Up next for the NFL in UK ... How about the London Fletchers?
As the winless Steelers face the winless Vikings in London on Sunday -- raising the specter of the first ever nil-nil score line for American football at Wembley -- the NFL persists in trying to break the UK, or possibly to break its spirit, given that Jacksonville will also play four home games in England over the next four years, starting this October.
With the league's annual overseas games come the annual questions, questions seldom asked by Londoners themselves, including: Will London ever get its own NFL team? In which division would it play? Wouldn't Monday Night Football kick off at 2 a.m. local time?
All these questions ignore the most basic and interesting one, which is: What would a London team be called?
If the NFL ever does put a team in London -- and the league would very much like to do so in its quest to colonize the globe -- please call them the Fletchers. Fletcher is a Middle English word that means "arrow-maker," and arrows are weapons with a rich English heritage -- think of Robin Hood or "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" -- that also happen to look fleet and sleek across a helmet.
Better still, and more to the point, the London Fletchers would honor a 38-year-old NFL veteran -- late of the Rams and Bills, now toiling for the Washington Redskins -- who hasn't missed a single game since singing with St. Louis as an undrafted free agent out of John Carroll University in 1998, giving him a consecutive games string of 243 and counting that is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Earlier this month, in the first game of his 16th season, after returning from off-season surgeries to his right elbow and left ankle, Fletcher quietly passed newly retired Rondé Barber on the ironman list. But Barber was a defensive back, and Fletcher of course is a middle linebacker, like Bill Romanowski, with whom he is now tied for the sixth longest consecutive games played streak of all time.
Among every one who has ever played in the league, Fletcher is behind only Jeff Feagles, Brett Favre, Jim Marshall, Morten Andersen and Chris Gardocki, whose streak he will tie on Sunday in Oakland. Andersen, of course, was a kicker, while Gardocki was a punter like Feagles, whose streak of 352 consecutive games played over 22 seasons is unlikely ever to be broken. (And God have mercy on the position player who even aspires to break it.)
Fletcher himself has never sought attention for his streak, or indeed for his consistent excellence, and the world has usually obliged by failing to take more than a passing notice of him. In 2008, when he became an alternate Pro Bowl selection for the eighth time, he did say that he had become "the Susan Lucci of the NFL."
He was right when he said: "I don't know if it was because I wasn't a first-round draft pick, I don't do some kind of dance when I make a 10-yard tackle, I don't go out and get arrested ... because I'm not going out causing a lot of controversy, holding a private meeting with the coordinator saying this, this and this, causing a lot of strife on my team, I don't garner a lot of attention."
The London Fletchers would right that wrong while providing a fresh start for American football in London. In the '90s, you may recall, the London Monarchs played in the World League of American Football (and later in NFL Europe) with mixed results. Yes, they won World Bowl I at Wembley in '91, but as attendance shrank, so did their field: The Monarchs moved in 1995 to White Hart Lane, the home of Tottenham Hotspur of the Premier League, and played on a field that was 93 yards long.
This bit of English eccentricity did not, as it turned out, make the game more exciting: "He, could, go, most -- but, not, quite, all -- the, way!"
And so an NFL team in London might naturally want to lean anti-Monarchy and start over with a new name and logo. Which brings us back to London Fletchers, and to London fletchers.
England, in the Middle Ages, had archery laws requiring men to practice their marksmanship and even forbade the playing of other sports and games. These so-called Archery Laws paid off at the Battle of Agincourt in northern France where, in 1415, Henry V's army -- comprised almost entirely of longbowmen -- defeated a French army five times larger. Shakespeare commemorated the battle in Henry V, much of which sounds like a pre-game motivational paint-peeler that would send any NFL team through the tunnel and onto the field like buckshot: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ... ."
So here's hoping the London Fletchers find a permanent home at Wembley, and one day get a natural rival in France. Paris Bubbas, anyone?