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The NFL's International Reach: 10 Facts About Games Played Outside the U.S.

Athlon Sports 10/2/2022 Aaron Tallent
© Provided by Athlon Sports

The NFL has  been playing games outside of the United States since 1926.

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The NFL International Series resumes this weekend when the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints play in London. That will be followed by two other games in London (New York Giants-Green Bay in Week 5, Denver-Jacksonville in Week 8), along with games in Mexico City (San Francisco-Arizona in Week 11), and, for the first time, Munich, Germany (Seattle-Tampa Bay in Week 10).

Related: 5 Best NFL International Games

The NFL has actually been playing games outside of the U.S. since 1926. Here are 10 facts that you may or may not know about the NFL International Series.

1. First Game Played Outside the U.S.

The first professional football game played outside the U.S. was on Nov. 8, 1926, when the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Wildcats traveled to Toronto’s Maple Leaf Stadium with the Yankees winning 28-0. Both teams had to take part in this game after playing another one the day before.

2. NFL/CFL Series

The NFL and Canadian Football League (CFL) played six games in Canada between 1950 and 1961, with the NFL winning all of them. If you’re wondering how the leagues were able to manage their rule differences, such as the CFL’s 110-yard field, the teams played a hybrid of NFL and CFL rules. For example, the first half of the 1950 contest between the New York Giants and Ottawa Rough Riders was played under CFL rules, while the second was played under the NFL’s.

3. The Global Cup

In 1983, John Marshall, a British entrepreneur, arranged a preseason game at Wembley Stadium between the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Cardinals called The Global Cup. In 1984, he arranged a similar exhibition contest between the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars and Tampa Bay Bandits. Since the USFL season ran from February to July, the game was played on July 21, six days after the Stars won the league title.

4. The American Bowl

To promote football in other countries, the NFL established a permanent preseason game played outside the U.S. called the American Bowl, which ran from 1986 to 2005. During this period, the league played games on four different continents —North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. During the game's history, it was played in London, Tokyo, Berlin, Syndey, Toronto, Dublin, and Barcelona, among other foreign cities.

5. World League of American Football/NFL Europe

In 1991, the NFL launched the World League of American Football (WLAF), which had teams in North America and Europe that played in the spring. The WLAF was very popular in Europe, but not so much in North America so the NFL rebranded it in 1995 as NFL Europe, and the teams played solely on that continent. Future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner led NFL Europe in touchdowns and passing yards during his 1998 season with the Amsterdam Admirals.

6. Fútbol Americano

The first modern NFL game played outside the U.S. was marketed under the name "Fútbol Americano." On Oct. 2, 2005, the Arizona Cardinals beat the San Francisco 49ers 31–14 in front of a record crowd of 103,467 at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

7. NFL International Series

In 2007, the league launched the NFL International Series, an annual series of regular-season games played outside the U.S. The first city was London, but it expanded to Mexico City in 2016 and Munich this season.

8. Buffalo Bills Toronto Series

From 2008-13, the Buffalo Bills played six regular season games at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Buffalo is roughly two hours from Toronto, but its northern neighbor did not provide a home-field advantage, as the Bills went 1-5 in these games.

9. China Bowl

The NFL has currently left the door open for playing in China. In fact, the Los Angeles Rams are allowed to freely market their franchise in China as part of the league's International Home Marketing Areas initiative. In addition, the NFL attempted to schedule a game in Beijing with a preseason contest between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in 2007. The game was ultimately moved to 2009 and then canceled because of the 2008 recession.

10. Impact on Teams

Given the travel and the loss of a home game, there have been questions about whether playing in the NFL International Series impacts a team’s season. That being said, three teams that have played have gone on to make the Super Bowl — the 2007 New York Giants, 2017 New England Patriots, and 2019 Kansas City Chiefs. Those Giants and Chiefs teams went on to claim the Lombardi Trophy, the Patriots did not.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

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