While many Ravens will be making their first trip to London for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, it’s the second visit for Eric Weddle — and it’s something the strong safety has been anticipating.
“I’ve been wanting to go back since ’08 just to see it again and enjoy it a little bit better,” he said after Wednesday’s practice in Owings Mills. “So it’s going to be cool. I’m excited for the guys.”
Weddle is not the only Raven making a return to London. Offensive linemen Austin Howard, Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom, wide receivers Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and cornerback Brandon Carr have played NFL games inside London’s famed Wembley Stadium.
Maclin, who caught three passes for 35 yards and one touchdown in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 45-10 rout of the Detroit Lions on Nov. 1, 2015, in London, recalled a crowd that seemed at first ambivalent about American football.
“When we played over there, we were actually the home team,” he said. “But the crowd was kind of neutral, and as the game goes on, they kind of pick a team to start rooting for. I think that was kind of cool how we had everyone on our side kind of rooting for us. That’s just a chance for the fans over there to come see American football.”
Wallace said the most noticeable difference between the turf at Wembley and the grass at NFL stadiums is the firmness.
“The grass is a little iffy,” said Wallace, who had 35 yards and a score on three receptions in the Miami Dolphins’ 38-14 romp over the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 28, 2014. “It comes up because it’s a soccer field. You’ve got to wear longer spikes. But other than that, it’s pretty good.”
Then there’s the cultural shock outside of the stadium. Howard, who started for the Raiders in that loss to Wallace’s Dolphins in 2014, said his biggest adjustments involve money and road laws.
“Euros instead of dollars are a bit different,” he said. “Driving on the left side of the road is definitely different. Even the driver is on the right side of the car. But it’s pretty cool that the NFL allows this and that we’re able to see a different side of the world that we wouldn’t typically be able to see.”
Carr noted that the ketchup in England tasted different.
“I think they don’t use all the other artificial stuff that we use over here,” said Carr, who made five tackles and one sack in the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-17 victory over Jacksonville on Nov. 9, 2014. “Their stuff may be more healthy, I don’t know.”
Bergstrom, who also was a member of that 2014 Raiders team, remembers the team hotel.
“The hotel we stayed at when I was there looked like Hogwarts,” he said, referring to the fictional school of magic in the Harry Potter book series. “It was cool.”
Nearly every player agreed that the five-hour time difference between London and Baltimore can wreak havoc on sleeping patterns.
“We played Buffalo and then we flew out from Buffalo to London, and it took a few days,” said Weddle, who finished with four tackles in the San Diego Chargers’ 37-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 26, 2008. “It’s not an easy adjustment, especially if you’re not sleeping when you’re supposed to sleep, which is hard to do because your body’s not ready for it. And sleeping on a plane is difficult anyway.
“We’ll be all right. We’ve got plans in place. Everyone is going to bed a little earlier each night and wake up a little bit earlier. By Sunday, it’s not going to be an issue.”
The NFL has been playing regular-season games in London since 2007 and has reportedly explored the possibility of placing a franchise there as early as 2021. A few of the Ravens players sounded reluctant about that idea.
“I think to ask a team to travel at least eight times a year from London to here, I don’t know if that’s necessarily fair to them,” Maclin said. “That’s at least a seven- or eight-hour trip. So I don’t think that’s fair for them to do that.”
Said Howard: “That would be pretty tough. But that’s up to the people in a lot higher pay grade than I am. We’re just here to play football.”
For now, the Ravens only have to worry about London this week. Preparing for Sunday’s game outside the continental United States is much ado about nothing, according to Wallace.
“Everything going into it is a lot, but once you get to the game, it’s just football,” he said. “Once you get to the football part, it’s great.”
Coach John Harbaugh said the players who have gone before to London have been fairly straightforward in their advice.
“It is funny because we ask them and they really don’t have much to say about it,” he said. “They talk a little bit about the footing. They talk a little bit about the time change and the sleep and all that. But basically, guys just say, ‘You know what? You go over there and you play the game.’ That is what guys have said, so that is what we are planning on doing.”
The players will have a little time on Friday night and Saturday afternoon to dine in London and become a tourist for a few hours, but Carr said they understand the priority of their trip.
“We don’t have too much time,” he said. “So we’re not going to do too much sightseeing. We’re still locked in, trying to take care of business and get to 3-0.”