NFL's first step in spanning the globe

The NFL's new game plan -- a very 21st century game plan -- is more expansive than one of Bill Walsh's old playbooks. In much the same manner as ABC's Wide World of Sports, the NFL's new game plan spans the globe.

It now extends from the United States to England and Germany and Canada and Mexico -- countries where the NFL intends to hold one of its rare and coveted regular-season games. The series kicks off Sunday, across the ocean in England's Wembley Stadium -- the European equivalent of Lambeau Field.

This is the league's loudest and boldest audible, a change to an attack it knew was being shutout. The NFL previously exported football in the form of American Bowls and NFL Europa, essentially Football Lite. It was, in our terms, less filling.

Europeans referred to the football games we used to give them as "friendlies," as if the competition wasn't as intense as it would be for a regular-season game. So now we give them a taste of authenticity -- some unfriendly. Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter will see to that.

And the league's hope is that this game becomes as much a part of NFL history as Super Bowl I, when then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle helped launch a game that went on to become an international holiday. The NFL doesn't need another international holiday, but it does crave international interest.

The NFL wants to make its product as popular in Shanghai as it is in Sheboygan. To ensure that happens, the NFL is talking big -- as big as the world in which we live. That's how big the market is. The league has adopted the philosophy that sells anywhere: If it doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make sense.

This visionary game plan does. These days, there are more and more talks about Buffalo playing pre- and regular-season games in Toronto, its neighbour to the North. An idea has been floated about a Super Bowl being played in London. But first comes an actual regular-season game in London, the first such NFL game ever played overseas.

It's almost like a trade after the trade deadline. South Korea gave us Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, England gave us Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and Germany gave us Jaguars wide receiver Reggie Williams. Now we give them the unfriendly sport their children grew up to play.

It is part of the evolving and flat world in which we now live. No longer is it just players such as wide receiver Randy Moss and quarterback Jeff Garcia changing teams. Now the entire face of the global sports industry is changing.

For starters, there has been a rapid rise in cross-ownership between sports, with no better example than Malcolm Glazer, who now owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Yankees of soccer, Manchester United. There has been an inadvertent foreign exchange program, with David Beckham coming to the States and our football going there. More significant than any other factor is building the worldwide fan base, from sea to shining sea.

There is a larger audience to serve. There are more dollars to spend. And there is a sport to grow.

Look at it this way: England already has one Big Ben. Now we get to see how much of an appetite there is for another.

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