There seems to be some mixed feelings about the Bengals giving up a home game to play in London this season. But, there also seems to be nothing but enthusiasm coming from the fans in the United Kingdom, as Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko recently discovered while putting on a football camp for young American football fans in England.
Dunlap and Peko went to the U.K. to engage in some fan events as well as a flag football game with kids over seas.
"It was definitely an eye opener for me personally because I didn't know that the kids were that aware of American football," Dunlap told an English reporter in an interview on Bengals.com. "They really know their players. So, to hear some of them talking about it and know some of my teammates once they saw my jersey, you know, the kids were like ‘Oh where's A.J. Green? Where's Geno Atkins? Where's Jeremy Hill? Where's Andy Dalton?' I was surprised."
Here's a video from Dunlap of the kids on his flag football team, which won the game.
"I'm really surprised and excited that the people in the U.K. are loving American football," Peko said in his own interview on Bengals.com. "It's great, it's awesome."
The two players seemed to really enjoy interacting with so many kids, in a country in which they never expected to find so many people who care about American football. Both players reminisced about particular groups that they coached and were encouraged to watch play.
"One of the teams that I was coaching today, the Bengals from Lambeth, they were out here competing very hard. They took coaching pretty well and paid attention when I was drawing up plays on the board. They just basically went out there and had fun," Dunlap said. "That was the big thing, I wanted them to have fun and also compete."
Peko was particularly encouraged by the performance of the kids, noting how one reminded him of a young version of one of the best receivers in the NFL.
"There's a lot of kids out here who look like they'll be suiting up here soon," Peko said. "One of the kids, he looks like a baby [Larry] Fitzgerald. He's got the dreadlocks, he's really big, he's a big receiver. He was with the Jaguars. He looks like he could play."
For Peko, the experience of coming out to London to play in front of the fans is doubly exciting due to his love of soccer and the presence it has in the city. Before the interview, he confessed to the reporter, a fan of London-based Arsenal F.C., that he was a fan of cross-town rivals Chelsea F.C. The revelation led to a funny, but respectful, back and forth between the two before Peko explained his feelings on soccer and the Premier League.
"I can't wait to come out here. I'm super excited to be playing at Wembley. It's such a great atmosphere, the home of the F.A. Cup final, the English national team," Peko said. "I'm a big soccer fan, so I know how much Wembley means. I'm excited to be able to step on the pitch and do my thing."
As respectful and light-hearted as he kept the conversation, he did make a point to defend his favorite soccer team.
"I love Chelsea; I love the Premier League in general. I have a couple of favorite players from each team. But, I follow the blue, I follow Chelsea," Peko said. "Hopefully, they'll pick it up this year and do a lot better. I believe in them."
But, eventually things got brought back to the Bengals and their state heading into the 2016 season. Peko explained the team's current focus and what U.K. fans will get to look forward to when the team comes out in October to play the Washington Redskins.
"We're trying to lift that trophy up, man. We're trying to win the Super Bowl. For the past five years, we've been to the playoffs, so we're just going to keep trying to do that and get better," Peko said. "But, we're trying to go further into the playoffs this year, trying to get the ring. That's what it's all about. The only way to get there is to keep working hard and doing your best."