hesitant to trade Johnson. But many Chiefs definitely believe that Holmes' presence will help the team in many ways, including the effect it should have on LJ.
"Can you explain to the readers where you heard or read that there is a controversy at running back for the Cheifs? I read Tony Gonzalez's comments and only feel he see's the benefit to the team. Hey Mike, your reaching! Please do better or quit wasting the readers' time!"
Dear Readers: As stated in my article, several Chiefs players told me they believe the return of Holmes could provoke a higher degree of commitment out of Johnson, whom they suspect has dogged it (and, at the very least, not shown a particular interest in pass-protection) since signing his new contract. One player, quoted anonymously, said he believes there could soon be a running back controversy. Are we clear? Thank you. Also, please learn to spell better than Mr. Caldarella. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming … .
"Larry Johnson has that job locked up. Priest Holmes is just the back up. Totally dum observation."
Who are you calling "dum"? I'm no "dumby."
"I am so sick of everyone crying that the Patriots have been 'running up the score.'Give it a rest! (Two weeks ago) against Dallas, running on fourth down was the best option. They could not run the clock out kneeling and a field goal could be blocked. Running would either cement the game (with a score) or leave Dallas 95 yards away with no timeouts and 20 sec. left. It was the smartest option. (Last) week, they scored seven points in the second half, hardly running up the score. After having an INT returned for a score to get them within 21, the smart play was to bring Brady back. Another pick and it's a two-touchdown game! Did you not see Houston come back from 25 pts down in the fourth quarter (Sunday) and take the lead? Also, they have not needed to run the two-minute drill much in a game this year. Running it at the end of the first half was not about running up the score but getting some game use of the two-minute drill, more for if there are close games where it is needed down the road!"
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Oh, you prickly Pats fans – glorious, victorious … and the most sensitive human beings on earth. I forgot: We have to love you, too. Try to persevere.
"Please do not compare the NE Patriots to pit bulls. I am a pit bull owner and take great offense to my beloved dog being compared to that bunch of mutts from MA!"
"Michael, although you seemed to try to 'cover your butt' by saying 'OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE AT 4:19 A.M.,' what a ridiculous comment this was: 'Be a man, make the call – fumble, incomplete, down by contact, whatever – and let the coaches and/or replay official handle their own business.' Seems like a decent idea for an official to confer with other officials who might have a better angle on a play or if you were unsure about a play. And saying 'the ruling on the field' is basically saying we discussed it and we are in agreement. 'Be a man?' The officials stand out there right on the field week in a week out making calls that will piss off somebody either way sometimes even 60,000-plus screaming fans. Seems a heck of a lot more in your face man – like than say writing a Monday morning quarterback column? Oh by the way, I wrote this email after drinking some coffee, so I'm pretty juiced up.
Whatever the substance in question, I like your spunk. Thanks for caring, and for sharing.
"Thanks for mentioning, even in minor detail, the trend of officials taking the easy way out on every call. Officials are taking over games because they are making calls based on the fact that if they're wrong, they can be overruled by the voter's booth. Terrible. Also, roughing the passer is getting out of hand, i.e. (Madieu) Williams on (Chad) Pennington. Also, are the Bears done for the Rose bowl too. Terrible two weeks. Peace."
Not officially done, but close. And I am so hoping for an "upon further review …" come early December.
"Mike, As a Seahawks fan, I'm seeing a potential Super Bowl-winning team look like they are going to be lucky to go .500 based on a lack of effort. Shaun (Alexander) is now protecting his investment, the defense is on par for another underachieving season, and we still can't beat the Steelers (this time no controversial calls). Does this team have any chance in hell to rebound and make it back to the big game in which it made two years ago or are we going to rebuild all over again?"
Of course they've got a chance – they play in the NFC (and, for that matter, the NFC Worst). That said, from all indications, it would take a whole lot of bad calls to make Super Bowl XLII even remotely competitive.
"Dear Mr. Silver, your writing is awesome because it's genuinely funny and entertaining and not sappy and corny and pretentious like other sportswriters' work. Your responses last week to the emails from the 'dainty flowers' Heidi and Kathy about them duking it out in the mud pit were so hilarious that my boss had to yell at me because I was laughing so hard. In all your articles, you write how Brian Urlacher or someone else sent you a text message. Do you really have their phone numbers and are they really texting you? Do other sportswriters do this too or are you just smarter and cooler than them?
Yes, they're really texting me, probably ringside from some mud pit. And if your boss has a problem, he can text me, too.
"You are definitely the shiznite! … That's a good thing! Love the column, be easy!"
Granted, it could be the fourth glass of Cabernet Sauvignon talking as I endure the friendly skies, but I seem to be blushing.
"I must say I really enjoy your columns and 32 Questions, but I definitely get a kick at reading the emails you get and your excellent replies to the haters. You are like the Eminem of Yahoo! Sports because you just don't give a @#$ %. Awesome job, keep it up."
Damn, the hits just keep coming. First Snoop, now Shady? Now all I need is for Dre to produce.
"I recently started reading your columns and find them very entertaining. I read Bill Simmons' articles religiously and he recently wrote that you should have been hired by ESPN, so I knew it had to be worth a shot reading your articles. Anyways, Bill does these things called The Curious Guy where he converses via email with a celebrity, writer, commissioner, or athlete. I think if you two got together to argue a controversial topic, it would be extremely entertaining. Please make this happen. Also, your thoughts on the World Series?"
I appreciate the kind words from you and from Bill. There is a much better chance that he and I will get together on something than there is of me wanting to leave Yahoo! anytime this century, if only because of my man crush on Jeff Passan. As for the Fall Classic, I just hope it goes seven, though I suspect Mr. Simmons will be a happy man long before then.
"What happened to that dapper Mike Silver picture you had on SI? This Yahoo! mug shot of yours makes you look like a serial killer. It definitely adds more effect to your Trippin' on E segment. Who's going to take you seriously? When did you grow a unibrow? Was that before or after the mushrooms you hippie!"
"Response to: 'Let's see how many adjectives you can fit into your sorry arguments. What the hell do you know about sports? You suck, your page sucks and you should go back to Pakistan and eat grasshoppers with your cousins. Thomas Location unknown.' When you go to Pakistan, can I go with you? You will probably need a lot of help trying to locate Thomas, whose 'unknown' location is probably next to a bonfire in the middle of some poppy field over there, complete with Hookah in hand! Here's my adjectives: for you, Hilarious; for Thomas: Brain Dead. Keep up the good work pissing off the Thomases of the world. It makes for great reading."
Thanks, man. Do you know where I can score some of those poppies?
"Thank you for having the (stones) to write what you think and not sit on the fence like everyone else. So many journalists worry about offending people and don't want to commit to saying something in case of being wrong. But you will happily call something and if you're wrong, you will admit to it! Let's just hope your praise for the Titans isn't one of those things you're wrong on! PS: If you're in London for the Giants-Dolphins game this weekend, I would kindly offer to buy you a drink."
I will take you up on that, mate, and this is one instance in which I know I'm not wrong.