There are not many British born players in the NFL as of yet, but the more American Football that gets played overseas the more we will see of them in the future. As of now though, the Oakland Raiders have one player from Great Britain and that would be last year's 2nd round selection OL Menelik Watson. His dream of playing at London's Wembley stadium is going to come true this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Menelik hails from Longsight, Manchester and is quick to let everyone know that he is not from London. Despite him not being from the specific area the team is currently residing in, it still hasn't stopped his teammates from peppering him with questions about the city. He is helping with what he can but just because he is from Britain does not mean he knows London!
"I've been schooling them in a lot things, but obviously I'm not from down here. They've all been asking, ‘What's going on, and how long is this and how far is this.' Listen, I'm not from here. I'm from Manchester. It might be a small country, but there is a big difference between London and Manchester. But, I'm trying to help them as much as I can."
When the schedule came out the Raiders were hoping to be in a far better position than their current 0-3 record before they headed over the pond for London. Unfortunately, things have not started off how they would like them to have. Still, Menelik and the boys are trying their best to turn things around and enjoy their time spreading the NFL's game overseas.
"We're not where we wanted to be. Obviously, coming here, we wanted to be 3-0. So, it takes the sting away a little bit, but we have a great opportunity to go out there and get a win against a good football team. So, it's surreal, and my teammates are excited. Hearing them talk and of them trying to do their English accents is fun. It's a moment I'll remember forever."
Surreal really is the perfect word for what Watson is experiencing right now. He grew up dreaming of one day playing in Wembley Stadium, but the game he pictured was an entirely different one. The NFL was no where near as large as it is now when Watson was just a child running around Manchester. Back then he dreamed of Futbol, not Football.
Playing a game in Wembley stadium now that wasn't barely a part of that side of the world when he was growing up definitely must be a surreal moment. For that reason it is very easy to believe he never considered that a day would come where he would play American Football in Wembley Stadium.
"No, definitely not American football. As a kid, we all had dreams to play in the Premier League and stuff. Playing in the FA Cup in Wembley was always something you dreamed of as a kid. American football wise, no. Not even after I got drafted. I watched the Steelers out here last year vs. Minnesota and then I didn't really think until the schedule came out. It's like a dream really."
It is actually pretty humorous that Watson didn't think about that he might get the chance to play American Football in his home country even after he was drafted. The Raider Nation is worldwide and Menelik is the highest drafted English born player in NFL history, the chances of him getting to play overseas were actually pretty astronomically good. If it didn't happen this year it was surely going to happen within the remaining time of his contract with the Raiders.
Whether he had imagined it or not, once the schedule came out and he saw London on there it must have been a really wonderful feeling. Many of his friends and family have not had the chance to see him play the game he loves so much, but now they will get that opportunity.
It isn't just the people he knows that will be cheering wildly for him though, the reception he will get from his home country promises to be something truly special. If there is one thing we know about the English it is that they are wildly fanatical about their sports and their country. Menelik combines both of those into one for them, the response to that promises to be one to remember.
"Yeah, I did (think about the reception he will get when he enters the game). I thought about when we were flying over. I thought about it a couple of times. Like you said, whether I am a starter or not, whenever I come in it's an important role that I've got to do and there is a job to be done. I thought about it a little bit."
Despite the excitement though, Menelik knows he has a job to concentrate on. He isn't the starter that he thought he would be when the schedule came out but he will still be a crucial part of the team when the Raiders deploy their Jumbo Package. When he is on the field he will be facing off against one of the most dangerous defensive linemen in the league, Cameron Wake.
"I was out here with Cameron Wake, so I'll be lined up over him sometimes. I was thinking about what he is going to say because I know he'll have something to say. It'll be surreal pretty much. I have a lot of family coming down too, so I am sure I'll be hearing them in the section where they are. We'll see when it gets here. I can't really dwell on that, just focus on getting this game plan down and understand what I have to do when we get out on the field."
All of us Raiders fans, and you Englishmen out there too I am sure, are rooting for Menelik to have a big performance in his home country. It may be a surreal moment but it is also one that comes with a ton of pressure. The pride of the English is nothing to take for granted, and seeing their own countryman put on a good show would do wonders for spreading the Gospel of American Football to that side of the world.
Being as Watson is from that side of the pond, of course we have to find out what he thinks about a team one day being in London. Not many people in the world have the perspective from both sides like Menelik does, it would be a crime not to ask him about his thoughts on a London franchise's chances of success.
"Yeah, I think it's a possibility. I shot an email to [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell, and I got to speak with him a little bit. When I was getting drafted actually I was in New York. I think more exposure, a couple more camps and stuff ... I am actually in the works of trying to get something organized in the offseason where I can come back and run a couple of camps and just introduce the kids over here to some of the stuff."
We will see how it goes over the years, but it seems inevitable that a team will one day call London home. In the mean time we have people like Menelik Watson who will do their best to be a worthy ambassador for the game we all love so much. The next generation of London kids will be learning to love our game of football too, Watson is going to do everything he can to insure that is the case.