From Comcast SportsNetLONDON (AP) -- The St. Louis Rams took the first step to becoming Britain's "home" team Friday, agreeing to play a regular-season NFL game in London in each of the next three seasons. And first up are the New England Patriots, who are two wins from another Super Bowl title. The Rams and Patriots meet at Wembley on Oct. 28, about two months after the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. That will be followed by games at Wembley against undetermined opponents in 2013 and 2014. The Rams are owned by Stan Kroenke, who is also the majority shareholder in the English soccer club Arsenal. The team will give up home games in St. Louis for the three seasons they are in London. "We've seen first-hand the increased popularity of the NFL not only in London but throughout Europe," Kroenke said in a statement. "To play a role in that growth over the next three years will be incredible and is a testament to the many good things happening not only in the NFL but also in the St. Louis Rams organization." This year's contest will be the sixth regular-season game at Wembley. But despite plans to bring a second game to Britain starting next season, the NFL said the Rams-Patriots date would be the only one in 2012. "This year is a very competitive year for sport in the UK, especially with the Olympics in London," NFLUK managing director Alistair Kirkwood said. "Also, with the Rams having made an unprecedented commitment to playing in the UK for the next three years, we wanted to focus on them as our 'home' team without another game taking place. "We would like to increase beyond one game per year as soon as possible and the five-year commitment by the owners to playing in the UK allows us to make that decision when we feel it is appropriate." NFL owners agreed last year to play regular-season games in the UK for the next five seasons. The league said Friday all the games would be played at Wembley. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has repeatedly spoken of the possibility of a full-time franchise in the UK one day. The Rams finished 2-14 this season, tied for the NFL's worst, and have won only 15 games the last five seasons. Last week, the team hired Jeff Fisher as coach to replace the fired Steve Spagnuolo. The NFL first played at Wembley in 2007, with the New York Giants beating the Miami Dolphins 13-10. Since then, seven other teams have visited Britain, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers making the trip twice. The Patriots have already been to London, beating the Bucs 35-7 in 2009. The Bucs returned this season, losing to the Chicago Bears 24-18 in October -- the first of the Wembley games that wasn't a sellout. This season, the Patriots have been one of the best teams in the league. Led by Tom Brady, they will face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in the AFC championship with a chance to reach their fifth Super Bowl in the last 11 years. And Patriots owner Robert Kraft is already looking forward to coming back to London, especially since they again don't have to give up a home game. "For us in a way it is like, I think, having another home game, we have such a large fan base there," Kraft said. "We have had a group of fans come over from the UK and come here to a game each year and it is a tremendous fan base. Happy we will be able to go over there." In the NFC championship, the San Francisco 49ers host the New York Giants.
James Shields offered a taxed bullpen a significant boost on Tuesday night.
The right-hander pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and the White Sox offense provided him with enough support for a 3-0 victory over the Cubs in front of 39,553 at U.S. Cellular Field. Shields lowered his ERA over his last seven starts to 2.11 as he worked around four hits and four walks with five strikeouts. Shields threw strikes on 70 of 117 pitches as the White Sox won their fourth in a row, including their second straight over the Cubs. David Robertson recorded his 24th save in 28 tries.
A turnaround that began June 23rd in Boston reached its high point Tuesday.
Since an atrocious three-start introduction, Shields has rediscovered the form that made him one of the top starters in the American League for the better part of a decade.
With the bullpen in need of a huge lift after throwing 19 1/3 innings in the previous four games, Shields delivered. The Cubs made him work early as he needed 56 pitches for the first three innings. But Shields got a pair of quick innings in the middle and pushed deep into the second of four straight meetings with the Cubs.
Only twice did Shields find himself in any trouble and he skillfully dodged it in both instances. After a catcher’s interference call on Dioner Navarro loaded the bases with two outs in the second, Shields induced a foul out to the screen on a 3-2 pitch against Dexter Fowler. Starting there, he retired 12 of 13 batters into the sixth. Shields put the next two men on base but got Javy Baez to foul out down the line with the aid of a nice catch by Tim Anderson.
Anderson also began nice inning-ending double play in the seventh inning, which allowed Shields to return in the eighth. He retired two before issuing a walk and exiting to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
Shields has a 2.11 ERA in 47 innings over his last seven starts.
The White Sox took some pressure off Shields with a run in the first inning. Shields, who entered ranked 130th among 138 qualified starting pitchers with 3.2 runs per game, found himself ahead 1-0 when Jose Abreu took advantage of a leadoff walk by Adam Eaton and a Tim Anderson single with an RBI base hit of his own. The White Sox left the bases loaded but made Hendricks work.
Hendricks rebounded and retired 10 of 12 into the fifth inning. He struck out seven through four innings and mostly held the White Sox in check.
But Adam Eaton gave Shields some extra cushion in the fifth when he blasted a solo homer to right to make it a 2-0 game. Eaton’s seventh homer traveled an estimated 395 feet.
The White Sox added another run in the sixth inning after Todd Frazier’s two-out single (a pop up to medium right that bounced off the glove of Anthony Rizzo) got things started. Frazier stole second against reliever Travis Wood, who then walked three straight batters, including Tyler Saladino, to force in a third run.
Aroldis Chapman was in uniform for the Cubs Tuesday night, but Joe Maddon never got a chance to employ his shiny new toy.
After posting late rallies the last two games, the Cubs offense was noticeably absent on Chicago's South Side, dropping a second straight game in this Crosstown matchup 3-0 in front of 39,553 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.
White Sox starter James Shields scattered four singles and four walks in 7.2 innings, using 117 pitches to shut down the Cubs lineup.
The first White Sox hitter of the game scored as Adam Eaton drew a walk and was eventually plated on Jose Abreu's RBI single three batters later.
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks settled down from there, allowing only a solo homer to Eaton in the fifth.
But the wheels came off for the Cubs in the sixth inning as Hendricks departed following two quick outs and a bloop hit from Todd Frazier that glanced off the glove of Anthony Rizzo in shallow right field.
Travis Wood came on to relieve Hendricks, but walked the first three hitters he faced to force in Frazier with the third run of the game.
The Cubs' best opportunity to score came in the second when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Dexter Fowler fouled out behind home plate. After that, only one baserunner reached second base all game for the Cubs.
Kris Bryant said before the game he was itching at another chance to face Shields after the veteran pitcher welcomed Bryant to the big leagues with a couple of strikeouts in the latter's debut last April at Wrigley Field.
But Shields once again got the best of Bryant Tuesday night, striking out the MVP candidate three times in four trips to the plate.
Bryant is now just 1-for-10 against Shields with seven strikeouts.
The Crosstown series moves to the North Side Wednesday night for the final two games.
It's the start of a new era at Illinois.
Lovie Smith has returned to the Land of Lincoln, the one-time head coach of the Bears taking over the reins of the Illini football program.
After several years of losing — and just four bowl appearances in the past 14 years — Illinois gave fans plenty of reason to be excited with this high-profile hire, giving the program instant credibility and a new feeling of optimism by bringing in an experienced NFL winner.
Smith met the media and ceremoniously joined the brotherhood of Big Ten coaches Tuesday during the second day of Big Ten Media Days and talked about his vision, recruiting in his old stomping grounds and his work to turn the Illini around.
CSNChicago.com sat down with Smith for a 1-on-1 interview Tuesday, and you can check out the interview in the video above.