The NFL is building a global presence and there may be no more fitting ambassador for the sport than St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson.
In an effort to grow that initiative, the league sent Steven’s St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots over to London this week to battle at Wembley Stadium in the NFL International Series’ sixth annual London game.
At the end of the day, the game simply did not go the Rams’ way and they fell to New England, 45-7. Steven battled with the stingy Patriots defense, chalking up 45 total yards of offense on nine touches. With Sunday’s performance, SJ39 eclipsed the 400 rushing yard mark on the year as he takes aim at his eighth straight 1,000-yard rushing season.
But the impact of Sunday’s game went far beyond anything that happened on the field. The teams spent the week overseas as representatives for the NFL, an important mission for the future of the league. Steven has enjoyed visits to multiple continents over the last several years and recognizes that taking football overseas is a golden opportunity for players, fans, and the game itself.
“We want the game of American football to be accepted worldwide. If we can continue to grow a base here in London and spread throughout the UK, it’d be very exciting for the game.”
With over 84,000 cheering fans in attendance at world famous Wembley Stadium, the popularity growth of America’s exported sport was evident. Leading up to the game, No. 39 talked at length about the “big picture” impact of the NFL in London.
“It’s good the NFL is trying to establish a footprint here,” he said. “London has the ability to support a successful franchise and, if we decide to go abroad, it makes sense for this to be the first place.”
Steven noted that that are myriad positives to bringing a NFL team to London. Chief among them according to the well-traveled running back is the opportunity for players to experience another culture. In his travels over the last several years, SJ39 has visited different parts of Europe and Africa. He said the trips taught him a lot about himself and other cultures as well.
“I think I’ve become quite a bit of a traveler because I just love to see what the world has to offer. I think that’s one of the best ways to learn about different cultures and different places,” he said. “A lot of players come right out of college, so if a London-based team drafted you that would be a continuation of your education — a once-in-a- lifetime experience for a kid who grew up in, say, Alabama.”
While in London, S-Jax and the Rams were able to donate a little education of their own, as several of the players shook off jet lag on Tuesday to lead an American football clinic for several hundred British children in London’s Regent Park. While some aspects of the game were quite literally “foreign” to the UK youngsters, Steven spotted some potential future talent.
“They have some very talented young lads here,” SJ stated, while also demonstrating his grasp on the local lingo.
The Rams were presented with a home away from home when it came time to practice. They conducted team drills and walk-throughs at Emirates Stadium, the home pitch for Arsenal of the Premier League. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is also the owner of the London-based club. Steven said he’s gained an appreciation for the game through his travels.
“I had a chance to be bitten by the football bug in 2010, I went to the World Cup and I really enjoyed it,” Steven said. “Football has global appeal and it’s a nonstop action game. For 90 minutes, guys are out there on the pitch going fast and hard. To be able to play American football here at one of the most famous places for football in the world is amazing.”
When the team wasn’t practicing or meeting fans, they became regular tourists, taking in all the sights and even dining at the Tower of London. They also got a visit from a special fan, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Costner, who is filming a movie in London.
No. 39’s motivation leading up to Sunday’s matchup was to show the sport’s newest fans what Rams football was all about, and why he is one of the game’s most dominating running backs. Though the game didn’t work out as planned, SJ hopes he and his teammates left an impression on the London fans in their week abroad.
“Winning cures all, but if you build a good strong brand, it can sustain anything and I think that’s what I’ve been doing,” he said. “For the last nine seasons, I’ve taken great pride in being a St. Louis Ram. It’s been a lot of history, particularly at the running back spot [in this organization]. I’ve been able to carry it on and want to continue to do so. Now that we’re here, outside U.S. borders, we want to show our fans globally what we’re building and what we’re doing in St. Louis.”
The Rams get some time to shake off Sunday’s loss and the subsequent jet lag from traveling back across the pond with their Week 9 bye.
But Steven is already looking ahead to a Week 10 divisional showdown in San Francisco against the 49ers.
“We have another tough opponent in the 49ers, so we gotta make sure we have a good week of practice, and going into the bye get everyone healthy,” he said. “We’ll look to have a better second half to the season.”
Kickoff of that game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. CDT on November 11 and the game can be seen on FOX.
- Jackson is World Traveler (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 2012)
- London Calling for Ace Steven (The Sun, October 26, 2012)
- Rams up for London game (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 2012)
- International Fans Excited to See Rams (St. Louis Rams, October 26, 2012)
- Busy Day in London for Rams (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 25, 2012)
- Costner’s Field of Dreams Part II (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 26, 2012)
- Rams enjoy everything about England except New England (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 2012)
- Penalties Aid Potent Patriots (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 2012)
- Steven Jackson at Arsenal (Arsenal.com, October 28, 2012)
- Rams Report Card (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 2012)
- Patriots Beat Rams at Wembley (SNTV, October 28, 2012)