Commentary

Here's a primer on playing in another country

On Sunday in London, the Dolphins and Giants play the NFL's second "foreign" regular-season game. Here's a former GM's plan for preparing a whole organization for a big trip.

Updated: October 25, 2007, 10:40 AM ET
By Floyd Reese | ESPN.com

The Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants will break new ground Sunday by playing the league's first regular-season game in London. For years, the NFL has played preseason games in various countries, but this marks just the second regular-season contest in another country.

The NFL held its first foreign game that mattered in the standings Oct. 2, 2005, in Mexico City, when the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-14 before an NFL regular-season record crowd of 103,467 in Azteca Stadium. It was the fourth game of the season for both teams.

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I have been a part of three preseason games played outside of the country, one in London, one in Tokyo and one in Mexico City. Preparation for these games will begin in March and the process will not be completed until the team has returned and is functioning normally. Needless to say, there will be several adjustments each team must make before, during and after the game.

Preparation

The league and both organizations will have several meetings and trips during the offseason to all locations including: hotels, practice fields, locker rooms, dining areas and meeting areas. The franchises must be educated on travel necessities such as passports, birth certificates and identification. During this time, they will have to address any item or issue that cannot be taken care of the week before travel begins. Additional security checks will have to identify potential travel problems, such as personnel who are citizens of countries other than the United States or travel restrictions used by the other country.

Travel

There are really three issues here:

1. Limit the travel party: Everyone from spouses to season-ticket holders and sponsors will want to make this trip. Condense your travelers. Remember, this is a business trip. Fewer people equals fewer headaches.

2. Travel in style: Lease the largest airplane possible. Have quality food and refreshments and plenty of movies and space.

3. Travel simply: Take all responsibility for necessities such as baggage, baggage pickup at home and baggage delivery at the destination. Try to eliminate any additional travel pressures put on the athletes. Make the trip as simple as possible.

In Country

1. Living large: Nowhere on Earth can a big man enjoy food and comfort more than in the United States. Everything from meal portions and food quality to bed and shower size needs to be addressed. Not only are these players used to quantity and quality, but their size might prevent them from enjoying any comforts. A meeting will be necessary to educate the travelers on everything from customs, to parts of town or locations that are off limits, to currency exchange.

I was unceremoniously escorted out by a number of the Emperor's security forces on motorcycles. Not only did I not know where the place was, I did not know how private the gardens were. It looked like a nice place to jog.

While in Tokyo, I mistakenly jogged into the Emperor's gardens. I was unceremoniously escorted out by a number of the Emperor's security forces on motorcycles. Not only did I not know where the place was, I did not know how private the gardens were. It looked like a nice place to jog. I was not sure if they were going to arrest me or severely punish the guards at the gate. It was a very tense moment.

2. Players are rock stars: They must be alert and smart. Most will be easily recognizable, which usually has more negatives than positives.

The Game

There are three real issues here:

1. Worst-case scenario: Address the fact that the security we are accustomed to probably will not exist at the stadium or during the game.
While on a pregame inspection of the field in Mexico City, stadium officials were proud to point out that, in the middle of the field, there was an escape hatch that could be used for players or officials should a riot occur. Unfortunately, not one football player in uniform would have been able to fit through the escape hatch.

2. Feel the noise: Be aware that fans may be uneducated about the game and will get loud and quiet according to their customs. Don't be surprised or unprepared for noise at indiscriminate times or for random events.

3. Adjust the clocks: The game obviously will be televised and kickoff time is sometimes something out of the ordinary. London is more convenient, but Tokyo can be a little tricky. Kickoff times out of the ordinary will affect sleep, pregame meal and stadium arrival time.

The Return

The league is wise in giving both teams their bye weeks upon their returns. Still, travelers will have to adjust to the time change. The return from this trip for the Dolphins and Giants will be along the lines of returning from training camp. The clubs will want to jump right back into the swing of things, but they will be at the mercy of the re-establishing of meeting rooms, training rooms, equipment rooms and video rooms. The schedule will have to take into consideration set-up time.

The opportunity to play overseas always looks a whole lot better in March than it does the day before or the day after the trip.

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese frequently contributes to ESPN.com.

Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.