San Fran-tastic: California dreamers buck the Broncos to light up London
NFL, Wembley Stadium:
San Francisco 49ers 24-16 Denver Broncos
A LATE second half surge saw the 49ers follow in the footsteps of the Giants, Saints and Patriots in winning the International Series at Wembley tonight, recording only their second win of the campaign at the halfway stage of the season.
Quarterback Troy Smith was the star of the show, running in from distance and throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass before Frank Gore to seal the win - though the Broncos gave the hosts a late scare, Brandon Lloyd finishing off 78-yard 1 minute 22 second drive just minutes from the end to set up a nervy final two minutes.
Earlier, following a dire first half in which the 49ers led 3-0, Broncos QB Kyle Orton threw a superb, looping pass of 71 yards to Lloyd, leaving the simplest of finishes from a yard out to lead 7-3, soon extended to 10-3 before the fourth quarter drama, including a rare missed conversion for the Broncos and thoughts of an even rarer two-pointer to level at the death.
As well as the missed extra point for Denver, the 49ers hit the post with a field goal attempt from distance, while the Broncos had two touchdowns disallowed - one following a neat exchange of passes and throw, the other right at the very end after a surging run from deep.
The occasion itself was, as always, immense, though less so than before; as each year passes, as the novelty wears, the frippery lessens, the build up shortens, so it feels more and more like just another regular season game.
The crowds were out in force though, the ground packed, the atmosphere buzzing, fans sporting the colours of each franchise out in force, side-by-side, though this year the proportion of home fans was greater, as was the the number of genuine Americans.
For Wembley, however, the organisers once again failed to deliver. How is it possible for the caterers to have run out of ketchup? How, three-and-a-half years after opening, are the queues for the bars and food outlets so damn long? Why are the cashiers unable to count? (Or speak English?!)
Quite what our guests from across the pond think of this shambles is anyone's guess. And what about the cost? £4.30 for a pint, £7.60 for chicken and chips, £1.00 for a packet of crisps... And £10 for a programme.
Before the game, the expectation, excitement and intensity remain on a par with the past three years, with the tailgate party this year surpassing those of the past two, open to all ticket holders, and displaying all five 49ers Super Bowl trophies in the SF hall of fame.
The tailgate is a concept alien to England, yet in the States, it’s part of the pre-match entertainment. Could it work at soccer (sorry, but to avoid confusion let’s call it that for now!), or will it merely enable the hard cases to get more drunk? After all, for a soccer game at Wembley, you wouldn’t have opposing fans sitting in the same blocks, drinking freely in their seats.
One always seems to learn a new rule or two from these occasions; this year, it was the idea of the aforementioned two-point conversion, in which the offence has to run the ball home from two yards out just as with a TD - a play that has a success rate of only about 50 per cent, significantly lower than kicking.
And the setting? Magnificent as always, with a scale model of the Golden Gate bridge in the shadow of the arch, and under a giant image of a footballer. The 49ers won’t be in with a chance of bringing home the gold this year, and on this evidence, neither will the Broncos.
• Highlights tonight on BBC One at 11:35