Weary Steelers turn to Vikings after overnight flight to London

| Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 10:57 p.m.

LONDON — Just call them the sleep-deprived Steelers.

LaMarr Woodley gripped the podium so tightly as he answered questions, it was almost as if he was using it to hold himself up following a nearly sleepless night.

Turns out he was doing exactly that.

Woodley became the first Steelers player to question the team's decision to wait until Friday to arrive in London for the first intercontinental regular-season game in the franchise's 81-season history, saying, “It would have been nice (to have traveled earlier), but we didn't. We've just got to deal with it. We can't do anything now.”

Woodley fell asleep relatively soon after the Steelers stepped onto their Virgin Atlantic charter to London on Thursday night, but woke up about 10 p.m. (3 a.m. in London), and he stayed up for the remaining five hours of the 7 12-hour transcontinental flight.

“I didn't get any sleep,” said Woodley, whose bleary eyes were matched by numerous others among the Steelers' large traveling party.

The Vikings (0-3) have been in London since Tuesday, partly because they are the home team and thus had more NFL-mandated responsibilities, such as putting on a youth football clinic. The Jaguars and 49ers, who play in London next month, also plan to arrive early in the week.

Coach Mike Tomlin, who said he slept for much of the trip, preferred that the Steelers do all of their major pregame preparation in Pittsburgh, just as they do for any other game.

“We were searching for, and found, normalcy,” he said.

The team schedule was a crowded one Friday, including a midafternoon practice, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger planned to sleep as soon as he could.

Sleeping early in the evening would go against the generally recommended practice of adjusting one's body clock to the local time as soon as possible.

“If, after practice, we're exhausted and we feel like going to bed, we're going to go to bed,” said Roethlisberger, who's now in a city where he is only the second-most well-known Big Ben.

The Steelers have dealt with irregular travel schedules before. Last season, they didn't fly to New York until game day because hotel space was at a premium following Hurricane Sandy, and they still beat the Giants.

Some players paid for personal massage therapists or trainers to make the trip to help them recover during the 58 hours the Steelers will be in London before playing the Vikings in a matchup of well-known franchises that didn't expect to be 0-3.

“We can't create any excuses or (put) any emphasis on anything other than playing our best football,” wide receiver Antonio Brown said. “We're here on a different set of circumstances, but it's our job to be ready to go.”

If the Steelers lose and fall to 0-4 for the first time in 45 years, there will be second-guessing of their decision to treat a game that's not like any other game they've played like, well, any other game.

“For us, every game is a must-win,” Roethlisberger said. “People want to throw that term around, but for us every single game is a must-win. This week is no different. The only thing different about it is we're in a different country.”

In two weeks, the Steelers' opponent will be the Jets. On Sunday, it might be jet lag.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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