By the time you’re reading this, the Carolina Panthers’ plane will have already touched down at Heathrow Airport in London.
And so begins the Panthers’ wild weekend overseas, the first time in franchise history that the team will play abroad.
Make no mistake: The first, second and third reason the Panthers are going to London is for business. On Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, they’ll look to avenge their Week 2 loss to Tampa and get to 4-2 on the season.
“For us, got to go out there knowing it’s a business trip,” safety Tre Boston said. “It’s a familiar opponent, and we’ve got to get the job done.”
But surely that’s not everything, right?
Of course not.
For a not-small number of players, this will be their first time overseas. And the list is all-encompassing, all ages and stages of careers: Boston, Donte Jackson, Rashaan Gaulden, Daryl Williams, Kyle Allen, Dennis Daley, Brian Burns ... you get the point.
With that comes inherent questions. The team helped players acquire passports before the season began, so that’s taken care of. But how do you adjust your internal clock? When do you sleep? Do you have time for sight-seeing? Or to visit the corner store for a fish-and-chips lunch?
“Never been, so it’ll be my first time,” offensive lineman Greg Van Roten said. “Excited about it. It’ll be a different opportunity. It’s always kind of a challenge to figure out the schedule on that, but I think we’ll be alright.”
That schedule — and the logistics of actually shipping an NFL team thousands of miles across the Atlantic — has been coach Ron Rivera’s greatest point of emphasis throughout the process.
The team sent officials to tour the stadium and the area in April, with hopes of sussing out what exactly they’d need to bring and what they’d be able to find abroad. That meant sending a number of things, like aerosols and batteries, over on a boat in August, since they aren’t allowed on planes. And the team will still be sending about 22,000 pounds — or 11 tons — of gear, equipment manager Don Toner said on Tuesday.
Rivera said the team had countless deliberations about when to leave, how to adjust and how to best replicate some sense of normalcy during a topsy-turvy week. That includes flying over Wednesday night, about eight hours in the air, and then going almost immediately to a Thursday walkthrough.
“The thing I’m not looking forward to is the flight,” Burns said. “I don’t like flying.”
After that walkthough, the team has a community event locally.
Then it’s all about keeping players up Thursday as long as possible.
“We started a day early, Tuesday and Wednesday, with the idea of really trying to adapt by leaving Wednesday night, getting there Thursday,” he said Tuesday. “Trying to keep the guys up as much as we can, and then try to make Friday, Saturday as normal as possible.
“Again, just trying to get them to understand how important it is that they do certain things that we’ve talked to them about.”
Rivera has personal experience with the NFL in London. As a member of the 1986 Chicago Bears, he went to England for a preseason game on the heels of the ‘85 Bears’ dominant Super Bowl run.
Understandably, even people in the United Kingdom were excited for their chance to see the reigning Super Bowl champs.
“We were like a bunch of rock stars. I’m being serious, it was crazy,” Rivera said. “We did Abbey Road — if you look that up, with (quarterback) Jim McMahon and a group of our offensive linemen, they mimicked the picture. Phil Collins came out and hung out with us one day for practice, hung out with (Hall of Fame running back) Walter Payton. A group of them went back to his studio and they had a little jam session.
“And we went for a whole week. That’s the other thing. So it’s not like we were in and out. So even though it was a ‘business trip,’ I think the guys really did enjoy it. I mean, it was an adventure.”
This is different, though. The Panthers come into Sunday’s match on a three-game winning streak, albeit without starting quarterback Cam Newton, who is still nursing a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. Newton will not make the trip, Rivera said, as doctors have said it’s not beneficial for his foot to be on an airplane that long.
So Carolina’s biggest name won’t be out there for the English fans. Running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Luke Kuechly will help fill that void, but the Panthers are clearly without their star attraction.
Still, it’s an opportunity for the rest of the team to experience a new culture and see their global impact firsthand. Fullback Alex Armah said that while he’s only ever been to Canada, he has an aunt and cousins in London to help show him around.
“They came to Georgia when I was younger, probably back in middle school,” Armah said. “And my dad has been there a few times, and he’ll be there for this game. So if I’ve got some free time ...”
In all likelihood, for as different an experience as playing in London will be, the Panthers will do their utmost to make things feel like home. Similar schedules, practices, eating right — it’s just all being done in a different time zone.
And again, for any fun side trips players might be able to squeeze in, it bears reminding why they’re over there at all:
Said Burns, “I’m going to do a job.”