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NFL Block Party in London draws half a million fans

LONDON -- More than half a million people were drawn to the NFL Block Party on Saturday afternoon, as Regent Street, in London's busiest shopping district, was closed down for the day to play home to football fans celebrating before Sunday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings.

NFL fans wearing every one of the 32 team jerseys (yes, I counted them myself) were out in force, enjoying a string of delights put on by the NFL and eating American-themed food.

The main attraction, though, was a stage upon which appeared a host of big-name talent from the Steelers and Vikings, including both teams' head coaches, likely future Hall of Famers in Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu of the Steelers, and Vikings stars Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen.

All of the players and coaches who appeared on stage exited stunned by the level of support, as fans from across the world turned out to see them and cheer them on before the game.

"Shout out to London," said Pittsburgh's two-time Super Bowl-winning cornerback Ike Taylor. "There are so many Steelers fan here."

"We are just excited to be here powered by the fan support for this football game," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said as he addressed the crowd. "It's an honor to represent you guys. We appreciate the fan support, we are excited about this football game, and we are honored to be here."

Fans also were treated to appearances by the Vikings' ''Skol" drumline, and, of course, the Vikings cheerleaders, who received bigger cheers than even the reigning MVP Peterson.

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The next generation of future British NFL stars was being groomed on a small AstroTurf field built in the middle of the road, as droves of 5 to 10-year-olds got some expert coaching, courtesy of the NFL's Play 60 campaign.

With British-born Menelik Watson, Jack Crawford and Lawrence Okoye all entering the NFL in the past two years, there's suddenly a path for aspiring youngsters to make it to the NFL from within Europe.

"It's so much fun to play," said 7-year-old Tom. "I sometimes watch NFL games with my dad on TV, but I hadn't played until today. I had a great time."

While the Steelers and Vikings both own 0-3 records, British fans' spirits weren't dampened ahead of Sunday's game.

"It's going to be a great game," said Steve, Mark and Leon, a trio of fans sporting matching Ben Roethlisberger jerseys. "We're expecting it to be a close one, but the Steelers are going to come out on top."

Duncan, a Vikings supporter from London wearing a Daunte Culpepper jersey that must have been a decade old, was hopeful about his team's chances of finally getting their first win of the season.

"We've been so close in the last couple of games, that this is the one we're going to win," he said. "I don't think the Steelers can stop Adrian Peterson."

Whether the Steelers can stop Peterson will be discovered Sunday, but on Saturday, Regent Street shoppers learned one thing for sure -- the NFL can stop traffic in London.

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