'Every detail is first class' -- Tottenham's new stadium passes its first NFL tests in style

TOTTENHAM, London -- Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr walked into the press room at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last Sunday and headed straight for the podium, as he routinely does after every game. His Raiders side had just stunned the favoured Chicago Bears in the final quarter of an NFL London classic and it was time to address the media. But, before he could think to answer questions, Carr glanced around the room and stopped.

"Everything here is nice," Carr said, the roar of the Raiders' locker room booming against the door separating the two rooms.

"Everything was just so first class, every little detail. And every single room you go in is unbelievable.

"This is definitely one of, if not the best, stadiums I've ever been at in my life," he continued.

"We had the opportunity to sit up in the Chairman's box for a soccer match [between Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich]. We walked in, there was a fireplace like I've never seen before in my life. It looked fake."

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosted its first NFL International Series games in these past two weekends -- the first was a rollercoaster 24-21 Raiders victory over the Bears, the second a scrappy demolition of Jameis Winston and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers by the Carolina Panthers. Both games were as good as the venue they were held in, and for good reason.

America's prime-time sport has been coming to London for regular-season games since 2007, but it may have finally found what it has been looking for: a home away from home.

Carr's praise of the stadium surely came as no surprise to any of those in attendance -- he was right; everything at the £1 billion stadium is nice, excellently designed to hold one of the biggest events in London's sporting calendar, and NFL games will be hosted here for the next 10 years following an agreement between Spurs and the league.

The deal parallels the improbable journey of Panthers defensive end Efe Obada, who was abandoned in London as a child before becoming the first International Academy player to make a team's 53-man roster. Obada capped his return to the city with a sack on Sunday and said that the stadium is special and a "testament" to how far the game has grown in Britain and Europe.

The league's international expansion had lacked a definitive landing spot in London, a place that would seamlessly house all of the NFL antics and entertainment without any feeling of it being, even if only slightly, shoehorned in. Branded seat covers were nowhere to be seen at Tottenham, with no seats unsold due to restricted sight lines, as is the standard when games are played at Wembley and at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico. There's a reason that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy said in 2016 that the stadium would be able to hold Premier League and NFL matches on the same day.

When asked about the quality of the venue, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said: "Whatever they did, they did it right. The amenities in terms of the locker room, the way the locker room is set up, structure as far as the training room, the hydrotherapy room for the guys, it's top-notch.

"I think if you come here, you should be able to appreciate the situation."

The NFL customisation of the stadium is something that the International Series has never had before, with larger locker rooms able to accommodate expansive roster sizes, more opportunities for logos and branding and purpose-built medical facilities. Even the pitch is a sign of the sport's anchors in North London. The field is a permanent fixture of the stadium, sitting 5 ½ feet below the Premier League pitch that is mesmerisingly split apart and wheeled into a storage garage under the South Stand anytime that NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell and co. are in town.

"Coming here, you know what it's for," Panthers lineman Dontari Poe said. "They built this specifically for football and you can tell.

"The stadium speaks for itself. It's an A1 stadium, one of the best ones I've been in."

Just as the facilities in the stadium were different, so was the fan experience.

Fans still donned jerseys of all 32 teams, plus a few of the college variety, while cardboard helmets, foam fingers and the ever-exuberant 'party patrol' firing mini foam footballs into the crowd remained a fixture of the game. But it still all felt a little different.

The past two Sundays mark the first time that the NFL has been held at an active British club football stadium, if you exclude Spurs' short-lived tenancy at Wembley in 2017 and 2018, while their new stadium was being built. Unlike most previous games, fans didn't walk the hallowed ground of Wembley Way, which always boasts a special 'one-off' atmosphere reserved for cup finals and concerts. Instead, supporters marched along the rain-sodden pavement of Seven Sisters road. For the British contingent, it was familiar. For visiting Americans, it's was a 'Welcome to North London'.

Fans rubbed shoulders with the working-class terraced houses, drab off-licences and jersey-filled pubs that are synonymous with British football. Even before supporters entered the stadium, they'd already found a more authentic experience -- this isn't a one-off.

With the venue so well adjusted to the sport and its ballooning fan base, there is just one nagging fantasy that must have itched every British supporter in the stands: imagine if a London franchise could call Tottenham home, too.

"This stadium could support an NFL team and it seems like the fan base could as well," Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate said. "As far as an atmosphere, it definitely holds water compared to the ones across the Atlantic."

The existence of a London team would solve some small issues that the international series still has. Bigger names would be able to visit without the baggage of disrupting their eight regular home games. The Green Bay Packers are the only franchise never to play in London, and the Giants and Patriots -- two of the better supported teams in the UK -- have only made the trip twice.

"I've played all over the country [United States] but I would definitely say this is one of the best," Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones said.

"In the future we'll see Super Bowls here, as crazy as that sounds. It's just that good of a stadium."