There's little doubt that starting in 2008 the NFL will play two regular-season games a year outside the U.S. What did the league learn from the first one, the Giants' 13--10 victory over the Dolphins in a quagmire (right) on Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London?
1. TRAVEL EARLIER IN THE WEEK
Both teams flew overnight and arrived in England at dawn on Friday. Not good, say the Giants. "My advice would be to go over on Tuesday to get used to the time change," center Shaun O'Hara said after the game. "We were really dragging Saturday." Giving players more time to get their body clocks right would ensure higher-quality play.
2. IMPROVE FIELD CONDITIONS
It's easy to say, What did you expect in rainy England? But that's not good enough. Most of the game was played in a heavy mist that made the field soggy, and the game action chewed up what is normally a low-cut soccer pitch. Offensive play suffered overall. If playing in foreign countries means more to the NFL than money and marketing, future games must be played on grass with better drainage or on modern artificial turf.
3. REMEMBER THE HOME FANS
The league has to be more sensitive to regular supporters while developing overseas markets. The Giants were one of two hot tickets on the Dolphins' 2007 home schedule (the Patriots being the other), but Miami owner Wayne Huizenga agreed to move the game to London (the Dolphins will receive the average revenue of their other seven home games); now South Florida won't see the Giants until '15. It's widely expected that the Chiefs will play one of the international games in '08, possibly in Germany. They'd be wise to insist on, say, the Bucs, rather than an archrival or more attractive visitor, to go along for the ride.
4. QUIT WHINING
Seasoned travelers had to chuckle when they heard players complaining about jet lag, long bus rides to practice and traffic. Get with the program, boys. If you want to be part of the league long-term, you're going to have to play an international game or two. Adopt Miami coach Cam Cameron's attitude. After Sunday's game he told NFL senior VP Mark Waller, "I would do it again tomorrow."