Tony Romo wasn’t the most popular player at the Dallas Cowboys Community Day outside Wembley Stadium on Tuesday. It wasn’t Dez Bryant or Jason Witten, either.
Jack Crawford rates as the biggest draw the Cowboys have in London this week.
“I guarantee he’s going to be very popular,” Bryant said after the team’s arrival. “He’s the man in town right now. I’m going to follow him around.”
The Cowboys signed Crawford the week of the season opener after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, and the defensive end has played only four games and made only three tackles and a sack.
But the accent gives him away. The north London native was right at home in a two-hour NFL Play 60 event Tuesday, with the school children speaking his language.
“There are a lot of Jack Crawfords out here,” defensive tackle Henry Melton said in his best English accent. “Who talks like that?”
Oakland Raiders tackle Menelik Watson, who was born in Manchester, played at Wembley against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 28 in the first of three International Series games this season. Crawford was supposed to come home that weekend, too, but the Raiders released him the week before the season opener.
Now, a little over five weeks after Watson’s visit, Crawford returns home with the Cowboys, who play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
“I knew the possibility [of the Raiders releasing him],” Crawford said. “The NFL is a business, and you never know what’s going to happen. I was prepared for that. I have family and friends who were preparing for me to come over, but I said nothing’s definite. With my mindset, I wasn’t going to believe I was coming here until I was actually here with the Dallas Cowboys. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But now that I’m here, it’s definitely a special experience, and there’s so much hype. Two worlds coming together, having my family and friends back in London, and then being with the Dallas Cowboys and my teammates, it’s a little crazy for me.”
The Cowboys’ nine-hour Virgin America charter arrived at Gatwick Airport late Tuesday morning. The team bused to the Power League soccer pitches, where they held a brief walk-through before playing with and coaching up local kids in an NFL-sponsored promotional event in the shadows of Wembley Stadium.
Crawford, 26, grew up 25 minutes from Wembley Park, but he never went to the old stadium, and this marks his first visit to the new one. And now, he’s getting to play American football in the national stadium with his family, who still lives in London, and friends sitting in the stands.
“It’s Wembley Stadium,” Crawford said. “It’s the trademark stadium for London. To play there with America’s Team, that’s crazy. It’s funny because people say ‘America’s Team.’ [In the United States,] they just say it. In London, you say ‘America’s Team,’ that’s what the Dallas Cowboys are known for, and they’re one of the most recognizable franchises, so everybody in the world knows who the Dallas Cowboys are. It’s crazy.”
Growing up, Crawford didn’t know much about American football except from what he saw in the 2004 movie Any Given Sunday. But he moved to Longport, N.J., to live with a host family as a high school sophomore, and he took up football as a junior.
Crawford picked it up quickly, earning a scholarship to Penn State. He started 34 games in four seasons for the Nittany Lions, and the Raiders made him a fifth-round pick in 2012.
“It’s a surreal experience just having the opportunity to play over here where I grew up,” Crawford said. “I never thought I’d be playing American football back [when I was growing up] in London. I pretty much played every sport growing up — basketball, soccer, rugby. I never thought I’d be playing American football back here.
“… It’s one of those things that kind of reminds you that you just never know where life will take you.”