First NFL regular season game in Germany; German links to the giants
The NFL aims to present to the world not only American football, but also American professional football.
This year’s international series will play three games in London, England, one in Germany and another in Mexico City.
Over the course of four years, this series will find Frankfurt and Munich, Germany, hosts to the first two regular season games played in Europe. The NFL wants to continue bringing the game of American football to other countries, which in turn will boost the image of the host city.
What is unique about these games is that they are regular season games instead of pre-season exhibition games. The fact that these matches will count speeds up the competition a bit.
The NFL and Germany
The American professional is no stranger to playing games outside of the 50 states. The first was in November 1926 when the New York Yankees played the Los Angeles Wildcats in Toronto. Both clubs were members of the American Football League, commonly referred to as AFL1.
The first NFL team to play somewhere outside of the continental United States was a preseason game between the New York Football Giants and the Ottawa Rough Riders in August 1950 which was played at Landsdowne Park in Ottawa, Canada.
Over the decades, the NFL has played games in England, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Spain, Ireland, Australia, West Germany and China. England hosted the most contests with 39 followed by Canada’s 16.
For Germany, this country has been the recipient of five NFL contests. However, each has been an exhibition game. This year’s version will therefore be special since the result will count in the ranking.
This year’s event will be played Nov. 13 in Munich between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks. The chosen venue is the Allianz Arena, home of FC Bayern Munich. This natural grass stadium opened in 2005 and can accommodate up to 75,000 people. It hosted the 2006 World Cup and is home to not only FC Bayern Munich but also the German national team.
FC Bayern Munich is a member of the German Football Association which plays under the same rules which are identical to the rest of Europe. European football is called “soccer” because it is the original sport and that is what it has always been called. In North America, this same sport is labeled “soccer”. American football was born out of rugby which grew out of football. All of these sports are called “soccer” in one form or another.
The first NFL game played in Germany was on August 11, 1990 between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs at the Olympiastadion in West Berlin. The Rams won the preseason game 19-3. Originally, this competition was planned in Frankfurt, where the American commercial and military presence was much stronger. West Berlin’s population consisted more of young university students and older citizens and so the game was not as successful as expected.
Jim Everett was the quarterback for Los Angeles while on the other side of the Chiefs was Steve DeBerg.
That game in Berlin set up the league for bigger things to happen in Germany: NFL Europe.
Created as a developmental league played in the spring, the principle was to allocate the bottom third of each NFL club to a set number of teams and then allow more experience to be gained. It wasn’t a league that hired players who weren’t on an NFL team. Each player was a registered league player.
Originally called the “World League of American Football” (WLAF), it started with 10 franchises, three of which were located in Europe. One such team was Frankfurt Galaxy, the largest city in the German state of Hesse.
This league then transformed into NFL Europe, then NFL Europa.
German American Football Association
This league started in 1982 with its headquarters in Frankfurt. It began as the United States Soccer Federation in 1979, but was replaced by AFAG.
The game of American football in Germany can be attributed to the American and various military bases. The US military used to throw a soccer ball during slow times and eventually this led to organizing teams. The first league was called the American Football Bundesliga, which was later renamed the German Football League. Six founding clubs were formed.
This league had nominal support until NFL Europe placed the Galaxy in Frankfurt. This meant that fans of the sport could see real NFL players in live game situations.
The GFL has grown to 14 clubs in 2021 within two conferences coupled with two divisions each. A 10-game schedule is the norm as the top four teams in each conference advance to the playoffs. Their championship game is called the “German Bowl”. Last year’s contest was number XLII, which uses Roman numerals, just like the NFL.
There’s also a six-team GFL2 that sees that league’s champion face the eighth-place playoff team and hopefully be retired the following year.
WLAF/ NFL Europe/ NFL Europe
In 1991, the NFL did not want to start an agricultural system, but a development league. The NFL also wanted to globalize the sport.
But the WLAF wasn’t your typical league for developing talent that wasn’t on any NFL roster. This league would take the bottom third of each roster and form teams using players from different clubs so they could gain more professional football experience and hopefully grow.
This league was also a training ground for new rules, referees and assistant coaches who now ran their own rosters. Former Dallas general manager Tex Schramm served as chairman.
The WLAF began in 1991 in the spring after the NFL season ended. NFL clubs would allocate players to the WLAF through a draft after two weeks of tryouts in Orlando, Florida.
Three divisions formed that first year in 1991 with Barcelona, Spain, London, England and Frankfurt, Germany all merged into one division. Frankfurt finished 7-3-0 and 3-7-0 those first two seasons.
The league was then placed on hiatus for two seasons. In 1995, all American and Canadian cities were jettisoned. The three European clubs were joined by three other cities in Europe including Amsterdam, Netherlands, Edinburgh, Scotland and another team located in Germany whose home was Düsseldorf and called Rhein Fire.
Now there were two German American football teams. In 1999, the Berlin Thunder replaced London as Germany’s third professional football team. The Barcelona team was replaced in 2004 by a fourth German city, the Cologne Centurions. Then in 2006, the Scottish club was replaced by another team located in Hamburg, Germany named the Sea Devils.
The league’s final year was 2007 with a name change to NFL Europa. There were now five German teams plus Amsterdam.
The Galaxy debuted in 1991 and played their last game in 2007. During that span, the club played in eight World Bowls winning four. Notable head coaches were Jack Elway and Ernie Stautner.
Rhein Fire played 13 years in which they appeared in five World Bowls with two championships. The most famous head coach was Galen Hall. The Berlin Thunder ran nine seasons with four World Bowl appearances and three titles. Wes Chandler served as their head coach for a short stint.
The Cologne Centurions only played four seasons with their best record a third place finish. Hamburg Sea Devils only lasted three years but won the last World Bowl.
NFL Europe has succeeded in many ways. But the level of talent, despite being current NFL players, just doesn’t compare to the parent league that fans worked up to pretty quickly.
Too many missed passes, penalties, turnovers, overturned balls and missed tackles quickly became the hallmark of the league run by players trying to improve instead of making certain games a comedy of errors . For NFL owners, the league has been haemorrhaging money for the duration of its existence.
European fans were picky. And the fact that in its later years the league no longer represented Europe and was instead a German league, which caused fans to lose interest.
But Germany shone and embraced their American football cousins.
Giants born in Germany
WR Domenik Hixon – 2006-2007; born in Neunkirchen
WR Jamaar Taylor- 2004-2005; born in Giesen
CB Terry Kinard – 1983-1989; born in Bitburg
LB Ed Reynolds – 1992; born in Stuttgart
TD Markus Kuhn—2012-2015; born in Mannheim