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Preaching the NFL gospel in the U.K. Rams at home in London

Players show off American game to British schoolchildren

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LONDON -- Things are moving quickly for Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams as they deal with a change of continents and time zones.

Now their bodies just have to catch up in time for the annual NFL game in London on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

The Rams (3-4) arrived at Heathrow airport early Tuesday morning, and a few hours later they were on a wet field in Regent's Park in central London doing drills with local school children to show off the American version of football.

Not much time for resting up so far for the NFL's latest ambassadors to Europe.

"I can hardly believe we're here in London," Bradford said between drills. "Probably less than 12 hours ago we were back in St. Louis in a team meeting... I think everyone was a little bit tired on the bus ride here, but that's why we got here so early in the week so that we could acclimate ourselves to the jet lag and get accustomed to the time difference. So hopefully by Sunday it'll be a non-factor."

The Rams are hosting the Patriots at Wembley Stadium in the sixth regular-season game played in Britain. The Patriots, who also played at Wembley in 2009, are practising at home this week before arriving on Friday.

Popularity

As the home team, Bradford said the Rams are also taking their ambassadorial duties seriously and want to have a visible presence in London to help boost the game's popularity. That's why the players only spent about an hour at their luxury resort outside the city before hopping on a bus to Regent's Park to spend the afternoon with a couple of hundred schoolchildren running passing drills and other exercises. The event was part of the NFL's Play 60 program, which is aimed at encouraging children to do something active for at least 60 minutes a day.

"I think it would be really easy for us to come over here and lock ourselves up at the hotel and just go through our normal routines," Bradford said. "But I think this is a great chance for the NFL to expand their game beyond the states."

But while the NFL has enjoyed continually increased popularity in Britain since its first regular-season game here in 2007, it was soon clear to the Rams players that this is still the land of soccer.

"They just kick them," backup quarterback Kellen Clemens told Bradford laughingly after a group of kids finished a passing drill by gleefully kicking away their footballs before moving on to the next exercise. "The kids are going, 'What kind of football is this? We didn't use our feet one time.' "

Of course, the British love of soccer is just an added bonus for kicker Greg Zuerlein.

The rookie has quickly become a household name among NFL fans in the States after a spectacular start to the season, but is hoping the kicking game will get even more attention in Europe.

"They have a great appreciation for soccer," said Zuerlein, who grew up playing the sport. "In America, it's the fifth or sixth biggest sport. Here it's awesome, they love it. I feel at home."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2012 C8

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