London — Want to feel disoriented? Take a gander at the Atlanta Falcons, Hall County’s team, after a morning walk-through at their posh hotel in Watford. Same guys, different continent. (Although technically this is an island. But you get the drift.)
The Falcons’ hotel, The Grove, is so posh that it’s the resting place before matches for the English national soccer team. (David Beckham slept here!) Also for visiting clubs before UEFA Champions League games in London. (Lionel Messi, too!) It’s about a 40-minute ride from London itself, as some of the visiting Americans discovered Tuesday.
Julio Jones said he and some of his fellow receivers piled in a cab and made for the heart of the city. The fare was 78 pounds. Or, as Jones noted, $125. “It helps to be riding with guys who have a lot of money,” he said.
Justin Blalock and two teammates took another route — “a bus, a train and two taxis,” Blalock said. They saw a lot, though. “Parliament, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace and the Eye of London,” the latter being the massive Ferris wheel that has dominated the London skyline since the new millennium. Blalock even took a spin on the Eye, which takes almost an hour to rotate. “It goes pretty slow,” he said.
Mike Smith wasn’t so adventurous. He said he and his staff had been three places since landing at Gatwick early Monday — “the airport, the elementary school (the Falcons had a community event at one) and here at The Grove,” Smith said. “Though I just now learned that there’s a beach here.” (As noted, The Grove is quite nice.)
There’s also a golf course, designed by one Eldrick Woods, at which Matt Ryan admitted he’d cast a longing eye but refrained from renting sticks. He’s here on business, after all.
For a team that has lost four in a row and looked horrid in so doing, the Falcons seemed in a good mood. They politely answered questions posed by the British media, and Jones was quite the hit. He admitted he’d been having issues with the five-hour time difference — he awoke Tuesday at 2 a.m. local time — and fielded the staple question about London getting an NFL franchise in a way that made everyone laugh.
“You’ll definitely have the upper hand,” he said, “especially if you don’t let (the opponents) come early. Let them come in on Friday and you’ll kill them every time.”
Then the Falcons boarded buses for Arsenal’s training ground in London Colney, about 15 minutes from The Grove. (Most NFL teams staying at The Grove do everything on-site, but the Falcons, being picky, wanted bigger fields.) Arsenal is one of the giants of English football, meaning soccer, but the Gunners, as they’re known, weren’t present Wednesday. They were in Antwerp readying to play Anderlecht in the Champions League.
Given Arsenal’s rich history, it was surprising at how non-ostentatious their ground was. There was a huge photo of their 2004 Premiser League championship team in the press lounge — Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Fredrik Ljundberg were front and center, with Patrick Viera and manager Arsene Wenger almost hiding in the back — but otherwise nothing. Then again, calling attention to one’s self isn’t The British Way. (Not to be confused with The Braves’ Way, of which we’ve lately heard much.)
For example: Ryan, Jones and Smith met the media in what appeared to be a greenhouse at The Grove but is, I was informed, known as “the potting shed.” It was, let’s emphasize, a very nice potting shed. But it was quaint in a way the grandiose NFL almost never is.