Emotional Efe Obada speaks about his return to London with victorious Panthers
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera insists Efe Obada “epitomises a story of a young man who all he needed was an opportunity.”
A tearful Efe Obada broke down at the end of his press conference after he captained the Carolina Panthers to a 37-26 win over NFC South rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It was a special and memorable trip for the Panthers – their first to London – and it meant that little bit more to defensive end Obada.
The 27-year-old only took up the sport five years ago while living in England, where he had ended up after being trafficked from the Netherlands.
Born in Nigeria, the Carolina number 94 has enjoyed a remarkable journey since living on the streets in London.
“It was everything I wanted, honestly. Everything and more,” Panthers honorary captain for the day Obada said.
“When we were coming out the tunnel, it was electric. I had family in the stands. Most of them don’t even understand what I’m doing, but they believe in me and have been supporting me for years. For me to be in London, just to show them, was real special.
“Even yesterday, just knowing that tomorrow I’m going to be able to play in Tottenham, it was good.”
Obada was abandoned at the age of 10 in London along with his sister and although he has been in America since first joining the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2015, the capital of England will always be home.
It was also where he watched his first live NFL game – the Miami Dolphins against the Oakland Raiders at Wembley five years ago.
He added: “I’m grateful Tottenham has dedicated the stadium, these locker rooms, to the NFL. It’s just a testament to show how the sport is growing in London and all across Europe.
“London is home. London is where my roots were and is. It’s always going to be home. That’s what I miss.”
When leaving the pitch at full-time, Obada was afforded a big send off and reflecting on it brought him to tears.
“There were a lot of stages in my life that if someone told me I would be here right now, I’d laugh at them. But I’m here,” said the 6ft 6in defensive end.
“That one (moment) is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admitted he could not take the credit for allowing Obada to captain them against Tampa Bay.
“That was really cool. I talked to several of the players, asked them what they thought about it. They were all for it. They thought it would be outstanding,” Rivera said.
“First of all, I can’t take credit. It wasn’t my own idea. One of your very own had the great idea, I stole it, took it, ran with it.
“He was terrific. I presented him with the stars for his shirt, for his jersey. It was cool. One of those moments.
“Like I said before, there’s several of these young men, all they’ve ever wanted was an opportunity.
“That’s all we’ve done, we’ve been able to give those guys an opportunity. He epitomises a story of a young man who all he needed was an opportunity.”
The second NFL match at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium did not have the drama of the first fixture at the venue – when the Oakland Raiders recovered from blowing a 17-0 lead to win 24-21 against the Chicago Bears – but it did produce plenty of excitement.
Christian McCaffrey showed exactly why he is being talked about as a potential MVP candidate with two touchdowns and Curtis Samuel also made it into the end zone twice.
A late rally from Tampa Bay made the final scoreline closer, but what was not up for debate was the popularity of the first purpose-built NFL stadium outside of the United States in its second fixture.
Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston said: “I am happy we had a lot of fans come out. It was an amazing atmosphere.
“But home game, away game, London game, you’ve got to protect the football.”