In 2017, the Vikings made it into the NFC Championship Game. And one of her stops along the way was in London.
In Week 8 of that season, Minnesota beat the Cleveland Browns 33-16 at Twickenham Stadium.
On Sunday, the Vikings will be back in London, taking on the New Orleans Saints at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Four players remain from the 2017 team to return to England: edge rusher Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks, safety Harrison Smith and wide receiver Adam Thielen. (Running back Dalvin Cook was a rookie in 2017 but was sidelined for the season in Week 4 with a knee injury).
“I feel great about this, man,” Hunter said. “I enjoyed it last time. We expected this. It’s been five years since we were there. I look forward to it.”
Since playing in London in 2017, Hunter has made several trips back to England. He has several cousins, originally from his native Jamaica, and some friends from his college days at LSU who live in Manchester, four hours northwest of London.
“You know more about football over there than you think,” Hunter said. “I was just over there in the summer and[fans]were all talking about the plays.”
Kendricks is also looking forward to playing in London again. He said he has developed a special relationship with international fans.
“I love my people in the UK so let’s get started,” said Kendricks. “I feel like on my social media people from the UK, Germany and Brazil are always trying to reach me so I can get love from my people around the world.”
Smith is set to make his third appearance in London, having also played there in 2013 when the Vikings beat Pittsburgh 34-27 in their first international game of the regular season. He sat out last Sunday’s 28-24 win over Detroit with a concussion, but head coach Kevin O’Connell expects him to return to the Saints.
Thielen was also at the 2013 game in London, but was then on the training team and watched from the sidelines. He made his London debut in 2017 and was named Man of the Match by catching five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. After his 18-yard TD grab in Case Keenum’s second quarter, he did a soccer slide in the end zone to celebrate.
“(It’s) another great opportunity in another country in front of other fans, which I think is very special,” said Thielen of Sunday’s game.’
For the Vikings’ last two Sunday games in London, in 2013 they departed Monday night and arrived Tuesday morning, and in 2017 they departed Wednesday evening and arrived Thursday morning. When it was announced on May 4 that the Vikings would be traveling overseas again, Thielen told NFL Network he hoped the team would leave earlier than 2017 because he “felt like he was in another world, because we flew in and out” and he was “a bit jet lagged”.
As it turns out, the Vikings will be leaving later this time, flying out on Thursday evening. They will arrive in London Friday morning, four days after the Saints, who left Charlotte, NC Sunday night after their 10-14 loss to Carolina, arrived Monday morning.
O’Connell said the Vikings did research and spoke to a number of players who made the trip before making this year’s travel decisions. He said the team “want to stay on Central Time” and have a “good week of practice” in Minnesota on Wednesday and Thursday before adjusting to the six-hour time difference and conducting a practice session in London on Friday.
“It was a very different situation before,” Thielen said of the Vikings’ goodbye week after the 2017 game in London, but none after this Sunday’s game. “We didn’t play the next week, so I think that’s why we’re going there a little later. I don’t question what this organization is doing right now because they’re trying to put us in the best position to win.”
Viking defensive end Jonathan Bullard played with Atlanta against the New York Jets in London last season and called it a “cool experience”. The Falcons departed Thursday night and arrived Friday morning, and Bullard said he wasn’t jet lagged after the eight-hour flight because he had the ability to “sleep pretty well on planes.”
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, however, doesn’t expect to feel great after stepping off the plane on Friday. Cousins played for Washington in the 27-27 draw with Cincinnati in London in 2016. He still holds the London record for most passing yards in a game with 458.
“You get off the plane on Friday morning in the UK and you’re a zombie and you go to your Friday practice and you fight your way through,” Cousins said. “It takes toughness to say, ‘I don’t care how I feel, I have to block it out. I have to dial in.” … By Saturday you feel like you’re settling in and going to play.”
However, Cousins called it a “unique opportunity” to play in London again. And Hunter agreed.
“I know we have fans from all over the world and I know it’s an advantage to go to another country and play in front of them,” Hunter said.