Why Trevor Lawrence and the NFL’s Brightest Young Stars Headed a New Chapter in London

October 19, 2021

LONDON – Jamie Phillips wanted to cancel the plan. At 3.45am on Friday, with the Jacksonville Jaguars landing in London a few hours later, Phillips sent his friend Lee White a message saying it was foolish of him to make the three-hour trip to London in hopes of seeing the phenomenal quarterback of his favorite team arrives in England’s capital for the first time.

The couple had talked about the trip for two years and had grown used to waiting. It had been more than a year since the Jaguars last won a game, and it had been almost two since they were able to see the team play in London when the coronavirus pandemic canceled last year’s series. They even had to wait months to see their team’s savior, Trevor Lawrence, live in action. But he was finally here: Lawrence was making his international debut, and against his fellow young star. Tua Tagovailoa, not less. In an International Series that lacked competitive teams, it boasted of attracting the league stars of the future.

Four top-five picks in the draft from the past two years starred in London this past weekend. As the NFL begins a new chapter overseas, with mandatory international games and a possible game in Germany next year, the league released some of the players entrusted to deliver on the promise. These last two weeks were not so much a comeback but a new beginning. With the London games typically promoting existing stars, it had rarely offered the future before. These games were led by this year’s top two overall picks, quarterbacks Lawrence and Zach Wilson, as well as second-year Tagovailoa and electric rookie pass receivers Kyle Pitts and Jaylen Waddle.

Yet it was Lawrence that Phillips and White had set their sights on and decided that they would not miss the opportunity to welcome his long-awaited arrival.

They met online two years ago at a Jaguars memorabilia group, and the two created their own Jaguars podcasts targeting other UK fans during the lockdown. They now intended to meet in person for the first time at London Heathrow Airport. Phillips’ problem with the plan was that it all seemed a little ridiculous. They had guessed using a flight scanner app that the only direct flight from Jacksonville to Heathrow on Friday morning had to be the Jaguars; the team declined to tell them when they would arrive for fear of a welcoming crowd amid the pandemic. But they went ahead with the plan: Phillips, a pet store manager, was driving from Northampton; White, a former IT support technician, was driving from Cardiff, Wales.

Just after 6.30 a.m., they arrived at the arrivals gate, where a single NFL rep and a couple of security guards were waiting, rather than the usual TV cameras, the herd of fans and professional autograph hunters. The couple waited and then after much of the rest of the team had introduced themselves, Lawrence appeared in a pale pink hoodie. The quarterback, who was reportedly leaving the United States for the second time in his life, came to meet them, surprised that any British fan would go out of his way to meet him and his team.

Lawrence said he was tired from the flight but was excited to make a name for himself in London. Executives in the league’s international department would have expected him to do just that.

The NFL seems poised to take an international leap, and future stars putting on a show over the past two weeks are crucial to its master plan. The NFL London office had little to say about which teams were playing in the UK, a large part of the process is based on scheduling, but their new director for Europe, Brett Gosper, did not overlook that this series would be creating. something. new. “We were expecting the draws we got, the games we got, the players we got,” Gosper told ESPN before the Series.

The plan also worked.

It was almost exclusively European fans these past two weekends (fewer Americans than usual made the trip) who saw the defining moments of the young stars’ careers. In the opening game on October 10, when the Atlanta Falcons buried the New York Jets in a 27-20 victory, it was Pitts, the most drafted tight end in league history, who stole the show in a game of break in which he caught the first touchdown of his professional career, scoring 119 yards on nine receptions, the selection of which was a surprising one-handed catch in the second quarter. On the opposite side, Jets quarterback Wilson did his best to almost bring his team level to the end, although he didn’t. But it still set the stage for an even bigger showdown: Lawrence and Tagovailoa go head-to-head for the first time since the National College Football Playoff Championship in January 2019.

White was sitting in the middle level above the end zone. Phillips was stationed in the press box: the podcast that he started locked up gave him one of the best seats in the house.

Tagovailoa landed the first hit when Waddle had his own escape game, scoring a touchdown on the first drive. Lawrence put on a show too, delivering accurate shots downfield, just to watch the team drop some critical passes. But somehow, with a resurgence that seemed unlikely after a desperate start, the Jaguars played their way back into the competition. Lawrence was in the center of it all, first shooting Marvin Jones for a 28-yard catch to the corner of the end zone before the half, then setting up his team’s second touchdown drive with a 29-yard bullet for open up to Jamal. Again in the third trimester.

Lawrence didn’t get a chance to end the Jaguars’ 20-game losing streak on his own, that was done by former software engineer Matthew Wright, a kicker who made his team debut against the Bengals in Week 3 and converted the 53-yard-winning field goal to defeat the Dolphins 23-20 on Sunday.

As the crowds of fans piled up, White stayed in his seat, soaking up the atmosphere of an unusual Jaguars victory, as Phillips headed to the interview room to take a front-row seat at the post-game press conference. play. Jaguars coach Urban Meyer got on first, then Lawrence took the stage. When asked later if he would have preferred to get his first win at TIAA Bank Field in front of his local American fans, Lawrence said he wasn’t overly concerned with where it took place, although you can bet Gosper watched him from the stands with a smile. when he began his NFL career at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

According to a statistic posted on the NFL UK Twitter account earlier this month, Lawrence’s jersey is the second best-selling in the UK this season. Only Zach Wilson, also a London rookie with the Jets a week earlier, has sold more, while a third rookie quarterback, Mac Jones of the New England Patriots, is in fourth place, between Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson.

And as the stars of the future become central to everyone’s thoughts, the prospect of a team in London permanently seems to quietly fade from the conversation. The Jaguars were supposed to play twice in London last season after owner Shad Kahn signed a one-time deal to do so in February 2020, a move that infuriated the team’s local fan base. They played only once in the UK this year, and the team has yet to renew its agreement to continue hosting a home game in London each season as it has since 2013. Meanwhile, the league is not as quietly exploring games in. Germany, perhaps already in the next season.

Phillips had been there to greet Lawrence when he arrived in London, and was the person most seated when the quarterback said goodbye. Lawrence stepped away from the podium, his face beaming after a victory he described as “special”, and walked gleefully to the door before turning around.

One of the league’s future stars had a message to convey. “See you next year,” he said.