Packers players reveal how they're preparing for 'beast' of a trip to London to play the New York Giants
GREEN BAY – The third touchdown’s significance was a secret to none of the locals sitting inside Wembley Stadium that Sunday afternoon in 2017. Soccer is religion in London, and few terms inspire more reverence than the hat trick.
Marcedes Lewis, then with the Jacksonville Jaguars, already had found the end zone twice in a blowout against the Baltimore Ravens. When Blake Bortles lobbed a fade to the right pylon in the third quarter, something resembling football immortality – the English kind, at least – hung in the balance. Lewis boxed out a Ravens safety, securing the first hat trick in Wembley Stadium history that didn’t include kicking a ball into a net.
The Green Bay Packers tight end became an expert in playing American football in England early in his career. No team has played in Europe more than the Jaguars, plucked overseas because their low standing in the NFL landscape and East Coast location made them prime candidates.
In this week unlike any other, when the Packers will play in London for the first time against the New York Giants on Sunday, Lewis is the authority inside Lambeau Field on how to handle the roughest road trip in the NFL.
“Make sure you’re hydrating,” Lewis said, “and get your sleep on the plane. If you’re not sleeping, hydrate.”
The preparation for London started immediately after the clock struck zero Sunday on the Packers' win against the New England Patriots. Sleep patterns were altered. Water bottles were chugged. Even though the Packers have seven days between games, coach Matt LaFleur said this week feels like preparing for a Thursday night game on the road.
In other words, NFL hell.
Dean Lowry, other Packers players amping up their hydration
The Packers kept their practice schedule roughly the same as an ordinary week, choosing not to move their itinerary to the early morning to adjust to an 8:30 a.m. (CDT) kickoff Sunday. The team will travel to London after Thursday afternoon’s practice before stepping off the plane Friday morning and heading to another practice.
That ensures the Packers won’t break the first rule of international travel. The key to combatting London’s 6-hour time change to Green Bay is resisting sleep after arrival.
“We’re going to stay up after the flight,” defensive lineman Dean Lowry said. “We’re going to go to practice right away. We’re not going to take a nap. We’ll go to practice right away, and then that night hopefully we can adjust because we’ll be so tired from missing a night of sleep. Then hopefully we can get two nights of sleep in, and go out there and perform.
“But it’s all new to me, honestly. So I’m kind of curious how it’s going to be. Maybe it might not be as ideal as we want it to be, but that’s part of the NFL is handling just adversity and going out there and doing your job.”
Lowry downed another water bottle as he sat at his locker minutes before entering a meeting. He said it’s round-the-clock hydration this week, more than usual. In an ordinary game week, Lowry said, he might drink three or four bottles of water a day. This week, his consumption increased to five or six.
The standard, Lewis said, is to drink 16 ounces of water each hour during the flight.
“Even when you go domestic,” Lewis said, “it’s just a good habit to do that. Because you dehydrate when you’re in the air.”
The Packers will need to take special measures to keep David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and Robert Tonyan fresh. Each recently returned after tearing their ACLs. The 7½-hour trip from Green Bay to London will require constant blood flow, Tonyan said.
The tight end expects he'll wear a simulation machine to regulate his blood flow during the flight. That way, he can sleep without needing to frequently walk around the cabin.
"Fortunately, I haven't had much swelling or anything like that," Tonyan said. "So that's not going to be an issue."
Some players aren’t waiting until the flight to adjust their sleep schedule. Defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who has never been outside the country, said he went to bed around midnight Wednesday morning. His 27th birthday was Tuesday, keeping him up late. Clark made sure to get up a couple of hours early Wednesday, leaving bed at 6 a.m.
He has no problem sleeping on planes, an acquired skill.
“I’m knocked out on flights,” Clark said. “I’ve been like that since I was a kid. I can fall asleep anywhere.”
Preston Smith said he’ll pack some melatonin for the flight. It’ll take a healthy dose to help him sleep, he said.
Rasul Douglas is not a fan of London games: 'It (expletive) sucked.'
No matter what he does, cornerback Rasul Douglas can’t sleep on flights. Douglas discovered that includes flights to London when he played there with the Philadelphia Eagles against the Jaguars – London really is a second home for Jacksonville – in his second season.
He’s not exactly thrilled to be heading back.
“It (expletive) sucked,” Douglas said. “You don’t get to do nothing over there. You just (expletive) get on a plane, get over there and (expletive) practice, and then you play a game. You get back on a plane and travel (expletive) 8 hours somewhere else.”
Douglas said leaving Thursday doesn’t provide the body enough time to adjust to the 6-hour difference. He felt the jet lag his entire time in London, until game time.
Once he ran onto the field, adrenaline took over.
“Every football game,” Douglas said, “for me, it’s hella adrenaline. I don’t take anything caffeine-wise. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t drink energizer boosts. I don’t drink anything to boost my system to where it’s supposed to be. I always like my mind to get me there.
“During a game, that’s always adrenaline. As soon as you get out of that tunnel, you put that jersey on, you’re getting ready and preparing and see the fans, that just boosts you up.”
Douglas might run on pure adrenaline. Smith will shut down with melatonin. Lowry will drink his water.
Lewis, the London expert, said his system includes melatonin, a good meal and some neo soul tunes. He’ll slip his headphones on after the Packers plane takes off from Green Bay on Thursday, and fall into a deep sleep.
The veteran tight end shutters to think what this trip might be like if he didn’t.
“It’s going to be a beast,” Lewis said. “You’ve got to figure out a way. Because you’re going to have to steal naps, get your sleep. It can be a lot.”