Finally in London, Green Bay Packers players embrace the chance to experience what the city has to offer

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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WATFORD, England – It’s a trek from the Green Bay Packers hotel to downtown London. Tucked on a hill, their makeshift football home this week is a sprawling prairie plucked straight from an English postcard, almost an hour northwest of the nation’s capital.

A little traffic wasn’t stopping Aaron Rodgers from enjoying another international city. The Packers quarterback is a world traveler, gaining a deep respect for the world’s game along the way. He returned to Green Bay a few days early for training camp when Lambeau Field hosted Manchester City and Bayern Munich in July.

With the United States women’s national team playing England in a friendly at historic Wembley Stadium on Friday night, Rodgers made plans two days before his team played the New York Giants in its first game outside North America.

“I want to get out and see the city a little bit,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers didn’t hide his enthusiasm for playing in London, saying he wished the Packers could have arrived a couple of days earlier, or stayed a day later, or perhaps both. “It’s about time we’re here,” he said. The quarterback wasn’t the only one who embraced this American invasion across the Atlantic Ocean.

Whether it was genuine or not, coach Matt LaFleur smiled when discussing his team’s visit to London before Friday’s practice. LaFleur poked fun at himself for being cranky this week before arriving in London, though he had good reason considering the Packers’ preparation schedule. All of the heavy lifting was done before boarding their charter flight in Green Bay, leaving just a jog-through practice Friday.

“If you ask our team,” LaFleur said, “they're excited to be here. They're ready to play just to change it up a little bit. I think a lot of our players, it’s their first experience over here. So I think they’re really excited for it.”

Green Bay Packers running back Tyler Goodson plays flag football with children during an event after Green Bay Packers practice at The Grove Hotel in Watford, north of London on Friday.

The Packers aren’t excited only to play. LaFleur gave strict orders Friday not to go to sleep after their practice, which concluded before 2 p.m. British Summer Time, combatting the brutal jet lag of a 6-hour time change. That left a window Friday for players to explore one of the world’s most prominent cities.

Many players brought their families along for the unique trip. Kicker Mason Crosby, whose only other visit to London came when he was 9 years old, brought his wife and three kids. While his family intended to do more exploring when Crosby was tending to his duties with the team, he hoped to visit Buckingham Palace with them.

Aaron Jones had dinner plans with his mother and twin brother, Alvin. Same for Rashan Gary with his mother, but not until he got a massage and film study. Jaire Alexander planned to walk around, taking in the countryside.

“I just want to take in the scenery,” Alexander said. “Just take in everything while I’m here. I don’t do much anyway, so I might as well stay focused.

“I’ll just roam around where we stand and just be outside. Nothing too crazy.”

Alexander made no promises he’d skip a nap after practice. “Because I’m tired,” he said. The Packers set a team curfew of midnight, tight end Marcedes Lewis said.

He expected most players, weary from their long travel, to be back at their hotel much earlier.

“I’m going to get some food,” Lewis said. “I’ve got some people in the city. So I’ll probably catch a train with (Randall) Cobb, go get some food, relax a little bit, come back. By the time, like 8:30 or 9, I’m out.

“Everybody will be in by like 9.”

Rodgers was an exception. The U.S. women’s national team’s friendly was scheduled for 7 p.m. BST. That timeline put him on track to easily make the team’s curfew if he stayed for the entire match, but if it’s a trek to London, it was also a journey to return to the Packers hotel.

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The quarterback was in no rush. He described this as a bucket list trip, saying it’s a game he’ll remember long after his career is over.

“When you go to different countries,” Rodgers said, “and experience different cultures and foods and people and lifestyles and history, it actually brings you closer together. Because you realize there’s less differences between us than we might be told to think, and I think it’s great if we can get our guys that have never been – maybe been to Canada once or Mexico once – to get them out of the country. To experience life in other places.

“I think it can only help our perspective, and give us that understanding of how special this opportunity is that we get to do, and maybe to cherish it a little bit more. Because we are inspiring other people, and even other fans in other countries.”

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