SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, England– The Eagles learned in January they would play a 2018 game in London. They were busy at the time as you might remember.
Soon after the Super Bowl, though, director of equipment operations Greg Delimitros and his staff started planning for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Delimitros called around to other teams that had made the trip and put a carnet together, with a spreadsheet detailing everything they would need to play overseas. The Eagles sent a group of employees from almost every part of the organization – on both the football and business sides – to London in the spring to lay the groundwork.
They made their first shipment in August. They sent more supplies during the week leading up to the game. The end result will be three days in the London area that feel like South Philadelphia. Players and coaches might get their passports stamped, but the organization has made sure that everything they have at the NovaCare Complex will be available at the team hotel, the London Irish training grounds where they will practice, and Wembley Stadium. And that doesn't just include practice uniforms. The details include the toiletries and condiments that the Eagles use. So if a player wants to use his familiar ketchup with a meal, which will be cooked by a team chef, he'll be able to do so.
"Make this easy for everyone," Delimitros said during an interview leading up to the trip. "We want to make it as close to possible to home."
The long game
The March advance visit to London was critical for the trip. Coach Doug Pederson said "a lot of credit goes to them for the preparation and hard work that they've done." Because of the breadth of the trip, it required cross-office organizational cooperation. Delimitros might be the most affected because he's responsible for all the equipment and gear the players need, but the players must be fed and treated. The trip also has a marketing component, and there are community and media obligations, too.
That's why Delimitros was quick to point out that the trip was an organizational undertaking. The Eagles have had complicated trips before. They spent a week in southern California last season between December games in Seattle and Los Angeles, and the week in Minnesota leading up to the Super Bowl required complicated logistics. But this one was different because of the international component.
The league has hosted games in London every year since 2007, and Delimitros found positive feedback from the teams that played before. The league makes some elements cookie-cutter, too, so teams can adjust quickly. But the difference between this week and what the Eagles have done in the past is that they don't need to clear customs to get to Orange County.
"The [challenging] part of it is doing the carnet, country of origin for every little item," Delimitros said. "To me, this is like going to the West Coast, with Andy [Reid] we used to the go to the West Coast and leave Friday night. Basically, the same, but you have to do a passport for everything. … The customs part is the worst part. That's what we've been prepping for since March. That's the biggest thing."
The Eagles sent their first round of supplies in August on a cargo ship. That included training supplies; nutrition items required by Mike Minnis, the team's coordinator of performance nutrition; condiments; clothing, and training gear. It was around 6,000 pounds from different departments. The NFL supplied all the football equipment that was needed.
There's a front counter in the Eagles locker room where players enter. Players can go there to get anything they need from the equipment staff, almost like they're ordering at a deli. They'll have the same experience while in London.
"All the extra gear for the players – socks, shirts, sweats, underwear, jocks, stuff that guys are going to need if they're going to come to the front counter," Delimitros said. "You name it, we've got it out there."
For a normal road game, the Eagles will have a Saturday walkthrough at the NovaCare Complex and then leave for their trip by plane, train, or bus. But there's no need to set up for a practice. The tractor trailer with all the equipment goes ahead earlier in the week and delivers all the supplies.
There's no way of driving to London, so Delimitros sent nine hampers of practice gear out on a flight during the week. Two of the ballboys went ahead, arriving on Wednesday morning. They set up the locker room and coaches room so when everyone arrives for practice their gear is already in place. The locker room is a heated tent next to the hotel.
"Once they get there, nobody is waiting for stuff," Delimitros said.
But there were a few last-minute additions to the inventory. Not every player likes wearing new gear. Some players have their favorite sweatpants or girdles. So after Wednesday's practice, Delimitros' staff washed the gear and packed it away. There were four additional hampers brought to London on the team plane.
A team chef also went out early. Food tastes different in England, and though the players may taste local samplings this weekend — bangers and mash were on the menu on Friday — the Eagles wanted to make sure it was prepared in a way familiar to the players. That's why they sent the condiments ahead.
"Trying to make this as smooth as possible so there's no hiccups for the players," Delimitros said.
The music blasted at the beginning of Eagles practice on Friday, with players going through their typical end-of-the-week practice routine. They might have been bleary-eyed from the overnight flight, but it was otherwise their Friday practice.
"It's tough, but we prepared for it," Pederson said before Friday's session. "I was over here a couple years ago with the Chiefs, and today is just about keeping the guys moving and everybody going. As soon as we got to the hotel, we got them up, got them moving again, had our normal Friday meetings, and now we're out here practicing. It's a little bit of an adjustment, but we'll make it through."
Football players can be creatures of habit. If you want to confuse a football coach, ask him what day of the week it is leading up to a Monday Night Football game. Their weeks revolve around a football game, not a calendar. So add the complications that come with playing overseas, and there's a reason why the organization would want everything from the deodorant to the mustard to the practice sweatpants to be the same. Right next to the field were crates of bottled Dasani water and Gatorade, just like back home.
"I think with all of the different changes with the things you've got to get used to, keeping your schedule, food, nutrition, recovery, is the most important thing," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "They've done a good job of laying out that stuff before we got here, making sure all of the travel is smooth. The food is the same. You've got your massage, cold tub, ice tub. All that stuff. From that standpoint, it's been good so far."
That's what the Eagles wanted and the reason they started planning in the spring and sent employees to London months ahead of time to prepare. It's not that the players require these accommodations as much the Eagles don't want players worrying about any of the accommodations.
"We're not worried about anything but winning the game," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "A lot of times, that can make all the difference."