LONDON -- It seemed London was Bush Country this week. On Monday, George W. Bush was in town, meeting the Queen and the prime minister on his final visit as U.S. president. The arrival of another Bush, Saints running back Reggie, may not have received live coverage at the airport or opened the doors of Windsor Castle, but judging by the number of interviews British media had booked with Bush and LaDainian Tomlinson, it might wind up making a bigger splash.
Bush and Tomlinson were in town to start promoting the Oct. 26 matchup between the Saints and Chargers at London's Wembley Stadium. Following the huge success of last year's game between the Giants and Dolphins, local expectations are soaring. Tickets go as fast as they're put on sale and, even in July, the media presence indicates this is something Britain is taking seriously. Of course, England isn't playing in the European soccer championship and Wimbledon hasn't started yet, so Bush and LT may be the best show in town.
From the players' point of view, though, the real success of last year's Wembley game came on the field in the weeks afterward, and culminated in Phoenix; the Giants used a narrow win in the rain over the then-winless Dolphins as a springboard to the ultimate prize, the Super Bowl. That hadn't gone unnoticed by either player.
"I talked to some of the Giants, and they said the game was a way of bringing the team together," said Tomlinson. "They were away from the distractions of New York, just players and coaches, and they won a tough game in tough conditions."
"We came this close against New England," he said, holding two fingers less than an inch apart. "And we were a lot like the Giants. We got off to a slow start last season, but like them we turned it around in the second half. We'd like to see London do the same thing for us as it did for them. And maybe it's a lucky charm. I saw the Celtics win the NBA title (Tuesday) night, and they played in London during their preseason. It's good mojo."
Reggie Bush says that when the announcement was made that New Orleans would be going to London this year, the team actually cheered.
"We really wanted the chance to represent the league, and our city, in this game," he said. "But we like it from a football view, too. It'll come at the halfway point of the season, and the Chargers will be a good test to see how far we can really go. Last year, we got off to a really bad start, at 0-4, and you can't afford to do that in this league. We fought back to 4-4, and this year, when we get to London, we'll be better than that."
He doubts the travel will bother him, or his team. "Coach (Sean Payton) is so intense, I'm sure we'll have it all planned out. The trip will be tough, but fun. And I'm looking forward to the experience. I've never done anything like this before during a regular season."
"In the second half against us, New England ran the ball, and we didn't stop them," he explained. "Against the Giants, they couldn't. Sometimes it's just matchups. I think we matchup pretty well with the Saints. We have a lot of offensive weapons, and so do they; we just have to get to (quarterback) Drew Brees."
Bush thought the matchup favored the Saints, and for the same reasons Tomlinson liked his team. "We have so many offensive weapons. With Deuce (McAllister) back, I can start doing more things than I could with him out, lining up wide, returning kicks, lots of things to put pressure on their defense."
Asked if the game might mean something special to Brees, who started his career with the Chargers, Bush just smiled. "The media may make something of that, but he's a veteran. The game will mean enough to us already." It will to Tomlinson, too. He talked to Michael Strahan and heard about the Giants' London experience firsthand. "I hear Michael had a lot of fun, after the game," he smiled.