Lions to play Falcons in London next season
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush got a feel for the interest overseas in American football when the NFL was first starting to play regular-season games in London.
It was 2008 and Bush was entering his third season with the New Orleans Saints, who were preparing to play the league’s second regular-season game ever over there.
He ended up getting injured and wasn’t able to play, but he made a trip that previous summer to help promote the game.
“I got the sense that they were interested about football but they didn’t know anything about it,” Bush said. “It was still kind of a new thing.”
It’s not so new anymore. The NFL has played seven regular-season games in the United Kingdom, has another one scheduled for later this month and announced Thursday that three additional games are scheduled for next year.
One of those includes the Lions playing the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium in London on a date still to be announced.
“It’s obviously good for the sport of football,” Bush said. “It’s going to help a lot (increase popularity in Europe). The more games played there, the better.
“I got the sense guys (his Saints’ teammates) liked it. They didn’t dislike it. London’s a really cool spot, really cool place to go visit.”
It will be the Lions’ first international regular-season game. They played a preseason game at Wembley Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys in 1993.
Atlanta is going to be considered the home team and, thus, lose a true home game. Detroit will still play its regular home schedule of eight games at Ford Field next season.
Lions president Tom Lewand called the event an “exciting opportunity” for the club to play on an international stage.
"It will be a different challenge for our football team, one that we fully embrace,” Lewand said. "The global platform also presents a unique and special opportunity for our fans and business partners to join us in sharing the many positive stories about the City of Detroit, the state of Michigan and the Lions."
The other games set for London next year are Jacksonville-Dallas and Oakland-Miami.
The exact dates should be released in the next few weeks, Lewand said.
Lewand added that there is consideration being given to a 9 a.m. kickoff Detroit time, which would be 2 p.m. in London.
Lewand admitted the Lions wouldn’t be as excited about the opportunity if they were losing the home game.
“I never felt we ought to take a game away from our fans in Detroit,” Lewand said.
To help teams adjust to the travel demands, the NFL automatically builds in a bye week following the 6-7 hour flights each way.
Lewand said the team would leave on a Thursday night, practice Friday, have a walkthrough on Saturday and then return Sunday after the game.
“It’s a challenge but it’s a challenge the players (who’ve played in the international games in recent years) have met,” Lewand said.
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch said he’s in favor of the long-distance road trip.
“I think it’s cool,” Tulloch said. “The fact the NFL has expanded to Europe and the fans out there love American football, to get out there, be able to have a little down time as a team and be able to sightsee a little bit but still put the work in and against another NFC opponent, it’s good.
“I’m glad I have an opportunity to be a part of it. I know it’s a long travel but it will be fun to get out there and play football.”
--- Receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), offensive tackle Riley Reiff (hamstring), safety Louis Delmas (knee), defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (concussion) all returned to practice Thursday. Offensive tackle Corey Hilliard (knee) did not participate.