Vikings in London: Campaign Practices, Distractions, Travel Adjustments and James Bond Visions

LONDON – No matter how hard Kirk Cousins ​​tried to focus on the Vikings’ plan for their final practice of Week 4 – a 7v7 period and full teamwork in the red zone, followed by some jogging snaps – the starting quarterback found himself distracted.

“You want to have routine and normalcy as best you can to feel ready to go, so you try to stick to your routine, knowing that’s a bit unrealistic,” Cousins ​​said. “You appreciate that it was such a cool practice there with the view of the hills. Looking at one of the houses in the distance looked like the ‘Skyfall’ mansion in the James Bond movie. It was just cool feel it, so you kind of appreciate that part of it.”

The Vikings will play the 100th international game in NFL history on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, facing an NFC team for the first time in London in a game that has all the playoff implications of any other conference game. This will be the second game in London for Vikings mainstays Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter; Cousins ​​is also here for the second time, having drawn 27-27 with Washington in 2016. Safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings’ oldest player, will play his third game in London; he is the only current Viking to feature in the team’s 2013 win over the Steelers at Wembley Stadium.

And yet, inasmuch as away games have become — and will continue to be — part of the Vikings’ routine, they represent a deep break from the rhythms of an NFL season that can be novel or a nuisance. . Many players try to accept them as the first.

“You kind of know what to expect, but in the same breath it’s kind of: expect the unexpected,” Kendricks said. “These games can be crazy. It’s all about momentum, energy. We have to be ready to play, obviously, but the earlier the energy we can create, the better.”

The Vikings trained on Friday and spent the weekend at the Hanbury Manor Marriott Country Club and Hotel, about an hour north of London in the rural town of Ware, England. The Saints, as the home team for the match, were given the first choice of training sites and arrived earlier this week to train at Syon House and the Irish Rugby Complex in London (both locations where the Vikings trained in 2017).

The Vikings chose Hanbury Manor based on recommendations from the Dolphins and Jets; players took golf carts through the 200-acre property to the 90-yard practice course, carved beyond a putting green on the 18-hole Jack Nicklaus II-designed golf course.

“I think it was the most scenic football practice I’ve ever had in my life,” Cousins ​​said. “It’s an amazing property. It’s really convenient to have your room, meetings, meals, practice and locker room within walking distance of each other. I really appreciate that.”

O’Connell is the third manager to take the Vikings to England, with an approach that seems to suit the first-year manager insofar as the approaches of Leslie Frazier and Mike Zimmer suited them.

Frazier took the Vikings to the Grove Hotel in Watford for the entire week in 2013, using the week as a sort of second training camp with opportunities to bond on the golf course after practices. The Vikings’ mid-season trip in 2017 was entirely under Zimmer’s guidance, with two training sessions before a win at Twickenham Stadium improved their record to 6-2.

The Vikings’ stay in England under O’Connell was the shortest of their three trips, with executive director of player health and performance Tyler Williams favoring a short stay over a longer trip that would fully acclimate players to a six-hour time change. The Vikings, for the first time, will play on the Sunday after their trip to London, opting to postpone their leave while prioritizing a quick return home and betting they can help players rehabilitate quickly ahead of a home game against the Bears.

On Friday, however, the team hosted more than 100 children for a football clinic at Hanbury Manor before an afternoon practice. O’Connell said he wanted to give the players and their families some time to experience English culture ahead of Sunday’s game. Justin Jefferson enthusiastically detailed his plans to introduce UK fans to the Griddy on Friday, while Kendricks smiled as he observed the differences between a London NFL crowd and American fans.

“In my last experience, it’s just a group of NFL fans from all over the UK, which is really cool,” he said. “There are a ton of shirts, whether it’s teams playing or not – and everyone likes to watch the kicks.”

Although the Saints will have most of the signage around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday, the Vikings have made their presence felt this week in London with a series of their own events that have attracted hundreds of fans. They are one of six teams that have been granted international marketing rights in the UK; On Sunday, they will become the first team to have played at all three venues used to host NFL games in the UK (Wembley Stadium, Twickenham Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium).

“I think it’s something that we’re very proud of. No matter where you go, you feel our fanbase travel and be a part of it, but then you have the grassroots fans here,” O’Connell said. . “Technically we’re the road team on Sunday, but we’re hoping to see a lot of purple in the stands and we’ve already done that. It’s something we’re excited about.”

O’Connell might have a better chance of seeing him in the future.

Of the 18 teams the NFL granted international marketing rights to earlier this year, the Vikings were one of six franchises to receive marketing rights in multiple countries. In addition to the UK marketing rights they have alongside the Bears, Dolphins, Jets, Jaguars and 49ers, they are one of two teams with rights in Canada (the Seahawks are the other).

Their agreement with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which governs their use of US Bank Stadium, allows the Vikings to play three home international games in the first 15 years of the agreement. The deal came into effect on 3 October 2013, three days after the Vikings played a home game at Wembley Stadium; it contains language that counted all games played by the Vikings outside their current stadium against the three-game limit in the first 15 years of the deal.

Even if the 2013 Wembley Stadium game matters, the Vikings could still move two home games to international venues by 2028. Assuming the NFL assigns international host duties to teams in the years they have nine home games, the 2024 or 2026 seasons could make sense for the Vikings to forego a US Bank Stadium date for a game outside the United States

“I know our property and our organization, we are very committed to continuing to build our large fan base,” O’Connell said. “It’s really important to us. I think our players love being on this new ground with passionate Vikings fans and people from all over the world.”

Under O’Connell, the Vikings are trying to make the most of an experience they also want to be as efficient as possible. If they continue to grow their UK fanbase, they hope to do so by remaining unbeaten in London.

“We are thrilled to be here,” Cousins ​​said. “We expect to put on a show for them, give them a lot to cheer on.”

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