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London Called Cardinals Long Ago

Posted Oct 18, 2017

The 1983 team opened preseason at Wembley Stadium, when the world knew less about NFL

Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax and tackle Luis Sharpe talk on the field at Wembley Stadium before the Cards played the Vikings there in 1983.

LONDON, England – For Neil Lomax, it was a chance to check off an impressive box on the bucket list: Playing a game at London’s legendary Wembley Stadium.

The former Cardinals quarterback has another intense memory from the franchise’s initial trip to London back in 1983: A quick turnaround, leading to a rough attempt at playing a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.

“My arm felt dead,” Lomax said. “The jet lag was terrible.”

The Cardinals, preparing for their first regular season game in London Sunday against the Rams, have played a regular-season international game before. They beat the 49ers, 31-14, in Mexico City in 2005, in the first NFL regular-season game outside the United States.

But the Cardinals were also the first team to have ever played in London. The preseason game broke up the monotony of three weeks of training camp, serving as the team’s first exhibition game of the 1983 season.

“You’re young and haven’t had a chance to do a lot of traveling at that point and time,” said Roy Green, a wide receiver on that team. “To be one of the first teams to represent the National Football League over there was very exciting.”

Green said the coaches and front office encouraged players to get out and see some sights while the team was there. Lomax said he remembered going out with fellow quarterback Rusty Lisch on the “Tube” – London’s subway – to check out Buckingham Palace.

But that was after the game, because there had not been much time before.

The team flew out Thursday night from training camp to get to London Friday morning. The Cards held a walkthrough practice that day, and the very next night played the game – a 28-10 loss.

It wasn’t quite the success the current NFL games are now in London. Only about 33,000 showed up, half the capacity. Locals not familiar with the game didn’t like the time spent on commercials and timeouts and huddles, with the relative little amount of action.

Lomax did hit Green with a 48-yard bomb in the first quarter, but the Cards’ highlights were few.

“Everyone got so excited about the kickers,” Green said. “Because of soccer and kicking, that’s how they related. So whenever the ball was punted, or there was a field goal attempt or kickoff, that’s when the crowd would go crazy.”

Longtime athletic trainer John Omohundro remembered talking to a member of the grounds crew, a “testy” man who did not like the athletic trainer standing on the grass. Omohundro, trying to make conversation, said he understood that the game was probably not ideal, because the NFL players would likely rip up the turf.

“ ‘Sir, the Wembley pitch is the most famous stadium in the world,’ ” Omohundro recounted the man saying, imitating his British accent. “ ‘No matter when you play, we’ll still have it ready in a fortnight.’ ”

Omohundro also remembered the feelings about ice. They didn’t necessarily like chilling their drinks, for one. At the game, “they couldn’t understand why we needed so much ice on the sideline,” Omohundro said.

But it was the travel that resonated to this day. Not only was it a quick turnaround, but the Cardinals traveled on a full flight, sitting three across on the plane. Lomax said the airline even sold the seats not taken by Cardinals to regular passengers.

“We were sardines in a can,” Lomax said.

Said Green, “you didn’t travel like you travel now.”

Lomax said the players were also wondering about the food. The hotel put out pastries, jams and bread, while players were looking for something a little more hearty – like eggs and steak.

Either way, it was memorable.

“It was a great experience,” said Lomax, who recently found a game program from that night in his garage. “It got us out of training camp for a couple of days, so that was a plus.”

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