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NFL Plays Sunday in London With Eye on European Expansion

  • Teresa Sullivan

Football fans react during a Fan Rally event at Trafalgar Square in London, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, on the eve of an NFL football match between San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Football fans react during a Fan Rally event at Trafalgar Square in London, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010, on the eve of an NFL football match between San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The U.S. National Football League (NFL) presents its fourth game in London with a match-up Sunday between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers -- two former multiple Super Bowl champion teams that are struggling this season. The sold-out contest at Wembley Stadium is a key part of the NFL's plan to further popularize American-style football in Britain with the ultimate goal of having a London-based franchise.

The Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers each hope to re-energize their so-far dismal National Football League (NFL) season with a big victory Sunday in London with about 80,000 fans in attendance. Both teams were considered possible play-off contenders when the game in Britain was scheduled, but with two of the worst records in the 32-team NFL, they have not lived up to pre-season expectations.

The 49ers arrived in Britain at the beginning of the week to adjust to playing in London's famous rainy weather. Head coach and retired NFL great Mike Singletary said getting away early will give his players a chance to regroup, and practicing all week in wet conditions should give his team an edge. "I think the biggest thing is coming out early. I think it was a good decision. I think it is something that will serve them [his players] well. I think, in the end, it will prove wise," he said.

Forty-niners number three back-up quarterback and former collegiate top-athlete Heisman trophy winner, Troy Smith, will play Sunday for injured starter, Alex Smith. Troy last played a regular season game in 2007. Although he said he has been "preparing like a mad man," he knows what he needs to do when the football is snapped. "Throughout my career, this is what I've done -- learn new offenses. You know, they do a tremendous job here [the 49ers]. We're getting guys in position to make plays, and I just have to go out and execute the offense," he said.

The Broncos arrived Friday, but head coach Josh McDaniels said his team is accustomed to traveling to different climates in the U.S., and will be ready for Britain's notorious weather. "We're expecting it to be wet, some wind. You know, some conditions to play through. We've already talked about that," he said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hopes that filling Wembley Stadium a fourth time in as many years will help solidify league plans to expand into foreign markets -- starting with a team in London.

The increasing popularity of American-style football throughout Britain also bolsters Goodell's case for increasing the regular season from 16 to 18 games. He said replacing two pre-season games with two regular season contests would allow greater flexibility to bring more NFL games to Britain and other countries around the world.

Denver enters Sunday's game at Wembley with a record of two wins against five losses, while San Francisco has only one victory in seven games.

The Broncos last week endured a humiliating 59-14 home loss in Colorado to California's vastly improved Oakland Raiders. The rout in Denver kept the Broncos in second-to-last place in their American Football Conference in front of the league's only winless team, the Buffalo Bills. Denver has made five Super Bowl appearances, winning back-to-back NFL titles in 1998 and 1999.

San Francisco also hit a low-point last week, losing 23-20 to the previously-winless Carolina Panthers. The 49ers are languishing at the bottom of the National Football Conference, and they are second-to-last in the overall NFL standings. San Francisco won all five times it played in the Super Bowl, most recently in 1995.

No matter how tough a season the Broncos or the 49ers endure at home in the United States, their match-up in London is shaping up to be another victory for the NFL.

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