American Football: Smith seizes his chance as 49ers impress at Wembley showdown

Annual London NFL game attracts capacity crowd to confirm game's soaring popularity

Yesterday evening's 24-16 victory for the San Francisco 49ers over the Denver Broncos at Wembley showed that the appetite in this country for live NFL regular-season games remains strong. Four years after the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants slugged out a 13-10 war of attrition on a morass of a surface in the first such game, enough people were still prepared to stump up hard cash to watch to fill Wembley to see two struggling teams.

Naturally, it helped that the 49ers are one of the great names of the sport, with five Super Bowl wins and a glorious history of big-name players, however poorly the present team is playing. They are said to be the third most-popular NFL team in the UK, which is no surprise, as they were they one of the glamour sides when the sport first reached the British national consciousness in the 1980s.

So red-and-gold-clad fans of the 49ers – the "home" team – were in the majority, and although the fact that the successors to Joe Montana, Roger Craig and the rest had arrived in London having won only one of their seven games this season was disappointing to the faithful, it did not seem to dim their enthusiasm.

And of course, plenty of fans of other teams from Britain and all over Europe had made what has become an annual pilgrimage to Wembley. It is nothing less than a gathering of the NFL tribes: Steelers fans from Somerset, Dolphins fanciers from Denmark. Reactions to news from other games shown on the big screens revealed a myriad of allegiances. Some came for the football, some attracted by all that surrounds it – from the tailgate event in the Wembley car park to the cheerleaders and the pre-match build-up in the stadium. Through a public address system that made them easily audible in San Francisco, Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child sang the Star-Spangled Banner, and Jeff Beck picked out a slightly surreal version of God Save the Queen.

Then it was time for the coin toss, a far more elaborate ritual in the NFL than in, say, League Two – requiring the attendance of Olympic Athletes, several representatives of the two teams, and guest greats of the past.

Yesterday, that meant John Elway, the former Denver quarterback, and Jerry Rice, the legendary former 49ers wide receiver. Bearing in mind the lowly standards achieved by both teams this season, inviting Elway and Rice to be anywhere near Wembley seemed downright cruel.

The game, though, was better than anyone had a right to expect as the 49ers scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to come from behind to win. Troy Smith, the San Francisco quarterback, was an unknown quantity, promoted to starter after an injury to Alex Smith, the first choice. He had not practised with the 49ers until last week, but after a slow beginning, he impressed, rushing for one touchdown and throwing for another.

Denver had led 10-3 in the third quarter thanks to the first decent passing play of the night, which left San Francisco and Smith needing to do more than hand the ball to Frank Gore, the running back. Their new ambition paid off, with Smith running in from a yard after his throw to Delanie Walker had paved the way. Having thrown the ball once, he decided he liked it and did it again, finding Michael Crabtree with a 28-yard touchdown pass.

Denver's evening continued to deteriorate as they lost possession 18 yards out, allowing Gore to punch through for a 24-10 lead, and although former 49er Brandon Lloyd caught Kyle Orton's one-yard pass to reduce the arrears, it was not enough.

For Mike Singletary, the 49ers head coach, it had been a must-win game, if votes of confidence from owners carry the same weight in American Football as they do in the European version, and he had won it.

It had ended up a better game than it started out, and there will almost certainly be more. Nothing has been confirmed, pending a new collective bargaining agreement between the League and the players' union, but it is understood that the NFL will be back next season, and if yesterday is anything to go by, Wembley will welcome it enthusiastically once again.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn