It’s not exactly the main thing Jay Ajayi is thinking about right now, with the Eagles about to face the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, but Ajayi was pleased to hear officially Thursday that the Eagles will play in London in 2018, a home game for the Jacksonville Jaguars that the NFL said will take place on Oct. 21 or 28.
The exact date probably won’t be clear until the schedule is released in April.
Ajayi, 24, an Eagles running back, was born in London, though his family moved to the United States when he was 7 and he went to high school in Texas before playing at Boise State. The Ajayis are originally from Nigeria, but that was a few generations back, Ajayi said; he has relatives and roots in the Hackney borough of North London.
“It’s not my focus, obviously, but it’s a cool little thing to know I’ll get to go back over there again next [season]. It’s special. I have a lot of family out there,” Ajayi said.
Other NFL players hail from London – former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora was born there and now works on the BBC Sport broadcasts of the NFL’s London games — but Ajayi is pretty much the only skill-position player with that background. He is the official International Ambassador for NFL UK, and played there with the Dolphins this season, less than a month before being traded to the Eagles.
Ajayi launched his lifestyle/fashion brand, YURP, that week in an appearance on Berwick Street, known for fabric shops.
“The exposure is there; the awareness is there. I’ve been over there and I’ve seen it firsthand – the kids, they’re already playing in the schools over there,” Ajayi said Thursday. “I’ve got a lot of support from the U.K., being from over there.”
The Jaguars have played in London each of the last five seasons. The Eagles-Jags encounter is one of three games scheduled for London next season. The Seahawks will face the Raiders on Oct. 14 at Tottenham Hotspur. The Chargers will meet the Titans at Wembley on Oct. 21 or 28, whichever date isn’t Eagles-Jags. The NFL has a deal with the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur to hold games at their new stadium in Northumberland Park starting in 2018.
The Eagles last visited London for a preseason game in 1991, against the Bills, quarterbacked by backup Frank Reich, now the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
Ajayi said Wembley is a shrine, like Madison Square Garden or the old Boston Garden. “Just like a hallowed place, special, where the national team plays. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”
Some NFL teams spend the week in London, others, particularly East Coast teams, which don’t have a super-long flight, will go out Thursday or Friday before playing on Sunday. Ajayi said he hopes his teammates will be there long enough to soak in the experience.
“Hopefully, we get enough time that you can go out and see the city for itself, because it is a special place,” Ajayi said. “Lot of history there, obviously.”
Eagles fans travel well, as the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams can attest; this will be about the same distance, so London might want to start preparing itself now.
The Eagles have never played a regular-season game abroad. They have played 1989 and ’91 preseason games at Wembley, facing the Browns in ‘89. They played in the 1978 preseason at Mexico City, against New Orleans, and they also faced the Saints in an exhibition in Tokyo, in 1993.