ORLANDO –The 2013 Minnesota-Pittsburgh game in London was one of the best atmospheres the United Kingdom has seen in an NFL game, and the Vikings hope to replicate the energy when they make a return trip across the pond to play the Browns in October 2017.
Neil Reynolds, an NFL presenter with the UK's Sky Sports, said he can't wait to welcome the Vikings back to his part of the globe.
"Pittsburgh brought a lot of fans, and the Vikings were so well traveled in terms of their fans; it was a great weekend," Reynolds recalled of the 2013 matchup. "They kind of took over Regent Street – it was the first time we held a huge event up and down Regent Street with more than 500,000 fans.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the team that started 5-0 last year, a team with all that talent, to see them with all those stars and all those players here in the Pro Bowl," Reynolds continued. "To see them play in front of the British fans is going to be very exciting."
Reynolds recently hosted three Vikings players – Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr – on a tour around the UK to promote the 2017 game. Smith, who was also with the team in London four years ago, said he appreciates the opportunity to connect with an international fan base.
"Their knowledge of American football is a lot deeper than you would guess," Smith said. "Just going to the different cities and meeting the people, they love our game. It's fun to go over there and try to share with them."
While the British fans got to know the Vikings and the NFL, the week-long visit also gave the players a chance to familiarize themselves with the lay of the land and a culture outside their comfort zone.
Smith especially enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at a number of stadiums, including Twickenham Stadium, where the Vikings will play this fall. Rather than seeing the venues from a football point of view, the players instead saw the spaces from a rugby perspective.
"It was interesting to learn about [rugby]," Smith said. "Seeing the history and getting to learn their game was also fun."
For Barr, the highlight of the tour was learning to understand a different way of life.
View images from Vikings LB Anthony Barr, S Harrison Smith and LB Eric Kendricks trip to London to promote the upcoming 2017 game against the Cleveland Browns at Twickenham Stadium.
"There's some subtle differences, like driving on the other side of the road or different terms for different words," Barr said. "I tried to pick up on some slang, and I picked up on some music that I kind of liked, so it was a good experience."
According to Reynolds, the amount of support for the NFL in the UK has grown exponentially since the league first began playing games there during the 2007 season.
Thanks to Sky Sports and other online products made available, overseas fans can enjoy the same access to televised games that American fans have. Reynolds does events each year for the NFL, and he said the dedication and the knowledge of the league's international followers is impressive.
"Every year I see younger fans coming along," Reynolds said. "Guys my age are bringing their kids along who are now into the NFL."
Smith, Barr and Kendricks toured a number of different cities. Stops along the way gave them a chance to meet fans and promote the NFL and the Vikings, but it wasn't uncommon for a number of purple jerseys to already be in the crowds waiting for the players.
Barr appreciated seeing the support that's been generated since the Vikings last played in London, and he felt that the tour was important to continue building that following.
"I think the European soccer leagues do a great job of coming to the States and promoting their game, and I think this is a way for us to do the same," Barr said. "The fans there are very passionate, very knowledgeable, and they love the game of football."
Reynolds found fun and creative ways to introduce the players to fans, sometimes through on-stage programs where they could share their experiences in the NFL. The reporter offered kudos to the trio of teammates for being good sports with whatever situation they found themselves in.
"We played some sort of games on stage and tried to put them in awkward situations now and then, but they were great," Reynolds said with a laugh. "They were really good ambassadors for the Vikings, and every time we got them to teach a tackling drill […] just to be fair, we always picked a Packers fan."