No rest for weary Rams in London


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 arrived at Heathrow airport early Tuesday morning, and a few hours later they were on a wet field in Regents Park in central London doing drills with about 500 local school children to show off the American version of football.

"I think everyone was a little bit tired on the bus ride here," Bradford said, "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."

In his live chat that's underway on the website, Post-Dispatch football writer Jim Thomas was asked about the team's arrival in London. Thomas replied:

"So far so good in London. Very good hospitality. Long flight, not much sleep for the players. They arrived in London about 2:30 a.m. STL time (8:30 a.m London time), took a long bus ride to their hotel to check in, and then after about an hour at the hotel, the players took another long bus ride into London for a Play 60 event where they worked with London youth on some football drills.

"I think it's a good thing that the Rams are spending the entire week out here, to help get the jet lag out of their systems. Interestingly, New England isn't coming out here until Friday morning."

About the Rams' accommodations in London, Thomas said:

"I'm not going to mention the hotel — actually it's more like a country estate about 35 minutes' drive from Heathrow airport. Rolling hills, quaint cottages, cattle grazing, the whole bit. Plus a golf course, on site!

"But at the end of the week, the Rams are switching to a downtown London hotel (again, I'm not going to name it), I guess to have a shorter ride Sunday to Wembley Stadium and a quicker ride to the airport Monday morning. They can't leave until Monday morning because of air traffic regulations at Heathrow."

Sunday's game will kick off at noon St. Louis time (5 p.m. in London; daylight savings time ends there this weekend).

As the home team in the sixth regular-season game played in Britain, 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.

"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. And for us to be able to come out here and share our game with some of the local youth, I think it's a great opportunity for us."

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 unheralded rookie has quickly become a known name among Rams fans 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."

Like most of his teammates, though, he had yet to find his bearings in the British capital.

"I don't even know what this place is, is it a park?" Zuerlein said, looking around the sprawling fields inside a Regent's Park that was covered in a fog so thick it made it impossible to even see any of the surrounding buildings. "My only time seeing the city was on the drive here."

The Rams have a close connection to British soccer, as owner Stan Kroenke is also the majority shareholder of Arsenal. St. Louis will be practicing at Arsenal's training facilities in Colney on Wednesday and Thursday, and there are plans for some players to attend the London club's Premier League game against Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.

"I'm a huge fan," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store. I can't wait to get there (to Colney)."

Other players felt the same way about Wembley, arguably the most famous venue in soccer. For linebacker James Laurinaitis, playing there will even continue a family tradition.

"My father was a professional wrestler, and he wrestled at Wembley, the old Wembley," Laurinaitis said. "So to be able to be a father-son duo, to be in the same spot, is pretty exciting to me. I used to watch that SummerSlam on VHS over and over growing up, that was pretty exciting. So to be able to be in that stadium, and with the Olympics just being here and everything, it's going to be pretty cool."

Judging by responses from the school kids, though, Laurinaitis may not get as much attention as Zuerlein by the Wembley crowd.

"They ask you what position you are, you say 'linebacker,' and they say 'I have no idea what that is,'" Laurinaitis said. "But they're learning, and hopefully it just draws their attention to the game on Sunday and they watch. And maybe we get a couple of more fans out of it."