(Editor's Note: The following article was written by Paul Stewart, the founder of the Bucs UK fan club in London, which has been in existence for nearly three decades and is 300 members strong. Stewart, long a valued friend of the Buccaneers organization, has been attending team practices at the Pennyhill Park Hotel in Surrey with media credentials and has padded his deep knowledge of the franchise with first-hand observations. Stewart has also created a website called Bucpower.com that is rich in information about the team's past.)
Two years ago, British Buccaneer fans saw their team come to London for a memorable weekend of events, one they thought would never happen again. And here we are in 2011, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in London ready to take on the Chicago Bears in the NFL International Series game but so much has changed since that 35-7 loss to the Patriots.
First of all, the Bucs are a winning team. The 2009 team was 0-6 when it came across the Atlantic. This version is 4-2 and leading the NFC South division after the 26-20 win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.
Secondly, the Bucs are more prepared this time. Having flown in two days before the 2009 game, the players arrived Monday night to allow themselves to properly acclimatise and have a full week of practise at their Surrey hotel location.
And for the fans in the UK, it is a chance to make this second visit a lot more special than the first, to really welcome the team to Wembley Stadium and to be involved in the week as much as possible.
The Bucs UK is the largest NFL fan club in the country and has been in existence for 27 years. Their 300-strong membership will be at Wembley on Sunday in two sections, and for 20 lucky members the chance has been given for them to watch a practice session later in the week and to meet many of their heroes.
A club meal has been arranged for the night before the game in the centre of London with alumni and media attending, and then gameday morning will see the Bucs UK take on their British Bears counterparts in a touch football game at Wembley with the likes of Brad Johnson and Richard Dent adding to the experience. The Bucs UK are defending an unbeaten record having inflicted a pair of defeats on the British Patriots fans in 2009, so will be looking to continue their winning streak when NFL Network covers this prelude to the main event.
But for the Buccaneers, arriving earlier in the week is going to be so much more beneficial to them as they prepare to take on the Bears. Only the Saints and Chargers in 2008 have arrived so early in the week before a London game and not surprisingly, both those squads looked by far the best of any NFL team taking to the field in the previous four International Series games.
In 2009, the Bucs arrived on the Friday morning and then had their scheduled walkthrough practice postponed because of inclement weather. The trip was almost like a long road game as quarterback Josh Freeman remembers.
"Last time it was short, it was quick," said Freeman. "We were here for two days, very similar to a West Coast trip. This year coming in, you can use the facility and get acclimated to the time, the weather and so on, and come back and be ready to go. I'm really excited, I think it will benefit our team."
The 4,000-mile, eight-hour trip across the Atlantic can take more out of a player than one would first think and any British fan returning from a pilgrimage to Raymond James Stadium is well aware of knowing it can take a couple of days at least to get back to normal. So with the Bears arriving Friday morning, there could be a real advantage to be gained for the Buccaneers before they even set foot on the Wembley turf.
"It's a five-hour time difference, so being here early and getting back in your normal routine and not having your routine altered that close before the game, I think it's going to do wonders for us," said Freeman as he concluded the team's first practice in their new home for the week.
Freeman made his NFL debut two years ago in London when he saw playing time at the end of the 35-7 loss to the Patriots so he will always have an association with the Wembley crowd. The play was even called by a British commentator to really add to the international flavour of the moment. And making the return flight to the United Kingdom on the back of the win over the Saints will have made the whole trip a lot more enjoyable and potentially successful.
"We travelled on Monday, which is pretty much a recovery day, a day to go back and reflect on the previous game" he said. "We were on the plane. Everything was scheduled. We had our off day. We had a chance for everybody to get used to the time and used to the setting."
Watching the Bucs play is normally an exercise in devotion and dedication for the members of the Bucs UK. The recent win over Indianapolis on Monday Night Football was a 1.30am start on the other side of the Atlantic with the final kneel down play coming just as the sun was dawning across the United Kingdom. It is a badge of honour for British fans to have watched their team throughout the night, just as it is to make the journey to watch games at Raymond James Stadium.
And for the next home game, the November 13th clash with the Houston Texans, over 30 members of the club will be timing their annual vacations to coincide with the game in Tampa and again planning a series of events that weekend with local Buccaneer fans.
So as Wembley prepares to play host to its fifth International Series game, the Buccaneers could already be a step up on their NFC opponents thanks to their experience from 2009 and the moves they have made to make sure they return from this one as winners