To clarify how he got here to be in late October standing inside Wembley Stadium wearing a Giants blue Saquon Barkley jersey above a conventional Scottish kilt — before a game between the Broncos and Jaguars — Kevin Eddison has to take you back to 1987.
As a 14-year-old growing up in Aberdeen, Scotland, Eddison was grappling with a maddening case of chicken pox. He sat on the couch, unable to sleep. The one thing on TV late that night in January: Super Bowl XXI between the Giants and Broncos.
“I got enticed by Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor and all that,” he said of the celebrities who helped the Giants that night to a 39-20 victory. “It just began off from there.”
The NFL last Monday wrapped up a strong, five-game international schedule with the 49ers beating the Cardinals, 38-10, at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The league staged three games in London before that — the aforementioned contest at Wembley and two at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium — and in addition held the first-ever regular-season game in Germany, a 21-16 Buccaneers victory over the Seahawks in Munich on Nov. 13.
A standard scene that linked all those games: Fans sporting jerseys — of players each well-known and obscure — from teams across the league. A few laps across the concourse at Wembley before the Broncos’ 21-17 victory on Oct. 30 was all mandatory to ascertain each of the 32 teams off the list. On any given Sunday at an NFL stadium in the USA, you’ll see a handful of jerseys that don’t represent either team playing, but the majority of the fan wardrobe is either in the colours of the house team or those of the infiltrating visitors.
When the sport reaches the international stage, the aesthetic is way different.
“When games come over here, it’s our way of celebrating our love of the game,” said Paul Jhon, a young fan from Germany who flew to London for the Broncos-Jaguars game and arrived at Wembley wearing a teal Dolphins jersey with former quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s name on the back.
Jhon began watching the game as a young person eight years ago, and he’s spent the last two years playing on an amateur football team in Germany as an offensive lineman, but he has never gravitated toward a particular NFL team. As a substitute, he picks his jerseys based on iconic moments the players wearing them have produced.
For instance, Jhon was watching a Dolphins game against the Raiders in late December 2020. Fitzpatrick, attempting to guide the Dolphins on an improbable game-winning drive, had his face mask yanked by a Raiders defender and still managed to finish a 34-yard pass to Mack Hollins, organising Miami for a winning field goal.
“He completes the throw, and it was just incredible,” Jhon said. “I just couldn’t resist it. After that game, I immediately went online and purchased the jersey.”
Within the playoffs just a few weeks later, when Washington backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke dodged nearly your entire Tampa Bay defense on his strategy to an 8-yard touchdown run, Jhon placed one other order, this time for a burgundy and gold No. 4 jersey.
“You simply get so caught up within the moment,” he said.
At a bar called Augustiner Stammhaus earlier this month, the Seahawks’ designated watering hole in downtown Munich, the place was filled with Seattle fans. But even there, fans wearing other jerseys were a part of the combo. One man named Tobi was wearing a Patrick Mahomes jersey.
“I began watching NFL really intensively in 2016 and 2017. I never had a team; I just loved the game,” Tobi said. “I used to look at Patrick Mahomes, and it just (caught) me since it was spectacular, and it never let me go. I just began to look at Patrick Mahomes happening and on and on, and he (caught) me.”
His friend Josaph had a similarly easy explanation as to why he was sporting a No. 99 J.J. Watt jersey from the All-Pro defensive lineman’s days with the Texans.
“I feel the player is known,” said Josaph, reveling within the environment ahead of the NFL’s first game in Germany. “His mentality, he’s such an incredible player. He’s awesome. He’s one in every of the best that played football. That’s all I can say.”
A standard thread amongst many international fans, most of whom weren’t born or raised within the geographical footprint of an NFL team, is the random nature of how they got here to support one in every of the 32 teams — and ultimately wear one in every of its jerseys.
Georgina Sewell, from Sheffield, England, got a free trial for the Madden video game on her Xbox just a few years ago. When it got here time to choose a team to play with, she created some specific parameters.
“I worked in Florida for some time for Disney, so I knew I had to choose a Florida team,” said Sewell, who got here to the Broncos-Jaguars game in a No. 17 Jaylen Waddle jersey. “I like blue, so I knew it was Jacksonville or Miami, and I liked the Dolphins as an animal, so I picked that. So then, I began watching the Dolphins.”
Standing next to Sewell was her husband, Scott, who was wearing a No. 10 Mac Jones jersey within the Patriots’ navy blue color. He wasn’t much of a football fan before 2018, but that February, he and a friend were invited to a late-night Super Bowl party.
“That makes us rivals,” Georgina said with amusing.
Regardless of how they got here to own the jerseys they wear to international games, it’s protected to assume a lot of the numbered shirts represent an authentic, passionate fandom. Eddison, whose wife, Julie, is a Lions fan by means of family who live in nearby Windsor, Ontario, and wore the jersey of former receiver Calvin Johnson to Wembley last month, has been to all three games the Giants have played in London since 2017 — including this season’s 27-22 win over the Packers at Tottenham. He also has been to 3 games in Recent York over time, all Giants victories.
“I’m the lucky mascot, I assume,” he said.
International fans also get points for creativity. Within the Munich game earlier this month, a Seahawks fan wore a modified Russell Wilson jersey, the previous quarterback’s name on the back replaced by tape that read “2-First-Round-Picks,” a reference to the premium draft capital Seattle acquired when trading Wilson to the Broncos.
A Seahawks fan showed as much as the sport in Germany today with this jersey 😳
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 13, 2022
“It’s cool to have that connection,” he said.
It’s connections like those and the fervour they produce, on full display during this season’s international games, that specify why the NFL’s growth beyond its domestic borders might only be getting began.
— Michael-Shawn Dugar contributed to this report
(Top photo of fans outside Tottenham Hotspur Stadium: Bradley Collyer / PA Images via Getty Images)