LONDON – Just when you think you’ve seen all the NFL has to offer, you’re standing outside a 16th century English castle when Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen starts dancing to Drake’s “Pop Style” during a walk-through next to a field of cows who couldn’t care less about growing America’s favorite sport.
“Yeah,” said receiver Adam Thielen, “I’ve never seen this one before.”
The Vikings arrived in London on Thursday morning, even prouder of their decision to have sleep specialists tutor them on how to conquer the effects of an eight-hour flight and a six-hour time difference.
“The only time I woke up on the plane,” said running back Latavius Murray, “was to use the bathroom.”
About five hours later, team buses pulled up to the Syon House, which, according to its tourist website, “is the spectacular London home of the Duke of Northumberland.” The house was built in the 16th century on the site of the Medieval Syon Abbey, and came to the family of the present owners in 1594.
“I was like, ‘Dang, we’re practicing outside somebody’s house,’ ” running back Jerick McKinnon said. “But it was good. The energy was good. … I was talking to one of the guys the other day, just saying, ‘If you would have told me I was playing a football game in London, I would have never thought so in a million years.’ It’s a blessing to be here.”
On Thursday, that blessing came with a 50-yard field, a lumpy, bumpy surface that needed mowing and a drizzle that got progressively stronger under gray skies. For Friday’s practice, the Vikings will move to the training field for the London Irish rugby team.
“For what we needed [Thursday], it was good,” said receiver Stefon Diggs, who moved well and appears to be ready to play after missing the past two games because of a groin injury. “You got grass. You got lines on the field. Football is football. Just focus and execute. It’s not that hard.”
Just beyond the field’s end line was a barbed-wire fence and a big tree. Far to the left of the field was an electric fence to keep the cows and players separated.
Before the walk-through began, head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman looked over at the cows and cracked, “Hey, there’s Riley” Reiff, the sturdy left tackle who also appears ready to play after missing the fourth quarter of last week’s game because of a knee injury.
According to Wikipedia, the Syon House is rich with London history. In 1541, for example, King Henry VIII’s wife, Catherine Howard, faced a long imprisonment at Syon. Charged with adultery, she was taken to the Tower of London and executed the following year.
Or, as McKinnon put it, “It’s a lot different than Winter Park. I’m not going to lie. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Murray is a big fan of London. He did quite a bit of sightseeing when he was here with the Raiders in 2014.
“I saw Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye,” he said. “I love to travel when I can. London is a great place to visit. … I didn’t know what to expect [Thursday]. I think this stuff is kind of cool.”
As every Viking made sure to mention, there’s also a game to play Sunday. And it could be the mother of all trap games if the Vikings get too distracted.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the 5-2 Vikings face a Browns team that is 0-7 this year and 1-22 since the start of last season.
“I don’t usually look too much at my surroundings because there are plays to worry about,” Diggs said. “But [Thursday] definitely was a new experience that I can add to the bucket list. But at the end of the day, it’s all about football.”
“And,” Murray said, “we’re here to win.”