Up-and-coming Bucs could capture imagination of Euro fans

The NFL returns to play an International Series game in London for the fifth consecutive year, this time with the Buccaneers hosting the Bears at Wembley Stadium. This time around is bound to feel even more special for fans of American football in the UK.

The NFL first gained traction in Britain in the mid-1980s when the Monsters of the Midway were dominating the NFL, and the larger-than-life characters on those Bears teams -- Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and William Perry -- all hold a special place in the hearts of those fans whose attention was grabbed by this alien sport 25 years ago. Indeed, ask the Englishman on the street if they could name an NFL player past or present, and the overwhelming majority would probably come up the "The Fridge," whose moment in the British sun was extended by his brief appearance as a London Monarch in 1996. The Bears also received a more recent endorsement from British fans, being named "Team of the Year" by fans in the inaugural NFLUK Awards at the end of the 2010 season.

Fans in the UK and Europe have swarmed to buy tickets for the International Series game every year, and the four matchups to date have been sold out, with supporters of all 32 teams swarming into Wembley to make it a true celebration of the NFL. It's not uncommon to have an English Raiders fan sitting next to a German Chiefs supporter, each of them happy to be able to witness their favorite sport in person.

This year's matchup will see the Buccaneers return for their second "home" fixture in London. In 2009, the Bucs met their match when they hosted the Patriots and were sent back to Tampa Bay 35-7 losers. This time around it will be a very different Buccaneers team -- coming off a 10-6 season and narrowly missing out on an NFC wild-card playoff berth -- that the British fans will see at Wembley.

With coach Raheem Morris -- also a winner as Coach of the Year in the NFLUK Awards -- and promising QB Josh Freeman headlining a young team, the Buccaneers will hope to return to Tampa with a win under their belts.

Given the success that the winning teams have had following the International Series game in London (two of the four overseas winners have gone onto a Super Bowl victory within the year), these young Bucs might capture the hearts of a new generation of British NFL fans in their second trip to Wembley. The same way that those Bears did two decades ago.

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