A “Gold Jacket” in London

A “Gold Jacket” in London

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By Neil Reynolds
Special to ProFootballHOF.com

Sky Sports TV presenter and nfluk.com writer Neil Reynolds spends a day in the company of true NFL greatness.

It is fair to say that Mondays during the NFL season can be challenging, coffee-laden affairs.

I host seven hours of live NFL coverage on Sky Sports on Sunday nights, make a 90-minute drive home when every other sane individual is tucked up in bed, sleep for approximately four hours and then head back into London to write around 4,000 words spread over Sky Sports and NFL UK columns, dissecting what has taken place across the league the day before.

I love my work covering the NFL and would not change jobs for all the tea in China, but Mondays are tough and a fair amount of caffeine has to be consumed to make it from breakfast to bedtime!

But this past Monday was a little different. I woke with more of a spring in my step, I raced through the first of my two columns on my one-hour train journey into London and attacked the next one with a Deacon Jones-like fervor!

I had a date with a Gold Jacket (the term used for living members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) and was not about to get side-tracked by my normal Monday workload! I was off to Wembley Stadium to show Hall of Fame defensive tackle Curley Culp and his lovely wife, Collette, around the 90,000-seat venue that continually sells out for regular season NFL games played here in London.

The visit took on extra meaning here in the UK given that Curley was a Super Bowl-winning star with Kansas City and the Chiefs are UK-bound to take on the Detroit Lions in 2015.

When the NFL’s UK office was contacted by the Hall of Fame about the visit of Curley – a 14-year veteran who starred for the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers and Detroit Lions – I was quick to volunteer to serve as tour guide along with nfluk.com editor Nick Pike.

I was keen to interview Curley for the NFL UK website and for the Inside the Huddle podcast that I host each week on these shores. But I was just as keen to spend an extended period of time around a true pro football legend who was sure to have a good tale or two to tell!

On Monday morning, I was speaking with NFL UK staff about the best way to get the Culps out to Wembley Stadium. The quickest way from central London to the national stadium is to ride the underground train – but the more comfortable way of travelling by car often means the odd snarl-up in London traffic and potential for more than double the journey time.

Of course, I opted for the longer route of travelling by car to allow for more time talking football with a Hall of Famer. Oh, and the fact that our special guests would be more comfortable, of course!

But on the way out to Wembley, even the infamously-challenging London traffic laid on a good welcome for Curley and Collette. We made it out to north-west London in extremely good time and took in a behind-the-scenes tour of Wembley Stadium.

The Culps visited the locker rooms, the press conference rooms and even the tiny but very nicely decked-out private room behind the Royal Box that is occupied by the British Royal Family ahead of events they attend at Wembley.

After a visit to the field, the sidelines and a brief brush with the F.A. Cup – which was proudly on display for the special guests of the day – Curley and I spoke football and conducted interviews for NFLUK.com and Inside the Huddle.

Ever the professional, Curley knocked out the interviews with minimum fuss and then proceeded to greet every member of a party of high school children enjoying a tour of Wembley Stadium. The young children began their tour learning about Wembley Stadium as the home of English soccer – they ended their visit by checking out the career of Curley Culp on Google!

With the NFL UK office intent on growing the fan base in Great Britain, Curley played his small but significant part on Monday and probably created a couple of new NFL fans along the way!

With the tour complete and the Culps happy with their pretty expansive collection of photos, we made our way back to the car for the journey back into central London – with a brief detour to take in Buckingham Palace.

Thankfully, the traffic was pretty bad on the way back into town, allowing Curley to regale me with stories of the day he met John Wayne (he was trying to tempt Curley to sign for the World Football League’s Southern California Sun) and of Lou Saban trying to force Curley into playing offensive guard for the Denver Broncos and then trading him to Kansas City.

We also talked about the early days of the 3-4 defense, playing for Bum Phillips and competing in racquet-ball with Hank Stram. It was a fascinating delve into the annals of pro football history with the stories coming not from NFL Films footage or a book, but right from the mouth of a man at the heart of the action.

The Culps went away delighted with their exclusive, VIP tour of Wembley Stadium but I’m not sure who was happier on Monday night. I’d like to think I gave the Culps a run for their money on that front and what should have been a normal, run-of-the-mill Monday turned into a very special day that will long live in the memory.

Related: See Neil Reynolds series on the NFL in the UK that appeared on ProFootballHOF.com in 2012.
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