LONDON — Before Drew Brees left the stage Saturday at the NFL on Regent Street event in Central London, he turned and took a selfie with several hundred adoring fans in the street behind him.
Who might have guessed how many native English Saints fans would be in that number?
Of course, there is the unnumbered but sizable contingent from Louisiana, folks like New Orleans’ Shelita Harper, her two sisters and a cousin who follow the Saints everywhere on the road. For them, “popping over the pond” was no obstacle.
“This my first time here,” said Harper, a bejeweled Saints cap on her head and football Mardi Gras beads around her neck. “This was a great opportunity to come here.”
But there are plenty of British fans of the Saints here as well, all of them like Harper and her family looking forward to seeing the Saints play Sunday at Wembley Stadium against the Miami Dolphins (8:30 a.m. CST, Fox).
For some like Ben Wright of Sussex, England, traditional football (soccer) over here no longer holds the same fascination for him now that he’s been hooked on the American version.
“I was getting bored of soccer over here, to be fair,” said Wright, whose first game was the last time the Saints played at Wembley in 2008 against the San Diego Chargers. “My dad’s a big Seattle Seahawks fan. He took me to a game in London, and I didn’t have a team.”
He does now. In fact, Wright helps run a podcast called "The UK Saints Podcast."
He and friends Ashley Pimble from Wales and Ryan Cummings from Essex, England, were a hit on Regent Street, taking photographs behind their custom-made Union Jack with a huge Saints fleur-de-lis in the middle. They also sported replica Saints Super Bowl rings.
Wright, Pimble and Cummings have been to several Saints games in New Orleans. Wright, who has “season tickets” to all four NFL games at Wembley this season, is planning a pilgrimage to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Washington Redskins game Nov. 19 — with a side trip to see the Pelicans as well.
“I’ve been to the Dome many times; 2013 was the last time I went,” Pimble chimed in. “I since got married and I got no more money then.”
Mark Harrison of Staffordshire, England, near Birmingham, is attending the game with his wife, Claire. He literally wears his Saints devotion on his arm. He has a gold fleur-de-lis tattoo on his right arm ... and a voodoo tattoo on the other.
“I didn’t have a team” until the Saints-Chargers game in 2008, Harrison said. “The way the Saints helped rebuild the city after (Hurricane) Katrina made me want to support them.”
The NFL, which some say would love to move a franchise to London permanently, had plenty of fans on display Saturday. Sure, there were Saints and Dolphins fans, some of the latter dressed as teal and orange Star Wars stormtroopers, but there were tons of fans of other teams up and down Regent Street as well. Patriots, Ravens, Seahawks, Packers, Cowboys, Jets and Colts were also in fashion in one of London’s most fashionable districts at a party that stretched for half a mile from Oxford Circus to Piccadilly Circus.
LONDON — The New Orleans Saints have spent their week in England trying to make this week fe…
“It’s huge,” Wright said of the NFL’s popularity in England. “And every year it’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s becoming more difficult to get tickets every year. This game sold out within minutes.”
Not everyone was in on what the party was all about.
“Is it the Dolphins baseball team?” a woman was overheard asking a friend on nearby Carnaby Street.
Not exactly, dearie.
Like some of their fans, the Saints have been here since Monday, while the Dolphins chose to wait until Friday to arrive.
Brees said coming here early and getting used to the six-hour time change, as the Saints did in 2008, was a plus.
“It was part of the plan to come here and get acclimated,” he said. “We got a lot of good practice in. Just look forward to getting out there (Sunday) and playing.”
Defensive end Cam Jordan said it was good to be back in England with the focus on football.
“I’ve been over one time before,” he said. “I was more into the pubs that time than the football. I’m glad to be here for the football.” Jordan did admit that he got lost one night on the “Tube” — Londoners term for the Underground subway system.
Center Max Unger said other players told him that playing in London was a highlight of their careers.
“That’s what it’s been like for us” this week, he said.
Of course, the ultimate objective for the Saints is winning Sunday, trying to even their record at 2-2 while pleasing their fans from both near and far.