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Packers' soccer aficionados embrace historic trip to London

Green Bay set to make international regular-season debut at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

WR Allen Lazard
WR Allen Lazard

GREEN BAY – Allen Lazard is headed to London…and he's bringing his trademark soccer ball with him.

The fourth-year receiver, who has built a following on social media for his popular soccer-based pregame warmup, is one of several Packers players eagerly awaiting Green Bay's international regular-season debut this Sunday against the New York Giants at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

While Lazard didn't play much soccer as a child, the 6-foot-5, 227-pound receiver developed a love for the beautiful game thanks to two-a-days at Iowa State University.

During his freshman year in Ames, Lazard used to congregate with his teammates around the PlayStation during midafternoon breaks between practices. The video game was "FIFA" …and the competition was fierce.

"Lunchtime break, like a two-, three-hour window, where we'd play 'FIFA' in the locker room, that's when I got exposed to (soccer)," Lazard recalled. "A few of my friends in college were a little more heavily following it and it grew my interest."

Since then, Lazard has gone from a casual locker-room gamer to a legitimate fan of the sport and its superstars, especially popular A.C. Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimović.

So, one can only imagine Lazard's enthusiasm when it was announced earlier this year the Packers would finally partake in the NFL's international series.

Beyond just satisfying Lazard's sweet tooth for soccer, Sunday's game against the Giants serves as an illustration of how far the 26-year-old receiver has come since his first trip to London in 2019.

At the time, Lazard was just an observing member of Jacksonville's practice squad when the Jaguars squared off against the Houston Texans at Wembley Stadium.

Now the top receiver in Green Bay, Lazard is relishing the chance to play his sport in the same stadium Tottenham Hotspur standouts Harry Kane and Son Heung-min call home.

"The most historical, well-known sports venues in the world, you're talking about Lambeau. You're talking about Yankee Stadium, Crypto Arena, Tottenham, Wembley," Lazard said.

"Those type of venues are legendary. They've had so many different games throughout the history … to cultivate where we are today. To be able to have an experience there – and hopefully I can be able to etch my part in the history at Tottenham Stadium."

Like Lazard, longtime Packers kicker Mason Crosby has an affinity for soccer. Prior to kicking at Colorado, Crosby was an all-district defense/midfielder at Georgetown (Texas) High School, scoring 31 goals during his sophomore and junior years.

Over the years, Crosby has been part of outreach efforts with the United States men's soccer team, Liverpool F.C. of the Premier League and Walsall F.C. of the English Football League.

The Packers' all-time leading scorer entered the NFL the same year the international series began in 2007 but wasn't sure he'd ever play internationally given the organization's reluctance to give up a home game to make the trip to London.

That decision was taken out of the Packers' hands when the NFL added a 17th regular-season game in 2021 and created a provision forcing clubs to forgo one of their nine regular-season home games to play an international contest every eight years.

As challenging as this week has been for the Packers from a preparation standpoint, playing overseas checks one of the only unmarked boxes in the careers of Crosby and 18th-year quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who referred to Sunday's game as a "dream" during his media scrum on Wednesday.

"Once they added that 17th game, I saw it was there on the horizon and I'm excited to be a part of it," Crosby said. "It should be a cool new thing. After 16 years, you don't get a ton of new experiences. So, this should be a fun one."

This is still very much a business trip for Lazard, Crosby, and the rest of the locker room. Both admit there probably won't be much time for sightseeing, as Green Bay aims to turn back a New York Giants team that's won three of its first four games.

After practice today, the Packers will make the eight-hour flight to London. Based on the testimony of coaches and players who played in London before, it's a taxing trip that requires discipline, proper hydration, and most importantly, sleep.

But Lazard is looking forward to kicking his soccer ball with teammates during pregame warmups on Sunday. It's a ritual he started during the 2020 season that physically helps loosen his hips and mentally allows him to lock in on the task at hand.

"We're still going over there to put on a show and get a win. That's our No. 1 objective and goal," Lazard said. "But obviously this is one of the biggest perks … being able to play in another country, travel across the world I think is pretty cool and something I'm very grateful for."

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