LONDON — Admiral Nelson has seen and heard a few things from his lofty sandstone perch nearly 170 feet above Trafalgar Square, but on Thursday, the British naval hero found himself just a post pattern or so away from the gleaming silver Lombardi Trophy, along with a feathered, wing-flapping mascot and hundreds of dark green-clad people chanting "E-A-G-L-E-S!"
The commotion erupted from the Admiralty Pub, designated by the NFL this week as a hub of Eagles-related activity, with the defending Super Bowl champions making their first regular-season visit to the United Kingdom for Sunday's encounter with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium.
The pub was packed with a crowd that spilled out the doors onto the sidewalk for an appearance by Brent Celek, who hoisted the trophy he helped win, alongside fellow Eagles alum Jon Dorenbos, master of ceremonies Dave Spadaro, and Swoop. The NFL's third and final U.K. match of the 2018 season brings the fan base that considers itself the league's most fervent, and the most likely to travel long distances in support of its team.
Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL U.K., said he hopes to set an attendance record Sunday for an NFL game at Wembley. The current mark is 84,922, but Kirkwood said the league has freed up some restricted-view seats it doesn't normally try to sell and is looking to hit 85,000.
"I expect a lot of Eagles fans from across Europe, and the U.K., as well as coming over from Pennsylvania," Kirkwood said Thursday from his Leicester Square office.
That's something that might surprise the thousands crowding onto flights from Philadelphia-area airports: There are plenty of excited Eagles fans who didn't have to cross the Atlantic for the game, they already lived on this side of it.
Andy White, 46, from Northwest London, was wearing an Eagles hoodie as he enjoyed a pint with several friends, some of whom live in the Philly area. White said he adopted the Eagles in the '80s, when NFL games first started being televised in London and he saw Randall Cunningham. (Or, as White calls him, "CUNNINGum.")
"He was a little bit different, in a lot of ways. … You always thought, 'Oh my God!' — he was going to get sacked, but [he didn't]," White said.
White said he grew up playing soccer, but he liked the fact that American football was less free-flow, more "scripted."
He watched Super Bowl LII, of course, even though it ended in the wee hours of the morning in London, with the five-hour time difference.
"My wife thinks I'm crazy," White said.
Not everyone at Wembley Sunday will be devoted to the Eagles, or even to the Jaguars, who play here every year. Kirkwood said about 40,000 people who bought tickets for the Chargers-Titans game last week also bought tickets for this game. There is a London market for the game itself that seems to be growing rapidly. Many observers feel the league will place a team here sooner rather than later.
Ask players who have done this trip before what is most different about the game and they all mention one thing — that you will likely see jerseys from just about every team, not just the Eagles and the Jags.
"It's usually a mixed crowd. Bunch of different kinds of jerseys going on," said Eagles guard Stefen Wisniewski, who has played here as a Raider and as a Jaguar. "Sometimes they're cheering for everything. It's not quite the same as a normal game, where the fans are all cheering for one team. It's pretty split."
White said he doesn't particularly need to have a London team to cheer for, but he thinks it will happen. "In five years, no, 10 years, maybe, in 20 years, more than likely," he said.
Most of the fans at the Admiralty on Thursday evening were from the Philly area. Chris Barclay, from North Wales, Pa., found himself happily standing next to a business competitor in the valve manufacturing industry, Mark Gehring of South Jersey.
Sami Spieller of Manayunk came over with her parents and a friend, Rachel Niglio of central Pennsylvania. Niglio is actually a Giants fan, she said, but will don midnight green in support of her friend this weekend.
Spieller said her family booked the trip as soon as the game was announced.
"Our whole flight over here from Philly was all Eagles fans," Spieller said. "It was harder to get tickets to the game than it was to get a flight here. We ended up getting them through a lottery with the Eagles. We knew we would get 'em [somehow]. It didn't matter how much we had to pay, once we were here."
This is the sort of thing Kirkwood likes to hear.
"We know that Eagles fans travel incredibly well. We sold 30,000 tickets for this game in just over 30 minutes," he said.
Kirkwood said fans will notice some differences, other than the variety of jerseys they see.
"[Seattle coach] Pete Carroll described the atmosphere as being up there with the best college bowl games. I think that's a really good way of characterizing it," he said.
"We don't have car parks [parking lots] here, so we don't have organized tailgates. It's a very built-up area around the stadium. People [do] come early to the game. We organize a tailgate party of our own, which is set up quite close to the stadium, and we'll have 30,000-40,000 fans who will come."
Eagles backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld played here with the Redskins in 2016. He said the crowd "got most excited about punts and kicks, kickoffs, it seemed like."
"The crowd's crazy," said Eagles special teams linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, who has played in London as a Jaguar and as a Falcon. "They're fanatics, they love the game. … It's a good place to play."
Kirkwood said loyalties can shift midgame among London fans. "If a team falls behind, fans will actually get behind that team for a couple of drives just because they actually want a close game," he said.
Sudfeld said the Eagles have meticulously planned their journey, which began Thursday evening after practice at the NovaCare Complex.
"It's a fun experience and good to grow pro football in the world, but we're going to make sure we're going to stay focused on the task at hand," he said.
Kirkwood said nailing down all the details for the Eagles — the 29th team to play in London since the series began in 2007 — entailed two or three trips to the U.K. by Eagles officials and the same number of reciprocal visits by staff from his office. Kirkwood doesn't want logistical problems to curb teams' enthusiasm for making the long trip.
"What you want is that the team that loses blames it on themselves, not on the environment," Kirkwood said.
The Eagles will take the field for practice at 2 p.m. London time Friday — 9 a.m. in Philly — at a rugby facility, the London Irish training ground, without sleeping, other than what they get on the plane.
Wisniewski said being able to sleep during the six-to-seven-hour flight is key.
"Try not to nap on Friday, try to just get on a normal go-to-bed-at-night schedule. And do your routine as much as possible," he said.
"It's definitely tough [to practice hours after getting off the plane]. Do whatever you've got to do to wake yourself up and get ready to go. Definitely a challenging practice, but we've got a lot of pros on this team, I'm sure it will be fine."
Sudfeld said the London games reinforce a valuable lesson.
"There's a big world out there," he said. "It's not just our America bubble."
NFL U.K. 2018
Oct. 14: Seattle 27, Oakland 3: The Seahawks gained 155 yards on 37 carries and Russell Wilson threw for three touchdowns, as a fourth-quarter field goal kept the Raiders from being shut out. Attendance was 84,922, an NFL U.K. record the Eagles and Jags hope to break Sunday.
Oct. 21: Los Angeles Chargers 20, Tennessee 19: The Titans pulled within a point with 31 seconds remaining but could not complete the two-point conversion pass to win. Attendance was 84,301.