Tuesday Huddle: Trying to stay out of a London fog

The challenge facing the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints this week is to maintain normalcy, which is always precious in a sport where routine rules and distraction is the devil.

What are the chances it will be achieved?

Put it this way. If anyone from those teams happened to glance at a clock showing the correct local time while watching the opening kickoff of the Monday night game between the Broncos and Patriots, he would have seen 1:40 a.m., as in the wee morning hours of Tuesday. If he were a Charger, his body clock would have said 5:40 p.m. If he were a Saint, his body clock would have said 7:40 p.m.

As in early Monday night.

Such is the biggest of many hurdles the teams must clear now that they have set up shop across the Atlantic to prepare for their game Sunday in London, the second NFL regular-season contest to be played there in as many years.

"I don't know if it's good morning, afternoon or whatnot," Saints coach Sean Payton said at the start of a news conference after he and his team arrived in London on Monday.

"But that's not going to be an excuse," Chargers offensive guard Mike Goff said of the time difference. "That's how it's going to go. We've just got to treat this like a regular game."

If it were strictly up to the coaches and players, they would never have made this journey, which amounts to roughly an 11,000-mile road trip for the Chargers. But San Diego president and chief executive officer Dean Spanos is a member of the NFL's International Committee, and strongly supports the league's efforts to grow its business by increasing its profile in different countries. He knows it would have been hypocritical to say no when Commissioner Roger Goodell asked if his team would play in London this year.

The league -- which is reimbursing the Chargers and Saints for costs associated with the trip -- made certain to schedule the teams to play their Week 7 games on the East Coast (the Chargers at Buffalo, the Saints at Carolina) so they would have relatively shorter flights to England. It also made a significant change by having the participants arrive six days in advance, four days earlier than the Giants and Dolphins arrived in London last year. The Giants beat the Dolphins, 13-10, in a mistake-filled game played in a driving rainstorm that turned the "pitch" at Wembley Stadium into a muddy mess.

"I think the league recognized the idea if you're there for a week, you're hopefully going to get a better game because (the players) are going to be adjusted to the time zone," Chargers executive vice president and chief operating officer Jim Steeg said.

Or at least as adjusted as they can be, considering that the current eight-hour time difference for the Chargers will become seven on Saturday, when the United Kingdom switches to daylight-savings time. Kickoff will be at 5 p.m. London time, which is 10 a.m. in San Diego and noon in New Orleans.

"I think that the thing we need to do the fastest is to get back in a routine, just like we would at home," Saints quarterback Drew Brees told reporters in London. "The sooner we can get back into that routine and get adjusted to the time, it's just going to be like a normal game."

After losing to the Bills, the Chargers boarded a 747 for their five-hour flight to London's Gatwick Airport, where they arrived early Monday morning. They then took a 45-minute bus ride to Pennyhill Park Hotel, a 130-room countryside resort on 123 acres of land. The Chargers have plenty of room for meetings and will hold practices on the hotel grounds Wednesday through Friday before busing to a London hotel, where they will be based through the game. The Saints will follow a similar schedule.

In advance of the Chargers' arrival, five members of their integrated technology staff were in London setting up computers and videotape equipment in coaches' offices and meeting rooms so that Norv Turner and his staff could go to work as soon as they arrived.

The league arranged for shipping the weights that both teams use, in accordance to specifications outlined by the clubs' respective strength-and-conditioning coaches. The clubs transported their own uniforms, helmets, pads, and other equipment. For a typical road game for the Chargers, it's about two tons' worth. Because they had to pack for two games, the amount doubled. It is roughly what the Chargers carry to a cold-weather game when heavier clothing is required.

The Chargers prepared a daily menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks with the hotel's chef, who previously worked in the United States. They also provided their traveling party with a list of preferred restaurants nearby, including familiar fast-food brands.

"I think the most important thing we've done is tried to adhere to the same schedule we normally have," said Steeg, who has extensive experience in logistical planning for excursions like this. As the NFL's former head of special events, he oversaw the staging of eight international preseason games -- five in Berlin, three in Barcelona -- as well as the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl. In each case, the key to avoiding problems has been taking care of details, a task with which he and his staff have been consumed since learning about the London trip early in the year.

For instance, before leaving Buffalo, each member of the Chargers' traveling party:

» Packed a separate bag that was shipped directly to England so that it would be waiting in their respective hotel rooms upon the team's arrival;

» Had cash for the trip converted from American dollars into English pounds;

» Was instructed to contact his respective cell-phone provider to arrange for international coverage;

» Was instructed to contact his credit-card provider to authorize international use of the card.

» Received a travel guide that explains the differences between what certain words and mannerisms mean in the U.K. as opposed to the U.S. "Say, for instance, you're ordering something and you start counting with your hand, one starts with your thumb rather than your index finger," Steeg said. "And when it comes to hotels and other buildings, floor No. 1 is actually the second floor. As they say, we're two countries only separated by a common language."

The Chargers' hotel doesn't number its rooms. It names them after types of trees, shrubs, and flowers (i.e. Sycamore, Rose, Tulip). So to avoid confusion, the team put numbers, on cardboard plates, on the door to each room. The hotel's staff has a corresponding list of the room numbers so that it will, theoretically, make it easier for occupants to order room service. "But I know our guys," Steeg said. "Somebody's going to be moving those plates around (as a practical joke)."

At the team's expense, all of the Chargers' front-office staff and spouses are being flown to London on Wednesday on a series of commercial flights departing from Los Angeles. A special guest-services desk, for members of the team's travel party, has been set up at the Chargers' and Saints' hotels.

After arriving Monday, Chargers players did some lifting and then were free to see the sights until going back to work on Wednesday.

"Fortunate or unfortunate, being on the West Coast, we make so many two-day trips to the East, we're treating it the same way," Steeg said. "We're going to get on buses after practice on Friday, have a normal Saturday practice and get ready for a 5 p.m. game, which presumably will feel as if they are playing a Sunday night rather than one that starts at 10 a.m. (Pacific time)."

Members of both teams haven't forgotten the fact that after beating the Dolphins in London, the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl.

"We hope we can repeat that success," Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told reporters in London on Monday.

The NFL took a major step to help both teams recover from the trip by scheduling their bye in Week 9.

"That's a big difference," Steeg said. "If we had to come back and play in Week 9, I think that would be very difficult. Now, the guys maybe will use the bye week to sleep."

Monday night musings

» It's hard to say exactly what kind of statement the Patriots made by pounding Denver. They deserve plenty of credit for a dramatic rebound from a horrendous Week 6 showing at San Diego. But I don't think it means that they've rediscovered the offensive dominance they had with Tom Brady. Yes, I did see Matt Cassel throw those three touchdown passes. But I also saw him get sacked six times, five in the first half. And I saw him exploit a defense that has played horribly for most of the season. The Broncos made it far too easy for New England to move the ball, especially on the ground. I fully expect the Pats to face a far more difficult test when the Rams come to Foxborough in Week 8.

» How bad is the AFC West? The Broncos might end up winning the division with a sub-.500 record. They certainly weren't helped by Jay Cutler suffering an injury to the index finger of his right (throwing) hand when he slammed it against Vince Wilfork's helmet on the first play from scrimmage. Cutler tried toughing it out, leaving and then returning to the lineup, but he clearly wasn't throwing the ball with his typical, I've-got-a-better-arm-than-John-Elway authority. The Broncos also weren't helped by early turnovers. But even if their offense had performed better, their defense gave them little hope of competing against an opponent that might be slightly better than ordinary. If the Broncos are looking for suggestions on what to do during their bye, here are a couple: WORK ON YOUR TACKLING AND PASS COVERAGE!

The Haslett effect

Who knows how far this will go? The Rams' 2-0 record under interim coach Jim Haslett is impressive, but it's too early to say how much longer the good times will last in what had been one of the most depressed outposts in the NFL.

Haslett had it right when, after the Rams' lopsided victory over Dallas, he reminded a reporter who said the team was 2-0 that the club's actual record is 2-4. "But if you think 2-4 is good," he added, "then you can write that." Haslett's point was that he was part of those four losses, too, when he was the Rams' defensive coordinator. His point was that he was every bit as accountable for the bad start as he is for the stunning turnaround.

And it is that attitude that will go a long way toward helping the Rams to sustain this run. Haslett also has restored toughness to a squad that, for whatever reason, had seemed too quick to give up under his predecessor, Scott Linehan. Haslett has restored confidence. He coaches with an edge -- the same sort of edge that resulted in his reported verbal shredding of the Cowboys during an animated pregame address to his team that saw him knock over a couple of chairs.

Although his strongest connection is with the defensive players, he has been able to bring out the best in what had been an underachieving offense. Quarterback Marc Bulger, who felt like a scapegoat when Linehan benched him just before being fired, is back to having fun again, as are the rest of the members of St. Louis' offense.

However, with running back Steven Jackson hobbled by a strained quadriceps, it will be interesting to see where the Rams go from here. The Rams have come a long way largely on the basis of the Haslett-induced personality transfusion. To go farther, they need to continue to get full contribution from all of their best players.

Favre should keep focus in one place

Sharing of information is nothing new in the NFL. Players change teams and tell the new employer about what the old employer did. Coaches sometimes make acquisitions with that in mind. And coaches routinely trade info with other coaches about common opponents, especially during the postseason.

Consequently, I'm not all that bothered by a report that Brett Favre gave information about his former team, the Packers, to the Lions before the Week 2 meeting between the NFC North opponents. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson told reporters there was "no honor" in Favre trying to help the Lions, but Woodson has been around long enough to know that that happens and that it is unrealistic to expect his former teammate to not do something that could hurt the club that no longer wanted him.

At the same time, if the report is true, I would think Favre has much bigger matters to worry about than helping another team's coaching staff. Or speculating, as he did recently, about whether he intends to play after this season. Even for Favre, the will-he-won't-he-play talk is coming a bit too soon, don't you think? It seems to me that his hands are more than full as he tries to keep the Jets in contention in the AFC East. He should keep his focus on that.

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