THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Patriots are primed for a road game like no other today

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / October 25, 2009

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The Patriots have described this weekend as a “business trip.’’ One with a European setting, historic sights, and pubs.

For the first time, they are playing a game in London. The winless Buccaneers are their opponents today at Wembley Stadium, but there wasn’t much talk about Tampa Bay this past week. It was all about London.

There wasn’t much time for the Patriots to be tourists, though. They held practice this weekend at the Brit Oval Cricket Ground.

“This is quite an experience for us, all of us, the team, the players and myself,’’ coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “I’ve been in the National Football League 35 years and this is the first time I’ve been to a facility like this.

“It would be nice if we could hang around a little bit longer and see the Tower of London and all that. It’s a great city with great history and I love that it’s getting into football and the NFL.’’

The original Wembley Stadium was demolished in 2003. The one the Patriots will play in today opened as a 90,000-capacity venue in 2007 at a cost of nearly 800 million pounds (approximately $1.3 billion), making it the most expensive stadium ever built in the world, according to NFLLondon.net. It is the home of the English national soccer team and all English domestic soccer finals.

In 2007, when the Giants and Dolphins played the first NFL regular-season game in London, it drew 81,000 fans. Last season’s contest between the Saints and Chargers drew 83,226.

Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich made the trip in 2007 with the Dolphins.

“The atmosphere is a little different because a lot of the fans in the stadium, everyone is kind of a fan of the NFL and everyone is screaming and yelling about the same thing,’’ Ninkovich said. “When you’re on defense and offense, it’s the same atmosphere, it’s still loud and stuff like that, so that’s a little different.’’

Tom Brady has been to London and found time to see all of the sights and take the tours. But when it comes to playing a football game, he said, there shouldn’t be much difference.

“For us, the job’s the same,’’ Brady said. “When the ball is kicked off, the rules are the same for us, the field’s the same size, we’re playing an opponent that we studied all week.

“Obviously, the venue is different and we’re in a different part of the world, but I know the excitement that the English fans have for sports, especially their favorite sport, which is their ‘football.’

“Hopefully, we can bring some excitement and continue to have some fans from across the world enjoy the game that we love here in America.’’

The Patriots have played preseason games in Mexico and Canada, but this is a first. Safety Brandon Meriweather said his passport is stamped with stops in Antigua, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Barbados, but this is his first trip to London.

Tight end Benjamin Watson expects the crowd at Wembley to be familiar with American football.

“They’ve had NFL Europe, it was going for a while, so people aren’t really strangers to the National Football League in Europe,’’ Watson said. “It’s something that the league is trying to do to promote the game.

“I don’t know how far it will go, but we’re looking forward to the chance to go and play for some other fans and hopefully the game’s notoriety and fan base will grow.’’

While the Super Bowl brings its own hype, Belichick said there is a different feeling about today’s game that will be memorable.

“I’m sure it will be something that we’ll all remember,’’ Belichick said earlier in the week. “I’ve coached in a lot of games and to be honest with you I can’t say that I can recall them [all] . . . I’m sure there will be a lot of memories of the trip, the game, the venue - the whole thing.’’

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