NFL takes Giant strides as American football conquers London
( AFP ) - American football's big day out in London was a success as the New York Giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10 at rain-lashed Wembley on Sunday.
Fears that the first regular-season NFL match to be played outside North America would be a damp squib were unfounded, despite the dismal conditions in the English capital that at times turned the contest into a lottery.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is determined to turn the sport into a global game and he will be encouraged by the crowd's enthusiastic response to their ground-breaking initiative.
A near-capacity crowd of 81,176 ignored the rival attractions of four Premier League football matches on Sunday, including Liverpool's big clash against Arsenal, to see what all the fuss was about.
Inspired by running back Brandon Jacobs's career-high 132 yards rushing, the Giants won their sixth consecutive match to improve to a 6-2 record.
Miami must have hoped a change of scene would bring a change of luck but they are still without a win after their eighth defeat of the season.
More importantly, the NFL got tangible evidence that Gridiron can capture the imagination of sports fans outside their own backyard.
Essentially a series of violent collisions punctuated by occasional moments of breath-taking ability, American football has never been able to make much of an impression in England.
But the novelty of watching a meaningful NFL fixture in the flesh sparked a huge demand for tickets from a sporting public usually obsessed with their own version of football.
After a trio of English sports stars - rugby union legend Martin Johnson, Chelsea footballer John Terry and British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton - presided over the pre-match coin toss, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes got the contest under way in a blaze of flashbulbs.
Although there was a sizeable contingent of ex-pat Americans in the crowd, it was still a predominantly British audience. They combined an impressive understanding of the game's complexities with relentless enthusiasm.
Miami running back Jesse Chatman's six-yard dash on the first offensive play of the match would have been unremarkable back home. But this was history in the making and it drew a huge roar from the fans.
Jay Feely had the chance to score the first points but the Miami kicker missed a 48-yard field goal at the end of the Dolphins' first drive.
It was Tynes who got his name in the record books instead when he converted a 20-yard field goal for the Giants later in the first quarter.
Miami are off to the worst start in their franchise's history but they performed gamely here.
When Plaxico Burress's crucial catch on fourth down was correctly ruled completed by the replay official, New York looked in control.
Instead of having to settle for a field goal, on the next play Giants quarterback Eli Manning scored the game's first touchdown with a 10-yard scramble.
There was still time for another Dolphins miscue. Michael Strahan recovered Cleo Lemon's fumble and moments later Tynes drilled a 41-yard field goal to increase New York's lead to 13-0 at half-time.
If Miami's play failed to capivate, the team's cheerleaders and a streaker, who used only an American football to protect his decency, kept the crowd entertained.
With the weather remaining atrocious, mistakes were Miami's best hope. Manning duly obliged with a third quarter fumble and Chatman's powerful run set up a Feely field goal.
Miami stayed in the match long enough for Lemon to throw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr late in the game, but the Giants held on to win.
Now the NFL will hope their London adventure is remembered as not just a successful staging post in the Giants season, but the start of a new era of global success for the sport.