Published October 24, 2012
LONDON – The St. Louis Rams are familiar with fans cheering for the opposition, even at their home games.
They're likely to get an even bigger dose of that Sunday when they go up against the New England Patriots at Wembley in the annual NFL game in London.
The Rams are technically the home team, but the Patriots — and especially Tom Brady — have a much bigger international following and may get more fan support.
The Rams (3-4) already had a taste of that in the home loss to Green Bay on Sunday, when thousands of raucous cheeseheads made themselves heard at the Edward Jones Dome.
"We had a lot of Green Bay Packer fans in our stadium last weekend," coach Jeff Fisher said. "So they travel very well as well. Didn't bother us, didn't have an impact on the outcome of the game. We're excited to be here."
The Rams held their first full practice in London on Wednesday, at the training grounds of Premier League soccer club Arsenal north of the capital. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is also the majority shareholder of Arsenal, and his interests in the British market are part of the reason why the organization was willing to give up a home game in St. Louis to travel overseas.
The Rams were originally set to play a game in London for three straight years — creating speculation that Kroenke may eventually consider moving the team overseas permanently — but dropped plans to return in 2013 and 2014.
That means quarterback Sam Bradford, for one, is keen on making the most of this one opportunity to build an international fan base for the organization.
"It's a big stage, a big opportunity," Bradford said. "Obviously, playing over here, it's going to be broadcast all over the world."
But Bradford also realizes that his team isn't the main attraction for an international audience.
"We're playing the Patriots, one of most well-known, if not the most well-known teams in the league," he said. "They've been one of the best for quite a while now."
The Patriots have already played in one of the five previous regular-season games in London, beating Tampa Bay at Wembley in 2009. That added to the popularity of a team that already had a solid European fan base because of the star power of Brady and three recent Super Bowl titles.
So defensive end Chris Long isn't going to be offended when the crowd starts cheering for the "away" team.
"That's fine," Long said. "We're the underdogs, maybe some fans will be behind us because we're underdogs. But we're not really worried about that. We're happy about any support we get, but we understand the Patriots are kind of a worldwide brand. That's what we're trying to do, build our brand worldwide, so it's a great opportunity on Sunday."
However, the Rams are hoping to feel more at home in one way.
The team opted to fly to London on Monday evening, arriving early Tuesday to get plenty of time to get used to the time difference and atmosphere. The Patriots will arrive Friday, meaning they'll have a much shorter time to get rid of the jetlag.
"I think our advantage is coming over here early," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "Being over here a little earlier, and getting used to the time change, being as alert as we can on Sunday."
All three of the Rams' wins so far have come in St. Louis, and the strong performances at home are the reason they have already exceeded their total number of victories from last season, when they were tied for the league's worst record at 2-14. Now they're eager to start a new streak on Sunday.
"Especially coming off a hard loss like we had at home, where we were 3-0 before Green Bay," Brockers said. "This is considered a home game for us, so we'll just try to keep that record going and try to leave Wembley Stadium 4-1 at home."
There could hardly be a better way to make a splash across the pond than to beat the Patriots.
"It's an opportunity for us to spread the word that maybe the Rams are back," Fisher said. "That was the thing that was exciting for us. Of course, we have to play well."
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL